“So, what are you a vegetarian now or something?”
“How do you eat a salad for lunch EVERY day?”
“How often do you actually just eat whatever you want?”
“Are you sure you’re eating enough?”
Don’t worry. I’m not going to start writing a food blog…yet. One, because I’m not at all qualified to do so. Two, because the internet doesn’t need another one any more than it needed another blogging runner and I only want to be unnecessary on one level at a time. But these are questions that I’ve been asked more than a few times. And even as my weight seems to have finally stabilized, because I’ve continued to become noticeably leaner I still find myself being asked similar questions and in turn discussing my food choices more and more often. So a day after this week’s Monday Night Kitchen Dance, I thought I’d try and address these questions here where almost none of the people that ask them will ever see the answers. I’m really smart that way.
“…there’s no such thing as overtraining, only under-recovering.” – Brenden Brazier
Last October when I upgraded this running thing from a sanity saving activity to a truly enjoyable pastime, I read as much as I could to learn how to run better. As it rose in the ranks again and was eventually promoted from hobby to lifestyle, I started researching even more, reading about everything from running form to breathing techniques to injury prevention to proper diet. And it was always the diet part that seemed the most elusive. I just couldn’t figure out what to eat and when to eat it in order to best fuel my runs and aid in my recoveries. There are a million opinions on every aspect of diet and exercise. It was annoying that I couldn’t find one that worked for me…or rather one that I would work correctly. After discussing this struggle back in March, a friend stumbled across a book that she thought might help and kindly sent it to me. I’m really glad she did.
I was already eating healthier meals primarily of unprocessed whole foods. I had eliminated the last few garbage foods from my diet. Good riddance to those greasy breakfast sandwiches. But I wasn’t very good about eating the right foods at the right times or even making myself eat as much as I should’ve in general to fuel my new exercise regimen or recover after workouts. It is true that losing weight can be a simple “calorie in” vs. “calorie burned” equation, but not all calories are created equal. And because I dropped weight so quickly, that wasn’t my issue. I needed to keep weight on and repair muscle better.
Then I received a package in the mail, “Thrive Foods: 200 Plant-Based Recipes for Peak Health” by Brendan Brazier, with a note that read in part “You might find some of this nutrition advice helpful as you train….”
Over simplified, Brendan is a former professional triathlete who actively promotes the athletic and physical benefits of a raw vegan diet through his books and his Vega line of nutrition products. A more accurate description would be that Brazier has taken his advocacy of a vegan diet to the next level. He’s extensively researched not only the physical benefits of a plant-based diet, but also the economic and environmental costs of food production to help create both a measure of foods’ nutrient density (nutrients per calorie) and the production impact on the planet (nutrients provided compared to natural resources spent and pollution created). He also discusses the potential dangers of politically supporting a food industry more focused on producing calories than nutrients. Those two things are not synonymous. That’s a hard thing to deny in a country with so many people that are both obese and malnourished at the same time. Clearly there isn’t a calorie shortage. It’s just that too many of them are nutritionally empty calories. To a numbers nerd like me, all of these things were very interesting and enlightening.
Basically, this planet’s raw nutrients are made digestible through plants. Seeds grow from the ground and process the nutrients in the soil into an edible and often tasty plant of some kind. And those plants are almost always more efficient sources of the earth’s nutrients to humans when consumed directly than they are after being wastefully and expensively fed into another animal first. If you’re interested in the math behind that, I recommend reading the book. If you believe that subsidizing the soy, corn, and meat industries is the best management of the earth’s resources, I don’t think you’d like it very much. Oh, and the so-called “free market” advocates out there probably don’t want to know how prohibitively expensive their favorite steak would likely be if not for big government subsidies in these areas either. It’s not for everybody but no matter your food preferences, if you read this book and it doesn’t change the way you think about your diet in some way, then you probably don’t spend a lot of time thinking about your diet in the first place. And it’s easily worth the cost of your local library card.
I probably think about my diet way too much. And I very much appreciated the gift of that book; both for the information within it and for the introduction to Brendan Brazier. I recently gave my mom his book, “The Thrive Diet,” and look forward to reading that when she’s finished with it. There is so much still to learn. And while I’m unlikely to adopt a strictly vegan diet, I love his often scientific approach to food choice, training, and especially recovery.
Anyway, enough of this book report silliness. Let’s get to those wildly interesting questions I get asked.
“One should eat to live, not live to eat” -Benjamin Franklin
“So, what are you a vegetarian now or something?” At least 50% of the time, this question is posed in a tone you’d expect when being asked if that rash on your face is contagious. The short answer is “no.” I’m not a vegetarian. And I have no intention of ever declaring that I am. But my diet does continue to veer in that direction with every passing week. I almost never have any meat products in my home (do eggs count?), I haven’t cooked it in a long time, and I will often go for a week or more without consuming any. But I don’t want another rule in my life, and I’m not going to eliminate the option to enjoy a slice of bacon or some pulled pork barbeque without the guilt of violating a self affixed label. So until those items are reclassified as vegetables, I will remain an omnivore; and omnivore that eats a very plant based diet.
“How do you eat a salad for lunch EVERY day?” Answer: with a fork. I get this one a lot. Every time I find myself working with a new person for any amount of time, it comes up.
I’ve never been a guy that just “loves” to eat. I thoroughly enjoy well made and delicious food, but I don’t simply love the act of eating. Because of this, I find it very easy to settle into food routines in my daily life. I eat the same thing for breakfast almost seven days a week; a greens, onion, jalapeno, & cheese omelet w/ grits and toast. And I eat the exact same thing for lunch five days a week; half of an apple and a garden salad topped with beans, quinoa, dried cranberries, and sunflower seeds. If I’m having dinner at home (which I do 9 out of 10 days), I don’t get much more adventurous there either. With very few exceptions, I eat a baked sweet potato with some sort of lightly sautéed veggies piled high on top of it. I know, I know. It sounds boring as hell to most people. But I genuinely enjoy these foods. And since I’m dining alone most of the time, mine is the only opinion that matters. **puts thumbs in ears, wiggles fingers, and sticks out tongue**
While I do enjoy these meals, when I sit down to eat my goal is very rarely to experience a mind blowing taste sensation. My goal is usually one of two things, to fuel my day or recover after exercise. I eat my chosen breakfast and lunch in an effort to consume a nutritious meal that will fuel my body as efficiently as possible and provide me with the energy I need evenly throughout my day without the need for stimulants like caffeine and processed sugar. And it works. I used to drink a 5 hour energy drink almost every single day. Now, I can’t even remember when I last bought one of those little red bottles.
My dinner choices are similarly motivated. I eat dinner after I’m done with whatever run and/or workout I have scheduled each day. And my main food goal is to eat a nutritious meal with plenty of carbs and protein within 30-60 minutes of those workouts when my body is so readily trying to repair and rebuild muscle. This has been my struggle, and eating a giant pile of veggies seems to work better for me than trying to cook and eat a chicken breast (of unknown origin these days). And the nutrient density of most vegetables is insanely higher than animal flesh. I don’t care what other people eat and I am not saying that meat is intrinsically unhealthy. It’s not. But if I want the most nutritional bang for my calorie buck, I’m going to have to eat more veggies and less meat. So I do. And I feel better and have more energy than I ever have before.
I’ll do what works for me. You do what works for you, if it’s actually working.
“How often do you actually just eat whatever you want?” I just got this one for the first time last week. We’ve got a couple of new-hires at work, and the guy that ended up sitting next to me has been running a little bit, working out some, and generally trying to lose a little weight. It was a new question for me, but just as easy to answer as the rest: Every day.
I eat whatever I want Every Day.
I’m not on a diet. I have a diet. And it’s made up of everything that I eat or drink. And despite the misconception that eating a healthy diet is some kind of chore or stunt that you perform for a measured amount of time and then claim victory, I’m happy to say that I have very little trouble maintaining it. I thank my mom for that.
I wasn’t raised on sugary processed foods, so I never developed a deep seated bond to those things. And I cannot express how grateful I am to not have that poisonous connection in my brain. I’m not a machine. I acknowledge that fatty meats can taste good or that a shake or two of salt can liven up certain foods. I put a little bit of salt in my grits every morning. And the human animal is instinctively attracted to sweets. It’s the first taste we develop as babies in order to encourage nursing. And it’s the last flavor sensation to go as we age. Sweet just tastes good. I know that. I just like to enjoy these flavor variables in natural and unprocessed whole foods as much as possible.
I eat whatever I want every day. I wanted to eat my omelet with fresh onions, collard greens, and jalapeños this morning. It was delicious. I loved my salad at lunch today. The peppercini, spicy quinoa, limas, and cranberries made for a very tasty and satisfying meal that I’m sure people still saw as “rabbit food.” And I love sweet potatoes and sautéed vegetables too. You can do anything with that simple formula. A few different herbs and spices make it easy to mix things up from day to day. Last night, it was red onion, yellow squash, zucchini, mushrooms, and fresh beet greens. Tonight, leftovers plus some of the beets.
These ARE the foods I want to eat. And because they are such good fuels for my workouts and because I do exercise regularly, on the days when I want some cheep beef tacos or an order of hot wings, I can do that too. I just really don’t want that stuff very often. I like feeling good. And eating what I want to every day helps me do that.
“Are you sure you’re eating enough?” This one is usually from a family member or other long time relation that I haven’t seen in a while. When someone has gotten used to seeing me at some varying degree of overweight for a long time, seeing me significantly smaller and leaner may seem “unhealthy” looking. The answer is: I think so. And with my current trend of better running, stronger workouts, and overall higher energy levels, I believe that I am in fact eating enough…finally.
An egg, a salad, and a sweet pototo every day? Is that really enough? Yes and no. My routine meals as overly detailed above are a very satisfying base for my diet, and so far have fueled my workouts and recoveries very well; but of course not entirely on their own. I eat slightly differently in the days before a race or longer run in order to fuel more specifically. I still drink a vitamin shake with breakfast and a protein shake after workouts. And like everyone else, I take a little snack break here and there, usually consisting of a handful of almonds or the other half of that apple I had with lunch. And on the rare occasion that I get a weird sugar craving that won’t go away, I’ll find a piece of candy. Problem solved.
“Water is the driving force in nature.” – Leonardo da Vinci
Maybe the most important part of my diet is that I drink a lot of water. I’m drinking it now.
I am of the opinion that more often than not, the hunger pangs that people experience, either in the afternoon or at night, is really thirst. I can’t prove that. But I have for a long time tried to limit my late night noshing and instead drink water when I get an urge to eat something after 8ish p.m. It really did cut way back on late night cravings even before I was running. And now with a more balanced diet, I rarely get those craving at all anymore.
I drink well over a gallon of water most days. I don’t force it down, but I always have some, and when I’m thirsty that’s what I drink. I know some people have convinced themselves that they don’t like water. And honestly, I think that’s kind of funny. When I meet people that say that they don’t like water, I feel like that is on par with a human being claiming that they don’t care for the taste of air.
“I know I should breathe more air. But I just don’t like it. It doesn’t taste like anything.”
For a mammal to have somehow decided that it doesn’t “like” one of the absolute key necessities of the body is more than a little silly. Your body loves water. You need water. Many people have just conditioned their bodies to think that the water they need is supposed to be combined with some added flavoring; often the result of added chemicals, sugars, and/or stimulants (caffeine). There is a whole industry now creating squeeze bottles and individual packets of flavored powders designed to be added to bottled water. It’s water. It’s not supposed to be purple. But if that’s the only way you can convince your mouth to accept something the body is ultimately going to demand, do what you have to do. I’m not judging anybody. Drinking florescent green water is still better than having a soda.
Vodka is clear. Does that count as water?
Sorry I got long winded on this one. I promise not to do it too often, but I have been asked these a lot lately. Whenever I get around to Part 2, I’ll explain what the Monday Night Kitchen Dance is. Hint: It involves bloody mary mix. And since my blog was so long this time, here’s a short song for your food enjoyment. Happy Tuesday.