People always ask me some version of this question. Sometimes it is phrased like “is this okay to eat?” “Is this Paleo?” “Is this bad/good for me?” Perhaps those are not the best questions to be asking. You, as an individual, need to assess where you are and where you are going. Nutrition advice broadly can be prescribed as eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar. However, when dealing with the individual not everyone has to adhere so closely to every rule.
Where are you? If you are twenty-something and relatively fit, you have a buffer. You can eat some pizza and drink some beer. You can crush a pint of ice cream. Where do you want to go? If you want to be an extremely competitive athlete then there is less room for pizza, beer, and ice cream. If you are not trying to be super competitive, then it’s okay to make some less awesome food choices.
Conversely, if you are in bad shape and overweight, then you have less wiggle room and need to make better choices more frequently. If your desire is to lose weight, get off the medications, get into better shape, then stay away from dense carbohydrates, processed foods, and sugar-laden snacks. So whether or not you should eat something is more dependent on you and what you are trying to accomplish than the food itself.
It is not enough just say “it’s paleo” or “it’s vegan” or “it’s low-fat” because those are just broad guidelines to guide you toward better choices but they don’t always. For example, people always find a way to get their cheat foods in through loopholes, e.g. Paleo, Vegan or low-fat brownies. Another question you want to ask is how does this food affect me. Everything you eat will have some repercussions. Sometimes we are okay with a tummy ache if we get to eat our ice cream. Sometimes we decide that it is not worth the distress and find an alternative. So when someone asks whether something is Paleo. The more important questions are how does that food affect you? Does it make you sluggish? Bloated? Achy? Gassy? Practicing an elimination diet is a great way to find out if certain categories of foods agree with you. Take grains out of your diet for a month keep track of how you look, feel and perform grain-free. After 30 days slowly add grains back in and see what, if any, side effects come with those grains.
We tend to over-complicate things. Occam’s razor is a principle that tells us we should look for the simplest and most direct solution to a problem. In the case of many, many of the chronic diseases afflicting people worldwide, the simplest solution is to eat better and exercise. It is not merely that the western diet and processed carbohydrates in particular are bad, but they lead to sedentarism, inflammation, depression, and a host of other problems that compound our poor health.
Merely eating better and exercising is the cure. Specifically a diet of meats and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch, and no sugar combined with constantly varied, functional movements executed at a high intensity is the prescription for lifelong health and fitness. So simple that it is elegant and so elegant that it may be optimal.
The poor health that we are experiencing is made worse by a complex web of corporations that profit from our combined ill-health and sickness. Shitty processed foods are a profit center for the corporations that produce them. Adding refined sugars to food makes them more palatable and also highly addictive. This leads to sickness. Unfortunately, the problem with the medical profession is that it is more profitable to treat the symptoms of disease than it is to cure them. Why cure diabetes by regulating carbohydrate consumption when you can sell someone a drug for the rest of their life that eliminates some of the symptoms of diabetes without curing it?
As a society we cannot continue to do this to ourselves. We are digging our graves with our mouths. Beyond just the health concerns we are creating a huge burden on our economy. Our healthcare system is overloaded with costs associated with treating people with diabetes. I challenge you to look up the stats on diabetes (https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/318472.php). It is staggering. Then combine that with the costs associated with Obesity (https://stateofobesity.org/healthcare-costs-obesity/) and Coronary Heart Disease (http://newsroom.heart.org/news/cardiovascular-disease-costs-will-exceed-1-trillion-by-2035-warns-the-american-heart-association) and Cancer (https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-basics/economic-impact-of-cancer.html).
Do the math. We are snowballing downhill out of control. We cannot keep trying to put band-aids on this with drugs. We need to go to the root of the problem and get off the carbs and get off the couch. It’s not too late to turn the ship around.
The common refrain is that we should “listen to our bodies” as if our body held some higher wisdom that we were deaf to. I certainly have pitched that phrase a number of times when at a loss for anything more intelligent to say. However, more and more, I find myself uncomfortable with that advice. Certainly, our body may manifest some warning signs that we should heed. However, more often than not, our body just lies to get what it wants.
If I were to compile a list of the most frequent requests my body makes it would be along the lines of:
1) gratify your sexual urges;
2) eat all the carbs;
3) lie down on the couch and watch netflix instead of working out; and
4) stay up late at night and hit the snooze bar and stay in bed in the morning.
Perhaps your body is giving you better advice. However, if your body is selling the same bad advice as my body, I encourage you to stop listening to it and do the opposite. I am a happily married man and, while I do love the female form, there is no benefit to me ogling women on the internet or in real life. Certainly in today’s climate it is best to find other hobbies. And taking matters into my own hands (as the euphemism goes) is a procrastination device that leaves me hollow and unfulfilled and diverts valuable energy away from productive activities. The goal should be to cultivate a better and more gratifying relationship with my spouse as opposed to spending that energy on more productive actions.
Eating all the carbs gives me a dopamine rush. That hit of dopamine (and insulin) is what helps me stay addicted to carbs. The problem is that more I eat, the more I want. Listening to my body in this regard just makes me fatter and more sluggish. Then I feel worse about myself and my ever-growing gut. When my blood sugar gets low, I get depressed and want more sugar. Then the sugar high makes me feel good for about 15 minutes before it starts to fade and my blood sugar begins to drop again. It’s a vicious cycle that needs to be stopped. Getting off the carbs is the right thing to do despite what my body keeps asking for.
My body seldom tells me to workout. It’s usually so full of carbs and tired from masturbating that it just wants to lie on the couch and binge watch some shows on Netflix. Also I am often sore from the few times that I do workout and my body convinces me that I need to rest. Certainly rest and recovery are important, but I rarely need as much rest as my body requests. A good way to tell is that when I finish working out I often feel better, less sore, and more energized. That is a sign that my body was wrong. On the occasions when I feel worse after working out, I realize that those are the times that I really do need some more rest. People often say that you should not go grocery shopping when you are hungry because you will make bad choices. That seems smart. Similarly, I would not make decisions about working out when you are on the couch. I recommend moving around and warming up before making a decision on whether to work out. It’s the law of inertia: a body at rest wants to stay at rest and a body in motion wants to stay in motion. Do not listen to your body when it tells you to stay on the couch.
When my children are tired it is really obvious to me, but they insist that they are not tired and fight hard to stay up. Sadly, I am no better at going to bed early and judging when I should pack it in for the day. Certainly as adults we have a lot of stuff that we need to get done, but also recognize that sometimes you just waste time at night vegging out in front of the tv or surfing online. Get your work done and then go to bed sooner. On the flip side, try to wake up earlier. Since having kids, I strive to wake up early and get shit done because the only time that I can get stuff done is before the kids wake up. If you want to be productive do not listen to your body and hit the snooze. Set the alarm a half-hour earlier and get up and get to work. Front load as much productivity into the first half of your day and then try to get your evening cleared up so you can get to bed.
The next time your body tries to tell you some bullshit and sabotage your best efforts to be great, ignore it and go be awesome!
I always get asked about supplements. What should I take? What’s the best? How about protein powder? Creatine? Pre-workout? Etc. Here’s the easy truth: you probably don’t need them. Here’s the hard truth: you are looking for a quick fix instead of doing the real hard work. That being said, you are probably going to succumb to the marketing at some point and try some supplements. That’s fine, but let me help you help yourself and empower you to not be a slave to the marketing machine and to make better decisions and obviate the need for supplements.
First, ask yourself why you want supplements at all. What are you trying to accomplish or correct with this supplement? “Supplement” is short for “Dietary Supplement” and that suggests that they should be used to get something that is not provided from your diet. So before you go spending your hard-earned money, try fixing your diet. Eat better quality foods and control the quantity of food that you eat.
If you are eating fast food and looking to take protein powder or creatine or some other supplement, don’t. Clean up your crappy diet. Whatever boost in performance is guaranteed by the supplement company can be matched and exceeded by simply eliminating fast food from your diet and cooking yourself some meat and vegetables. If you’re not willing to eat your vegetables, then buying supplements is a waste of time and money.
Still want to drop some money on supplements? Okay. How will you know if they work? You will need to conduct an experiment of n=1. You need to measure your progress in the gym. Get a journal and write down your workouts and how you performed. How much you lifted, how fast you ran and how many reps you did. You can also track other things like your weight, body fat percentage and how much you slept. Go to the doctor and get some blood work done. These are the types of things that you want to keep track of and measure before you take supplements in order to get a baseline, then again during the supplement trial, and, finally, after you stop taking the supplements to see if you return to your baseline.
Furthermore, how will you know whether any progress was the result of the supplements or something else, like eating less or exercising more? You will have to control certain variables so that they do not impact the results. At the very least, you must maintain a relatively constant daily calorie intake. To be more precise, you need to establish a baseline for how much of each macronutrient you are intaking every day. If you are not getting the proper amount of macronutrients in your diet, then that should be addressed before supplementation. You need protein for your muscles, carbohydrates for energy and fats for satiety. Eating too little will cause you to under perform and eating too much will lead to unnecessary weight gain. Finding the proper amount is a process that could take a few months, but it is worth more than all the supplements out there. It is only after you start tracking exactly how much protein, fats and carbs you eat during a day that you can then see how adding or subtracting something affects your performance.
I recommend doing the Zone Diet or Flexible Dieting and establishing a baseline for one month and then adding a supplement in for another month to see if there is any improvement and then discontinuing for several weeks at the end of the month. This will provide a contrast between your baseline and you on supplements. If you haven’t changed how much you’ve eaten and worked out for the month, then at the end you can measure the gains made by the supplement and also whether there was a drop in performance upon discontinuing use at the end of the month.
It seems like a lot of work, but there is a huge payoff. Doing the hard work of eating right will improve your performance and give you the keys to knowing objectively how you are functioning. It allows you to be objective about your nutrition and your performance.
Nutrition is a controversial topic like religion and politics. The chances of changing someone’s opinions about food are about as likely as changing someone’s sexual orientation. Nonetheless, we try and try. I start with the forrest and then eventually worry about the trees. You can (and probably should at some point) get very obsessive with counting the amount of proteins, carbs and fats you are eating (macros!). However, I believe the biggest improvement you can make to your nutrition is to start to cook.
Now anybody can put a chicken in the oven, but that don’t make them a chef. I am not saying you have to be a good cook, but outsourcing all your food prep to someone else is giving up control of an extremely important part of your life. If you want to improve or optimize your health and performance, you have to pay attention to your nutrition. When you start to cook, then you pay attention to the ingredients. When you start to cook, you pay attention to the portions. The process of cooking awakens you to so many things and makes you conscious of what you are putting in your body.
Ordering in, or heating up pre-packaged meals, is extremely convenient but makes it easy to take for granted everything that goes into preparing food. The gratitude you have for the food and the meal is heightened when you prepare everything yourself or when you cook with friends or family.
I am always shocked when I meet people that don’t cook, but they really exist. If you have never cooked, start small and work on making one meal. Maybe hang out with a friend and have them teach you how to cook. It’s not that hard.
I keep coming back to the idea of healing. In the western terms “healing” means returning to health. That is path many of us are on whether we know it or not. Things we do should move us in that direction. Things that don’t move us toward health should be questioned.
I am starting to question the things I do and ask whether they are healing or not. I am also reflecting on all the various healing strategies I have learned throughout my life and wondering how I can start to incorporate some of them back into my life.
Many of us love to use and abuse our bodies, especially when we are young, but as you get older you realize your body has to last and in order to last, you need to start looking at and utilizing various healing strategies. Get to it!
Do It Tomorrow is a good book on time management by Mark Forster. I read it years ago on the recommendation of a friend. Unfortunately, I found it quite difficult to implement in my life. The premise is simple: make a list of the most important things you are going to do tomorrow before you go to bed. Wake up, look at the list and get cracking! This gives you the benefit of thinking through the most important things while you are calm and helps you create a map for the next day that you can follow in the event that you get bombarded and distracted by life. It also allows you to sleep on it which can help your mind start working to solve big problems while you sleep.
Since starting “Flexible Dieting” or “Counting Macros,” I have found that the habit of choosing my meals for the next day the night before to be an enormous help. I input all my meals and snacks for the next day and move things around so that I be sure to hit my numbers. Sometimes I start with something delicious that I know I want to eat and then see what is left and start to fill it in. Sometimes it’s merely copying and pasting todays food log to tomorrow’s log. Then whenever I get a little hungry, I look at my app on my phone and it tells me what I should eat.
What this does is allow me to save one of my most valuable resources: self restraint. If I wait until I get a craving or starting thinking about pizza and then look in the refrigerator, I most assuredly will not see anything I want to eat and then go to seamless and order something. If I look at what is on my menu for the day, I merely have to go and get it and heat it up. Ultimately, I still have veto power and sometimes go off menu, but having a plan going into each day is great help and I know, from past experiences, that doing it this way leads to much better compliance and results.
Tonight, before you go to bed, plan to make tomorrow the best day.
Most people that try to diet fail. I have. People get discouraged too easily and give up. I don’t. I keep trying because I learn something from every failure. Compliance with a nutrition or an exercise program can be extremely challenging. Self control is a finite resource. If we use all our self control trying to beat a craving for pizza, we stand a good chance of falling victim to the next grilled cheese that crosses our path.
I have a guilty pleasure of reading and listening to books about self improvement. Jack Canfield, Bob Proctor, Zig Ziglar, Tony Robbins, Napoleon Hill, etc. are just a few of the authors that I turn to for words of encouragement. It so happens that this month I have been doing “Flexible Dieting” or “Counting Macros” and coincidentally I started listening to a Zig Ziglar book. I don’t know if it’s related or not, but I find it much easier to stay compliant and exercise self control when listening to Ziglar. Maybe the two things aren’t related but I think there is some benefit to having someone tell you how awesome you when you want to get down on yourself and cheat on your diet.
There is power in words and power in community and power in who you surround yourself with. Doing a nutrition challenge with the gym is good when everyone is in communication and supporting each other. It feels more normal when you’re eating out with friends and you all order salads and pull out your phones and take pictures of your food and plug your meal into your apps. Positive self talk is a great tool to keep you focused as well. I heard that listening to motivational speeches increases your dopamine, endorphin and seratonin levels. So that might help explain that this might be more than a coincidence.
If you want to succeed you have to conspire and plan. Surround yourself with the right people and fill your ears and brain with the right words and thoughts. Every little bit helps.
noun. 1) the domination of one’s thoughts or feelings by a persistent idea, image, desire, etc. 2) a state in which someone thinks about someone or something constantly or frequently especially in a way that is not normal.
The second definition makes obsession sound pejorative: “not normal”. Sure obsession can be bad, but there are some that would call obsession “commitment” or “focus” which are great qualities.
My obsession recently has been with counting macros. I’ve done the Zone diet on and off for many years, so I am familiar with many of the concepts in “Flexible Dieting” or “Counting Macros”. However, finding a new prescription and using an app on my phone to track everything and preparing the night before has brought a new level of obsession to my food game. Is a normal? Probably not. Is it an eating disorder? No. It’s just a quest for a deeper level of understanding.
Any quest for deeper knowledge will take on a form of obsession as the student thinks constantly about the topic. New levels of understanding and knowledge can only be achieved through obsession. Anybody that is an expert at something at some point was obsessed with that something. My goal to understand my diet inside and out and to use nutrition to fuel my life and my performance is currently in that process of obsession. After a month of this I hope to be far more knowledgable and intelligent with regards to my nutrition. I don’t know that the obsession will last but the knowledge, once acquired, will be with me forever.
The concept of “Ready, Fire, Aim” is simple, you have to act first, see how far off target you are, and then make proper adjustments. This is how real life works. In real life we are not snipers. We do not abide by “One Shot, One Kill.” In life we can’t plan and plan and plan and then just execute once and be perfect. Our lives are lived paddling a boat in a storm. Life is constantly conspiring to push us off course and our job is to keep redirecting and steering ourselves back toward the lighthouse.
I started counting my macros last week. I executed the plan to a “T” all week. Every day I was supposed to hit my goal of 185g of protein, 204g of carbohydrates, and 53g of fat. I was within 2 or 3 g of my goal every day. You know what happened. I started losing weight for a few days and then it stopped and went back up. That’s not how it’s supposed to work. Week 1 was a failure. If I had a “one shot, one kill” mindset, I would say, “This shit didn’t work. It’s not for me. Counting macros sucks. I quit.” However, I embrace the mindset of “ready, fire, aim” and think, “Something is not right, I have to recalculate my macros and try again.”
If every time you eat a slice of pizza, you think to yourself, “My diet is ruined, I might as well eat the whole pie.” You will surely never hit your target. If you instead say to yourself, “That slice threw me off course, what do I have to do to get back on course.” You will be able to achieve your goals and enjoy a slice or two along the way.