80/10/10 Allstar Michael Arnstein
Ultramarathoner and Triathlete
Another interview in our "Low-Fat Raw Vegan Elite Athlete" series
Tell us about yourself: your age, where you live, your job, your family, etc?
My name is Michael Arnstein. I was born January 1977; I'm 32 years old. I am married with 3 children, aged 8, 7, and 3. I run a small to medium-sized software/ecommerce business. I live and work in New York City.
Describe your journey to 80/10/10 from the diet you were raised with, to the other dietary approaches you tried, to how you learned about and came to embrace veganism, to where you are now.
I grew up in a house that ate what I consider a better-than-average SAD (standard American diet). My mother's idea of a healthy eating was something like this:
- Breakfast: 2% milk (not whole milk), and any cereal where sugar was not the 1st ingredient on the box.
- Lunch: Peanut butter and jelly, or tuna fish (with mayo, of course), carrot sticks, and maybe a chocolate cookie.
- Dinner: Lamb chops, meatloaf, or fried fish, steamed broccoli (with butter), mashed potatoes (with more butter). Fast food on weekends was a treat, and soda was something reserved for parties or special events.
I was chubby, but not a heavy kid, growing up. I was at the doctor for strep throat or viral or bacterial Illnesses on a semimonthly basis. I had an older brother and sister who began to lean more toward healthier eating when they entered high school sports. I developed the same habits of trying to eat more healthfully from their lead as I entered high school at the age of 15. Healthier eating basically meant cutting out red meat and any fried foods. So my journey to improve my diet effectively started when I was 15.
Over the years I began to eliminate more and more unhealthy foods as I learned more about nutrition, diet, and athletic training performance. I was a competitive runner through high school and was ranked on a state level by my senior year. By this time I considered myself a strict vegetarian, eating mostly cooked low-fat plants and grains.
I prided myself on my strict diet at a young age, as well as the ethical aspects of eating a more simple diet. As I entered my 20s, I began to eliminate other foods as a new year's resolution. Each year I cut out something new. Fish, milk/cream, cheese, eggs and products made with eggs, and all fried foods. By the time I was 26 years old, I was a very strict vegan.
At 28 years old I tried the traditional raw-food approach, mainly a very high-fat diet of nut butters, loads of avocados and all kinds of raw crackers. For about eight weeks, I ate this diet, but in the end I felt very heavy and tired eating this way. My running performance did not improve, even though I did seem to lose a few pounds of body weight during this time.
Soon after this raw diet attempt, I decided to try the Atkins diet—but not with meat protein; rather, I ate vegetable protein shakes, or whey protein shakes. I lost a lot of weight while eating protein shakes for two of my three meals each day. Although my body weight dropped significantly, I struggled with my running and athletics on the high-protein diet, and actually developed a stress fracture in my tibia, which sidelined my running for almost a year.
I subsequently went back to my low-fat cooked vegan diet, eating lots of soups, beans, and grains. (If you are familiar with the diet that Dr. Fuhrman prescribes in his book Eat to Live, this is how I primarily ate throughout my 20s). During this time, I pursued running and triathlon training, yet did not improve upon my performances, even as my diet varied and became more healthy and restrictive. I continued to read many books on diet and how it affected athletic performance, believing that I knew everything there was to know about superior diet and health. Then just before New Year's, in December of 2007, my wife was reading a book about a raw-food diet. She urged me to read this new book, 80/10/10, which I brushed off as dietary approach I had tried and considered a poor choice. She exclaimed that this was not a regular raw diet, that it was a low-fat fruit and vegetable diet. At her continued urging I picked up the book and agreed to read the first few chapters.
What about veganism appeals to you?
Veganism is a logical choice. There are countless benefits, both to the person eating the vegan diet, and for the world we live in. Eating a vegan diet is far more beneficial all around over an animal/dairy-based diet.
How did you learn about Dr. G and/or 811rv?
My wife has pursued "better health" in diet and exercise with me since we were married. She shares the same passion for improving our quality of health and life through diet and exercise. She has consistently read more and more books on the subject over the years, and she stumbled upon Dr. Graham's 80/10/10 book while reading about Natural Hygiene.
How long have you been eating this way?I immediately adopted the 80/10/10 low-fat raw plant diet after reading the book in January 2008. I have become more and more dedicated as I continue to eat this way. I am more convinced, comfortable, and confident in this diet the longer I maintain eating this way.
Can you give us a sample of your daily diet and lifestyle routine?
I remain highly motivated in my athletic pursuits, so my day is based around my daily workouts. If I am doing a morning workout, my daily diet goes like this: Upon waking, I immediately drink 2 liters of distilled water. Then I juice two large glasses worth of fresh organic oranges. I start my workout. After my workout, I usually eat one type of fresh, ripe, in-season fruit for the rest of the day, until dinner time. Common ones include oranges, bananas, melons, or apples. For dinner I usually have a large salad of romaine lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, maybe some avocado on occasion. If I have a dressing it is usually just some blended orange. A late-night snack might be grapes, mango, or some other more exotic/seasonal fruit.
How does eating a low-fat raw-food diet compare to eating a high-fat raw diet? How do you view the two differently?
As an athlete I feel and perform much much better when I maintain a low-fat diet. If I have more than half of an avocado the night before a workout, I feel lethargic and heavy the next morning. My face is visibly oily. This is not a psychological reaction; I notice a real physical difference time and time again. The less overt fat I eat, the better I feel, in both my clarity of mind and my daily athletic pursuits.
Do you ever have cravings for cooked foods or gourmet high-fat raw foods?
Before adopting the 80/10/10 diet, I spent years and years on a yo-yo diet. This is where I would maintain a diet of simple cooked or raw foods, followed by binge eating of vegan cookies, ice cream, pizza, donuts, gourmet fried vegan foods, and other highly addictive processed foods. The boom-bust yo-yo reaction to eating simply, coupled with my subsequent very poor physical condition, taught me valuable lessons. In many ways I look at eating processed addictive foods as a real-life drug addiction. I do occasionally crave these addictive foods when I see them or smell them, but I immediately and vividly recall how these foods make me feel very poor and badly harm my health and subsequent mental state should I eat them. I've emotionally divorced myself from eating foods that do not make me feel good and are not good for my health. I look at eating cooked processed foods the same way I look at smoking a cigarette or doing drugs. In my mind, there is no difference. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. I no longer will consider going back on my health; my health is my most precious gift.
What are some of the benefits you've experienced while transitioning your diet to a strict 811rv diet?
There are endless benefits from eating an 811rv diet, and I continue to notice new ones all the time. Some of the most immediate benefits that I noticed in the first few weeks were the following:
- Body odor: I literally did not have a smell. My clothes at the end of the day didn't have an odor.
- Skin/hair: I noticed that my skin and hair were not oily; my skin was not dry, either.
- Body fat: I lost considerable body fat in the first few weeks, yet my energy level was very high.
- Vision: My sight was sharper; I could see better at a distance. I actually noticed this very real change.
- Mucus: I didn't have any mucus in my throat or nose; my sinus passages were extremely open.
- Digestion: I wasn't ever tired after a big meal (of fruit), as I always experienced when eating cooked food.
- Ear wax: I noticed that when I cleaned my ears after a shower, almost no wax was present anymore.
- Smell: My sense of smell improved. Cooked-food smells became highly intensified.
- Taste: I noticed improved sense of taste; I was more sensitive to small differences in the same type of fruit.
- Nails: My toenails used to have flaky scaling; my nails become very clean and and new looking.
- Illness: When my kids and wife were ill with viral colds, I didn't notice any cold symptoms as I was expecting.
- Lighter: When I woke in the morning I would feel light when I got out of bed, fresher.
- Elimination: Bathroom visits became fast, efficient, and effortless.
- Exercise: I almost immediately saw improvements in my running efficiency; I was running faster.
- Sweating: My sweat did not smell. When sweat would go in my eyes it did not burn, nor did it taste.
- Teeth: I did not have a film buildup on my teeth like I normally experienced on my old diet.
- Cravings: I stopped having the intense feelings of I have to eat something now! Strong hunger stopped.
- Simplicity: Mentally I freed up a large part of my day that normally was devoted to planning meals.
- Mental clarity: I absolutely noticed that I no longer daydreamed or had any brain fog at work.
- Positive attitude: I noticed that my personality and mood became very stable.
I noticed these many small but very significant changes soon after adopting a strict 811rv diet. More substantial changes continue to occur in my health and athletic abilities the longer I maintain this diet and lifestyle.
Has eating an 811rv diet changed how your family eats?
When my wife and I married, we both had some personal requests of each other. One of mine was that we would never allow animal flesh or fast/junk food in our house. We have had that restriction in place since day one, so adding more fresh raw fruits and vegetables was not a big change. We simply bought less grains and processed vegan foods.
My wife and children try their best to eat a diet that is primarily 811rv, yet they do eat cooked vegetables and grains. Our children are very aware that they may make choices on what they eat, and daddy is far happier when they choose a banana over a rice cake covered in sugar or spices.
Can you tell us about any challenges, issues, or difficult realities you've experienced while eating an 811rv diet in a world of SAD eaters?By far the most noticeable issues with eating an 811rv diet are when I am in social environments, such as family holiday gatherings, or going to a restaurant. No person wants to feel like an outcast, the oddball, or the antisocial eater. Very often I find that the people who are most uncomfortable with what they are eating are the cooked/SAD diet eaters in social gatherings. They question why, why, why I am not eating what they are eating, even if I don't explain that I don't eat the food they are eating. I usually just say I'm not hungry, or I just ate a big meal. People seem to feel uncomfortable eating around other people who are not eating. I find that interesting to note.
Now in social settings where people are eating, I try to bring my own food, or chose healthy options that may be there such as carrot or celery sticks and club soda. Still, social stigma with family members and friends can lend to an annoying reality that you must deal with. Yet keeping your commitment to your health and eating an 811rv diet in social settings is worth the annoyance after you see everyone taking antacid medications and complaining of health problems as they eat their after-dinner drinks and cakes.
Describe your current athletic training.
Diet is the foundation of my health, but there are so many other very important variables in achieving optimal health and performing well athletically. The other main factors that I find extremely important are enough sleep, low mental stress, range of motion/flexibility, not over- or undertraining, and sports-specific workouts. As a competitive runner, I train differently at various times of the year for different events such as 5k/10k, half-marathon, marathon, ultra marathon, and triathlons. My diet fluctuates mainly on quantity of calories that I consume. If I am working out more, I eat more. It is almost impossible to overeat on an 811rv diet; you eat until your body naturally tells you to stop.
How do you meet the demands of your training through your nutritional choices?
I listen to my body. In the summer I crave celery and tomatoes more than I do in the winter months, so I simply increase my intake of what I crave. My body is very in tune with what it needs when I eat a very clean natural raw diet.
When I am doing loads of long-duration workouts, I turn to bananas and melons, as they give me a lot of calories to fuel my workouts. When I am working on increasing my speed and doing shorter workouts, I find myself eating more citrus, which feels right for those workouts. If you give your body a chance to clean house and you eat a clean, low-fat 811rv diet, you will notice incredible powers that your body posses.
What other aspects of health do you find important in complementing an 811rv diet/lifestyle?
A clean 811rv diet is the foundation for good health. I find so many other parts of my life flow and improve from the success and health benefits that my 811rv diet provides. I feel like my diet is like rich soil, and from it a strong tree of a person can grow in all directions. First and foremost, my relationship with myself improves greatly from eating an 811rv diet. I have self-love and respect, choosing not to harm myself with my old diet of addictive foods that make me feel physically and mentally poor. When I have self-love, self-confidence, and a positive mental attitude, these things carry over, making me a better person in every other area of my life: I am more giving, more patient, and less selfish. My relationships with people are more intimate. I find myself giving more of myself. 811rv is a foundation for a positive attitude. I am able to think with more clarity and speed when eating an 811rv diet. This allows me to manage my business and daily job duties far more efficiently. This arguably allows me to make more money and have more free time for other things in my life. Intensive exercise is something that I fully enjoy. I like to see how much I can push my body, to see its full power and potential. This to me is excitement in life. My 811rv diet allows for these physical challenges. Sleep becomes more of a priority, as I want to fully rest my body after intensive workouts. Eating an 811rv diet allows you to sleep far better, as your body is not preoccupied with digesting heavy cooked foods. There are endless benefits and rewards that originate with eating an 811rv diet.
Can you tell us about your athletic performance improvements on an 811rv diet?
I immediately noticed my body composition change in the first 4 weeks of eating 811rv. I went from about 10% body fat to 3-4% (lost about 10 lbs; went from 133 to 122 lbs. I am 5'4" tall). This was a remarkable change, as I was able to drop to this weight in the past only while attempting the Atkins diet (on non-animal protein shakes), yet my energy levels were extremely high, and I was eating a tremendous amount of fresh raw fruit. My running times in training and races began to drop significantly.
- I attribute this to many factors, the main ones being:
- Lower body weight/reduced body fat.
- Oxygen absorption improvements: Almost no mucus in my respiratory system.
- Improved recovery: I found myself recovering so quickly from my workouts and slept better.
These three core changes work to improve countless secondary reactions, such as efficiency and form improvements. Muscular contractions are improved with less intramuscular fat.
What are some of your recent athletic achievements while maintaining a strict 811rv diet?
I ran my first marathon when I was 18 years old. I ran it in 2:52 and qualified for the Boston Marathon, where I ran a 2:47. For literally the next 10 years I could never run faster than a 2:45 marathon. No matter what my training, I had completely plateaued in my performance. I adopted the 811rv diet in early January 2008. In late February, I ran the Napa Valley Marathon in 2:34.07, finishing second overall. I have subsequently run 6 marathons under 2:40 in the last 18 months, with my current best time of 2:31.49 (5:47 per mile) in the 2008 NYC Marathon, placing 48th overall. Before adopting 811rv, my best half marathon time was 1:17. Fifteen months after adopting the diet, my half marathon improved to a very fast 1:10 (5:24 per mile). These are not incremental improvements. These are incredible changes in a runner who most would argue is past his prime. I am now in my mid 30s and running faster than I ever have in my life, and I continue to run faster and faster the longer I eat this way.
What athletic goals do you have, going forward?
- My future goals include:
- Running a few hundred-mile ultramarathons (Leadville, Western States, Badwater 135)
- Breaking 9 hours in an Ironman Triathlon (current PR is 9:38 at the Ironman Lake Placid NY course)
- Running a sub-2:25 marathon
- Running a sub-1:10 half marathon
- Running at sub-32:00 10K
- Running a sub-15:30 5k
- Running a sub-9:40 2 mile
- Running a sub-4:30 mile
What reactions have you gotten to your dietary choices from your family/friends?
My extended family and friends look at me with a sense of curiosity and wonder. They thought I was not sane when I adopted the 811rv diet, yet now after so much time and success eating this way, they marvel at how successful I am. They are not willing to adopt this way of living, as they claim to be too comfortable with their existing SAD diets, yet they no longer claim that how I am eating is unhealthy or even dangerous as they first suggested. My immediate family eats primarily an 811rv diet, which I am extremely grateful for.
And reactions from others in your sport community?
At first my athletic training partners thought I was falling off the deep end when I adopted a strict 811rv diet. Many predicted I would get injured and emotionally fail. Yet now after tremendous improvements in my athletics, most people that know of my 811rv diet are trying to adopt it in their own lives. I encourage them to try to do more 811rv meals, and that they will naturally grow into feeling comfortable eating this way at all times.
What do you imagine is the future of vegan athletics?
I have receive many athletic/health magazines for well over ten years now, and I do see so many more articles about increasing our raw fruit and vegetable intake. I think more and more serious athletes will move to an 811rv diet, or a diet primarily composed of 811rv foods, when they are in serious training. As more athletes see that pills, powders, and potions really don't work, they will find that Mother Nature's food is the best bet for optimal performance. There is no other choice. Many companies that sell packaged foods will continue to market silver bullets, but I think as more health-minded top-level athletes open up about their diets (such as I am trying to do) you will see a big shift to a natural 811rv diet as the standard. It's the future, which is a blessing.
What is your personal review of Dr. G's book, The 80/10/10 Diet?
The book itself was one of the simplest, most straightforward, logical and easy-reading books I have ever experienced. It was a pure joy to read. The messages so perfectly built on each other, and the entire book is perfectly well rounded and written. Everyone that I have given a copy to has commented on how well the messages flow. Dr. Graham is a very well-written author.
Was there any one point or message in The 80/10/10 Diet that stuck with you above all else?Simplicity. I found that after reading about eating an 811rv diet, I just felt calmness in the simplicity of it all. It is so natural, so direct, so easy, so right. If you could change something about your transition to the 811rv diet what would it be? I would eat only organic. When I first started with 811RV, I ate conventionally grown produce, and I can say that I feel that is a big mistake. When you are eating conventionally grown produce you are taking in potentially huge amounts of chemicals, and other unhealthy contaminants that conventional food is grown with. I have suggested to Dr. Graham that he refer to 811RV as 811ORV (O for organic), as I feel organic is an essential element in maintaining good health. Plus organic produce tastes so much better! I also wish I found a bulk organic produce supplier earlier. Since searching for a wholesale organic distributor, I now save a ton of money and get the freshest organic produce.
Is there anything you plan to change or do differently with your 811rv diet going forward?I plan to keep my focus on eating mono meals. I have found this to be very, very beneficial. When I first read about mono meals and issues about food combining, I personally thought that it was a subject of little importance. But now after eating many many mono meals, I see and feel a big difference when I do so as often as possible. It is far easier on my digestion. I plan on purchasing a third refrigerator for my basement! You need a lot of storage space when eating 811rv
Do you find yourself frequently debunking myths or inaccuracies about veganism?I've had a few blood tests since going 811rv. I almost expected that my b12 or iron level would be too low, and/or my fatty acid profile would not be optimal. Yet my tests have all been excellent, and I have no issues with any of my blood test results. My blood is "optimal" in all areas. I was worried I might experience another bone stress fracture as I saw my body weight drop quickly when I adopted 811rv, yet even with very-high-mileage running weeks, I have had the miracle of not being injured since going 811rv. This is simply amazing in itself.
What suggestions could you offer someone considering taking up an 811rv diet?I would suggest that if anyone doubts or questions a diet, they should only do so after they have given it a serious trial. I would highly suggest a 30 day 811rv attempt before anyone passes judgment. It works; I am living proof. And I place physical demands on my body in my training that very very few people endure, and yet I thrive.
Michael's Before and After pictures.
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