Open post

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.
Open post

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.

Open post

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.