Yesterday I posted about two of my most valued things:
- Eating tons of delicious, convenient, cheap, and diverse food—basically until I’m stuffed nearly every meal
- A fit body with well-defined abs with energy for athletic achievement
I have found that sharing what you love fills your life with sharing, love, and stuff you love. I can’t tell you how good it feels to feel firm, lithe muscle under skin not thickened and jiggling uncontrollably with fat, even on your abs, while eating to stuffed incredibly delicious food, save time and money in the process and exercise, on average, less time than it takes to watch one sit-com per day. And I produce almost no trash. These are the pictures that tell the story.
My 45-year-old body:
My biggest diet lesson
My most important lesson in eating is not what you cut out, but what you replace it with. My path to eating a lot went through cutting things out and learning that everything advertised food claims to offer, we want and value but they give the opposite. Meanwhile, unadvertised food—fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, legumes, and mushrooms, mainly—offer exactly what advertised foods don’t. That’s why advertised food has to advertise—because it’s the opposite of what we want.
Fresh seasonal local vegetables and fruit are automatically
- rich and complex
You only have to know how to cook them. I learned to cook them by just getting them for a few seasons and getting nothing packaged in that time. I learned by doing. Am I a top chef? No. Do I love my food more than anyone I know? Yes.
In that second picture is roughly a week’s worth of food for me. If someone had suggested my adopting that diet when I ate the standard American diet I started with, I would never have done it. Instead, but cutting out things I didn’t like and learning more about practices I couldn’t stomach, then seeing the results in my improved health, I arrived at it.
My most important process in changing eating habits
My most important process in changing eating habits is never eat something I don’t like and never stop eating something I do like. I’ve never deprived myself of foods I liked. I’ve never forced myself to eat something I didn’t like. I love what I eat now more than anything I ate when I ate the standard American diet.
My relationship with food is dominated by
with zero feelings of guilt, deprivation, or the like. The idea of feeling guilty about eating is crazy when your taste buds have learned to appreciate, say, the incredible sweetness, juiciness, and crunch of collard greens. Eating the peaches and blueberries of the past few weeks were borderline religious experiences. Even the root vegetables like daikon radishes and beets in the dead of a New York winter are amazing. I jokingly ask how the vegetable stews I make aren’t illegal for tasting so good.
I have to mention, most of what I eat now I didn’t buy or know how to prepare conveniently before a couple years ago and only learned to do it by playing around when I allowed myself only these foods until I figured it out. The pressure cooker and Vitamix blender helped a lot.
Gradually cutting out…
I never planned to eat healthy. If you look at how I changed my diet over the years, it looks like deprivation since I mostly cut things out. Then you realize the food America markets is mostly to make money processing, not providing nutrition or stewarding the land. Depriving yourself of garbage isn’t deprivation.
I first stopped eating meat in 1990. Since then, every few years I’d find something else I couldn’t stand eating or buying any more. Here are foods I’ve reduced my consumption of by at least 95%.
Meat: I stopped eating 100% in 1990. I would have stopped earlier, but I worried you needed it to live. Realizing you didn’t woke me to how many myths surrounding food. My family also didn’t take me seriously at first, which helped develop my independence, especially as they experimented with or took up not eating meat.
I don’t begrudge other people eating meat. I don’t see the moral issue. Of all the things I stopped eating, it’s the one I would call garbage the least, but it’s unappetizing to me, so it’s in the same category for me.
Soda: I stopped drinking Coke or Pepsi, I forget which, in college as part of boycotting companies doing business with South Africa. When boycotting Apartheid ended and I could start drinking the product I asked myself, “I know why I stopped drinking this stuff, but why did I start in the first place?” I couldn’t answer and stopped drinking all other sodas too.
I remember the last soda I drank. I was at an Ultimate Frisbee tournament in Canada sponsored by a local soda company. Since it was locally made and had pictures of fruit on the can I thought of it as different. Partway through I thought, “what am I thinking?” Lipstick on a pig. It was probably the mid-90s then.
Corn syrup and hydrogenated oil: I once learned each of these, while not healthy, were at least healthier than their alternatives. When we later learned that they weren’t healthier, and that companies that created them presented them as less unhealthy than they were despite research showing they were more unhealthy, I decided I couldn’t do business with people who made the stuff. I didn’t mind eating unhealthy food, but I won’t do business with people who lie to me to profit at the cost of my health.
I don’t remember when I stopped buying products with them in them, but it was probably around 2000. I remember thinking the decision would cut out a few items from my diet. Instead, it cut out whole sections of the supermarket, which led me to see a big division between foods that were either raw or basically prepared for you, like pasta or bread, versus manufactured in ways you couldn’t in your kitchen, like Twinkies. Though it wasn’t my intent, cutting out corn syrup and hydrogenated oil cut out a whole industry’s food: Keebler / Kraft / Frito-Lay / Pepperidge Farm / etc.
Dairy and eggs: When I first stopped eating meat, I believed the popular myth about needing animal products anyway, so ate a lot more eggs and dairy. Over the years, I’ve eaten less and less of them while seeing no problem with lack of protein, vitamin B-12, and all the other stuff people ask about. I mean, after six marathons, a PhD, an MBA, competing at Nationals in Ultimate Frisbee, so many half-marathons and fifteen-to-twenty-mile runs I can’t keep track, nearing 80,000 burpees, a mile swim across the Hudson, and so on, if some nutritional deficiency is killing me, it’s doing a terrible job of it.
Now I look at the idea of milking another species and drinking it as weird. If no one did it, I would never conceive of the idea. I also read how the hormones we give cows lead to breast development in men, which is plenty reason for me not to drink it. I will say, though, that I eat cheese sometimes, though less and less all the time. In 2016 I’ve probably had maybe a cup’s worth of cheese, including a bunch when I visited Paris for the first time in 25 years.
Fast “food”: I don’t remember the last time I ate anything from McDonald’s or any of them. Probably the early 90s. Over the past five years I may have eaten maybe a dozen burritos from the chains where you can see them make your food, but otherwise no Burger King, Wendy’s, Pizza Hut, etc. They don’t register in my mind as places for food.
Fruit juice: I grew up thinking orange juice was like oranges. Nutritionally, it’s more like soda. After posting on my blog that orange juice is unhealthy and not 100% even when it says it is and an industry public-relations person contacted me about it, I knew to avoid it.
Foods with fiber removed: Two years ago I asked myself what “processed” meant. Everyone knows a Twinkie is processed and an apple isn’t, but the word seemed vague. Did frying a vegetable make it processed? Was bread processed? What about whole wheat bread? What about peeling a banana? There seemed some meaningful division. I played around with it until I stumbled on the division that removing fiber from something seemed an effective division between processing or not. It’s pretty hard to remove fiber from most plants without some industrial process.
The division has worked out well for me. I’ve since learned what plants have edible skins, which I now eat, including oranges, bananas, and mangoes. I also make my own bread now, starting from wheat berries, grinding them into flour in a blender, making a loaf in under an hour far tastier and, as best I can tell, healthier than anything I see in a store. It’s far cheaper and more convenient too.
Cutting out foods with fiber removed had a side effect I didn’t expect: my abs started showing definition, which I loved. I hadn’t realized how much empty calories I was still eating. To see a six-pack form with zero new effort—is that not the holy grail of fitness? That physical and emotional reward motivated me to keep up that habit.
Packaged food: Though this food experiment started out having nothing to do with taste, health, or anything related to nutrition, it led to some of my diet’s greatest improvements in nutrition, flavor, and diversity.
Noticing how much of my trash came from food and caring how my actions would affect others who have to live with my pollution, last year I challenged myself to buy no foods where I had to throw away packaging. The experiment proved successful beyond any expectation I could have had. It replaced a lot of prepared things like fake meats with beans and lentils, which cost very little and complement the flavor of vegetables in stews. It opened the door for trying a pressure cooker, which reduced cooking times to less time than waiting for an order at a restaurant, let alone going to the restaurant, waiting to be seated, paying the bill, etc.
Since that challenge week, I’ve bought one can of food since, which only told me not to bother with packaged food. They don’t taste as good. Once you stop eating packaged foods, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods look like junkyards or landfills. When you don’t care that their packaging is just prettier but still packaging, you see the overwhelming majority of their floor space as environmental disaster zones like other stores.
All the above cuts, combined with the pressure cooker, blender, and supply of vegetables direct from a local farm led to the diet of plenty. Combined with my workouts based on minimal time, cost, and effort led to a six-pack, striation in shoulders, and being able to join a race for fun and come in second place with no specific training and rowing 5,016 meters in 20 minutes.
My diet is still evolving…
Reducing alcohol and oils: When I cut out foods with fiber removed and packaging, I excepted two categories of food where fiber had clearly been removed: olive oil and my favorite alcohols: wine, beer, and scotch. Olive oil seemed to necessary for cooking and I like wine, beer, and scotch. Olive oil I could get without packaging from my neighborhood bulk food store, though alcohol required packaging.
I used to put a bunch of olive oil in my vegetable stews, feeling like it helped with the flavor and texture. Following the pattern above, the issue wasn’t what I cut out but what I replaced it with. Finding herbs, spices, and other flavors led me not to miss olive oil. Now I barely touch it.
As for alcohol, I noticed that more I enjoyed it sparingly, the more luxurious it felt, leading me to find my total appreciation and pleasure stayed about the same despite far less. I also noticed that I raised my standards for events I went to when I didn’t find myself saying, “at least I’ll get some free wine.” So reducing alcohol improved my productivity by not wasting time at events that even the organizers knew they had to bribe people to come to them.
… Yielded plenty
Here is the list of what’s in that second picture, which was everything from my fridge and nearly everything from my cupboard and counter, which will be nearly my whole diet:
From the fridge:
- 4 eggplants
- 1 ginger
- 2 habaneros
- 1 yellow cucumber
- 2 green cucumbers
- 1 white cucumber
- 1 bunch thyme
- 3 yellow zucchinis
- 3 green zucchinis
- 1 bunch kale
- 2 bunch chard
- 1 loaf homemade bread
- 2 bottles of beer (one has been there a few weeks, the other a friend brought. Not sure when I’ll open)
- 1 bottle of wine (opened months ago, still haven’t finished)
- 1 cup Thai green curry paste
- 1 box baking soda
- 2 summer squashes
- 2 heads lettuce
- 1 bunch collard greens
- 2 bunches of beets
- Bits of dill
- Plastic bags (all reused from other people getting them)
Not from fridge:
- 1 granny smith apple
- 1 red apple
- 1 banana
- Wheat berries
- Nutritional yeast
- Green lentils
- Black-eyed peas
- chia seeds
- vegan protein powder (trying it out, but I don’t think I’ll continue it)
- Nuts: brazil, almond, hazelnuts, cashews
- Peanut butter
- Spices and salt
- Peaches (eating a half-dozen a week during the summer)
- Cabbage (aka a bag of chips. I go through a head or two a week)
- Recent fruits and vegetables I’ve eaten a lot of recently: broccoli, cauliflower, pears, plums, nectarines, papaya, peppers, black beans, tomatoes, and I forget what else
Note that I’m not leaving out butter, oil, coffee, juice, milk, or other condiments. All the packaging I go through is in the picture too, which is basically a couple bottles a month and something like a box for baking soda per year, stickers on fruit, and things of that scale.
I pack lunches when I’m out, which is easy with vegetable stews. I’ve noticed that when I get caught unprepared and have to skip a meal, I don’t get that hungry. As delicious as this food is, I don’t find myself craving it. And as full as I get, I don’t feel that empty without it.
My next step is gardening, which my family is helping me with. So far I’m growing mint and a tomato plant that looks like it won’t produce fruit. Darn. Learn by doing.
I don’t know what I’ll do next, but I expect I’ll eventually graduate to getting space on my roof. As you can tell from the multiple-decade pace of change of my diet from above, I’m not hurrying. But I’m confident I’ll have some amazing home-grown vegetables soon.
My sister just called to wish me a happy birthday, we talked about gardening (I got the mint and tomato from her), and she suggested learning to preserve food as another next step.
What I don’t do
I don’t count calories, weigh portions, or limit myself.
Actually, I’ll admit that since I planned to post a picture of my abs on my 45th birthday, I ate less over the last week or two to accelerate some of the last bits of definition, but I still ate to satisfaction every meal, just not stuffed. There’s still a bit more definition to gain around my belly button and in the love handles. I expect to post an update soon.
Bottom line: Abundance and joy, not guilt or shame
I’m shocked at how people see their diets and bodies as sources of guilt, shame, or cost. I mean, I can think back to when it was that way for me, but living in abundance (while saving time and money) makes you forget about it. When people talk about
- Struggling to lose weight
- Accepting levels of fitness they themselves consider unacceptable for themselves
- Food being expensive
- Food taking a lot of time
- Struggles to eat less
I’ve lost touch with living that way. By accepting mainstream messages, they are living lives of deprivation and paying for it with their health and savings. I never noticed the irony until I wrote that sentence. By getting rid of what people who make money processing food try to foist on me,
I’m returning to what I probably evolved to do: enjoy eating the most delicious things I can find until I’m full and becoming more healthy in the process.
Read my weekly newsletter
On initiative, leadership, the environment, and burpees