Learning isn’t about academic breakthrough or useful theorems, but anything that one finds beneficial in improving one’s capabilities, understanding, and control in one’s life. One strong factor in my life that reflects this habit is my long battle with healthy eating.
When someone decides to improve their consumption habits, it tends to take on many forms with a variety of duration periods. One may quick carbohydrate intake for a month to switch the body’s metabolic function to burn body fat, while the other may just reduce everything (including starving/vomiting) to force the body’s degradation for survival.
Unfortunately, when the diet dies, the benefits start to slip. While fat cells have a life cycle of ~12 years, they can be easily replaced with new cells. This is in contrast to many important biological tissues including nerve and muscle cells. Others hope for a more energetic/mobile mental state, one that is derived from the balance of body and food. To fully shift one’s lifestyle is to adopt improved eating habits and turn it into a “religious” decision.
My journey started over 10 years ago (die fat cells, die!) when I read the book “Natural Cures” by Kevin Trudeau. While I don’t agree with everything in the book (including statements describing acid reflux is as a result of a human’s stomach being not acidic enough….), it was the needle to the lifestyle balloon that my family surrounded me in. I was ~220 lbs in 8th grade, and I loved ice cream (it was kind of like the “a-bowl-a-night” club). I also loved root beer (not Coke or Pepsi, sorry), homemade cookies, chocolate bars, chips-ahoy, and Doritos. I also still love homemade apple pie, and will sneak it once a year. But the sudden realization of alternative eating habits was very life-shaking.
[There was also this girl I liked in high-school, which was also a big motivator. However, that’s a story that is anti-climactic (as in nothing happened), so it’s not really worth writing about.]
I didn’t research specific diet habits, but I needed a start. As a young high school student, I can’t really buy all my groceries. However, it was significantly easier to cut things out from my diet. The first to go: Soda. Pure sugar in a can. The book also described how fruit juice is the exact same (PASTURIZATION => boiled plant cells = high sugar / nutrients ratio). Eliminating soda and juice in my diet lost me 10 lbs alone in 3-4 weeks. (10 down / 50 to go). Ice cream was next; an obvious choice since I no longer could make root beer floats.
I also got a lot pickier about eating processed food. It wasn’t pure cold turkey, but I got pickier over the years. < 10 ingredients. No high fructose corn syrup. No MSG (for very different reasons though).
And yes, exercise is also important. I played a lot of video games. The gaming addiction is so embedded, I switched to social board games (with live, breathing people too!) to help stave off the transition (which still isn’t complete, but it’s a major improvement). To get moving, my “preferred exercise activity” has changed over time. I did karate (Kyuki Do) for 4 years, extensive DDR workouts (even bought a $100 metallic game mats for more stability below my “extreme” feet skillz), to dancing, and biking [I love mountain biking for multiple reasons!]
Senior year of high school, I did a 3 day fruit-juice diet [20 oz of home-made fruit juice]. This resulted in a loss of 10 lbs in that 5 days. I did gain it back after a month, but the real gem was the experience. After the first 24 hours, you are not hungry. Your body realizes that no food is coming in, and it just starts utilizing the energy stored in your body. This phase showed that the majority of your desire to eat is actually your body just really wanting to TASTE. I really wanted those oatmeal cookies, but my stomach did not feel empty at all (despite it being very empty of food). Taste is such a superficial layer of deceit that this realization can truly transform how you perceive food, its contents, and its true purpose. And not-surprisingly, processed foods which taste good are typically the more harmful culprits.
Next came college, and the freedom to purchase and eat whatever (my budget allowed). Reduce the red meat, buy whole grains, and try new cheeses & vegetables. I grew up on a strict peanut butter sandwich (no jam) & banana diet for lunch (and still do to this day). And salads! My family rarely bought leafy greens back then, which is a real shame (except iceberg lettuce, and that doesn’t really count).
Looking back, if I went cold turkey on my middle school diet, I don’t think I would have made it. Transitions were the hidden key to my “religious” dietary life changes. Actively seeking of what feels right for my body, and constantly experimenting with new dietary goals. I’m even hoping to adopt sections of the paleo diet into my lifestyle, but I need to slowly find a replacement for bread. Some are easy (eggs + toast => more eggs + cheese). Others are harder (pasta + sauce => ?).
Below is a list of my transition steps, and a brief description behind each step. It’s not a guideline or something with “real truth” behind it. And I believe everyone’s path is significantly different to adapt to their own self.
We need carbs to survive. And that’s easy to do. It’s so easy, we overdo it. Why consume pure carbs when you can consume something that has both carbs AND nutrients.
And don’t be misled by “Vitamin Water” with its 33 grams of sugar per bottle. I’d rather drink orange juice (which I banned down the road).
Very similar subject to soda, but not as bad. Due to the lack of fibers (or any form of solidity) liquid calories have been shown to “not count” toward your physically observable food intake. Calories just flow into the blood stream. At least various forms of candy will slowly break down before being absorbed, giving the impression that food was consumed. For example, sweet tarts will dissolve faster than a Snickers will (but not by much).
By now, you are hopefully getting used to reducing your sugar intake. Now you have to just have to eat your fruit instead of drinking them. You can try to blend your own fruit juices, just make sure to eat them quick. Lots of exposure the atmosphere will change them fast. [But then again, your stomach is so acidic that it will significantly alter whatever you consume. ] And due to the high sugar content in fruit, many diets even ask to minimize fruits altogether. I personally consider fruits my new “dessert.”
Once a delicacy, now they are toxins. If you ban something for over a significant period, and your body reacts negatively to said item once re-exposed, you probably shouldn’t have eaten it in the first place. That was the deal with ham, bacon, and sausage. Needless to say, I rarely ever eat red meat altogether from my diet (but I can still eat clean cuts of cuts of pork, steak, chicken, and fish without any lash back).
I also minimize any ground meat. Being the same, there’s a significantly higher amount of air exposure to said meat. It will exhibit faster rates of oxidation, increased probability levels of food poisoning, and less juicy cooked products.
Get picky with your processed food
Processed foods come in a variety of levels of bad and badder. I still eat it, but a significantly smaller portion of it. And your rules may change, as mine have.
For example, when it comes to chips, I usually flip back to the ingredients list. Does it have anything other than Corn/Potato, oil, and salt. Yes? Try another bag. I used to eat multi-grain corn/wheat chips, until I realized that they added sugar and a couple flavors to “improve taste.” Sneaky sneaky….
High fructose corn syrup is controversial. In biochemistry, there’s a biological pathway that glucose transitions through before being either “burned” or “stored.” We store glucose in the form of glycogen (or fat if glycogen is full) if we have no need to burn it. While each step has an enzyme to assist with these phases, some don’t like to work both ways (Store vs. Burn ). Such is the enzyme between glucose and fructose (hexokinase, I think) that doesn’t like going up. And since fructose can’t go “up” to glycogen, it is forced to transition to fat storage (even if there is open glycogen storage available).
Fat is another form of controversial issues. Different forms of fat have various health issues. And it is constantly changing too. An oil expert now may be completely wrong because of what we don’t know.
Protein seems to be a “safer” option. Some say animal protein is worse than vegetable protein. Others say soy/bean products (high in protein) are hormonally disadvantageous and hard on the body to digest.
I never eat out alone. I only do it to be social with others that have a limited time frame.
Fast food restaurants are like enjoying meals with an iron curtain. You really don’t know what’s in the food. And the same goes for sit-down restaurants as well (you typically pay more for service, not the food). As a business, these entities are in the mind of making money. And when they cut costs on food, that’s typically NOT in your favor in terms of health.
Cooking removes the transparency. It enlightens your knowledge on your food, your consumption, and helps control your portions. It’s also typically cheaper ($10 burgers and $30 salmon dinners. Both are significantly overpriced, before even taking into account the tip.) And don’t forget to eat slow and savor the meal.
If you suck at cooking, that’s only temporary. If you’ve adapted yourself to get this far, you can easily learn to cook and enjoy it. Motivation is half the battle!
A wise man once described his personal experiences. “I realized that to stay the way I am comfortably, I had to make a choice between office snacks and evening alcoholic beverages. And I chose the latter.”
I did the same. If I’m still hungry, I eat more chicken & vegetables. Nuff said.
Note: This is the phase that I’m currently in. Call it a new year’s resolution with no end date. I turned down key-lime pie twice this year! And fresh-baked cookies last weekend.
Cut Carbs / Gluten
The backbone of the paleo diet. Processed wheat is the two-pronged trident to your health. Slices of bread (with 0 grams of sugar) will easily decompose into 30 grams once your body breaks down the easily accessible glycogen in the wheat. Furthermore, the new trends in academia are linking gluten and wheat-based proteins to harmful long-term diseases. And a similar trend is being seen with corn.
With wheat embedded into the diets of the majority of cultural groups, no wonder why it’s at the bottom of my health list. This diet requires the sacrifice of many dishes without any easily substitutions.
The same diet with minimal pesticides. At this point, you are purifying the food of contaminants. It is also one of the hardest steps. Not all foods come in an organic form. And what organic options you have are significantly more expensive.
This transition can be broken down into its own subset of units. Some produce is more susceptible to absorbing insecticides and herbicides (you know, the chemicals designed to kill living organisms). A berry that you eat the skin is significantly more contaminated than a carrot in the ground. Ironically, it’s the carrot that’s easier to grow organically and hence cheaper.
In the end it’s your budget and location that determines how far one can get in this step. Currently, I just browse the stuff that I hope to afford one day. You know, when those student loans are paid off, and I host a large party in a wedding tux, and buy a house in the hills, and save for my children’s college, increased healthcare cost,…… well, I guess there’s no “right time” to start organic, is there.
And that in itself it a life-altering decision among decisions.
But when I look back, I attempt the same philosophy with many of my interests, including education, relationships, and biking. You start on a path, you learn from your experiences, alter the method, improve your control over the possible variables, and optimize for “success.”