Should You Go Gluten-Free? Insights from Pro Runner (and Celiac) Stephanie Rothstein-Bruce

Stephanie Rothstein, professional runner and Celiac.

“So, is there gluten in vegetables?”

I get this question a lot. I try not to laugh and poke fun, since the answer seems so obvious to me. But then I step back and remember gluten allergies are a new thing to this country, and a difficult concept for some people to grasp.

As a professional athlete, part of my job is ensuring my recovery and ability to train at a very high level on a daily basis. For years, I literally felt like my body was failing me and I had no idea why.

I felt like I was hungover, though I didn’t drink. I woke up with a headache and in a fog each morning. My iron levels were dangerously low, despite attempts to supplement twice a day. I couldn’t recover from runs, let alone life, and I feared my running career was ending before it really began.

Luckily, I had a team of doctors who helped analyze my symptoms. I went on a supervised elimination diet that eventually led to my diagnosis: I am allergic to gluten.

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The 5 Most Valuable Lessons I’ve Learned in a Month of Living on Purpose

At the beginning of the year, I wrote a post called On Turning Pro, about my new mindset for the new year, one of discipline and responsibility. The post really struck a chord, even though it wasn’t specifically about running or diet (but the ideas in it could, of course, be applied to fitness and food).

This is the first of several follow-ups I’ll write about my progress. If I were writing this post at the end of January, which I had every intention of doing, I would be celebrating a month of huge success at what I set out to do.

As it is, I’m still celebrating success, but of a different kind — this week, I finished writing my book! There’s still lots of revision and editing to be done, but the hard part — the sitting down, facing the Resistance, and writing — is finished. The cost of finishing, unfortunately, was abandoning many of the healthy habits and disciplines I had developed in January.

But I’m not deterred. The idea of the meta-habit (perhaps better called an “anchor habit,” by Brett and Amber) is a comforting one — rather than feeling overwhelmed at the prospect of having to restart 10 or 12 different habits, I know that all I have to do is get back to my daily habit of reading and listening to positive material, and the others will fall into place like dominos.

I’m excited for things to return to the way they were before the huge push to get the book finished. Reading over the journal I kept in January, I’m astounded at how much I learned about myself in so short a period.

I learned way more than I can fit into a single post, but I figured I’d start with the five most important lessons I learned during this month of dedication and discipline. I hope you find them useful, in some way, for your own life.

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I started. Really, actually, started.

The timing is good. This Saturday marks the end — of the hard part, at least — of writing my book. (I thought the same thing three weeks ago, but this time it’s for real.)

And last Saturday marked exactly 24 weeks until the Burning River 100 Mile Endurance Run, my “A” race for this year.

Twice in the past I’ve had plans to run 100-milers, even picked out the races. Once I even signed up, and wrote a blog post about it for a little accountability. So why am I not the proud owner of a badass 100-miler finisher’s buckle?

Because I failed to take the single most important step toward finishing anything:

I didn’t start.

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My New Favorite Running Shoes and the Story of a Gigantic Chocolate Egg in a Suspicious Package

My friend Jason Fitzgerald, who writes the brilliant blog Strength Running, taught me a philosophy that I think strikes the perfect middle ground in the barefoot-versus-shod running debate:

“Run like a barefooter, but do it with shoes on.”

What Jason means when he says to run like a barefooter is that you should run with a quick cadence, short strides so that your weight stays over your feet, and a midfoot strike, instead of landing hard on your heel. Running barefoot essentially forces you to do these things, since doing otherwise just plain hurts, without all that cushioning that traditional running shoes offer.

This lack of feedback caused by modern shoes, of course, is the main argument for barefoot running. Cushy shoes allow us (encourage us, even) to run in a way that’s unnatural and that, over time, leads to injuries.

The argument for wearing shoes is less subtle: a layer of cushioning between our feet and the ground protects us not just from the impact of the road (which is perhaps much harder than the surfaces we evolved to run barefoot on), but also from rocks, glass, etc.

You can see the appeal of the compromise: Run with the form nature designed us to run with, then throw in a layer of protection from the ground.

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