Some thoughts on diet

I am in the best shape of my life.

I don’t diet. I don’t count calories. When I’m hungry, I eat. When I’m full, I usually stop. If my scale is to be believed, I currently have 11% body fat.

I’ve written before about exercise. What follows are my theories on eating, based on reading and personal experience, in hopes that it will help someone, somewhere. I don’t claim to be an authority on nutrition. A lot of people do. There are doctors recommending low-fat diets, internet experts recommending high-fat diets, low carb and high carb camps, vegans and primals. Organic devotees. On it goes.

My philosophy: eat a balanced diet of mostly whole foods. Few people get fat eating steak, chicken, apples, sweet potatoes, brown rice, whole wheat, carrots, peas, and so on. They get fat eating chips, frozen pizza, Pillsbury biscuits, juice drinks, Frosted Flakes, Hamburger Helper, french fries, soda, white bread, and lots of condiments. When they get the urge to “eat healthy,” they’ll buy a processed food with Omega 3 or vitamin additives instead of eating whole (i.e. real) food.

The problem with these highly processed foods is that they are expertly engineered to taste good by adding lots of sugar, sodium, and 15 other mysterious and unpronounceable ingredients. My wife theorizes that people eat more bad food than they need to because their bodies are grasping for nutrients (we learn more every year about the good things in the fruits and vegetables God has made for us). My wife may be right. After a baked potato and two eggs, I’m satisfied. After a few Double Stuff Oreos, which is about the same number of calories, I’m just getting started. I eat cookies by the row. I used to eat chips by the bag, and mac and cheese by the box. Does anyone actually eat the serving size listed on a package of processed food? You’re better than me if you do.

Some people are addicted to caffeine. I still need to conquer a love of sugary junk food. By “conquer,” I don’t mean “avoid completely,” but instead to desire it with self-control instead of as an enslaved addict seeking a fix. Gluttony is still a sin.

The key with eating is simply to see diet as a noun, not a verb. Dieting ends, usually with a return to bad eating habits, but a good diet is for a lifetime. When I started eating whole foods, I honestly didn’t know if I liked enough of them. I created a list of foods that I do like and split the list into categories like carbs, meats/proteins, fats, fruits, and vegetables. I’m trying new things and adding the stuff I like to the list. Slowly, I’m finding that I don’t desire processed stuff as much. I don’t really miss most of it. I just ate it because it was easy and because I’d always eaten it.

Here’s the kicker to this “exercise and eat mostly whole foods” lifestyle: I can eat my fill without my clothes getting tighter. I am not forever hungry as I was on Weight Watchers. No more Lean Cuisine or counting out how many pretzels I eat. If I like a certain condiment, I use a bit of it without fretting that it’s adding a point or two. Sometimes I find a replacement food that I like just as much (e.g. a spritzer or apple cider vinegar instead of salad dressing). If I want some pizza on occasion, I have some pizza. When you eat mostly whole foods, you can “cheat” occasionally. My concern is more with eating too little rather than too much.

(One last thing: I’m not a big believer in the organic movement. Take some of the tired myths about conventional farming with a grain of salt. While Michael Pollan has useful insights — his larger theories on whole foods have influenced me — farmers and nutritionists often contradict his details. Farming industry reps may be biased, but the people who push organic foods, free range chickens, veganism, and all that rot have their own agenda. Also, your whole foods don’t need to come from the expensive, good-on-health-care, bad-on-Planned-Parenthood grocery chain that goes by that name and actually sells its share of highly processed stuff.)

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