How to think about diets

I don’t actually know much about diets. That is the packaged set of rules designed to help people achieve short-term goals.

The most important thing to remember about diets is that most of the off-the-shelf diets fail. They are designed to help you achieve a short-term weight loss or other goal. They are not designed for long-term use. They carry weird, complicated rules that are impossible to follow without being an annoying asshole.

And they often make you a pain to be around. They jolt your system and a few months later you generally revert back to your old ways.

To affect lasting change the best path is to create a lifestyle. Or, as I did, use elimination as a path to figuring out a long-term lifestyle.

When shopping for a diet you have to ask yourself “once I achieve the goal, what will I do?” Most people don’t ask that question which is why most people are constantly losing and gaining weight.

I’ve generally found more success in life by eliminating things rather than trying to build constructive plans. This point is important because while I know I could do better (e.g. by buying produce from local farms instead of organic produce from Costco) everything you are about to read was intended to eliminate senseless bad things.

My food lifestyle is based on several “No’s” that I developed over a long-term experimentation period. And it is constantly in flux. I add or remove classes of food in a mildly scientific process measuring how I feel, my general body composition and in some cases the results of blood work. Only recently have I learned that my list of “No’s” looks very similar to that of the paleo diet. Many people misinterpret paleo as a meat emphasizing diet. This is not true. I rarely eat red meat. I eat a lot of chicken. But I probably eat more vegetables that most people you know.

It’s also important to note that in additional seeking a long-term physical change in my body I was and am deep in learning about the relationship between food, the gut and mental health. I have a long history with depression and anxiety. Thos problems and my old lifestyle helped fuel high blood pressure and incapacitating acid reflux.

I wanted to find a way to use food and exercise to fix all of that and get off off the battery of prescriptions I was on. At the time I started this I was on antidepressant meds, anti-anxiety meds, blood pressure meds and I carried a Xanax in my pocket at all times. I also drank a ton.

My decision to pursue a lifestyle came after a cycle of trying two lifestyle-esque diets: Slow Carb and Bulletproof. Aside from nearly burning my house down cooking black beans, I found Slow Carb too difficult to maintain while maintaining a regular life around regular people. I found Bulletproof to be too dependent on pseudoscience and ketosis. But both were critical in helping me learn how my body and mind react to certain types of food. If I hadn’t followed these diets I wouldn’t have had a basis to discover my long-term lifestyle.

There’s also an element of my food lifestyle that is mathematical. I eat the same thing everyday but do not recommend that to anyone.

My repetitive eating habits all started in 2015 I was seeing a personal trainer and realized that I needed to use food as a fuel or I was going to waste away. One pound of weight is about 3500 calories, to lose weight I need to eat at a deficit to my activity, the opposite to gain (here’s a great way to calculate TDEE).

I have a systems-oriented mind and practically zero will power so I needed an easily calculable way to dial up or dial down intake based on my activity that gave me no room for discretion. So I had to develop a strong sense of what I was eating and how to measure it.

If I eat soulless, empty foods or drink calories, it would be impossible to lose or gain weight in a methodical way. I think this OCD-level obsession is why I still don’t drink…it fucks with my math.

I also have enough decisions to make in my life as it is. And if I let myself make a food decision, I’ll end up in the Jack in the Box drive thru.

Overall, my goals were to develop a food lifestyle that:
* Balanced proper micronutrient intake (vitamins)
* Reduced inflammation as measured by ongoing blood work
* Removed foods that made me feel like shit afterward
* Removed foods that carried short-term negative mental consequences (crashes) or long-term hormonal issues
* Removed ingredients and contaminants known to or believed to carry long-term adverse health effects (e.g. pesticides, hormonal issues).
* I could eat without being the annoying vegan-type guy at a restaurant or a friend’s house who won’t sit on a leather chair
* Didn’t require the psychological release of a cheat day because of extensive restrictions

Each of the below rules came about from extensive scientific research and focused experimentation. To build this list I initially went months without a cheat meal.

Food rules:
No beans
No corn
No dairy
No grains (consequently no gluten)
No processed sugar
No nuts
No soy
No nightshade plants
No white potatoes (added later)
No vegetable oils (added later)

Personal rules:
No artificial ingredients.
No industrial foods (because I can’t be sure about the ingredients)
No chemicals in the home/body.

Here’s an example of how these rules affect my life.

I don’t eat grains. This means I don’t eat rice or bread. Both of those foods are fillers and are often accompanied by things I shouldn’t be eating anyway. But those items specifically are empty wastes of intake. Why fill my body with calories and sugar from bread when I could fill it with a delicious banana instead?

I don’t eat processed sugar. This means I don’t eat salad dressings (or ketchup). I could ask for an ingredient list at a restaurant but that would violate my rules. So I ask for no dressing or dressing on the side and then just don’t eat it. Try it. Salads are actually quite good dry. You order different lettuce as a result.

I don’t eat sugar but I do sometimes eat sweets. I have a bunch of chocolate bars in my kitchen. They are natural bars with no processed sugar. And they are delicious.

I don’t eat vegetable oils so I can’t load a salad with olive oil. When did we decide salads have to be wet? What is that? I don’t eat vegetable oils because most are industrial concoctions filled with garbage. I could ask a restaurant about its oil or be selective in how I buy it, but that would be a pain. So I don’t eat it. I cook with coconut oil which is, by and large, tasteless.

I don’t eat white potatoes because they are a soulless food with little to no nutritional value beyond carbs. They are high glycemic foods so when I eat them I crash soon after. This violates my rules. I eat the shit out of sweet potatoes because a) they make me as happy as a fat kid with a donut and b) they are highly nutrient rich and cause a less drastic glycemic response.

I violate some of these rules on occasion. The ones I never violate are no grains (specifically gluten) and no sugar. I rarely violate the rest and if I do it’s usually because I’m out with friends and don’t want to be a pain at a restaurant. The one I violate the most is corn because I love tacos.

My one deviation from the idea of elimination was adding a blended vegetable drink to my daily intake. It ended up being among most important decisions I made.

It was the first thing I did long before I started learning about food. I tried it because I hate how time consuming eating vegetables can be. This habit served as the critical keystone habit of my food life. It wildly improved my micronutrient intake and it made me full so I had less room for junk. I started all of my research only after doing that.

My suggestion for someone trying to find a diet is to first figure out if you need the diet to be a hack for major physical goal you want to accomplish in the short-term (e.g. training for a specific outcome). If so, lean on the experts in that field. If not, then start the process of elimination. Start with one class of food, eliminate it and see how you feel.

The two that will have the quickest and most dramatic effect are sugar and grains. If you can’t eliminate all grains, just eliminate bread. And when you eliminate bread, eliminate it all…not just gluten. By refusing to eat industrial foods (factory concoctions) you are also eliminating the replacement fake foods like Tofurkey and gluten free bread. The impact of this change will be significant and fast.

These two are also the hardest to drop. Eliminating processed sugar is harder than quitting smoking. You will get headaches. You will be tired. The withdrawals last about 7-10 days then you will start to feel amazing. In my case I lost about 10 pounds in a month with very little change in my physical activity.

I can share the science behind each of my rules in addition to my own body data and anecdotal responses. But the bottom line is use a scientific process to eliminate things from your life and if you feel better as a result, make it your life. Then just do the math to dial up or down your intake if you need more fuel for training.