Diet Made Simple
by Joshua Katz
by Joshua Katz
It is seemingly ironic that the intense, perhaps unhealthy attention paid to, well, health and fitness is correlated with the tremendous obesity levels now seen in America. It is only seemingly ironic, of course, since most of the advice given in this regard is nonsense. We are advised to eat a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet, prompting the release of insulin, a chemical which causes our bodies to store more fat. Such advice, it seems, must be given by those who wish to sell weight loss products, to ensure that people will not lose weight on their own. Also, a brief stroll through your local supermarket will make you aware of an odd fact — to follow this advice, you'd need to mostly shun natural, unprocessed products, and reach for only the highly processed, refined items. It would be curious and in need of explanation if our health problems were caused by natural foods and could be avoided by eating unnatural foods. This would be particularly odd in light of the fact that our largest health concerns have only become epidemic in the last 50 years or so. Why should natural foods cause these problems only as people eat less of them?
I would suggest that, in light of these considerations, the typical dietary advice can easily be dispensed with. I don't have cool slogans for what I do, so I don't think I'd get rich selling my nutrition ideas. I readily admit that I have no scientific backing or evidence for what I do, and so I can't even get poor selling it academically. Instead, I'll just describe what I do, and you can take it or leave it.
Given the intense attention paid to weight loss, it is unsurprising that if someone finds an old picture of me, their first question will be "how did you lose all that weight?" Indeed, over a 2-year period, I lost 100 pounds and have kept it off for 2 years since. Since my diet was pretty simple, I think how I kept it off is a more important question. It's one I'm still experimenting to figure out. As a result, as I describe what I'm changing now, I might be describing things that are sure to make you gain back all the weight you lost. You've been warned.
As I suggested above, my first rule is a general preference for natural foods. In general, the less that's been done to it, the better. My second rule was the inverse of the typical advice — I tried to eat more fats and less carbs. While trying to lose weight, I ate no grain products, very few fruits, and no refined carbs or sugars. During this phase, I did violate my natural principle and eat some artificially sweetened items, although I tried to keep it to a minimum. I followed the Atkins principles, but didn't count grams, weigh foods, or other boring things that tend to make me lose interest. Instead, I just focused on what I was eating. Pasta — bad. Meat — good, provided it hadn't been ruined with trans-fats and fillers and flavorings and such.
You'll notice that following these basic rules simplifies things. There's no need to agonize over individual ingredients, worry about trans-fats, or so on as long as you control the food item being eaten. Butter isn't partially hydrogenated, and neither is anything else that's found with minimal processing. I didn't worry much about specific ratios or numbers or anything — if you don't eat starchy or sweet things, the amount of carbs you eat drops without too much effort.
One thing I've come to believe now that I didn't follow when I was dieting is hesitancy about diet foods. At the time, I justified the use of them, pointing out that it's a food thing to fall back on if otherwise you'll cheat. Now I'm not so sure that the actual bad food isn't better, as long as you follow some conditions. First, cheat only on special occasions. The reason is obvious — if I eat a slice of cake on my birthday, I'm not telling myself it's okay to eat cake every day, whereas I am doing exactly that if I eat a slice just because I feel like it. Second, never cheat at home. Again, your home eating is what you think of as normal, while eating out is what you think of as special. Keep the cheating special. There is a big difference in what it does to your head if you eat a small ice cream cone after getting together with long-lost friends at the beach, at a favorite ice-cream shop, versus sitting down to a bowl after dinner just because. Now, eating a low-carb ice cream at home may be the worst yet — now you're telling yourself that you're eating something sweet, and it's not cheating at all. Plus, I get the feeling that even sucrose may be better than some of these things dreamed up in labs. Yes, I know about stevia, but see my more general reasoning above. Another rule for cheating is to eat only small amounts, and only one serving. In other words, if I'm at the famous bakery and it's a special occasion, maybe I'll get something — but just one item, and a small one. That makes the whole thing really special. Plus, make sure the cheating item is a high-quality, expensive item. That keeps you from repeating it too often. I've noticed that, whereas before my diet the idea of ordering a small ice cream was ludicrous to me, I'm now more than satisfied with a small. Absence makes the heart grow fonder.
Finally, even if I eat, I never feel guilty about it. I do a cost-benefit comparison, and decide to go for it. So why regret it later? You don't get fat at one meal if the general habits are sound. But I won't cheat by grabbing a quick slice of pizza — that sets me up to cheat every time I'm in a rush. Occasions for cheating might be, for instance, a celebration to brings me to Sodolak's Beefmasters, a Texas steak restaurant I rarely visit. Since I'm only there once in a blue moon, I might order their world-famous deep fried meal. This consists of chicken-fried bacon and chicken-fried steak, all with cream gravy. Is it worth it? Not every day, but once a year, absolutely.
It may be that I'm more able to handle cheating now because I've started doing more cardiovascular exercise. Whereas before I was almost exclusively interested in weight lifting, and did my cardio as a chore, I've since found ways to make cardio more interesting. Having recently purchased an MP3 player, enabling me to listen to Mises.org lectures on the elliptical, certainly helps. It seems to work best if I do it before breakfast.
As I transitioned into weight maintenance, and also developed more of a desire to get stronger, I have increased my carbohydrate intake. Largely, this has consisted of eating a few pieces of a fruit a day, although I will also eat sprouted or true whole grain breads. I'll also eat sprouted cereal on occasion, or puffed ancient grains. Wheat seems to be the worst grain to me, and I won't eat it unless it's been sprouted. I have my milk delivered by a local goat farmer, raw and fresh. I'm not sure if it's healthier or not, but it tastes a lot better than supermarket milk. If nothing else, it's grass-fed, with no antibiotics or growth hormones added. As I have increased by intake of carbs, though, I've tried to reserve them for early in the day, and rarely eat them other than at breakfast and mid-day snacks. The grains I pretty much only eat at breakfast, whereas I will eat fruits up until 1pm or so. Carbs seem to provide faster energy, and so are better eaten when they will be used. Of course, I always eat a good helping of fat with them.
Another thing that goes against common wisdom is that I like to keep my meals during the day lighter and smaller, and then eat one very big meal at dinnertime. My big meal, of course, will be some kind of roasted or grilled meat, with some vegetables but nothing starchy. A typical daytime snack might be a slice of sprouted bread with lots of butter, or a handful of nuts and a slice of cheese. I also love a big salad with feta cheese and some chicken as a small daytime meal. I find that if I eat bigger meals during the day, I get sluggish and my brain doesn't function as well. I'm told doing all your eating at once should mess up your metabolism and throw off your blood sugar balance, but it seems to do the opposite to me. Again, I only know what I see.
Part of this transition revolved around my discovery a little over a year ago of Weston Price and his works. While I'm not entirely convinced that studying the teeth of hand-picked natives is a good research methodology, the ultimate advice he gives seems reasonable enough to take it seriously. The Weston Price Foundation's debunking of the Mediterranean Diet myth is, in my opinion, a crucial addition to the literature on this question. Americans tended to interpret the Mediterranean dietary habits in ways that follow our usual patterns, eating tons of bread and pasta and calling it the Italian Food Diet. As the Foundation has pointed out, Italians drench their foods in butter and olive oil, eat lots of fresh vegetables, eat long, slow meals at which pasta is a first course, not an entrée, and eat lots of cheese. When you add in the famous salamis and other cured meats, it sounds less and less like a low-fat diet. Also important is that traditional Italian meals didn't include pasta made from highly refined white flour, low-fat Parmesan cheese, or the other such items which have been the hallmarks of the diet in America. Mediterranean breads are famous for their hard crusts, dense, chewy substance, and complex flavors. These properties come from whole-grains lovingly prepared, and are not found in the local supermarket's "Italian rolls."
I do believe that the American diet tends toward imbalanced consumption of fatty acids, and so try to eat seafood once a week. Also, while I try to get my vitamins and minerals from large quantities of a variety of vegetables, I do supplement omega-3s with cod liver oil.
So, what my diet comes down to is, during the day, small meals and snacks, consisted of fruits, vegetables, and whole or sprouted grains, along with dairy and some meat. This is then followed by a massive nightly meal, beginning with a pound or so of vegetables, followed by 2 pounds or more of simply prepared meat. Meat can be smoked with a simple rub, roasted with garlic, or grilled. I also have a big cast-iron skillet for pan-frying steaks in a mix of coconut oil and butter. Once a week, the meat is replaced with a few pounds of shrimp or scallops, stir-fried with vegetables in lots of butter. On special occasions, everything goes out the window, and I fight back simply by eating very small quantities of the best unhealthy foods.
I will readily admit that I think a lot of other contemporary "facts" about health are just plain wrong. The most ridiculous current belief, I submit, is the idea that the sun will kill you. How long have humans lived under the sun? Long enough that when Solomon wrote "There is nothing new under the sun," he didn't feel a need to point out that the sun also wasn't new. Now, suddenly, it's healthier to smear toxic chemicals on our skin or just stay inside than to be exposed to sunlight. Bizarre. Has anyone ever thought that maybe the skin cancer they observe has something to do with the combination of sunlight with the massive quantities of man-made chemicals being ingested? When people eat few if any natural foods, ingest scary quantities of trans-fats, and eat 50 times more omega-6 than omega-3, and also get exposed to sunlight, it is very odd to blame the sunlight for their cancer.
I won't give advice for fear that some liberal will read this site and sue me. However, I will sum up what I do. I eat natural foods, focusing on getting lots of natural fats, and strictly avoid unnatural fats and processed grains and sugars. I eat lots of meat and fish, tons of vegetables and fruits, and small quantities of whole or sprouted grains and fresh dairy. The exception is butter, which I eat more of than anyone else I know. I go through a four pack of butter every week — and I live alone. I put butter in everything I cook and top most things with it. I eat whole foods, and only use one supplement, which is cod liver oil. I also drink milk after every workout. Speaking of which, I get sweaty for 30 minutes three times a week, and I lift weights 2 or 3 times a week, focusing on compound lifts for the major muscles. I have two workouts, one focusing on building endurance by doing high-rep work on lighter compound lifts, such as stiff-legged deads, overhead squats, and dumbbell clean and press. The other focuses on strength, doing a few low-rep heavy sets on regular deadlifts, shrugs, squats, bench press, and so on. These are done with sufficient rest intervals to recover almost fully. I'm not going to win any strength competitions, but I'm strong enough to get through the day and lift all but the fattest patients. Not enough to write a book about, and it won't start any fads, but it works for me.
September 19, 2006
Joshua Katz [send him mail] was Chief of EMS at the Town of Hempstead Park and Recreation for the past three summers. He has studied philosophy of mind, logic, and epistemology of economics from an Austrian perspective, and is a former graduate student in philosophy at Texas A&M, as well as holding a bachelor's degree in mathematics. He is presently tutoring and volunteering, as well as reading voluminously, while waiting for Texas bureaucrats to renew his EMS certification. He enjoys a glass of port and a wedge of Brie as a way to safeguard his health, lest he need treatment by a doctor.
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