It’s been 3 and a half years since I started changing how much and what I ate. The process has been an evolution as I learned new things, unlearned others, and adjusted accordingly. I will always continue to do that, because I’m not crazy enough to think I know all the answers, or dogmatic enough about the way I eat to be above questioning and adjusting.
I don’t often write about what I eat or what exercise I do anymore because I don’t want people to think I’m saying this is what they should eat or do. I think everyone should go on their own journey and learn for themselves what works and why. You should definitely question everything when it comes to choices, on the one hand, because there is so much contradictory advice and evidence out there. On the other hand, to become obsessed with the nutritional make-up of your diet is for the most part pointless, and possibly destructive if it interferes with other portions of your life. There is actually a term for this: orthorexia.
If you’re like me, and you’re not an athlete or a bikini model, you’re just a pretty average person with a mostly sedentary life sitting at a desk and working out 5-6 times a week for about an hour each time, and you’re not ill or allergic to anything, it’s probably not necessary to be that concerned about your Macro-Nutrient Ratios, or the percentage of your diet that comes from protein, fat or carbohydrates. Eating real food will take care of this naturally. It took me a long time to arrive at that conclusion and believe me, I’ve been down most of the paths. I did the whole low fat thing because I thought that was what you had to do to lose weight. I did the whole high protein thing, because I thought that was what you had to do to gain muscle.
What I learned in the end was to trust myself. If I eat what I want to eat, without concerning myself with those numbers, I end up with about 40-45% carbohydrates, 40-45% fats, and 10-15% protein. I used to get concerned that it wasn’t enough protein because protein is so talked about and hyped. I used to get concerned it was too much fat because that’s another thing you hear. But at some point, I just let it all go.
It started when I read Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food.
In it, he talks about how different cultures have very different diets. Some eat a lot of fish and little else. Some eat no meat and a lot of white rice. Some have a higher fat diet, some lower. But the diseases we know are often caused by eating habits; like obesity, diabetes and heart disease; are only tied to one culture’s diet: the Standard American Diet. Also referred to as the Western Diet, this consists of lots of processed food, a ton of refined carbs, an abundance of factory-farmed meat, eggs and dairy, refined sugars and refined flours, all kinds of chemical ingredients like high fructose corn syrup, and too much of everything available in abundance extremely cheaply.
He argues that it isn’t fat or carbs that are making us sick, it’s our nutrition-less diet of processed food-like substances. Ironically, Americans think about nutrition more than anyone in the world. And we are the sickest. I believe this is because we’re so caught up in minimizing the amount of fat or sugar or evil nutrient of the moment in our diets that we forget to read the ingredient list, the most important part of any label. We end up eating things that aren’t really food.
I’m vegetarian and I eat in a way that some people are now calling “clean”. Whatever you want to call it, I just call it common sense. I eat a ton of vegetables and fruits, mostly from my local farmer’s market. The packaged products I do buy are carefully chosen. I try to choose products that are organic and have a short ingredient list. For example, I buy cottage cheese that contains milk and cultures. Nothing else. If I don’t know what it is, I don’t buy it. Other than veggies and fruits, the rest of my diet is mostly nuts, beans including soy, and grains. I also eat dairy and occasionally eggs.
When I cook, I am not thinking about numbers. I am thinking about making something beautiful, fresh and delicious. This is absolutely the most enjoyable and rewarding way to eat for me. I eat what sounds good to me at the moment and what is in season. Every time I’ve done any other type of eating, such as trying to get protein with every meal like when I tried Jamie Eason’s LiveFit Trainer, it takes some of the joy out of the way I eat.
My diet has evolved from not thinking about it at all and eating a lot of junk, to thinking about it a lot and scrutinizing numbers, to not thinking about it too much and eating a lot of produce. I searched for, and found, a way of eating that is satisfying and meaningful to me. It enhances my life. It does not interfere with my life. If I go out to eat, I just let it go. Other than making sure there’s no meat in what I order, I relinquish control. It’s okay to relinquish control.
People really like to tell you what they think you should be eating. Don’t let them. Do your own learning and make your own choices. Don’t do what works for me. Do what works for you. And I’ll do what works for me, and we can all just let each other be.
I didn’t think about carbs or protein or fats when I made my dinner last night.
A lot of people look at a plate of vegetables and think it can’t possibly be enough food for a meal. You may be surprised to learn that this picture shows about 500 calories, with 50 g carbohydrates, 26 g fat, and 18 g protein. That is, if you care about things like that.