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5 Powerful Reasons to Eat Slower

One of the problems in our daily lives is that many of us rush through the day, with no time for anything … and when we have time to get a bite to eat, we gobble it down.

That leads to stressful, unhealthy living.

And with the simple but powerful act of eating slower, we can begin to reverse that lifestyle immediately. How hard is it? You take smaller bites, you chew each bite slower and longer, and you enjoy your meal longer.

It takes a few minutes extra each meal, and yet it can have profound effects.

You may have already heard of the Slow Food Movement, started in Italy almost two decades ago to counter the fast food movement. Everything that fast food is, Slow Food isn’t.

If you read the Slow Food Manifesto, you’ll see that it’s not just about health — it’s about a lifestyle. And whether you want to adopt that lifestyle or not, there are some reasons you should consider the simple act of eating slower:

  1. Lose weight. A growing number of studies confirm that just by eating slower, you’ll consume fewer calories — in fact, enough to lose 20 pounds a year without doing anything different or eating anything different. The reason is that it takes about 20 minutes for our brains to register that we’re full. If we eat fast, we can continue eating past the point where we’re full. If we eat slowly, we have time to realize we’re full, and stop on time. Now, I would still recommend that you eat healthier foods, but if you’re looking to lose weight, eating slowly should be a part of your new lifestyle.
  2. Enjoy your food. This reason is just as powerful, in my opinion. It’s hard to enjoy your food if it goes by too quickly. In fact, I think it’s fine to eat sinful foods, if you eat a small amount slowly. Think about it: you want to eat sinful foods (desserts, fried foods, pizza, etc.) because they taste good. But if you eat them fast, what’s the point? If you eat them slowly, you can get the same amount of great taste, but with less going into your stomach. That’s math that works for me. And that argument aside, I think you are just happier by tasting great food and enjoying it fully, by eating slowly. Make your meals a gastronomic pleasure, not a thing you do rushed, between stressful events.
  3. Better digestion. If you eat slower, you’ll chew your food better, which leads to better digestion. Digestion actually starts in the mouth, so the more work you do up there, the less you’ll have to do in your stomach. This can help lead to fewer digestive problems.
  4. Less stress. Eating slowly, and paying attention to our eating, can be a great form of mindfulness exercise. Be in the moment, rather than rushing through a meal thinking about what you need to do next. When you eat, you should eat. This kind of mindfulness, I believe, will lead to a less stressful life, and long-term happiness. Give it a try.
  5. Rebel against fast food and fast life. Our hectic, fast-paced, stressful, chaotic lives — the Fast Life — leads to eating Fast Food, and eating it quickly. This is a lifestyle that is dehumanizing us, making us unhealthy, stressed out, and unhappy. We rush through our day, doing one mindless task after another, without taking the time to live life, to enjoy life, to relate to each other, to be human. That’s not a good thing in my book. Instead, rebel against that entire lifestyle and philosophy … with the small act of eating slower. Don’t eat Fast Food. Eat at a good restaurant, or better yet, cook your own food and enjoy it fully. Taste life itself.
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The Elusive Work-Life Balance

How do you find a balanced life when you’re overloaded with work?

How do you switch off work when you’re away from the office?

The answers to these very common questions are elusive. It’s never an easy thing. But once you do find this balance you’ll find enormous benefits: more enjoyment of life and better relationships and less stress and a better quality of life overall.

A reader recently asked:

“I’d love to hear advice on how people who work full-time jobs can still manage to attain a well-balanced life. Especially in roles that give you sales targets, monitor you, and can be very stressful. I know it’s best to switch off after working hours, but sometimes (as humans) it is tough.

In Hong Kong, part-time jobs don’t pay well here and are tough to find, and full-time jobs often require overtime and are very stressful (it’s the Hong Kong norm to squeeze out as much as you can from an employee). In this corporate jungle, a part-time would be a perfect job for me (say 9-3 everyday); however it’s very hard to find jobs like that – it’s just not how the job market here is in Asia.

So how does one keep their calm and be grounded and still make time & energy for family, friends, myself, hobbies, interests and let’s face it – sanity? How does one learn to ‘not keep goals’ when that is what is expected from 8:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m. 5 days a week? It’s tough to be 2 different people at work and outside of work.”

That’s a tough one. I should note that in many countries — including the U.S. — this is a common problem even if it’s not as pronounced as in Hong Kong (for example). We all face these problems whether we’re employees or self-employed or free-lancers or own our own businesses.

I’ve created a life where balance is intentionally built-in but it hasn’t always been that way. I’ve worked in the private sector (in the news industry) where they try to squeeze every bit out of employees and we were often asked to work longer hours without compensation. I’ve worked in demanding public service jobs where working into the night and weekend hours (again without more pay) were the norm. It wasn’t easy finding balance.

But don’t despair. Change is possible. These days I have created a life where I work less but on things I love. I make time for staying active and getting outside. I make time for playing with my kids and being alone with my wife. I find time alone for reading and walking and thinking. And as I do these things work isn’t always on my mind.

I have a few key tips that should help no matter what your work situation:

1. Set a time to shut off work. Working all day and night means you are nothing but your job. Your life belongs to your employer (or if you’re the employer then your life belongs to your employees or customers). Take ownership of your life — find variety and ways to burn off stress and find enjoyment in life! Start by setting a time each day when you shut off work. Whether that’s 5 p.m. or 5:30 or 6 or 7 or 9 p.m. Some of you can set it even earlier if you start earlier — say 4 p.m. or something like that. Set that time and make it happen. After that shut-off time you will not do work or check email or think about work.

2. Find something to immerse yourself in after work. What do you love doing besides work? Do you love to read or run or play sports or hang out with friends or play with your kids or build model ships or play games? If you don’t already have a passion then pick something that sounds fun and give it a try. It doesn’t have to be expensive — it could be as simple as hiking around your neighborhood or volunteering at a charity or helping friends with household projects. Schedule it as soon after work as possible. And while you’re doing it try to completely immerse yourself. Don’t think about work — only think about the after-work activity.

3. Learn to be mindful and present. It’s not easy to just switch your mind off work but it’s a skill you can learn over time. The way to learn this isn’t to try to block work from your mind — it’s to learn to bring your mind back to whatever you’re doing after work. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing: it could be household chores or exercise or talking with someone or taking a bath or eating. Whatever it is … that’s all you want to focus on. Your mind will inevitably slip into something else. That’s OK. Bring it back gently and without reprimand. Slowly with practice you will get better at being present. Which means your work won’t always be on your mind.

4. Take breaks at work. Not everyone will have this flexibility but it’s worth doing if you can manage it. Basically if you’re working for 8 or 10 hours you don’t want to do it non-stop. You need to find balance even at work. So at least once an hour get up and walk around. Get outside if you can and take a walk. Stretch and massage your shoulders and get your blood moving. Do some squats or pushups if you want to start getting fit. Talk to someone. Drink water. Eat fruits and vegetables. Your break just needs to be 5-10 minutes but it’s important.

5. Increase your skills while at work — to prepare for leaving work. If you are very skilled at what you do then you become worth more. In fact it’s often possible to quit your job and start your own business if you’re good enough. And it doesn’t take a lot of money to work for yourself — you can start a business with practically no money. I started mine while still working full time: my job funded my startup business. Even if you don’t go into business for yourself you’ll be worth more with a high skill level. So devote your work hours to learning and perfecting your work skills.

6. Find ways to increase your income while decreasing hours. As your skills increase your value increases. Slowly pick jobs or projects that earn more money per hour. This often means changing jobs but it might be a promotion or change in roles. It could mean starting your own business or becoming a consultant. If you already have your own business or work for yourself then you should slowly be picking jobs or business projects that pay more for every hour you spend working on them. By increasing income you can decrease hours and free up more time for yourself.

7. Learn that you are not defined by work. You can be happy without your job. Your value isn’t completely tied to your work. For example: I’m a writer but it’s not the only thing I am. I’m also a father and husband and know that those are my most important roles — not my role as a writer. I am more than that as well: I run and read and learn and help others and am constantly experimenting with life. I can do things other than my job and be fulfilled. So can you. And once you discover this you’ll free yourself to find a life outside of work. Then balance is simply a matter of logistics — you just need to make it happen by taking small steps.

Small steps is always the answer. You don’t need to be perfect at shutting off work or being present or pouring yourself into something after work. You just need to start doing it and in doing so you’ve already started down the road to balance.

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Edit Your Life : Your Wardrobe

I’m a former newspaper editor, and one of the things I learned was to edit brutally (no sarcastic comments about why I don’t do that with my blog posts). Cut out everything that’s not necessary, and you’ve got a more meaningful story.

I highly recommend editing your life.

Today’s edit: Edit your wardrobe.

Take a look at your closet — is it stuffed full of clothes you don’t wear? Do you have trouble picking out what to wear in the morning? Are there clothes you don’t fit, don’t like, or can’t wear because they are stained or torn? How about your clothes drawers? Overstuffed?

If so, your wardrobe may be in need of editing. Let’s be honest: most of us are in this category. And even though I’ve greatly simplified my clothing needs, every six months or so, I need to go through my closet to see if there’s stuff in here I no longer wear. I pull out a bunch of things and put them in a bag for donation. My closet is simpler, and my mind is more at ease.

To edit your wardrobe, here are some simple steps:

  • Pull out all the clothes from your closet. Put them on your bed. Now go through this pile, one item at a time, deciding what stays and what goes. Follow these rules:
    1. If you haven’t worn an item in months, put it in the donate pile. There’s a reason you don’t wear that item — you’re probably not going to wear it again for a long while, if ever.
    2. If you no longer fit an item, donate it. Yes, you plan to lose 10 pounds to fit into that outfit. Well, when you do, go to the thrift shop and get some better-fitting items. Until then, they’re taking up space in your closet.
    3. If an item is stained or torn beyond repair, donate it. If you can repair it, put it in a bag and take it to be sewn tomorrow (or do it yourself). If that bag sits in your house or car for more than a week, you’ll probably never do it, so donate it or toss it. For myself, I often keep stained or torn clothing, if I really love an item, but I only wear it around the house. I save the good clothes for company. 🙂
    4. If an item is out of style or doesn’t match anything else you own, consider donating it. OK, if you really love it and still wear it, go ahead and keep it. Butterfly bell-bottoms? You’re still cool.
    5. When in doubt, put it in a storage container, label it with today’s date, and put it out of sight for a few months. If you ever really want to wear it, it’s still there. But if you open it in a few months, and you never needed it, donate it.
    6. For seasonal clothes, such as winter or summer clothing, put it in a container and label it. When the season comes, break out that container. No use keeping it in your closet the whole year round. Where I live, there’s always tropical goodness year round, so this isn’t an issue.
  • If you still have a lot of clothes left, consider the following:
    1. Keep clothes that are of the same color scheme, and toss the rest. This way, everything matches, and you don’t have to worry about what goes with your chartreuse blouse. Neutral colors like tan and white are great, with some color tossed in. I avoid bright colors, especially those that bleed in the wash. I don’t like to worry about that.
    2. Keep clothes that are simple in design, and can be paired with anything. Jeans are a great example (not the kinds with bells and whistles, the simple kinds). You can put just about any shirt with jeans, and you’re good to go. Shoot for this kind of philosophy. Don’t have pants or a skirt that can only go with one or two other items. Be able to mix and match with ease and without some kind of complicated chart.
    3. Make comfort a priority. Looks are important, but comfort is more important. You want to be at ease in whatever you wear, so keep that in the forefront as you edit your clothing.
  • Hang the clothes back in the closet nicely, in some order. Pairing by color is nice, and has an especially nice effect if you use the same color hangers. If you have fewer clothes, they look much nicer in the closet.
  • Repeat this process with your clothes drawers. Throw out the torn underwear and stained socks. Once you weed out a lot of the stuff, fold them neatly and put them back in your drawers nicely. Again, fewer clothes look much nicer in your drawers.
  • Edit your wardrobe every 6 months or so. It’s best if you refrain from buying too many more unnecessary clothes, but I know some of you are shopaholics, and even the rest of us accumulate stuff over time. Make this a regular event, and you’ll keep your wardrobe nice and simple.

Personally, I simplified my wardrobe years ago. In fact, new employers know that I dress very simply, usually wearing jeans or slacks with a T-shirt or polo shirt and sandals or Docs. I’m a simple guy, and if my employer doesn’t like it, they don’t have to hire me. I feel my talents are more than worth any casualness. And when I need to dress up, I do have some button-down shirts and ties for emergencies, but I’m not comfortable in them on a daily basis.

I still need to edit my wardrobe, though, on a regular basis. I know when it’s time when it’s hard to find stuff, and when I look through my closet and find lots of stuff I rarely wear.

Simplify your wardrobe, and your life will be much simpler and stress-free. It’s wonderful. Give it a try!

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Stop Working Hard and Enjoy Yourself

There’s too much emphasis these days on productivity, on hyperefficiency, on squeezing the most production out of every last minute.

People have forgotten how to relax. How to be lazy. How to enjoy life.

Try this: read some of the best books, magazines and blogs on productivity, and see how many will tell you how to get the most out of the time you spend waiting, how to maximize your energy, how to make use of your commute time, how to make every meeting more effective, how to get more out of your workday, how to crank out more widgets.

People are working longer hours, constantly checking their inboxes, constantly focused on Getting More Done.

But to what end?

Are we producing more in order to make more money for corporations? Or to make more money for ourselves? Or just to hold on to our jobs — jobs we might not like anyway?

It’s possible we’re trying to get more done because we love doing it — and if that’s the case, that’s wonderful. But even then, working long hours and neglecting the rest of life isn’t always the best idea. Sometimes it’s good to Get Less Done, to relax, to breathe.

Let’s take a brief look at how to do that.

The Beauty of Getting Less Done
While working long hours and cranking out a lot of widgets is one way to go, another is to work on important things, to create amazing things, and then to relax.

I’m not saying you should surf the web all day, or take naps all afternoon … but why not? Why not enjoy a lovely nap? Why not take a long lunch and then a siesta? Why not enjoy a good book?

I get people who ask me all the time, “What should I do on those days when I can’t seem to be productive?”

My answer: “Enjoy it!”

Sure, we need to produce sometimes, especially if we have to pay the bills, but an obsession with productivity is unhealthy. When you can’t get yourself to be productive, relax. Let go of the need to be hyperefficient. Stop feeling guilty about enjoying yourself.

But what if you can’t motivate yourself … ever? Sure, that can be a problem. But if you relax, and enjoy yourself, you’ll be happier. And if you work when you get excited, on things you’re excited about, and create amazing things, that’s motivation. Not forcing yourself to work when you don’t want to, on things you don’t want to work on — motivation is doing things you love, when you get excited.

It’s how I work every day. I work on lots of projects, on things I really care about, with people I enjoy working with. (See my guide to becoming self-employed if you’d like to do the same.)

How to Relax
It’s funny that I’d even need a section on this topic — how to relax. It seems like it should be something we all know how to do. After all, aren’t we constantly searching for ways to be less lazy? And doesn’t it logically follow that we already know how to be lazy?

It’s possible you already have mastered the art of relaxing. And if so, congratulations. You are a Get Less Done master. All you need now, perhaps, is to let go of the guilt you might feel, and enjoy this relaxation.

But for those of you who have forgotten how to relax, you’re going to have a tougher time. Here’s a hint: don’t stress out about it. If you don’t know how to relax, it’s OK. Breathe. Take it slowly. One step at a time.

Some steps:

  • Take 5 minutes to go outside for a walk. Breathe the fresh air.
  • Give yourself more time to do things. More time means less rush.
  • After work, get outside, take in nature, run around if you can.
  • Play. Play like a child. Play with a child. Play when you work.
  • Give yourself a day off. Sleep. Watch TV. Eat bon bons.
  • At work, give yourself an hour off. Don’t try to be productive. Just have fun.
  • Work with someone who is exciting. Get excited about a project.
  • Take evenings off. Seriously, no working in the evenings.
  • Get a massage.
  • Breathe.

Step by step, learn to relax. Learn that productivity isn’t everything. Creating is great, but you don’t need to fill every second with work. When you do work, get excited, pour yourself into it, work on important, high-impact tasks … and then relax.

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The Guide to a Decluttered Home

One of my favorite habits that I’ve created since I changed my life 9 years ago is having a decluttered home.

I now realize that I always disliked the clutter, but I put off thinking about it because it was unpleasant.

The thought of having to deal with all that clutter was overwhelming, and I had too much to do, or I was too tired, so I procrastinated.

Clutter, it turns out, is procrastination.

But I learned to deal with that procrastination one small chunk at a time, and I cleared it out. That was truly amazing.

Amazing because I didn’t really believe I could do it until I did it. I didn’t believe in myself. And amazing because when it was done, there was a background noise that was removed from my life, a distraction, an irritation.

Decluttering my home has meant a more peaceful, minimal life. It’s meant I spend less time cleaning, maintaining my stuff, looking for things. Less money buying things, storing things. Less emotional attachment to things.

For anyone looking to begin decluttering, I’d like to offer a short guide on getting started. Know that this guide isn’t comprehensive, and it can take months to really get down to a decluttered home … but if you do it right, the process is fun and liberating and empowering, each step of the way.

  1. Start small. Clutter can be overwhelming, and so we put it off. The best thing I did was to just focus one one small space to start with. A kitchen counter (just part of it) is a good example. Or a dining table, or a shelf. Clear everything off that space, and only put back what you really need. Put it back neatly. Get rid of the rest — give it away, sell it on Craigslist, donate it, recycle it. The clearing and sorting will take 10 minutes, while you can give stuff away later when you have the time.
  2. Work in chunks. If you start small, you’ll feel good about it, but there’s still a whole home full of stuff to deal with. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. (Not literally — I’m vegan.) So just like you did one small area to start with, keep doing that, just 10 minutes a day, maybe more if you feel really enthusiastic. If you have a free day on the weekend, spend an afternoon doing a huge chunk. Spend the whole weekend if you feel like it. Or just do one small piece at a time — there’s no need to rush, but keep the progress going.
  3. Follow a simple method. For each small chunk you do, clear out the area in question and put everything in one pile. Pick up the first thing off the pile (no putting it aside to decide later) and force yourself to make a decision. Ask yourself: do I love and use this? If not, get rid of it. If the answer is yes, find a place for it — I call it a “home”. If you really love and use something, it deserves a home that you designate and where you put it back each time you’re done with it. Then go to the next thing and make the same decision. Working quickly and making quick decisions, you can sort through a pile in about 10 minutes (depending on the size of the pile).
  4. Put stuff in your trunk. Once you’ve collected stuff to donate or give away, put them in boxes or grocery bags and put them in the trunk of your car (if you don’t have a car, somewhere near the door). Choose a time to deliver them. Enjoy getting them out of your life.
  5. Talk to anyone involved. If you have a significant other, kids, or other people living with you, they’ll be affected if you start decluttering the home. You should talk to them now, before you get started, so they’ll understand why you want to do this, and get them involved in the decision-making process. Ask them what they think of this. Send them this article to consider. Ask if they can support you wanting to declutter, at least your own stuff or some of the kitchen or living room, to see what it’s like. Don’t be pushy, don’t try to force, but have the conversation. Be OK if they resist. Try to change the things that you can control (your personal possessions, for example) and see if that example doesn’t inspire them to consider further change.
  6. Notice your resistance. There will be a lot of items that you either don’t want to get rid of (even if you don’t really use them), or you don’t feel like tackling. This resistance is important to watch — it’s your mind wanting to run from discomfort or rationalize things. You can give in to the resistance, but at least pay attention to it. See it happening. The truth is, we put a lot of emotional attachment into objects. A photo of a loved one, a gift from a family member, a memento from a wedding or travel, a treasured item from a dead grandfather. These items don’t actually contain the memories or love that we think are in them, and practicing letting go of the items while holding onto the love is a good practice. And practicing tackling clutter that you dread tackling is also an amazing practice.
  7. Enjoy the process. The danger is to start seeing decluttering as yet another chore on your to-do list. Once you start doing that, it becomes something you’ll put off. Instead, reframe it to a liberating practice of mindfulness. Smile as you do it. Focus on your breathe, on your body, on the motions of moving items around, on your feelings about the objects. This is a beautiful practice, and I recommend it.

These steps won’t get your home decluttered in a weekend. But you can enjoy the first step, and then the second, and before you know it you’ve taken 30 steps and your home is transformed. You’ll love this change as much as I have.

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10 Tasty and Healthy Breakfast Ideas

You get up in the morning, you rush to get ready for work, you rush out the door without a breakfast. Perhaps you grab a bagel and cream cheese, perhaps a muffin, perhaps an Egg McMuffin. If you’re lucky, you get a pastry, a hearty breakfast of pancakes and sausage and eggs, or an English fry-up.

Unfortunately, when it comes to being healthy, none of these options is a great way to start your day.

Several readers asked about healthy breakfast ideas, and in truth, it’s a dilemma that many of us face each day. Either we don’t have time for breakfast, or we don’t have many healthy options.

The first problem is a problem, because it means that you start the day with an empty stomach. That means that by the time you are getting into the swing of work, your blood-sugar levels are dangerously low. The result: you need an instant sugar fix, which usually means a donut or pastry or some other unhealthy choice.

The second problem is also a real problem, because traditional breakfasts don’t usually come in healthy flavors. Here are the options that most people think of as breakfast:

  • Too sugary or carb-filled. Pancakes, waffles, toast, donuts, pastries, scones, bagels, pies, sugar cereals, breakfast bars, muffins (which, let’s face it, are usually just cake). I’m not anti-carb, but the problem with many breakfasts is that they are low in fat and protein, and nothing but empty carb calories. This starts your day with a high blood-sugar level, which your body will quickly adjust for and drop, and you’ll be on a roller-coaster blood-sugar ride all day.
  • Too fatty. Fried eggs, sausages, bacon, cream cheese on your bagels, cheesy omelets, Egg McMuffins, Sausage McMuffins, hash browns, anything English or Scottish.

What does that leave us with? Actually, there are a lot of options. The 10 below are just a few ideas, but I’m sure you can think of many more. Look for protein without too much saturated fat. Look for whole-grain carbs. Look for low-fat dairy or soy options. Look for fiber and nutrients.

But how do you find the time? You make the time. Get up 15 minutes earlier. Pack something to eat on the road or when you first get to work. Prepare it the night before if necessary. I recommend the first option — waking a little earlier — as it’s nice to be able to have a nice cup of tea or coffee with your breakfast, relaxing before the rush of the day starts.

Oatmeal, flaxseed, blueberries & almonds. To me, this is the perfect breakfast. Steel-cut oatmeal is probably the healthier choice, but if you are in a hurry, the instant kind will do fine (it doesn’t have as much fiber, but the other ingredients make up for that). After microwaving the oatmeal, add ground flaxseed, frozen blueberries, sliced almonds. You can add a little cinnamon and honey (not a lot) if you’re using the non-instant oatmeal. That’s four power foods, full of fiber and nutrients and protein and good fats, with only a couple of minutes of prep time. And very tasty!

Kashi Golean Crunch. Actually, any whole-grain, high-fiber cereal is a good choice, but I mention this particular one because it’s a favorite of mine. It has a high amount of protein and fiber, low sugar. Add low-fat milk or soy milk (which has 1/3 the saturated fat of 1% milk), perhaps some berries if you like.

Scrambled tofu. Healthier than scrambled eggs. Add some onions, green peppers or other veggies, some light soy sauce or tamari, maybe some garlic powder, and black pepper, stir-fry with a little olive oil. Eat with whole-grain toast. Fast and delicious.

Fresh berries, yogurt, granola. Get low-fat yogurt (not non-fat, as it often has too much sugar) or soy yogurt, cut up some berries or other fruits, add some healthy cereal. I actually use the Kashi Golean Crunch instead of granola, as many brands of granola have way too much fat and/or sugar.

Grapefruit with whole-wheat toast & almond butter. Add a little sugar on top of the grapefruit, and it’s actually pretty good. The almond butter is healthier than peanut-butter, with lots of good protein to fill you up.

Fresh fruit salad. Cut up some apples, melons, berries, oranges, pears, bananas, grapes … any or all or whatever your favorite fruits are. Add a little bit of lime or lemon juice. Perfect.

Protein shake with extras. I use soy protein powder, but whey works well too. Blend up with low-fat milk or soy milk, some frozen blueberries, and perhaps some almond butter or oatmeal. That may sound weird, but it’s actually pretty good, and pretty filling. A little ground flax seed works well too.

Eggs with peppers. I’m not a fan of eggs, but many people love them. Egg whites are healthier than whole eggs. Scramble with a little olive oil, red and green bell peppers, maybe broccoli, onions, black pepper. Goes well with whole-wheat toast.

Cottage cheese and fruit. Get low-fat cottage cheese. Add any kind of fruit. Apples, citrus, berries.

Gibb’s muffins & jam. While most muffins you buy at a coffee shop or grocery store are just empty carbs with lots of fat (basically, cake), this is a delicious recipe with lots of fiber and nutrition. (Note: the recipe in the link doesn’t mention it, but it’s actually a recipe from Simplify Your Life by Elaine St. James — it’s her husband Gibbs’ recipe). Bake them the night before, and they’re perfect in the morning (and for days to come). A little honey or jam makes them perfect.

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Guide to Eating a Plant-Based Diet

If I could make a single dietary recommendation to people looking to get healthier, it would be to move to a plant-based diet.

Eating plants has been the best change I’ve made in my diet — and I’ve made a bunch of them, from intermittent fasting to low-carb experiments to eating 6 meals a day to eating almost all protein to eliminating sugar (all at various times).

Plants have made me slimmer, healthier, stronger, more energetic — and have increased my life expectancy (more on all this below).

Of course, the diet is simple, but moving away from the Standard American Diet to a plant-based one isn’t always so simple for most people.

Changing your diet can be difficult, but in this guide I’ll share a bit about how to change, talk a bit about why, and what you might eat.

What’s a Plant-Based Diet?

The simple answer, of course, is that you eat plants. You eliminate animals and (eventually) animal products like dairy and eggs.

The less simple answer is there is an abundance of plant foods that most people never eat, and eating a plant-based diet means you might widen the variety of foods you eat. For example, some of my favorite foods include: tempeh, seitan, tofu, kale, broccoli, quinoa, ground flaxseeds, ground chia seeds, raw almonds and walnuts, raw almond butter, olive oil, all kinds of berries, figs, avocados, tomatoes, lentils, black beans, spirulina, hemp seeds, nutritional yeast, organic soymilk, sweet potatoes, squash, carrots, apples, peaches, mangoes, pineapple, garlic, red wine, green tea, brown rice, sprouted (flourless) bread, brown rice, steel-cut oats.

A “plant-based diet” can be basically another way to say “vegan”, though many people do use the term to mean that you eat almost all plants with some animal products. In this post, I’ll be focusing on veganism, as I believe it’s the ultimate plant-based diet.

Why Should I Change?

There are a few important reasons to eat plants:

  1. Health. The basis of this guide is health, and many people switch to eating plants because they want to lose weight, improve their heart health, stay healthy as they age, improve blood pressure or deal with diabetes. A plant-based diet has been shown to help with all of these things — if you also stay away from the processed foods. A diet of processed flour and sugar and fried foods isn’t healthy even if it’s all plants (more on this below). The healthiest populations in the world are plant based: the Okinawans (traditionally at almost all plants such as sweet potatoes, soybeans, lots of veggies, with a little fish and occasional pork), the Sardinians (beans & veggies, red wine, some cheese, meat only once a week), and the vegan Seventh-Day Adventists in Loma Linda, California who are the longest-living Americans. Eating plants is the best thing you can do to reduce your risk of the leading causes of death.
  2. Environment. Honestly, while this is very important to me, it’s probably the least important of the three reasons on this list (for me personally, that is). But it’s huge: the biggest way to reduce your carbon footprint is to stop eating animal products — better than giving up a car (next best) or using less energy in your home or traveling by plane less or recycling or using solar energy or driving an electric car or buying fewer things. The animals we raise for food production use a ton of resources, eat way more plants than we do (which in turn also require resources to be grown), give off huge amounts of planet-warming methane, breathe out a lot of carbon dioxide, and create a lot of pollution. This 2006 United Nations report concludes that “Livestock have a substantial impact on the world’s water, land and biodiversity resources and contribute significantly to climate change. Animal agriculture produces 18 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions (CO2 equivalents), compared with 13.5 percent from all forms of transportation combined.” And it takes 4,000 to 18,000 gallons of water to make the beef for one hamburger, according to a recent report from the U.S. geological survey.
  3. Compassion. For me, this is the most important reason to move away from eating animals. I’ve talked a lot about compassion on this site, but by far the most cruel thing any of us does each day is consume animals (and their products). The cruelty that is perpetuated on these living, feeling, suffering beings on our behalf is enormous and undeniable. If you don’t believe me, watch this video with Sir Paul McCartney or this video about pigs. While I became vegan for health reasons, I stick with it for reasons of compassion — wanting to reduce the suffering of othersentient beings.

But … if you don’t do it to avoid pollution, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, stroke, increased death rates, animal cruelty, global warming, deforestation, and higher costs … maybe weight loss would do it. Vegetarians and vegans weigh less on average than meat eaters. That’seven after adjusting for things like fibre, alcohol, smoking … and calorie intake! Half of Americans are obese, but vegans tend to be much less obese (with exceptions of course).

That said, just going vegan will not necessarily cause you to lose weight. You could easily eat a lot of sugar, white flour, fake meats and fried foods and gain weight. If you eat whole plant foods, you’re likely to lose weight. Plant foods, for starters, have pretty much no saturated fat, low calories and tons of fiber, while animal foods all have saturated fat, lots of calories and zero fiber.

Beating Death: I highly recommend watching this video on uprooting the causes of death using a plant-based diet. It’s a bit long, but well worth the time.

How to Change

It will be no surprise that I recommend people start small and change slowly. A good plan is to make the change in stages:

  1. Slowly cut out meat. This stage is actually several smaller stages. You might try starting with Meatless Mondays and then, over time, expanding to other days of the week. Another common idea is to start by cutting out red meat, and then poultry, then seafood, in gradual stages of a month or even six months. There is no rush — do it at the pace that feels good to you. Another important point is that, as you eliminate meat, don’t just fill it with starches (which don’t have that much nutrition). Try new foods, experiment with ethic recipes, and explore different nutrients as you make these changes.
  2. Eliminate eggs. After you cut out red meat and poultry, you’ll be pescatarian (seafood). When you eliminate seafood, you’re vegetarian! If you’re eating eggs and dairy, that’s called a “lacto-ovo” vegetarian. You can then eliminate eggs — and no, they’re not cruelty-free. This is one of the easier stages, in my experience.
  3. Cut out dairy. This tends to be harder for most people. Not because of milk (soymilk and almond milk are good alternatives that just take a few days to adjust to) … but because of cheese. I hear a lot of people say, “I can’t give up my cheese!” — and I empathize, as this was a sticking point for me too. It helps that there are better and better cheese alternatives these days (Daiya being a favorite of many). But for me, what made all the difference is not focusing on what I was giving up, but on the good things I could eat!
  4. Eat whole, unprocessed foods. This is the phase that I’m in, and I wholly recommend it. You can go straight here if you have no problems changing your diet, but people eating the Standard American Diet will find it difficult, because the foods are very different than what most people eat. For example, most people in the U.S. don’t eat many vegetables, and find them distasteful, especially dark green leafy veggies, which are the best. I now love vegetables, and kale is my best friend. Most people dislike protein-rich plant foods like tempeh, tofu, seitan, and beans. Most people don’t eat raw nuts — they eat roasted and salted nuts. However, all of this can change over time, which is why I recommend that you move into this slowly. What exactly is this phase? See the next section for details.

What to Eat

So what do you eat when you’re on a plant-based diet that focuses on whole foods? Lots!

A few categories of foods to include regularly:

  1. Beans and other protein. This means the regular kinds of beans, like lentils, black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, garbanzo beans, etc. But it can also mean soybeans (edamame), tofu, tempeh, and seitan (protein from wheat, not good for gluten-intolerant people). It can also mean soymilk, soy yogurt, and the like, which are often fortified. Get organic, non-GMO soy.
  2. Nuts and seeds. My favorites include raw almonds and walnuts, along with ground flaxseeds and chia seeds, and hemp seed protein powder. Almond milk is also good. And quinoa — it’s like a grain, but really a seed, and full of nutrition.
  3. Good fats. Fats aren’t bad for you — you should just look to avoid saturated fats. Luckily, not many plant foods have saturated fats. Plants with good fats include avocados, nuts and seeds mentioned above, olive oil and canola oil.
  4. Greens. This is one of the most important and nutritious group of all. Dark, leafy green veggies are awesome, and full of calcium, iron and a ton of vitamins. My favorites: kale, spinach, broccoli, collards. Eat lots of them daily! They also have very few calories, meaning they pack a ton of nutrition in a small caloric package.
  5. Other fruits and veggies. Get a variety — I love berries of all kinds, figs, apples, citrus fruits, peaches, mangoes, bananas, pears, bell peppers, garlic, beets, celery, cauliflower … I could go on all day! Get lots of different colors.
  6. Good starches. Starches are not bad for you — but ones that have little calories aren’t great. So find starches that give you lots of nutrition. Sweet potatoes, red potatoes, squash, brown rice, sprouted whole wheat, steel-cut oats, among others.
  7. Some other healthy stuff. I love red wine, green tea, cinnamon, turmeric, spirulina and nutritional yeast.

OK, by now you might be overwhelmed by all of this. How do you put it together? It’s not that hard once you get used to it. Start learning some recipes that combine some of these foods into meals, and over time, you’ll have a few go-to meals that you love that are full of nutrition.

Some examples that I like (but don’t limit yourself to these!):

  • Tofu scramble w/ veggies: some organic high-protein tofu crumbled and stir-fried with olive oil, garlic, diced carrots and tomatoes, spinach and mushrooms, and spiced with tamari, turmeric, sea salt and coarse black pepper.
  • Steel-cut oats: cook some steel-cut oats, then add ground flaxseeds, raw nuts, berries, cinnamon.
  • Stir-fry: Here’s my secret … you can make an endless combo of meals by cooking some garlic in olive oil, then cooking some veggies (carrots, bell peppers, mushrooms, etc.) and some protein (tofu, tempeh, seitan, etc.) and some greens (kale, broccoli, spinach, etc.) and some spices (turmeric or coconut milk or tamari & sesame oil, black pepper, salt).
  • Veggie chili over quinoa: Black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans with olive oil, garlic, onions, tomatoes, bell pepper, diced kale, diced carrots, tomato sauce, chili powder, salt, pepper. Maybe some beer for flavor. Serve over quinoa or brown rice.
  • One-pot meal: Quinoa, lentils, greens, olive oil, tempeh (or a bunch of other variations). Read Tynan’s post on cooking this all in one pot.
  • Whole-wheat pasta: Serve with a sauce — some tomato sauce with olive oil, garlic, onions, bell peppers, diced kale and carrots, diced tomatoes, fresh basil, oregano.
  • Big-ass Salad: Start with a bed of kale & spinach, throw on other veggies such as carrots, mushrooms, cauliflower, snow peas, green beans, tomatoes … then some beans, nuts and/or seeds … top with avocado. Mix balsamic vinegar and olive oil, or red wine vinegar and olive oil, sprinkle on the salad. Yum.
  • Smoothies: Blend some almond or soy milk with frozen berries, greens, ground chia or flaxseeds, hemp or spirulina protein powder. Lots of nutrition in one drink!
  • Snacks: I often snack on fruits and berries, raw almonds or walnuts, carrots with hummus.
  • Drinks: I tend to drink water all day, some coffee (without sugar) in the morning, tea in the afternoon, and red wine in the evening.

My Food Journal: If you’d like to see my food journal (admittedly not always perfectly healthy), I’ve started one that you can see here.

Frequently Asked Questions

I’ll add to this section as questions come in, though obviously I can’t answer everything.

Q: Isn’t it hard to get protein on a vegan diet?

A: Not really, as long as you eat a variety of whole foods, and not a bunch of processed flours and sugars (the white kind that has little nutrition). There is protein in vegetables and grains, and even more in beans, nuts and seeds. I often eat protein-rich plant foods like tempeh, tofu, seitan, edamame, black beans, lentils, quinoa, soymilk, and raw nuts. Read more here.

Q: What about calcium or iron or B12?

A: Again, it’s not difficult at all. I’ve calculated the iron and calcium in my diet at various times, and as long as I’m mostly eating whole foods, it’s really easy. Nuts and green veggies are your best friends, but there’s also calcium-fortified soymilk and tofu and the like. Eat some kale, quinoa, raw nuts, various seeds, broccoli, tofu or tempeh … it’s not difficult. Vitamin B12 is a bit more difficult to get from regular plants, as the main source of B12 is usually animal products — including eggs and dairy. But actually, vegans have figured this out, and now if you drink fortified soymilk or almond milk, or use nutritional yeast or a few other good sources like that, you will have no worries. More reading on iron, calcium and B12 for vegans.

Q: Isn’t soy bad for you?

A: No. That’s a myth. I would stick to organic, non-GMO soy, but actually soy is a very healthy source of protein and other nutrients, and has been eaten by very healthy people for thousands of years. More info here.

Q: I follow the Paleo diet and believe this is how humans are meant to eat.

A: Well, if you’re eating unprocessed foods and have cut out white flours and sugars and deep-fried foods, you’re probably healthier than the average American. I admire the Paleo crowd that focuses on whole foods and that eats lots of veggies and nuts and seeds, but when it’s just an excuse to eat lots of meat, it’s not as healthy. It’s also not true that hunter-gatherer societies ate mostly meat — the crowd that believes this has made a flawed review of contemporary hunter-gatherers. Most traditional societies eat, and have pretty much always eaten, mostly plants, including lots of starches — respected anthropologists such as Nathanial Dominy, PhD, from Dartmouth College say that the idea of hunter-gatherers eating mostly meat is a myth. Also read this. I’d also warn against low-carb, high-protein diets over the long run — in the short term, you’ll see weight loss, but in the long run they’ve been shown to increase cardiovascular disease(from June 21, 2012 issue of British Medical Journal).

Q: It sounds difficult and complicated.

A: Actually it’s very simple — you just learn to eat a variety of plants. It does mean learning some new meals, but instead of seeing that as a hardship, think of it as something fun to learn. If you slowly change your eating patterns, it’s not hard at all. Be flexible and don’t be too strict — you’ll find that it’s much easier if you allow yourself an occasional meal with animal products, especially in the first 6-12 months.

Q: What about fake meats and cheeses?

A: There’s nothing wrong with giving them a try now and then when you’re having a craving for something, but in all honesty you don’t need them. They’re more expensive and less healthy. Basically, they’re convenience foods.

Q: What if I’m allergic to soy or gluten or nuts?

A: It’s still possible to get all the nutrition you need from a plant-based diets without a specific kind of food (like gluten or soy), from what I understand. More here.

Q: It sounds expensive.

A: Actually it can be a lot less expensive, if you stay away from the vegan convenience foods (which are fine on occasion). Meat is more expensive than beans or tofu, for example. While fresh, organic veggies can cost a bit, you should get these in your diet even if you eat meat — and in the long run, you’ll save much more on medical bills.

Q: There’s no way I’ll give up (eggs, cheese, ice cream, etc.)!

A: Well, you don’t have to. If you want to eat mostly plants but also eggs and cheese, that’s much better than eating meat. But there are cheese substitutes you can try, and vegan ice cream, and in the long run, you might find that giving these things up isn’t as difficult as you think.

Q: What about eating out at restaurants or social gatherings?

A: I’d recommend you take it slowly at first, and eat mostly plants at home, and be more liberal when you eat out, for a little while. You don’t want to make this too difficult on yourself. But actually, once you learn some simple strategies, it’s not that hard to find vegan food in restaurants — some are easier than others, and sites like Happy Cow make it easy to find veg-friendly restaurants in your area. As for eating at friends’ and families’ houses, I’ve learned to offer to bring one or two vegan dishes, and it’s not usually a problem.

Q: What if my family and friends don’t support this change?

A: It’s best if you don’t start preaching — people don’t like it. This article might seem like a violation of that, but actually I rarely push veganism on this site, and when I do it’s only as a way to show others a healthy and compassionate alternative. Remember that those around you probably don’t know much about veganism, and are likely to react defensively. Take the opportunity, when they bring up the topic, to share what you’re learning, and the concerns you yourself had when you first learned about it. Show them some great vegan food. Share this guide with them. And always be patient.

Open post

Struggles with Eating Boring Food

My month without food reward, which was the May challenge in my Year of Living Without, was a rousing success.

That is, a success if the idea was for me to learn from my failures.

Which it was. I didn’t expect to hold myself to perfection, but to see what happens when I try to go without any kind of rewarding food: nothing salty, sweet, fried, etc. I ate the same things each day: boiled unsalted potatoes, plain unseasoned seitan (usually microwaved), unflavored plant protein shakes, and plain vegetables. My daily exception was a glass of red wine at night, and I had a planned exception day each week.

It went pretty well for the first few weeks — I had some small cheats for various reasons, and while I struggled from time to time, for the most part I was able to stick to the challenge.

Then we moved to a new home, and that took several days of packing (I did fine during the packing stage) and then a big moving day followed by several days of unpacking, moving furniture around, hanging paintings, fixing little broken things, etc. It was exhausting and my self-control reserves were wiped out and I didn’t plan my food well so that I just ate whatever I could get my hands on.

Then my head was out of the game, and I just couldn’t get back on track, so I gave up a little before the month was over.

Still, I learned a lot, and I’m really happy with some of my improved skills.

Here’s what I learned:

  1. We are so used to pleasure from food that it’s depressing when you remove it. You don’t really realize this until you remove food reward, but we really expect to have some kind of happiness from our food. I think it’s one of the reasons we struggle with weight issues, now that I’ve observed this. When food has no pleasure, we feel withdrawal, we are unhappy, we feel like something important is missing. Think about it: what if you could only eat unflavored lettuce for a month, nothing else (putting aside nutrition issues)? You’d probably rebel, or get depressed. It felt a little depressing to me for about a week.
  2. I can adjust to anything. Amazingly, after about a week, my flavorless food tasted fine. I didn’t whoop with pleasure, but I didn’t think it was gross or boring anymore, and I actually enjoyed the food. Eating the boring food wasn’t a problem anymore — the problem became when I had the option of eating pleasureful food. But my adjustment to this flavorless food really amazed me, even if I’ve made similar adjustments many times over the last 8 years.
  3. I was constantly renegotiating. When there was a flavorful food around, my mind wanted to have some, and it really worked to try to get it. I would often just go to eat the food without thinking, then stop myself before actually eating it, then rationalize why it’s OK just this one time, then tell myself that’s just a rationalization, then come up with a new rationalization, then let go of that one, then say how about just one bite, that won’t hurt? And so there was a constant struggle taking place in my mind. I found that fascinating. It also took lots of energy to win.
  4. I would give up the negotiations when I was tired. The times I cheated were almost always when I was physically and mentally tired. If I had a long day, and I was spent, I would just want to eat something, and I would start the negotiation process, and then just give in because I didn’t have the energy to fight. And then feel guilty.
  5. I have some recurring rationalizations. Some of the things my mind says to get what it wants: it’s OK just this one time, no one will know, you deserve this reward, just a little won’t hurt, you need a break, it’s going to taste really good, if you cheat this time you can be more disciplined for the rest of the day, it doesn’t really matter if you stick to this or not, you should just quit because this is too hard, why are you making yourself suffer, this is much worse than I thought it would be, why not?
  6. I wasn’t fully committed. I realized that the constant negotiations were happening because I wasn’t really committed. Amazingly, posting that I’m going to do something in front of hundreds of thousands of people on this blog isn’t a full commitment for me. I really thought it would be, but the mental negotiations showed me it wasn’t. If my wife or kids’ lives were at stake, there’s no way I’d even think of breaking my commitment. There would be no negotiations.
  7. I could commit myself more. I actually tried pretending that my kids would die if I ate tempting food. And incredibly, it worked for a day. The next day I forgot to try it again, but for a day it really did work, even though I knew it was false. Another day I committed to Eva that I couldn’t drink wine in the evening if I cheated that day, and that worked too. But then I didn’t recommit for the next day. So I really should have stepped up my commitment in some big way if I wanted to stick to this, but I didn’t because I think I didn’t really want to stick to it perfectly.
  8. Distraction helps. When my mind starts wanting something, I can distract myself for awhile and I don’t think about it. I have to remember to distract myself though.
  9. Being busy or around other people helps. On days when I had lots going on, or I was meeting with other people, I didn’t even think about tempting food. I just stuck with the plan. It was when I was bored or alone all day that things got hard, because I’d think about food much more often.
  10. I got better at seeing my mind’s patterns. Towards the end, after weeks of observing my mind, I would see the mental patterns as soon as they started. The patterns of “you should go have a fruit, no you should stick to the plan, no it’s OK this time, no it’s not, yes just have a little it won’t hurt,” and so on. I’d see this pattern, and it wasn’t, “Oh this is interesting,” but more, “Oh this again.” I actually got weary of my mind doing the same thing over and over again.
  11. If I saw the patterns, I could let go of them. Once I saw the pattern happening, I could just say, “OK, that’s enough of that” and move on to something more interesting. It was when I wasn’t conscious of the patterns that they actually had influence on my actions.
  12. Once I’m out of the game, it’s hard to get back in it. Once I had a big multi-day break from the flavorless commitment, I tried to get back into it but I didn’t really feel like it. I wasn’t motivated. So that’s a good lesson for the future: if you let yourself take a break on a challenge, you’re not likely to come back.
  13. Having multiple challenges going at once makes each one much harder. I constantly advocate “One Change at a Time” on this blog, but I often break this rule myself. And whenever I do break it, I realize how much of a mistake it was. I had this No Food Reward challenge going on in May, but I was also trying to follow a workout and diet plan set by a trainer friend of mine at the same time. And work on a major book project, improve my Sea Change Program (we did an overhaul of the membership/payment system, among many other improvements in May), move to a new home, give a speech, prepare for a big summer trip to Guam and Japan, etc. Having all of that going on made each one much harder — I didn’t follow the No Food Reward challenge, actually fell off the other diet plan (though I stuck to the workouts), and have struggled with the book project a bit. I did well with the other things but I can’t excel at everything at once.

That’s a lot of learning for one month, and I consider that a success.

Read about my month of No Procrastination in June, which is my final month of the Year of Living Without.

Open post

A New Relationship With Food

Have you ever stopped to consider what relationship you have with food?

We don’t often think we even have a relationship with food, and yet we do — and it’s pretty intimate.

Think about this: if you’re like me, you spend as much or more time with food than you do with many of the loved ones in your life — several hours a day or more.

And consider this: technically, food is just fuel for living. That’s all — nothing else.

And yet … it has become so much more to most of us:

  • we use food for pleasure
  • we use it for comfort
  • we turn to food when we’re sad, depressed, hurt
  • we use food to socialize
  • we use it as a reward
  • we do it when we’re bored
  • food can also be a chore
  • we use food as gifts
  • we turn to food when we’re lonely
  • food can be associated with sex
  • food is equated to health
  • sometimes, food becomes an obsession
  • it definitely can be an addiction
  • food can make us hate ourselves
  • food is the center of many billion-dollar industries

In fact, the huge food-related industries are at the center of much of our relationship with food: restaurants, fast-food chains, convenience foods, agribusinesses, distributors, grocery chains, snack foods, bakeries, coffee shops, dessert chains, health food, diet foods, supplements, bodybuilding food, and many others. They spend billions upon billions every year trying to get us to eat more and more food — their food in particular — and the horrifying thing is that all this advertising really, really works.

We have been convinced that the answer to almost any problem is food. You truly love someone? Buy them chocolates, or take them to a restaurant, or bake them cookies. Want to lose weight? Eat diet food. Want to get fit? Take our supplements, eat our meat, drink our milk. Want to be healthy? Eat our healthy products. Want to reward yourself? There are too many options to name here. Having a bad day? We’ve got the food for you. Don’t have time? Our food will save time. Want to save money? Buy super size and “save”.

Food is the answer to everything, apparently.

And yet, we forget that food is just fuel. We need to eat a certain amount to live and maintain our weight. If we eat more than that, we will store some of that fuel as fat (or build muscle if we’re exercising). And how do we lose weight? By eating, apparently — eat diet food, drink diet shakes, eat Zone bars, eat vegetarian products, eat meat and other protein sources, eat low-fat products, eat our cereal, drink our diet soda.

But what if we … just ate less?

Despite what the food industries have convinced us, we don’t need to eat as much as we do to survive. Sure, maybe eating that much is fun, and pleasurable, and will stave off boredom, and is fun to do with friends and family, and so on. But we don’t need to eat that much. Actually, we need to eat less.

The problem isn’t that it’s so difficult to eat less. The problem is that we have a complicated relationship with food that started when we were toddlers and has become more and more complicated through the years, through endless amounts of advertising, of eating when we’re sad and lonely and happy and bored and at parties and going out and on dates and watching TV and dieting and so on.

Our complicated relationship with food makes it hard to cut back on how much we eat.

So let’s start building a new relationship with food:

  • Start recognizing exactly why we eat — is it just for sustenance or is our hunger often triggered by other things (boredom, socializing, pleasure, etc.)?
  • Start realizing the effects that advertising and the food industries have on how we think about food and how we eat.
  • Stop eating when we’re bored, out of habit, as a reward, for pleasure, for comfort, etc.
  • Only eat what and how much we need.
  • Find other ways to entertain ourselves, comfort ourselves, find pleasure, etc.
  • Find other ways to socialize than eating large amounts of food.
  • Stop obsessing so much about food.
  • End our addiction with certain foods — sugar, for example, or starches. We can still eat them, but we don’t need to eat them as much.

Think about it: how much simpler would life be if you could end this complicated relationship with food? Some changes that might happen:

  • You’d spend less time thinking about food.
  • You’d spend less time preparing food.
  • You’d spend less money on food.
  • You’d eat less.
  • You’d get healthier.

Fasting
I have to give credit to Brad Pilon and his excellent ebook, Eat Stop Eat, for inspiring this post. Brad shook up a few of my notions about eating, my assumptions about standard beliefs in the health industry, and about why we are conditioned to eat so much.

While I haven’t yet decided to try Brad’s super simple method for losing fat — fast 1-2 days a week and eat normally on other days, plus strength training — I definitely recommend his book as a way to challenge the ideas you might have read in magazines or fitness blogs.

But what’s most interesting is how he recommends 24-hour fasts as a way to transform your relationship with food. By fasting, you learn to give up your need to eat for reasons other than fuel. You learn that hunger is often conditioned by other things, and you end that conditioning. You learn that hunger is OK, and after awhile the fasts don’t bother you at all. At least, that’s what Brad claims, and it sounds reasonable to me. I might try fasting for this reason alone.

Now, some of you will object to fasting on the usual grounds — it’s unhealthy, your body goes into starvation mode, it’ll slow down your metabolism, your body will start using muscle as fuel, your blood-sugar levels will drop too low, you won’t have energy. Those are the same reasons I objected. And I won’t try to refute these ideas — Brad’s bookdoes a much better job. (Note: the links to his website aren’t affiliate links and I don’t make any money if you buy his book. Nor do I endorse his program, as I haven’t tried it. I do endorse the book for informational purposes.)

Anyway, you don’t need to fast to transform your relationship with food. It’s one way, and I thought it was an interesting idea.

In the end, let’s teach ourselves some simple things: food is just fuel. Most of us need to eat less. Food isn’t love or entertainment or anything else like that. It’s just fuel.

Open post

80 Awesome Weight Loss Tips

Last week I asked you all to offer up your best weight-loss tips. And boy,did you deliver.

I’ve compiled some of your best tips into a list of ideas, below, for those looking to lose weight (and that’s probably most of us). It’s not a step-by-step guide, and there are contradictory tips — but there are some great ones here, so pick and choose those that will work best for you and give them a try.

Note: I couldn’t include all of them, or it would have taken me 3 days to do this. I just picked some of the best, and combined many of them. Some tips may be slightly redundant, but I like them, so I included them.

General weight loss tips

  • Remember to keep your goals in sight to motivate yourself.
  • 5 Word Diet Plan – and the only one that works: Eat Less and Move More!
  • Doing the Zen Habits 30-day challenge to make something a habit really helps make exercise a no-brainer. The first step is getting yourself to do it, after that, the gains are much easier to make.
  • To be successful you need to change your life. You need to take control of the bad habits you have turned into an unhealthy life. You need to be excited about it too. And you have to believe that you can do it. Dreams turn into reality very quickly when you work hard.
  • Don’t try to lose weight. The number one indicator of excessive weight gain in the future is attempting to lose weight in the past. Don’t diet, it won’t last. Instead get up and go get more exercise.
  • Ultimately weight loss is about the balance between calories taken in and calories burned. Take the weight you want to be and the activity level that you maintain and calculate the number of calories that you should eat to maintain that weight. Now you have to eat fewer calories than this number, on average, over time to lose weight and achieve your target. Keep a food diary with full daily calorie calculations. Write down everything.
  • Never, never, never eat between the 3 main meals. Then eat what you want when it is time to eat.
  • Avoid processed food, or at least food where you can’t pronounce the ingredients. Keep it as natural as possible.
  • Stop watching the scale every day. If you weigh yourself, do it just once a week — as soon as you wake up, after you use the bathroom.
  • No matter how much you want a change in your life, nothing will happen until you DO something. You can talk about starting an exercise regiment and eating healthier foods all you want, but nothing will change until you START DOING IT.
  • Change your schedule, if possible. If you exercise in the afternoon but overeat while while watching TV at night, try exercising at night. Go to work earlier, come home later, schedule your walks during times you know you’re vulnerable to snacking. Switch things up to help break bad habits.
  • For people who want to lose 100+ pounds, dealing with the underlying issues of self medicating depression or anxiety is going to be a lot more effective then anything else. Feeling bad about being fat and trying to lose weight, or putting yourself in exercise situations you don’t feel comfortable in are not going to really help until the underlying issues of using food to treat boredom or anxiety or depression. After treating this underlying problem, the good habits will come without nearly so much struggle.
  • Start small. Changing your lifestyle overnight is very bad for your body and your mind. You’ll get sick of eating oatmeal 3 times a day, or grapefruit. Your life should be enjoyable and healthy!
  • Tell people around you what you’re doing. This will keep you motivated to continue. Don’t ask for their support, but say “I’m on this new thing where I’m going to kick my butt at the gym/road/bike today and” whatever.
  • Be aware of self-deception. It can sneak up on you from any angle. Examples of food deceptions: Breaded/fried chicken breast does not constitute an optimally healthy protein source, compared to simple grilled chicken breast. Potatoes do not constitute a viable vegetable source (they are a carbohydrate source).
  • Derive your self worth from something other than a number on a scale and instead gift yourself a body that will function well to serve your noble life’s goals.
  • Never give up, even after you have failed a few times. When you fail, start over. Watch those TV programs like “The Biggest Loser” or “Celebrity Fit Club”, because they are great motivators.
  • Rewards! New clothes make awesome rewards for weight loss. Going out with friends (but not for anything food related) is a great reward.
  • Weigh yourself but also take your measurements. Sometimes your scale won’t budge but your waistline will.
  • Get enough sleep – that’s the first and most important step. Without sleep, it’s harder to plan your meals, to exercise, or to consciously eat healthy.
  • Tell others your goals. Not only will you then have someone else also expecting you to perform but you’ll gain a cheering section!
  • Focus on one thing at a time. Everything we do is based on habits. If you’ve got to both get into the habit of eating great AND exercising daily, you run a big risk of getting overwhelmed when you’re not seeing results or you slip a little.
  • Find motivation other than within yourself. Workout FOR somebody else that you care about (your kids, loved ones, friends etc.). When you don’t feel like working out, remember that you’re doing it for them.
  • Focus on health and NOT weight loss. It is far more important that you live a happy, healthy life than look good naked. You’ll thank yourself when you are 80 and still lead an active life.

Healthy eating tips

  • Water water water. It kick-starts your metabolism. Stop drinking soda.
  • Make one change at a time. Don’t cut everything out at once. For example, cut out fried foods. When you’re used to that, cut out soda, etc.
  • Lay off the rubbish food, apart from one day a week where you can eat what you like – it’ll help you stick to it and you won’t have the temptation to eat rubbish all the time.
  • Eat according to the Glycemic Index, sticking with low and medium index foods.
  • Be mindful of what you are eating. Keep a food journal or diary. Seeing it in writing always gives it weight and helps reveal patterns or triggers.
  • Stop the evening eating. You don’t want to eat and then go to sleep. All those calories just sit there unused while you sleep.
  • Eat mostly raw fruits, veggies and nuts.
  • Brush your teeth early in the evening rather than just before bed. It keeps you from snacking if you’re not really hungry.
  • Cut wheat-flour based products out of your diet. Wheat is surprisingly easy to replace when you start thinking about it – rice, oats (still some gluten there, but a lot less), more vegetables.
  • Portion control used with a 20 minute wait time — wait 20 minutes after eating the sensible portions, and then see if you still feel hungry. Nine times out of ten, you won’t. If you do, get a little more.
  • Cut out sugar.
  • No fast food. Period.
  • Commit to one diet — and stick to it for life. Start by making a list of low-calorie foods that you love, that you find satisfying; and when you’re hungry make sure you eat lots of those foods.
  • If you’re a parent, don’t absorb “invisible” calories by eating your kids’ food.
  • Snack between meals – starving yourself for 6 or 7 hours at a time between lunch and dinner means you will overeat at dinner.
  • Eat slow and you will only eat as much as you need to be full.
  • Whenever you eat, think about how much food you would waste by overeating. Your body doesn’t *need* all the food that’s on your plate, why waste it? You could eat the leftovers for lunch the next day and save yourself some money, or you could split it with your loved one and have company while you eat. You could give it to the homeless guy down the block who REALLY needs it. Any reason you find not to waste that food is a good one.
  • Lentils.
  • Everything in moderation. If you really want French fries and a hamburger, or ice cream, or a cookie… it’s OK to indulge a little occasionally. Key word is occasionally. Better to indulge a little, than to binge later.
  • Learn to cook, from scratch. That way, you control what you are eating.
  • Don’t buy into the idea of “diet” foods. It’s better to eat the original food that has been less processed and only eat less.
  • Observe your hunger patterns. Choose a bedtime that’s early enough to keep you from after-dinner snacking. Stick to that bed-time. If you must snack before bed, have a something small and healthful. Maybe a tiny portion of whole grain cereal with milk.
  • Eat lots of fiber, it’s surprisingly filling compared to that cupcake.
  • Eat as soon after you get up as possible. This gets your metabolism working at a higher rate sooner in the day.
  • Cut out alcohol or reduce your intake to one or two glasses a week.
  • If you are hungry between meals, try eating a small portion of food that is high in protein. It can be more effective to eat one piece of cheese or some yoghurt or nuts than to eat bread or crackers or other snack foods.
  • Go to bed early and get up early. If you stay up late, you will overeat, guaranteed. It doesn’t matter if you are a night person; change into a morning person. When you go to bed early, you don’t think about food all night.
  • Instead of counting calories, concentrate on reducing your fat intake. Fat that you eat converts more readily into body fat than does protein or carbohydrate.
  • Try to enjoy your food, eat it slowly and consciously.
  • Only diet on weekdays. Don’t binge on weekends, but save two days a week to eat the yummy things. Also, because many people really can’t break that chocolate addiction, calculate one treat every day into your calories.
  • Positive change is easier than negative change. Instead of thinking of foods that are “bad” and that you feel like you need to cut out, think about all the new recipes and foods you will get to try if you start experimenting with more vegetables, more beans, more spices, etc.
  • Don’t count calories after you each them, count before.
  • Create a routine for what you eat – for a month, do not think of food as something to be enjoyed, think of it as fuel.
  • Take one of the three meals a day, and make it healthier (veggies, fruits, whole grains, etc.). Combine this with drinking ONLY water when at work, and it’s quite the effective method to lose a few pounds.
  • Eat a varied diet. Only, half your usual portions.
  • Eat nothing that you have not bought yourself, cooked yourself, and cleaned up after. This way laziness works in your favor. If you don’t feel like going to the store, or if you have stuff but don’t feel like cooking it or cleaning up afterwards, you are less likely to eat.
  • If you’re a stress eater, try sunflower or pumpkin seeds. Lots of chewing, not many calories. Just don’t spit the seeds on the floor.
  • Reduce the intake of three white things – white flour (all purpose flour), salt and sugar. Get rid of white flour completely if possible.

Exercise tips

  • Go backpacking. Carrying a heavy pack and walking around a lot will help you shed a lot of pounds.
  • Exercise 3 times per week.
  • Exercise: any kind any time. Sure there are better times and better exercises for fat burning, but they all beat sitting on the couch.
  • Cardiovascular training in the morning before you eat breakfast. This forces your body to utilize stored body fat for energy rather than carbohydrates, since you are in a carb-depleted state after having not eaten for 8-10 hours.
  • Regular aerobic exercise helps, for a period of at least 40 minutes.
  • If you can’t run, start slow by walking for 9 minutes and jog for 1 minute. Do that a couple of times and then slowly exchange the minutes walking for minutes running.
  • Buy a pedometer and try to get 10,000 steps per day in. That’s about 5 miles +/- depending on your stride length.
  • Walk everywhere (carrying a baby while you walk also helps a lot).
  • Swim, swim, swim.
  • Find fun exercise. Join a softball team, commute to work on a bike, whatever. Your strategy should be time-sensitive – only make choices you can see yourself committing to for years, be it gym, dieting, whatever – temporary won’t work.
  • If you are resistant to exercising, consider volunteer labor. Walk dogs at the animal shelter. (Find a shelter at Petfiinder.com. Do beach or riverside clean-ups with a local environmental group. Volunteer on building and repair projects.)
  • Replace your least favorite TV show with mild calisthenics for 30 or so minutes.
  • Get an active dog! They will force you to get outside every day, and they make the best exercise companions.
  • Make friends (if you haven’t already) with very physically active people. If you have very active friends, you will be exercising without even noticing it because you will be having fun with friends.
  • Do squats while brushing the back sides of your teeth and calf rises while brushing the fronts. Then you get in at lease some exercise and also brush long enough.)
  • Take the stairs. Walk or bike ride that short distance instead of driving.
  • Use those multi-colored stars on the calendar for each day you’ve achieved your goal — exercise, diet, whatever it is. Gives you something, small as it may be, to look forward to.
  • Start walking outside to get fresh air, which translates into better mood. If rains, use treadmill. But walk fast, no sissy stuff.

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