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What do I eat? Well, I eat just about everything, including all kinds of things I shouldn’t eat. Look, I’m human and occasionally I consume things I know aren’t good for me. I believe you only go around once in this life, so enjoy (within limits). So did I eat the giant cupcake my family got me for my birthday dinner the other night? You bet I did! Did I stress about it? Nope.
I think a better question is, “What do I try not to eat?” This is a more relevant question–the key word being “try,” because I readily admit that sometimes I lack control when it comes to food. The simple answer is I try to avoid:
- refined sugar
- grains (breads, pasta, cereals, and yes, oatmeal)
- processed food
- seed oils (vegetable, canola, corn, sunflower, soybean, etc.)
Simple, right? Not for me ! Sugar and grains are highly addictive to me. For example, if I happen to “fall off the wagon” so to speak and find a package of Oreo cookies in the pantry, I can’t just eat one or two cookies–I’ll eat the entire sleeve. Ditto for ice cream, pizza, pretzels, M&Ms and on and on! Oh, and I am an expert in rationalizing, while I’m eating this stuff–it is okay for me to be pigging out because I had a bad day, or I killed it in the gym earlier and deserve it…whatever the lame reason!
The truth is, if the junk is not in the house I am not going to eat it–I am very good about not buying this stuff at the store.
Now that we know what I try and stay away from, let’s go back to address the question of what I do try and eat. The answer is both simple yet complex! (I know, that sounded like a politician at a debate ) To answer the question in the simplest terms, I try to eat natural, whole foods, or as the great Sean Croxton calls it: JERF, Just Eat Real Food. Essentially I try to eat foods that make me feel good and that I think support my efforts to thrive physically, mentally, and emotional–I have determined my current eating habits from tons of self-experimentation.
Most of my adult life, partly for health reasons but mostly due to vanity, I have fiddled with my diet, looking for the best way to eat. I was very active in my 20s and 30s playing basketball, tennis and golf. I also worked out in the weight room consistently (although now I feel like I could have been much more efficient when it comes to weights, but that is a topic for an upcoming post). From the mid-90s and into the 2000s I played full court basketball three times a week before work plus leagues at night and I was in great shape. I do remember asking one of the trainers in the gym how I could get rid of those last few belly pounds so I could see those abs I knew were hiding under the surface–I wish I knew then what I know now because losing body fat for me is easy. See, I told you I’m vane! I continued this active lifestyle after we had kids. In fact, I remember the morning my daughter was born I left the hospital to play in the regular 6am basketball game while Mom and Madison slept.
Throughout this whole time I would tinker with different diets, usually making changes based on the latest book I had read or a television/radio show I had heard. For example, in an attempt to maximize my athletic performance, I got the book and I tried “The Zone Diet” by Dr. Barry Sears (which is somewhat close to my eating habits today). On the other extreme I went vegetarian for about 72 hours based on Dr. John McDougall (with various “diets” in between). Keep in mind my weight was never really an issue, this was more about keeping slim and being healthy.
Then, in July of 2004 I made the decision to write a novel (shameless plug: The WILCO Project, published in 2010) and stopped doing any type of exercise while eating poorly. I got up every morning (six days a week) at 4:30am and wrote which is the time when I had been playing hoops and working out. I did this from August of until December and consequently gained 15 pounds of fat! No big deal, I thought (foreshadowing for you literary types)…
It was, however, a big deal. I found myself stuck with 40 year-old body and had a heck of a time trying to shed those pounds. For a variety of reasons, I never got back into the same great shape I had been in prior to taking those four months off to write my novel. Fast forward a few years to 2010 and suddenly I needed to inhale and suck in my stomach to button my pants–my weight had climbed to about 185 lbs. Working constantly, not eating right, lack of sleep and stress made me pudgy and miserable–I knew I had to change. Sound familiar?
I began searching for answers. I watched the “Forks Over Knives” documentary on Netflix and decided meat would surely kill me. Then I watched “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead” and bought a very expensive juicer and commenced a juice-based diet. The juicing seemed to make me feel better for a short time–might have been a placebo effect–but soon I was constantly dizzy, tired, and miserable. My strength in the gym, heck, even my motivation to go the gym waned.
I can’t remember how I stumbled across it (I think a friend of mine on Facebook mentioned it), but I found the paleo diet and then the Mark’s Daily Apple website. I devoured everything on the site–reading, not eating–it made sense to me! I purchased and read The Primal Blueprint, by Mark Sisson and embarked on a “Primal” way of life. I read many related books (I’m sure I’ll forget some of them), including:
- Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes
- Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes
- The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf
- Protein Power Dr. Michael R. Eades
- Wheat Belly by Dr. William Davis
- Keto Clarity by Jimmie Moore
Going Primal/Paleo was not easy. I remember feeling weak and sick for about five days as my body adjusted–I was feeling what is known as the “carb flu.” I soon felt better and I had the confidence I could eat this way permanently. In the beginning I took an 80-20 approach. There would be occasional stretches where I would go completely back to a standard diet for a week or two. But it wouldn’t take long for me to tire of feeling bad and notice my pants tightening and I would return to the Primal eating pattern.
In 2013 I injured my ribs requiring a chest x-ray. The radiologist noticed a small nodule on my thyroid and I began paying attention to the thyroid hormone levels. Having a family history of thyroid problems, I do not want to go on thyroid medication, so this summer I started eliminating gluten from my diet. I read a theory that gluten and the thyroid tissue are somewhat similar in structure and in some cases, if a person is sensitive to gluten, the body’s own immune system can attack and damage the thyroid. I have not been completely successful, but I would estimate I am about 98% gluten-free. Many of the things I try to avoid (listed above) contain gluten, so this step has been extremely helpful in maintaining the primal way of eating. Hint: what do beer and grain-alcohol contain? Gluten!
After reading Keto Clarity this summer, I have begun experimenting with a ketogenic diet in an effort to keep my blood sugar low and limit my insulin production. I am finding that limiting my carbohydrate intake coupled with trying to keep the source of the carbs from mostly vegetables has also kept my eating clean. This whole self-experimentation thing has been quite helpful for sure!
Specifically, I try to eat tons of multicolored vegetables with lots of leafy greens as I feel they provide an abundance of micro-nutrients and minerals needed to fight disease and aging. I find eating a large amount of vegetables difficult, so I have ditched the juicer in favor of my favorite tool in the kitchen, my Vitamix. Now I drink more vegetables in a day (without wasting any of the skin and fiber) than many eat in a week!
I add enough protein (not too much as this could throw me out of ketosis due to a process known as gluconeogenesis) and saturated and monounsaturated fats (think grass-fed butter, coconut oil, beef tallow, bacon grease, olive oil, avocados) for long lasting energy and satiety. For protein I choose fish, red meat, chicken, lamb, pork (lots of bacon), and eggs.
When I eat this way, I find I am able to go long periods of time without hunger and ultimately I end up eating less calories (keeping lean and mean)! I am also a big believer in supplements and prefer the Primal Blueprint product Damage Control Master Formula.
You can get an idea of this eating pattern by browsing my food diary, but be warned, you will see the occasional sleeve of Oreo cookies because, I am human after all !
Well there you have it–all the above is subject to change as I continue to try things out and read/listen/watch more information on food!
I would love to hear your thoughts on this post and what you eat and why! As always…
Be smart in the kitchen and a beast in the gym!