By: Laura Mildon
This article is going to delve into the territory of, “Too Much Information” or TMI. But one thing I’ve learned in talking to runners is that they are very eager to share in their varying painful experiences. Runners are swift to post pictures on Facebook sharing their blackened toenails, and then the naked toes with nail popped off. They discuss issues of their bowels, nausea and vomiting freely. It’s as if we’re all warriors serving together in the wild trenches of our fitness passion.
Before I became a runner, I wasn’t much of a starchy carbs eater. I rarely ate bread, unless it was San Francisco sourdough French bread – and you’ll have to write to me privately if you want my dissertation on why it’s so exceptional. But I digress. I’m not a big potato, rice, or pasta eater generally. Then I took up running.
I quickly discovered that with regular running that my appetite began to soar and I needed more calories to fuel my running. I found myself going to the grocery store and doing things completely out of my character – buying whole rows of Pepperidge Farm cookies, crackers, loaves of bread, boxes of pasta, and frozen waffles. What was happening to me?? I had a voracious appetite and in listening to my body, it demanded starchy carbs. I’m not a big meat eater, but learned after my long runs on Sunday I want beef! But that’s another subject as well.
Then something strange began to happen to me. The dreaded “Runner’s Trots” would attack me on even short distances of four miles. It was inexplicable to me. It wasn’t just a natural sensation of “having to go”, this was explosive and unexpected. Beyond the embarrassment, I could find nothing on the web that explained what could be happening to me. I began munching on anti-diarrheal medicine an hour before my runs wondering if that would help…but alas, no.
As time progressed, my distances becoming farther, my caloric needs increasing exponentially, my disrupted bowels continued their irregular responses to my running endeavors, but then I discovered that I was rapidly losing weight, not gaining despite consuming in the neighborhood of 3,000 calories per day. It defied the laws of physics: I was consuming incredible amounts of food and really only running an hour to an hour-and-a-half a day. There was no reason for me to be losing weight.
Then came the bloody bowels. At that point, a physician friend demanded I get scoped. Biopsies and blood tests revealed the culprit: Celiac disease. This is an autoimmune disorder of small intestine where the body is unable to process the protein gluten that comes from a specific family of grains like wheat, barley and rye. This causes an inflammatory irritation to the small intestine as it tries to pass along what is perceived as an invader. The villi of the small intestine responsible for assimilation nutrition and moving food along begin to ulcerate and then atrophy. The body in an effort to protect itself rejects the food brought in. People have varying experiences with gluten intolerance and this was how my body reacted.
I was told to cut out all gluten from my diet and see if things didn’t return to normal. While certainly no diagnosis of cancer or diabetes, I was disheartened. I love to cook and more importantly, I love to eat. No more lasagna, French bread toasted with slabs of cold butter, no graham crackers, no Pepperidge Farm Bordeaux cookies?! No Greek baklava or spanakopita? No Asian pot stickers or Indian samosas? I make the best gingerbread ever! Warm and molasses and none of that? No beer or soy sauce. Say what?! I’m a BREW MISTRESS for crying out loud! I don’t just love to drink beer, I love to make it! Done. Gone.
After the diagnosis, my family had an “aha!” moment. For years and years and years, after any meal where I ate bread or pasta, I would complain of my tummy hurting and I always had erratic bowels. Running accelerated my symptoms to such an alarming degree that I now had a way for physicians to identify the problem. Before I was merely told that I had irritable bowels syndrome, or heartburn, or….who knows.
And while it sounds a grandiose comparison, I felt the tragedy of losing gluten with my love of cooking and eating had to be on par with Beethoven’s loss of hearing to his love of listening to and writing music. Okay, his mark on the planet is much more important, but I certainly felt sorry for myself.
I’ve now been gluten free for a year, and I was able to gain back the weight that I lost and can now run without experiencing debilitating runner’s trots. I’m much healthier and have noticed that removing wheat from my diet has improved many other aspects of my life as well.
There are plenty of products now available in gluten free versions from waffles, bread, pasta, pizza and cookies. Frankly, most are quite awful, and experimentation is in order to find what you will find suitable. Soy sauce is available in gluten free versions as well as beer!
My recommendation to runners who find they have inexplicable cramping, diarrhea and weight loss, perhaps a trip to a gastroenterologist is in order. A simple blood test can determine whether someone has full blown Celiac disease or a milder but still serious, gluten intolerance.
While I miss so many incredible things, what I don’t miss is the nausea, vomiting and other things that went along with it. I no longer hurt after every meal. I have energy and alertness as I never have before.
If you suspect you may have gluten intolerance, please feel free to email me and we can discuss your symptoms to see if you should seek a diagnosis to confirm suspicions of Celiac. I’ll be honest, it blows giving up plenty of pleasures, but the benefits far outweigh the misery.
Email me at and happy running!