I’ve been thinking about diet and nutrition for about a month now, and I have decided to take on a personal challenge to revamp my diet for a few months. This was brought on after I met Dean Karnazes… the UltraMarathonMan, who ran 262 miles in one shot, which took 3 days, with no sleep. It was quite impressive, and after hearing him speak, I was most impressed by the fact that he only slept 4 hours a night. With that kind of tax on the body (he runs 80-120 miles a week, keeps a full time job, has two kids, and has written a book)… I couldn’t understand how anyone could survive on 4 hours of sleep. More importantly, the question I had was… is there anything I could do to reduce the amount of sleep I need? Now, some people think this is a crazy goal, but to me, I find sleep somewhat boring. If I could wake up just as refreshed after 4-5 hours as I do after 7, I would certainly never go back.
Dean hinted that his diet was very strict, no refined sugar, no saturated fat, etc. I realized that the reason I didn’t eat an extremely healthy diet (I usually eat pretty well, but have a sweet tooth), is that I never saw the immediate benefits. Sure, eating this vegetable or not eating that side of fries may help me when I’m 70, and fighting cancer, but really, those reasons were too far off and not nearly tangible enough to act on. Besides, with all the running, becoming fat was never an issue. However, if changing my diet gave me more energy, and more time, I would surely be all for it.
And so in comes my Food Plan Personal Challenge. (I’m calling it a food plan, as opposed to diet, because I’m not exactly fat, so when people hear me say diet, they think I’ve gone crazy.) I’m going to try to go a bit extreme, and follow as closely as I can to what I think is a healthy diet. I came up with this challenge way before I knew what I actually considered to be healthy, and the more I looked into it, the more I realized there was vast disagreement in this area.
I waded through websites and browsed through some books, I found a host of different strategies. Low Fat , Low Sugar , Low Glycemic Index , Low Carb, Vegetarian, etc. The list goes on and on. I decided to stray from material that adhered to one type of diet, and go for general nutrition guidelines, since the ‘fad diets’ seemed to recycle every few years, and didn’t have enough research backing them in some cases.
I happened upon a book called “Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy” by Dr. Walter Willett which is backed by the Harvard Medical School, and got rave reviews on Amazon. It rips apart the USDA food pyramid and gives general guidelines backed by science research. It also does a great job of not taking firm stands when there isn’t research to back it. It gives examples of recipes, has a bibliography of research papers that were used, and has a section “Putting it into Practice” in most chapters. So far, its been fantastic, I can’t wait for the new version to come out in June, which apparently addresses the new food pyramid that has been recently released by the USDA.
I won’t go into details about the diet, but in summary its this:
- Don’t stray from fat, but eat good fat (unsaturated) instead of bad fat (saturated/trans).
- Get your protein from quality sources (nuts/legumes/fish).
- Eat carbs that digest slowly and don’t spike your blood sugar/insulin levels. (Whole grains)
- Take a multi-vitamin for extra insurance.
- Make vegetables a staple.
And that’s as far as I’ve read so far… 🙂
I will say that the whole grain carbohydrate thing is by far the hardest to do. Nearly everything you think of, in terms of carbs seems to be refined, in which case it spikes your blood sugar.
So anyhow, I’m kind of diving in head first this week, but at the same time, I realize that this is a lifestyle change that is going to take some time before I’m used to it. I’m also trying to wake up earlier (6am instead of 7:30)… in hopes that the two balance each other out. My plan is to continue on this for two months, and hopefully feel a difference. At that point, I’ll re-evaluate and probably pull back a tad on the strictness of the food plan… if for no other reason, because its hard to keep on the diet, and eat at social outings at the same time.
On the plus side, I’m now taking WAY better care of my body than I am of anything material in my life (like my car or something)… which makes me think I’m starting to get my priorities straight.