A lot of people ask me if I have a special diet.  In fact, its pretty much the first question people ask when they hear that I’m a professional runner.  The second question being “So if you are a ‘professional’ does that mean you can’t run in the Olympics?”  The third, “So I have this sore [fill in the blank with any imaginable body part]…what do you think it is?”

The latter questions I find entertaining, and they lead to interesting conversation that quickly gets off the topic of running into politics and physiology, respectively–Two subjects I love talking about.  The nutrition question is a fricken minefield, so usually I just try to keep it short and sweet.  “Oh, I eat pretty much anything.  I just try not to eat too much junkfood and time my meals so I have energy when I need it.”  And its really that simple when I boil it down:  mostly healthy foods timed well.

Nobody believes me of course.  Fair enough.  I mean, if I allowed myself to really elaborate on that answer completely,  I’d be talking for an hour straight.  To me its as basic as my ABC’s, but that’s because I’ve been doing it for 10 years.  But whenever I branch out from my cozy treehouse full of professional athletes to share a mealtime with “normal people,” AKA my parents, friends, or aquaintances, I realize how complex my diet is in comparison. There is literally a reason behind every food decision I make.  Or at least there was a conscious reason at one point in my life, and now it is second nature.

Before my sophomore year in college, I had terrible eating habits and didn’t know it.  The kind that carried over from Jr. High Softball culture and daily high school fast food trips.  But like pretty much every college freshman female, I put on over 10 pounds, and suddenly had to think about diet for the first time.  I remember how hard it was, the growing pains involved in originally learning to eat well.  It took over my conscious thought for nearly a year while I took a Sports Nutrition class, studied Exercise Physiology, and picked the brain of a top notch nutritionist.  I was so scared that if I paid any attention to my diet, I would get an eating disorder like so many collegiate runners.

But in the end, deciding to take an intellectual approach to the whole thing, rather than an emotional approach, allowed me to ingest all the new information without losing my head.  Oh, but it was still hard learning that fettuccini alfredo was like 1000 calories.  And that my favorite muffin snack was more caloric than my sandwich at lunch.  Or that any sauce that looked pink or white was loaded with saturated fat.  Or that candy was full of high fructose corn syrup.  Or that a serving of peanut butter was only 2 Tablespoons (what?!)

Keeping emotions out of it is hard.  Especially when you get judged by your teammates and you are fighting a stereotype.  Not to mention that trying to lose the freshman chub makes you cranky as hell.  But having to lose weight for the first time in my life, even if it was a small amount, was a life changing experience.  And I mean that literally.  By having to read labels for the first time and educate myself, I realized that my diet was crappy by anyone’s standards, not just as an athlete.  Learning about power-foods and antioxidants and meal timing, to name a few, got me thinking about being healthy for life. So even after reaching my race weight again, there was no going back to my old diet.

They say you can’t unscramble an egg.  That is what learning about nutrition is like.  Once you’ve learned it, its in there.  You never look at a donut the same way again.  That’s not to say that you never ever eat one, but you never eat one accidentally.