Hippocrates once said “let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”. We are coming up to a busy time in the year for food consumption and then the subsequent New Years resolution to lose it all.
Let’s think for a moment, what was Hippocrates thinking when he offered these words. First of, it is believed that Hippocrates did not actually say this, much like many other famous quotes. It is believed that Hippocrates did view nutrition in high regard. I am fairly intimate with nutrition as an endurance athlete, proper nutrition plays a key role before, during and after an event. I have also utilized nutrition in some way the entirety of my life to control my Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Starting in the 1980’s when my mother was introduced to the Feingold Diet, to adopting a largely Paleo/ Keto diet to control mood and focus, I have found diet to be crucial in maintaining a non medication approach to my symptomatology.
Modern research supports this thought. You can find dozens of articles, books and gurus who purport amazing feats of health improvement with the alteration of one’s diet. I would as we get geared up for the new year and new diets to not focus so much on these fad diets and gurus.
Diets don’t work. It’s true, committing to a diet without understanding the mechanisms as why you are overweight (It’s more complicated than you eat too much) or even obese (yes, these are different experiences) will only cause to eventually return to your baseline weight. Here is a peak why. It is generally understood that most people who go on a diet will initially lose x amount of weight and maintain this loss for x amount of time. Within 5 years though, this weight can/will be gained back and at times, double and even triple the amount. Here is why. The body keeps a score for the weight you are at. Evolutionary design reminds us that we were at that weight and when we go into a state of deficit (diet), our body fights back to maintain that weight, thinking we are in starvation. Adopting a lifestyle change can alter the equation.
Let me point to myself as an example. My family lineage is marked by obesity and other diseases related to obesity such as heart disease, blood pressure, diabetes and even cancers. In 2005, I made a choice to not live like this and went out and bought an elliptical trainer and buckled down on my current vegetarian and vegan diet that I had been using for about 4 years. I immediately saw an improvement in mood, mental clarity and physique. I began a second Master’s program in 2008, but I created a lifestyle that allowed me to maintain balance with my ADHD. I lost about 15 pounds of fat, maintained a 4.0 grade point average, created a new career and became an athlete. I began to learn how to use the food I was eating as a crucial tool to benefitting my health rather than just a consumptive endeavor I had to engage in several times a day.
Tying it all together, I want to not only encourage lifestyle change as a means to maintain a healthy weight, but would also encourage you to eat to feel. These days, eating a full McDonalds meal makes me feel ill. Eating to feel then is paying attention to how your food sits with you. Also practicing mindfulness in your eating also enhances the experience. How does your food make you feel? Does it give you a tummy ache? Does it give you a headache? Does it make you feel sluggish? Are you tired before noon? Food consumption is more than just sitting down and plowing into your meal. Find a nutrtionist that can help you figure out proper macronutrients (fats, carbs and proteins) for your body composition can help greatly in satiety and energy expenditure. A nutritionist can also give you a list of micronutrients (minerals and vitamins) that can be blood tested to look for deficiencies. Some of these deficiencies can lead to signficiant mental health issues. We can also identfy issues with thyroid hormone, estrogen and testosterone deficiencies, all of which impact mood and physcial health.
I am not a nutrtionist and the following info should not be considered as sound nutritional advice, please see a nutritionist for a plan specific for you.
As an athlete, I usually try to take in around 2200-2500 calories during my peak where I am training 7 days a week and doing two a day trainings. All trainings are 1 – 6 hours long. Here is a sample day for me:
Breakfast (my favorite meal)- (my favorite) egg white omlette (8-10 oz of egg white, 3 slices of bacon, chopped, 1 cup of Kale, 1/4 c of feta), bake 10-15 mins at 400 degrees. Top with salsa. Coffee for drink, sometimes kombucha. Note the high protein, high fat, low carb, lots of veggies, this formula is a staple of my diet.
I usually don’t eat cereal or toast. I do eat steel cut oats and make a protein french toast during peak training. Thinking out of the breakfast box is another key to healthy breakfasts. Try smoothies, even a piece of pan fried fish or even boneless skinless chicken thighs with a side of veggies. If you are vegetarian, beans or refried beans, tofu and tempeh are good protein sources.
Lunch – larger meal around 6-800 calories, lots of veggies, protein, healthy fats. Low carb, no processed foods/grains(pasta, rice, potatoes sugars, syrups) . Water and tea/coffee, sometimes kombucha
Dinner- medium size meal, around 500-600 calories, lots of veggies, protein, healthy fats. Low carb, no processed foods. Water.
2 snacks – 200- 300 calories. Moderate carbs- protein shake with a nut milk, sometimes jerkey, sausage and cheese or sometimes a Picky Bar or a Kind Bar.
I do supplement with a multi vitamin from November – March. I also take a beef organ supplement because consuming beef organs is gross.
Please understand when I say no, this does not mean never. I love pancakes and waffles, ice cream, cheese burgers, fries and cookies, doughnuts, brownies and cakes like the next person, but I am very mindful of the calorie load these bring on and I make room in my diet to allow these on the days I consume these foods. This holiday, do the same thing. Be mindful of the calorie load.
For Holiday eating, focus on small portions, eating to feel. You don’t need to pig out, there is enough for leftovers. Leftover taste better anyway. That said, just eat and enjoy yourself. But be mindful and don’t stress. Go for a walk after dinner, play football with your grandkids, dance with your wife. Consider this though, if you eat half a pound of holiday cookies, you are going to consume around 1600 calories. Think you can’t consume half a pound of cookies? Pay attention to how big half a pound is and see if your cookie plate is equal to that. One cup of Buffalo Chicken dip is around 500 calories, not including the chips or crackers. Add a few mixed drinks, beer or wine into the mix and you could have hit 3000 calories before dinner even starts. Thanksgiving dinners can be 3000 calories or more.
Most maintainence calories for most people is around 1300 – 1500 calories a day. Healthy lifestyle “diets”(not diets, eating protocols for lifestyle change) are the Wahls Protocol, the Mediterrian Diet, Vegan/Vegetarian, Blue Zone Diets, DASH Diets, Paleo and Keto in some regards (These last two must be monitored by a doctor if you are already dealing with blood pressure, diabetes or cholesterol issues).
Small changes you can make now are walking 3-4 times a week for 45 minutes at a time at a Rate of Percieved Exertion (RPE) of 3-5 where 1 is no expenditure(sitting on the couch and reading) and 10 is running with me for 32 miles. Other changes are joining a gym and hiring a personal trainer. Finally if you are struggling with your weight and have had failed relationships with diets, start working with a nutritionist.
Finally, as we embark on the new year, let’s not committ to losing 15 – 20 or more pounds, let’s consider our lifestyle, how we are living and seeing our food as a means to improving health rather than something that we must consume for life.
Below is a sample of my weekly shopping trip. Note the only convenience foods are those that are exhaustive to cook( beans, coffee, dark chocolate, salted cashews)