Sunday, November 25, 2012

Small Steps to Healthy Eating

I used to be a big fan of the all American diet. After high school it started to catch up to me. College classes during the day lovin' Gardettos, snacking on what was available. Combined with hours upon hours of staring at the computer playing online poker for a job, rewarding myself with Qdoba burritos for each big winning day, it took its toll on me.  Frozen pizzas and taco bell were the norm. I got up to 215 lbs.

That picture was taken July 2008 at mifflin street block party.  After I hit my 'I'm fat lets do something about this' point I started becoming more and more conscious of what I was putting into my body and how it was affecting my health. I slowly started becoming more physically active after years of sedentary behavior. I started by going on half mile run/walks and experimenting with weight lifting. I lost weight quickly by eating smaller healthier meals at more frequent intervals and following the basic dietary guidelines outlined in P90X’s nutrition program with emphasis on cleaning up my diet and eating smaller more frequent meals. I would later get Tim Ferris' book 4-hour body and follow the guidelines outlined in his Slow-Carb Diet. Eventually I set a goal of getting myself to body fat of around 6%.  This is a picture from April, 2011.

Goal accomplished. I had lost weight slowly at first and then got enough momentum to melt it off.  My dietary adjustments and continued exercise helped me lose weight. I got down to 150 lbs and reached my goal of 6% body fat and now it was time to put on some muscle. Although I had lost weight and felt healthier it would still take me until late in 2012 before I was finally able to dial in my diet to the point where I had eliminated my chronic heartburn. This had plagued me since the beginning of high school.  I used to deal with by popping Tums and taking Prilosec. Like so much of modern medicine today these did a great job of addressing the symptoms but did nothing to change the underlying cause. Finally my diet would fix it. In a way I was lucky that my body gave me signals, in the form of heart burn, that it didn’t like everything I was taking in. Much of the time people will continue eating the gut irritating and inflammation causing foods and not realize it’s a problem until it manifests itself as a more serious health condition. It can sometimes present itself in less obvious ways like depression or other cognitive issues that you wouldn’t necessarily attribute to a dietary problem. This really made me realize how important it was to put the right things into  your body.

I also learned that modifying your diet (or anything in life really) doesn’t have to be difficult. You can make slow gradual changes that overtime allow you and your body to adjust to the differences. Start small – Your current diet (or lifestyle) is a reflection of a life time of choices and reinforcement of habits. Expecting yourself to change all the programming overnight is often going to set you up for failure. Be easy on yourself.

Say you’ve been doing some research and you now intellectually realize the benefits of eating a healthier diet. Maybe you started seeing people get massive benefits on the paleo diet and you want to try it. The only thing is you don’t think you can cut out all that delicious bread and cheese you’ve been so accustom to enjoying. On top of that changing your diet can cause your body to go through an uncomfortable adjustment period. You are no longer depending on your usual fuel sources and this takes some time to adapt as your enzymes and cells prepare to use the different ratios of healthier resources that are being consumed.

For example; when I switched from a slow-carb to a full paleo diet I was super hungry for the first week and a half as my body adjusted to its new fuel source. A friend was unsuccessful in changing his diet over from a more American diet to a paleo after experiencing flew like symptoms as his body was ridding itself of toxins and adjusting its energy needs. Your body doesn't always react kindly to such a drastic change. That's why sometimes its best to take continuous small steps in the right direction.
In the case of the paleo diet you are now switching your main fuel source from carbohydrates to fats and proteins. You will require production of different enzymes and your cells will have to adjust to using ketones instead of glucose as their main energy source. In the long run your body will thank you. You will have less insulin spikes so your fat cells won’t be trying to hoard all the energy they can. And since your insulin stays relatively constant you no longer get the post meal crash that makes you want to bring a pillow to work and take an after lunch nap under your desk.
Adjusting your diet quickly works if you can tuff out the 1-3 week period of increased hunger levels and flu like symptoms as your body purges itself of toxins and adjusts. It can be made easier by starting small.  Start by eliminating any uber crap you’re eating and find slightly healthier alternatives to replace them with. If you’re drinking a ton of soda switch to real fruit juice. Eliminate fast food as much as you can and start making your own lunches. Pack a sandwich and some fruit with a buncha nuts to snack on if you get hungry so you can avoid the oily potato chips.
Mmm, doesn’t that feel better. Now take the next step.  Say you are seeing an increasing amount of people around you eating paleo and they are all getting super powers. You want superpowers. But you love bread, and cheese, and soy sauce and peanut butter.

Take a small step. Start by making one meal a day paleo. Easy right? Just replace that breakfast bagel with some delicious bacon and eggs each morning. Or maybe one morning you just have to have that bagel, then mow it and make sure to have a full paleo lunch and dinner that day. Eventually move to having two meals a day be full paleo or having just one cheat item each day. Keep the ball rolling and  get to the point where you only allow yourself 1 day a week to eat whatever you want and save the crap you crave for that day eating paleo 80-90% of the time while still allowing yourself room for some indulgences.  Eventually you will no longer crave food that isn’t 'real' and the momentum you built will snowball into a practice of consist healthy eating.

Now you feel fantastic, you sleep better, you have higher energy levels and you’ve set your future self up to accomplish any other goals it might set in its quest for life experience. It's cool to look back at the progress. I started with half mile run/walks which slowly snowballed into doing CrossFit, having multiple Tough Mudder finishes and doing sprint and olympic distance triathlons. All with small manageable steps in the direction of my goals. Here I am at 180lbs after eating a paleo diet and having a very active summer.

Rev3 triathlon - August, 2012.

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