As I watch people run around in circles for 24 hrs, something I actually enjoy, I thought I’d catch up on a well-overdue story. More than anything else I've ever done, I get questions about my weight loss journey. For years, my weight was right around 190 lbs, but around 4 years ago, it just started to sneak up a little at a time to peak around 230lbs. No matter how much I ran, it would only make me hungrier and make me want to eat more. I’ll be the first to admit I satisfied my hunger fully, and usually with pizza and beer. I’m not good at being hungry….to put it lightly! Being hungry is not fun! I could handle being hungry for a few days, maybe even a week, but in the end, a buffet or pizza would always be needed to satisfy my hunger. This continued until my flight suit was being pushed to the limits and I was struggling to run a 5K, let alone a 50-mile race.
Then, just after St. Patrick’s Day 2013, I got a note from Mike Morton that he was having some folks come to Ft. Bragg to talk about the diet he was on, and he invited me to attend. At that time, Mike was having an amazing run of winning the 24-hr World Championships and crushing 100-miler after 100-miler. But I respect Mike more for what he has done in the military than running and am always willing to consider his perspective. So I showed up for this presentation with a bunch of doctors getting ready to talk about a low-carb diet. In my mind, I was a carb-loading runner, so I sat wondering, “What do these guys know?” I listened to the presentation by Dr. Phinney, Dr. Volek and Peter Defty about changing my body from a carb-burner to a fat-burner, but was still in disbelief. And I wasn't the only one in the crowd. In the end, someone finally said they didn’t think it would work for ‘real’ military athletes. At that point Mike stated something like, “If I had known about this diet 10 years ago, I would have been on it then and would have been better at my job.” Like I said, I trust Mike. So I decided to spend the rest of the day with these folks and Mike. As we were touring the facilities we passed the DXA scanner (super precise body-fat measurement machine) and they proceeded to talk me into getting scanned and asked me to bring the results to dinner that night.
So for dinner I chose one of my favorite places just to see if I could eat like these ‘strange’ people. And I brought black and white proof of how obese I was (the DXA photo here is not mine, let's just say mine was much fatter). Turns out eating with these guys wasn’t so bad and after looking at my body fat (34.9%) I decided it couldn’t possible hurt me to try this for 2 months. So I stated I was starting the diet that night. Of course, Dr. Phinney asked if I had read their books, and I didn’t even know there were books. He handed me The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living and The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance and suggested I read them. I had the premise, cut my carbs to 50 grams a day and fill 60-70% of my calories with fat….easy day right?
Well, it is easy unless your diet up until that point had consisted basically of pizza (carbs), beer (carbs), pasta (carbs), and potatoes (carbs). Needless to say the transition was a little rough for my body. When I cut the carbs to 50 grams a day, it went into full on revolt. I didn’t want to get out of bed, I was falling asleep at work, and running was nearly impossible. This lasted about 2 weeks. At that point something strange began to happen. I started to have not just more energy, but more than I had two weeks prior. Within a month, I was running better than I ever had and was down over 10 lbs after my initial water weight loss (carbs hold a lot of water in your body so you lose that first 5lbs pretty quick). Something was happening and I kind of liked it. I was eating eggs and bacon in the morning, a salad with sour cream and cheese at lunch and then a dinner of ribeye and veggies in heavy cream, butter, and cheese. I was never hungry, eating full fatty food and losing weight....rewind the tape…..I was never hungry, eating full fat food and losing weight.
I went in for another DXA scan 43 days after my first humiliating scan. I had dropped 10 lbs of pure fat and was down to 32% body fat. On top of that, a few weeks later I completed a 40-mile mountain race in West Virginia (barely making the cutoff). My fat pants were starting to get loose and it was getting a lot easier to tie my shoes. Maybe there was something to this diet. A little concerned about my cholesterol levels due to the amount of saturated fat I had been consuming, I had a full profile done along with my annual physical in October (7 months after starting the diet). My triglycerides had dropped from 135-73, HDL went from 61-70, and VLDL had gone from 27-15. Not only were my numbers not getting worse, they were actually improving!
Later that summer, I made an attempt at the Leadville 100. While I fell short of completing it, I took almost 2 hours off of my 40-mile split, compared to my race in West Virginia in the spring. Why had someone not told me about this eating plan sooner? I gave up most of my beer and pizza but my performance was increasing rapidly, I was eating like a bear, I had more energy than I had ever had before and my blood work was improving. Of course at this point people started to really take note that I was thinning down. This is the only time when someone asking you if you are sick is actually a compliment! I was heathier than I had been in years!
In November 2013 (almost exactly 8 months after starting), I went in for another DXA. This time I was down 31 lbs of pure fat and my body fat was down to 24%. The best thing, I was weighing in under 190 lbs for the first time in a long time and could break out some clothes that I had not been able to fit in years. I even thought I saw an abdominal muscle one time when the light was just right! If I had not before, at this point I saw no reason to change something that was working so well. That fall I did the JFK 50-miler. After my failure at Leadville, I ran most of the race very conservatively. I only took in about 500-1000 calories during that race but my energy levels were high. With 4 miles left, I realized I could finish under the cut-off even if everything went to hell so I just started running as fast as I could. Turns out I could run pretty fast (for me) and I kept getting faster the more I ran. Now that I look for it, I see OFM athletes getting strong in comparison to high-carb athletes as races progress, but that was a first for me.
Now I am coming up on two years of low carb/high fat eating (and as any of my friends will tell you, I mean EATING!). I have not gone hungry since March of 2012 and don’t ever plan on it again. My weight has been as low as 180 lbs when I was running 70-mile weeks and as high as 190 lbs when I was running 0 miles per week for a few months. In the past two years, I have introduced dozens of normal people and athletes to this plan with great success. And although it certainly is not for everyone, it is for me!