80/10/10 Allstar: Kathleen Leonard : Runner, Cyclist, Triathlete, Endurance Athlete

Published: Wed, 15 Jul 2009


Another interview in our "Low-Fat Raw Vegan Elite Athlete" series.

"Cutting out the fat made the ultimate difference in my health. Fueling with fruits, I am less fatigued. I can train longer and harder, and my recovery time is unreal. I can now recover from hard, intense training or races within days instead of weeks."
ATHLETE BIO: Kathleen Leonard has been an athlete all her life. She views each new challenge as an adventure, often conquering longstanding fears along the way. In her mid-twenties, she learned to downhill ski, initially dreading the experience but eventually mastering black-diamond runs. When she took up running in the late eighties, six miles seemed a long stint. Now, marathons are a breeze, and she looks forward to a hundred-mile ultramarathon for her next adventure. She is also training for her first ironman triathlon, which has required her first to learn to swim and then to overcome her fear of swimming in open waters. Thirty-eight years young, this 80/10/10 Allstar knows no limits. Says Kathleen, "I feel like I am just getting started and my potential has yet to be reached."

Tell us about yourself: your age, where you live, your job, your family, and the like.

My name is Kathleen Leonard. I am 38 years old and I live in Washington state. I am a stay-at-home mom. I have been happily married for 15 years and have three wonderful daughters, ages 9, 7 and 6.

Do you eat 100% raw vegan?


How long have you been eating the 80/10/10 way?

I started on the path of 811rv in April of 2007. I took about a year to transition.

Why did you choose this path?

I chose this path for my family. My oldest daughter was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis at the age of three. I knew diet and disease were related, and after some research found out that there was a link between the consumption of dairy and arthritis. I wanted to find out the truth about the foods we eat so that my family could be healthy and happy.

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 with 80/10/10.

I was raised eating the standard American diet. Breakfast was always cereal with milk, eggs and bacon, or French toast. Lunch was a sandwich with chips and cookies. Dinner was meat and potatoes and steamed veggies. We always had desserts of cake and ice cream. We rarely ate raw veggies unless it was with a dip. There were some fresh fruits in the house, but I never really enjoyed eating them. We ate out at restaurants or ate fast food at least twice a week.

Through adulthood I maintained good weight and worked out, so I never really had to watch what I ate.

In 2005, I looked into the raw diet but never fully embraced it. It made a lot of sense, but I didn't know how to go about it. At the same time, my family had stopped consuming dairy, and we were also transitioning meat out of our diet. Since I couldn't make the raw diet work myself, I decided just to incorporate more whole foods. Foods without all the chemicals and additives. Our diet was more plant based, with fruits, vegetables, grains, and some fish 2-3 times a month. I thought this would be a well-rounded diet. The family health greatly improved. We still got sick, but it lasted only days, not weeks. In 2007 I read The 80/10/10 Diet and Grain Damage books and was so thrilled to finally read nutrition information that made sense. I immediately dropped all fats and grains from my diet, and for three weeks I went through some detox. I started to feel better than I had in a long time. My husband didn't jump into 811rv right away but slowly incorporated more fruits and less fat. He then lost 30 pounds and finished two ironmans. My children are a different story, because kids can be picky eaters. I didn't want to overwhelm them and take out the foods they enjoy, but I make sure they get their fruits and veggies in every day, and I keep junk food out of the house.

Omitting dairy, wheat, and meat in my daughter's diet helped her arthritis tremendously. She no longer has severe pain like she once did.

Were you sick before going raw?

Growing up, I played sports from elementary school through high school. And in college, I took up cycling and running. I always maintained a good level of fitness and for the most part was healthy, but being fit does not always mean you are healthy.

I had the typical childhood illnesses. I was hospitalized at the age of four with croup. In high school I had such a bad case of mononucleosis that I should have been hospitalized. In college I got sick and I ended up in the hospital, where the doctors did not know what was wrong with me. Looking back, my diet was horrible. I did not eat any fresh produce, and the stress of school didn't help either. My body was in distress, and it shut down. After my illness, I decided to take a look at my diet. I knew I had been undereating. (In college I never seemed to have enough money for food.) So I started eating more, but of course it wasn't fresh produce. It was mostly meats and grains. Through my 20s, I made sure I watched what I ate. I didn't overdo it on fats and overall managed to stay thin. I had two to three head colds a year and thought that was normal. It wasn't until after I had my third child that I started having digestive difficulties. Eating badly for so many years had eventually caught up to me. For two years I was constantly bloated and constipated. I tried the high-raw fat approach, which didn't help and actually made me worse. I figured one day these issues would just go away. I continued to eat a lot of raw meals and cooked food. I thought I was eating the best I could. But my digestive issues never got better.

I never had a weight issue, because I always made sure I worked out and stayed in shape. As a runner I tried to increase my mileage, but the energy level was never there. I thought people who ran marathons were born with some sort of gift. Little did I know that all of us are born with that gift.

Does your partner eat the way you do?


Has eating an 811rv diet changed how your family (household) eats?

Absolutely. My husband and I follow 811. Our kids eat large amounts of fruits and greens but also have cooked vegan dishes. They see what other kids eat, and they know why we eat the way we eat. We are always educating them on food choices, and they see how healthy they are compared to kids who consume dairy and eat junk food. My kids are happy, calm, and do very well in school. Kathleen3

Give us a sample of your daily diet and lifestyle routine.

Mornings I usually have melons and/or orange juice. If it is a long workout day, then I will eat bananas. I work out two hours after my first meal. For lunch I eat 10 to 15 bananas. Dinner is fruit, followed by a salad. Or cucumber noodles with a fruity sauce.

Isn't that too much fruit?

It is never too much fruit. Since I began 811, I feel better and better. My blood sugar never spikes and my energy and digestion are smooth.

Do you ever have cravings for cooked foods or gourmet high-fat raw foods?

If I undereat, I get cravings for some fatty foods. But I always manage to keep my fat intake under 10%. Also, I no longer crave salt. Salt makes me feel bloated and dehydrated. My eyes get puffy, and I get brown circles under them. Getting my carbohydrates from fresh, ripe fruits helped me overcome my salt cravings, though I'm not sure if I had salt cravings or that salt was always attached to fatty foods that I used to love. But either way, I no longer eat or miss my salty, fatty foods. I know how they make me feel, and that keeps me away from them.

Besides diet, food, and nutrition, what other lifestyle factors do you find most important in supporting you in following 811rv?

Staying active. Getting a full night's sleep. Being outdoors and in the sunshine.

Do you ever wonder whether you're getting enough (protein, calories, micronutrients of your choosing)?

No, I don't worry anymore. As long as I meet my caloric needs with fruits, get my greens in, and feel fantastic, then I know that I am doing everything right.

What are some of the personal benefits (excluding athletic performance) you've experienced since transitioning to an 811rv diet?

One thing that I noticed is that I no longer have cold hands and feet during the winter time. There would be times when nothing would warm them up. And if my hands and feet were cold, I was cold. Keeping my fat intake low has helped my circulation.

Second, my skin is no longer dry. I don't have to use lotion for my hands, and they no longer crack from dryness. During the winter I used to develop mild eczema and actually had to get a prescription for a steroid lotion. I no longer need the medicine.

I also have no body odor or bad breath. I get out of bed in the morning feeling refreshed and not groggy. I sleep like a baby.

Compare for us your experiences eating a low-fat raw diet versus the popular high-fat version? How do you view the two differently?

Two big differences for me were constipation and low energy. All the fat I was eating just completely shut down my digestive system. It left me tired. Fruit is what fuels our bodies best.

How have you found it socially to eat this way?

So far socially I have not had a problem. If I don't make an issue of food, then it usually goes unnoticed that I am not eating like everybody else. Kathleen2

How have your family and friends reacted to your dietary choices?

Most of my family and friends don't know exactly what I eat. They just think I am eating more fruits and veggies. They really don't say much and actually support most of my food choices because, they are aware that we changed our eating habits to help our daughter overcome her arthritis.

A few friends do know we follow 811rv, and they think it is great. If someone asks what kind of diet I follow, I would be happy to explain it.

How have others in your sports community reacted to your dietary choices?

Lots of other athletes have seen me carry my homemade sports drinks and all my bananas on my bike, and they are very curious. I try to explain in a very simple way why I choose fruit carbs over grains. Most agree with me but are very accustomed to their gels and man-made drinks. They worry about trying something different. I tell them that I used to use those too, but they never gave me energy and usually left me with a stomachache. Most are happy that I have found something that works for me, but have no desire to make a change themselves. I have noticed that people are really afraid of change, even when their current program is not working for them.

Have you had success finding ripe fruits when traveling?

I have not had a problem finding ripe fruits while traveling. We usually bring our own, and there is always a store nearby. So no difficulties. I have not been on an airplane since starting 811, but I wouldn't be too worried if I had to fly.

How long have you been vegan?

I started looking into veganism four years ago.

What about veganism appeals to you?

Everything. The house no longer smells like burnt flesh for days after cooking it. There's no scrubbing grease off pots and pans. No more worrying about what was injected into the meat. No more worrying about sterilizing the whole kitchen and my hands after handling raw meat. No more worrying whether my kids will start puberty at age 10, or 9, or 8.

Are there things about being vegan that you find challenging?

I find nothing challenging about being vegan.

Describe a typical day of training.

I train six days a week. I bike, run, or swim for one to two hours per day. I also weight train two to three times a week. In the fall and winter months I weight train more intensely. Weekends usually include 3+ hours of biking and a high-mileage run.

As an athlete, you have quite specific nutritional needs. How do you meet the demands of your training through your nutritional choices?

I make sure I always have ripe fruits available, especially bananas. I make sure that I eat until I am full. I eat seasonally and have mono meals for breakfast and lunch. This helps my digestion and recovery. I like to eat a variety of nonsweet fruits and veggies at dinner.

When training through periods of maximum exertion, what do you eat, and how much per day, typically?

An example for me would be a 100-mile ride. An hour before the ride, I eat about five bananas and drink some water. On my ride, I carry four bananas in my jersey and four bananas on my bike, along with a bag full of dates. In one water bottle, I carry my "sports drink," grapes juiced along with one stalk of celery. And of course two to three bottles of water.

After the ride, I like to eat half of a large watermelon. Then about an hour later, I have about ten bananas. Dinner is more fruit with a salad. On a day like that, I can eat up to 4,000 calories.

Can you tell us about any overall athletic performance improvements you've noticed since adopting 811rv?

I feel lighter and stronger. I can train hard and see noticeable improvements sooner. Recovery time is unreal. I can now recover from hard, intense training or races within days instead of weeks. Although I still take time to rest, I don't seem to need as much water as other athletes and I am always hydrated. I don't overheat. I don't "hit the wall," and my muscles never cramp. I always seem to have enough fuel left in my tank to cross the finish line. Before 811, I trained hard but had a problem with fueling. Energy bars and gels left me with no energy. And after a long workout it took some time to recover for the next workout. I would also get sick after races or long runs Fueling with fruits, I am less fatigued. I can train longer and harder. My immune system can handle the stress of a strenuous workout or race, as long as I keep hydrated, meet my caloric needs with fruit and get plenty of sleep.

What are some of your most notable recent athletic achievements while maintaining a strict 811rv diet?

Before 811rv I was running an average of 8 to 9 minutes per mile. I felt like I was just stuck at that pace. Now I am running 5Ks, 10Ks and half marathons in a 7- to 8- minute pace. I also run marathons and I am hoping to break 3:50 in the next year (I think I am there now). I have run a 50K ultramarathon in 5:50, and I am always looking to better my time. I have also raced in triathlons for the last four years. I almost always finish at the top in my age group.

What athletic goals do you have moving forward?

I am currently training for Ironman Canada 2009. And I will most likely do it in 2010, as well. I feel like I am just getting started and my potential has yet to be reached. Eventually I would like to qualify for Ironman Hawaii. So I am focusing more this year on learning about nutrition and training for the ironman.

I also have my sights set on a 100-mile ultramarathon in the next few years. Endurance races are what I really enjoy. And since I began following the 811 diet, I know anything is possible. I am confident that I can handle any endurance event now.

How did you learn about Dr. G and 811rv?

I came across it on a raw-food discussion group online, and one of the comments really caught my attention. Someone mentioned the volume of fruit he ate something like 10 bananas, 10 mangoes, etc. That caught my interest, as I love fruit and the rest is history.

What is your personal opinion of Dr. G's book, The 80/10/10 Diet?

It is by far the best nutritional book around. Every chapter was explained very well, laid out in a very understandable manner.

Have any particular points or messages in The 80/10/10 Diet stuck with you, above all else?

The biggest message that really struck me was the chapter on fat. It made me realize that my fat percentage was too high and how that can deteriorate my health, even the good fats. Cutting the fat out of my diet made the ultimate difference in my health. After reading the 80/10/10 book, I immediately dropped my fat intake to below 10% and increased my fruits. Within days, my constipation and bloating went away, and my energy increased.

Do you think people on a tight budget can do this diet?

Very easily. We've learned to buy in bulk to save money. A lot of our bulk produce is non-organic because it is cheaper, and it is usually bananas, oranges, mangos, and tomatoes. In the summer I buy locally grown organic fruits, which tend to cost less than fruit that has to be shipped in. I stick with organic for my greens, celery, and berries. I buy what is on sale at the store. And if they offer a great deal on a particular fruit, then that is what we eat for the next few days.

What one piece of advice would you give a newbie to 811, or someone who is looking to refine their program?

My advice would be to take some time to transition. Don't get frustrated; it is a learning process. Your body needs some time to adjust to the volume of fruit. And you'll need to learn proper food combining, how to ripen fruit and keep your house stocked, and how to shop for the best produce deals

Don't give up, listen to your body, and you'll reap the benefits of 811rv.

I want to thank Dr. Graham for helping me get through my first year of transition. He was not only my nutrition coach but a friend. He was there for me seven days a week if I needed any advice or guidance. He was positive, upbeat, and always happy to hear from me. I also want to thank the FoodnSport staff, whom I have gotten to know over the last year. Their creativity, kindness, and attention to detail in everything they do amazes me.THANK YOU FROM THE BOTTOM OF MY HEART! Kathleen3

To read all interviews in our 80/10/10 Allstars series, visit the FoodnSport blog.