Ultras do sometimes seem to be a parade of eccentrics. Though it is an extreme activity, most participants are surprisingly normal, yet each does have his or her quirks. Addicts in recovery are common, as are those with mild OCD. The most fertile field for unusual ideas for ultrarunners is food; Americans in general are obsessive about food, but ultrarunners especially so and this has led to popularization of some diets which may or not be useful to individual runners. Other than one's training, there is not much one can control in sport, but diet can be controlled and that I think is where some people get in trouble. They have control issues.
One of the most common things I see in distance runners is a "carbohydrates are evil" belief. The way it seems to start is that a runner eats a cookie (or bagel or slice of cake) and 10 minutes later feels hungry and has another and 10 minutes after that eats two more and then suddenly eats a huge amount of food. They then feel remorse and claim it's the fault of the food.
Here's how I see the same thing: The baked goods have a high glycemic index and should be eaten in small amounts. The one cookie may be as many as four servings (my standard calorie guide  lists an oatmeal cookie as 52 calories. My homemade ones are 110. One from a bakery clocked in at more than 250). The problem was the serving size. No one eats only half of one cookie. If they did, however, they wouldn't crave the other half. The craving comes from the high glycemic load, which causes a spike in insulin level, which suddenly decreases blood glucose levels and makes one hungry. It's a vicious cycle. It's also incredibly complicated and people like simple answers... like not ever eating the food that caused the craving.
The problem is the "carbs are evil" idea. Or that fat is evil. Or that processed foods are evil. Or that omega-6 fatty acids are evil. By eliminating entire food groups from one's diet, one gains a degree of control, but one loses freedom of choice. One's diet becomes regimented (and less interesting) and one becomes ever more concerned with what one is eating.
I hear people talking about acid/base balancing of foods who know nothing about chemistry, much less have read the few scientific articles about acidity and renal function (all of which I find highly suspect) which spawned a dozen diet books. I hear people giving very good dietary advice based on ludicrous assumptions (Jillian Michael's new book is a prime example) and wonder if I should say anything if the result is good. Eventually, people are inundated with theories of what are "good" and "evil" foods and they either ignore it all or they try to follow them all.
Orthorexia is an eating disorder related to anorexia nervosa and is becoming more common. The disorder comes from eating only "right" (in Greek, "ortho") foods. A standard course is: eliminating a food group or two (veganism is common), then eliminating all processed foods, then eating only organically-grown foods, then eating only locally grown organic foods, then eating only uncooked locally grown organic foods, then eating only what they can be sure is grown correctly (meaning what they themselves have grown). Their days are spent making sure that everything they eat will be "right." They obsess over every bite of food as the rest of their lives spiral out of control. If they reach this point, a health problem usually arises, which they blame on not eating correctly, making them even more obsessive.
Why do I bring this up? Because I just read half a dozen different diet books (occupational hazard) and found myself thinking, "Oh, that's an interesting idea! Maybe I should eat less..." That's how it begins. I've had my food issues in the past and I have to be careful not to fall into such traps. I do a lot of racing partly because one cannot run one's best if one's not eating.
Focus on dining, not food. Enjoy what you eat. Now I'm off to run 100 miles - not that I'm obsessive, mind you.
Ultra Loony in jeopardy?
1 day ago