I was 100 pounds overweight. I had high blood pressure, fatty liver, high insulin, high triglycerides, high LDL (the "bad" cholesterol), and low HDL (the "good" cholesterol). I was prediabetic and had low energy levels, abysmal fitness, lower back and knee pain, and erratic sleep patterns. That was a few years ago. I completely reversed all these conditions and lost 100 pounds. This is how I did it.
I'm not a nutritionist, doctor, or researcher. I have no product to sell, no theory to defend. Contradictions and opinions about food and fitness are everywhere. After trying for years almost everything out there and repeatedly failing, I finally found a path that worked. This path is not a diet. It's a specific approach to food and exercise which embraces the fact that food is one of the great joys in life. Unlike diets, this path makes no distinction between a weight loss phase and a maintenance phase. I do the same things now as when I was losing the weight. When you live correctly, your body finds its natural weight. There are also people who are "skinny fat" — not overweight but have poor fitness, cholesterol imbalance, or high blood pressure.
If you decide to walk the path I lay out ahead, I suggest not doing it piecemeal, even if you read certain things herein that conflict with conventional wisdom. After all, you can always go back to what wasn't working for you. Be open-minded and I believe you'll reap the transformational results I did.
SET YOUR BASELINE
- On day 1, weigh yourself in the morning before you eat anything. Write it down with the date in a notepad. Keep the notepad near the scale.
- Take reference photos — front, back and side — wearing workout shorts and no shirt. (I took them using a mirror.) You will look at these over time and shake your head in wonder. Your brain plays tricks and softens the past regarding how bad things were. The photos fix that.
- Get a full blood panel done, including vitamin D and insulin. You should be able to do it through your doctor. If not, get the LEF “Life Extension Panel.” The test results will show if any of your readings are abnormal. After 6–7 months, get another panel, and I bet it will look like that of a different person. If you're currently on some combination of statins, blood pressure meds, or diabetes meds, there's a very good chance your doctor will say you no longer need to take them as long as you continue the lifestyle described herein.
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- Don’t cut sleep short. Get 7 hours minimum. If you wake up too early, take naps. Do whatever it takes to get 7, preferably 8, hours of sleep. "Getting by" with less will sabotage you. It's a hormone and biochemistry issue. By the way, sleep will come MUCH more easily and restfully when you eat and exercise on this plan.
- From Costco get a bottle of Kirkland Mature-Multi vitamins and a bottle of any vitamin D3 in 1000 or 2000 IU. After trying many supplements, I stuck with this particular one because it's not a megadose, and its potency and purity is tested by USP, an independent third party. Men, make sure you get the one that does NOT have iron. Once per day, after a meal, take a multivitamin and 3,000–5,000 IU of D3. Vary the amount of D from day to day. You don’t need the D on days that you’re out in direct sun with arms and legs exposed more than 10–15 minutes. I believe supplements beyond this level are unnecessary (and a waste of money) when you're exercising and eating properly, and possibly detrimental unless you're addressing a specific health condition.
- Weigh yourself once or twice per week as you feel. Write it in your weight journal. I used to do it every day but realized it wasn’t necessary. You can do it every day for a while if it makes you feel better.
- DON’T: keep a food diary, count calories, count fat grams, count carb grams…count anything really. It’s all totally unnecessary. You are going to learn to listen to your body when you eat.
- If you drink alcohol, don’t have more than 3 drinks per week initially. Once you're physically where you want to be, you can slide up to 4–5 per week if it means a lot to you.
- Be ACTIVE virtually every day. Activity is not exercise. You will be exercising 10–20 minutes between 2–5 times per week, but you should be active virtually every day. The qualitative difference between exercise and activity is that activity does not involve perceived exertion. In other words, no heavy breathing, heart thumping, or sweating. Activity is strictly pleasurable, even playful, movement. A great way to be active is to take short strolls (5–20 minutes) any time — in the morning, after a meal, during a work break. If you're on your own it's a good time to listen to music, an LRC podcast, or a Mises.org recording.
- If you go off track from the eating guidelines below, like having a piece of cake, don’t beat yourself up. Just get back on the path. A blown tire is not a reason to shoot out the other three. This won't happen often, since you'll be altering your biochemistry so that you're not fighting constantly temptation. That's due to the wide variety of food you'll be eating, the kind of exercise you'll be doing, the lack of diet regimentation, and the biochemical fact that food cravings disappear when you step off the grain-sugar-insulin rollercoaster.
- Don't go to sleep soon after eating dinner. Try to separate dinner and bed by 3 or more hours.
- Do not regiment your eating. There’s no problem with eating 2 meals some days and 5 on others. Mix up the number of meals and their size by listening to your body. Blind regimentation dulls your listening skills and makes you do things “just because.” Most people can survive for weeks without food, so don't worry about skipping a meal if you're not hungry.
- Intermittent fasting. Every 3–8 days, skip breakfast on an ad hoc basis. This is a form of intermittent fasting. It’s easy to do if you eat an earlier dinner (say at 6pm). Then you can get a 14–18 hour fast in by the time you have a late morning snack or lunch. Again, this isn’t something to regiment. It’s just based on how you feel. There are biochemical benefits to intermittent fasting, but it’s also about developing sensitivity to your body and experiencing the contrast between eating because you’re hungry versus eating because a clock says it’s time to eat. If you're used to eating constantly because you read somewhere that it's good for weight loss, forget that advice. And if you think you couldn't possibly give up eating continually throughout the day, it's because you're on the insulin rollercoaster. The changes in how you'll be eating and exercising will get the cravings and sugar monkey off your back.
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Another excellent way to be active is to alternate between sitting and standing while working. I use my laptop on a tall cafe-style coffee table. A standing desk or podium works too. Try to stand by default, but sit whenever your feet or legs feel tired. After sitting for a while (20–30 minutes), stand up again. This makes a huge difference over time. At first you'll fatigue quickly, but you’ll get much stronger over time. If you're absolutely unable to stand while you work, sit on a Swiss ball instead of an office chair. That makes sitting much more active. Here's a good one.
Pacing is good too when talking on the phone or thinking about something. Be creative about being active. There's no set amount of time you need to be active, and it should vary naturally from day to day.
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I’ve broken the following food ingredient list into three categories: DELETE, OCCASIONAL, and STAPLES. The delete list might seem restrictive at first, but I promise the right cooking tech and alternate ingredients will nullify the impact almost completely. Try to buy organic whenever possible, but don’t stress too much about it. Equally important is to make an effort to get grass-fed meat whenever you can. Overfattened grain-fed meat is worth avoiding whenever possible. I bought a freezer from Home Depot for less than $300 so that I can order grass-fed meat online (www.grasslandbeef.com). I also keep it stocked up with bags of frozen fruit and vegetables. It saves a lot of money, time, and trips to the store. It also lets you be far more spontaneous with cooking.
- Delete all grains. Drop grain-based breads, rice, pasta, crackers, cereals, and oats. Whole wheat is no better than white for our purposes; all are a no-go. I promise these items will soon have absolutely no pull on you. And keep reading to find out how to enjoy 0 grain–0 sugar bread, muffins, cakes, pies, etc.
- Delete all added sugar. This includes honey, maple syrup, agave syrup, corn syrup, brown rice syrup, molasses, brown sugar, and white sugar. Read on for how to compensate for not using sugar in all its forms. Though what I do differs from some of his recommendations, Mark Sisson's Primal Blueprint does a fine job of explaining the biochemical reasons for avoiding grains and added sugar.
- Delete the salt shaker. This includes refined salt, sea salt, and soy sauce, which is effectively liquid salt. Salt is present in virtually every natural food, and you get all the salt you need by eating the foods on the STAPLES list. Adding more salt to your food will NOT make you healthier. To the contrary, excess salt increases blood pressure and makes you look puffy from water retention. In other words, don't salt your food in the kitchen or at the table. Breaking this habit will take about a week of feeling an occasional urge to salt your food. After that you won't even think about it. If you buy prepared food, buy low salt or no salt versions. Most canned soups and tomato sauces are absolutely loaded with salt. Compare regular and no/low salt versions, and you'll see thousands of milligram differences. Salt is a dirt cheap way for food manufacturers and restaurants to enhance flavor, but it does your weight and health no favors. Once you're off added salt, you'll find out just how much salt is in restaurant food when you step on the scale the next morning. If you ask a professional chef what dishes he DOESN'T salt, you'll get crickets for an answer.
- Delete white potatoes. I might have them two or three times a year. This includes baked potatoes, fries, mashed, boiled, etc. You won't crave them when you're off the insulin rollercoaster.
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OCCASIONAL (eat no more than once per month)
- Beans. For example, use a can of beans if you make chili or throw some in a soup, but don’t use them as a constant staple. Don't drink soy milk or eat tofu. If you want a soy milk substitute, use almond milk, not rice milk. Green beans are OK to eat more often than once per month.
- Corn on the cob is fine once in a while. No corn meal. And no corn starch, except for occasionally thickening milk for, say, a pudding. Otherwise use arrowroot for thickening sauces, soups, fruit compotes, and cobblers. Whole Foods sells arrowroot by the bag at a fraction of the price of the spice jar sizes.
- Pork, bacon, and fatty cuts of meat. If you like pork or bacon, get wild boar if possible.
- Butter and cream. These are strictly for cooking when you can’t use olive oil or grapeseed oil instead. I realize some people are claiming butter and cream are heath foods. All I can say is they played no role in my physical transformation. Same goes for mayonnaise, which when called for I substitute with Greek yogurt.
- Sweet potatoes. Fine once in a while if you enjoy them.
Barring allergies or strong flavor distaste, these ingredients are your go-to foods. I eat meat, poultry or seafood pretty much every day, sometimes twice. I eat eggs several times per week. And I eat multiple servings of vegetables and fruits every day. With fruits and veggies, it may sound simplistic, but aim to eat lots of different colors every day.
So, how much to eat? Diets are regimented by telling you exactly what to eat and in what quantity. This is wrong by design, not to mention totally unworkable in the long run. You can't diet for your entire life (nor would you want to), which is why 99% of them fail. The key is to learn to eat the right foods in reasonable ratios. This way your body will take care of itself while you enjoy a wide variety of flavors, colors, textures, and nutrients. People like to make things complicated, but it's really that simple.
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In terms of volume and frequency of food consumption, follow this order from highest to lowest: vegetables, animal protein (meat, poultry, seafood), fruit, eggs, yogurt, nuts, milk, cheese, oil. Cheese and oil are there mostly for flavor enhancement. Use them sparingly, in other words only where they make a big difference. Milk is on the list not for nutritional reasons, but to use in certain cooking applications that greatly increase your recipe options and food enjoyment.
- All vegetables (except corn, sweet potato, and beans per above). Vegetables are your biggest volume staple, the base of your food pyramid. Hopefully you already like salads. If not, experiment with ways to make salads you do like. For example, try adding berries, or a few nuts, or herbs like mint and basil, or different kinds of dressing. Salads should be as varied as possible and be a part of at least one meal per day, if not two. Get good at cooking all sorts of veggies and integrating them with different sauces, eggs, meats, herbs, and spices. Bake, stir-fry, roast, and grill them. Make veggie soups, or add extra veggies to low-sodium soups you buy. (By low sodium soup, I mean the milligrams of sodium per serving is around the same as the number of calories per serving.) There are some amazing things you can do with squash (acorn and butternut in particular). Try spaghetti squash with tomato sauce, sautéed mushrooms and onions, and Parmesan. Search "vegetable cookbook" on Amazon if you need inspiration.
- Lean red meats. Preference scale, from highest to lowest: grass-fed bison, grain-finished bison, grass-fed beef, grain-finished beef. Tenderloin is the money ball cut. Use lean ground for hamburgers, casseroles, chili, egg scrambles, and (no-flour) pizza topping. Braise or crockpot the ultra-lean chuck and similar roast cuts. They’re harder to get, but venison and elk are fantastic, and like bison, preferable to beef. Lamb is slightly preferable to beef. I eat red meat several times per week, usually bison. I don't eat beef very often as most cows are fed grain, which makes them overly fat and sick, necessitating the need for antibiotics. If you can’t get grass-fed meat locally, order from grasslandbeef.com.
- Poultry. Chicken and turkey, organic if it’s available. I eat mostly breast meat, some legs, as well as lean ground turkey. Don't eat the skin. I only eat duck occasionally at restaurants.
- Seafood. All fresh seafood is great. Try to buy fresh and wild if you can. And make sure you use canned tuna with no added salt.
- SPLENDA No Calorie Swe... Buy New $20.88 (as of 08:00 EDT - Details) Fruits. Berries — strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries — are the best in terms of nutrients and insulin response. Eat them more often than the other fruits. For me their enjoyment skyrockets when I mix in some Splenda. Apples, cherries, melons, pears, and citrus are all great. Limit banana, pineapple and mango to no more than once a week. By far the best brand of frozen fruit and vegetables I've found is the fantastic Stahlbush Island Farms. I eat dried fruit occasionally, mostly when cooking (like putting raisins in tuna salad or a curry). If you like fruit in your salads, favor fresh fruit over dried fruit. Don't eat store-bought jams or jellies, even if no sugar is added.
- Nuts. I eat nuts just about every day. All kinds of nuts. Almonds, cashews, walnuts, pecans, Brazil nuts, pistachios, hazelnuts. None of them salted. Toasted or raw is fine. (I usually prefer toasted, especially almonds and hazelnuts.) Don’t buy nuts that are roasted in oil. Generally avoid peanuts, which are a legume, not a nut. Nuts and seeds have about the same calories, and since I enjoy nuts much more than seeds, I eat very few seeds. I also rarely eat nuts on their own. I use them as a condiment with salads, yogurt, fruit, desert toppings, etc. I use nut butter (mostly almond butter and cashew butter) on celery and apples, and — yes this sounds crazy but it’s excellent — in coleslaw dressing (recipe to follow). I also use nut butter in baking, like cashew or almond cookies. Try mixing a little cinnamon with nut butter if you're going to spread it on celery sticks or apple slices.
- Nut flour. Almond flour is my most used nut flour. Coconut flour is next, and then hazelnut flour for a few things. You can buy almond flour in stores, but it’s cheaper here. Baking with nut flour is one of those things that you want to do maybe once a week. In other words, you're not eating it so much for nutrition, but rather because it hugely opens up your food enjoyment possibilities. You can make fantastic tasting breads, muffins, cookies, and cakes with nut flour, but they should be treats more than staples.
- Yogurt. Our main dairy staple is plain nonfat yogurt, which I use in a variety of ways almost every day. Nonfat Greek yogurt is truly amazing in texture, and you won’t believe it’s nonfat. Oikos sells organic nonfat, and here are some recipes you can adapt. Fage is also a great brand. For some applications a regular, nonfat yogurt is better. It makes an amazing base for various salad dressings. Here's one to get started: mix non-fat yogurt with crumbled blue cheese, some herbs (optional), and Splenda to taste in order to balance the sour profile of the yogurt. This dressing over endive, sliced pear, walnuts, and chopped mint is one of my favorites.
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- Olive oil and grapeseed oil. I use olive oil for no-temp and low-temp cooking, and grapeseed oil for higher temp cooking and pan-frying. The reason is that olive oil has a much lower smoke point than grapeseed oil. I don’t use coconut oil or butter at all at home. I'm aware of the current coconut oil craze, but as with cream and butter, it played no role in my physical transformation. If I eat butter, it's incidental because a cook uses it in a restaurant dish. That said, oils are not something to go crazy with. Yes they have a few nutrients, but they are not health food per se, as their nutrients pale in comparison to vegetables and fruits. Use oil only in amounts really needed to cook. You can often halve the amount of oil called for in a baked good recipe by substituting (unsweetened) apple sauce. Try experimenting and you'll get a feel for how much oil you can cut out while keeping full enjoyment of the dish. Try not to overdo oil in salad dressings either.
- Nonfat Milk (or 1% if you can’t handle nonfat). Other than the occasional glass of hot chocolate, I only use milk when needed for cooking, like making pudding, pumpkin pie, or to thin a yogurt-based salad dressing. Unsweetened almond milk is fine if you prefer, though it doesn't do as well when baking. Since I mentioned hot chocolate, I use organic, unsweetened, non-alkalized cocoa powder probably 2–3 times a month. The best brands are Green & Black’s and Dagoba. I also use it to make chocolate pudding and chocolate yogurt (cocoa & Splenda to taste). When making hot chocolate with milk, cocoa powder and Splenda, the cocoa powder is really tough to stir into the milk with a spoon, so I use a frother. I highly recommend this one.
- Cheese. I don’t eat cheese on its own. I use it as a topping and cooking ingredient, in moderation. I use harder cheeses with lower milkfat, as well as sharper cheeses that give more flavor per gram, such as blue cheese and sharp aged cheddar. Again, it's not for health so much as food enjoyment and variety.
- All herbs and spices. I eat cinnamon almost daily because it goes great in so many things. Yogurt, apple sauce, fruit compotes, shakes, baked goods, and more. It helps regulate insulin, and I love the taste. I use nutmeg fairly often too. Chili flakes in soups and on pizza (almond crust). Experiment with different herbs and spices. Be creative. Look at how various recipes use seasoning for ideas. It's something that you get a feel for with a little practice. This isn't just for flavor enhancement. Herbs and spice are good for you, so embrace them.
- Tea and coffee. I drink Swiss process organic decaf coffee. But more frequently I drink black, green and oolong teas — as well as rooibos, which is not tea and has no caffeine. These all work great on ice too. Add Splenda to taste if you don't like it plain. Sometimes I make Arnold Palmers with English breakfast or Earl Grey tea, Santa Cruz brand organic lemon juice, and Splenda. My favorite brand of tea is Choice Organic — exceptional quality, organic, and well priced. Drink 2–4 glasses per day and mix up the varieties. Whole Foods and Trader Joe's carry Choice Organic, but I buy it online.
- Splenda. I'm going to spell this out as clearly as I can: Splenda is absolutely essential to my cooking and full enjoyment of healthy food.
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I was initially very hesitant to use Splenda, since it's not natural (though it's derived from sugar). I'm aware that there is info online claiming Splenda is bad for you. But there are people and companies that have massive financial incentives to bash Splenda, so I wasn't about to take a stranger's online word for it. Splenda is one of the more tested food products on the market (over 100 clinical and animal studies). It has been available since 1998, and it underwent testing for many years before it came to market. I’ve asked two doctors and a professional nutritionist over a period of years now to search the medical databases to find a single double-blind study that shows using Splenda is dangerous. They all told me it was safe to use. (Compare that with saccharine, aspartame, or some completely natural ingredients…like hemlock and arsenic, or tobacco.) Of course sugar in all its forms is natural as well, and I was an active consumer of it when my health was in shambles.
It's important to bear in mind that the massive sugar lobby and corn lobby both can't stand Splenda. Splenda is a huge revenue threat, especially now that there's a rampant obesity epidemic. The makers of Equal and Sweet ‘n’ Low hate Splenda too, as it has ravaged their market share. Some people use Stevia over Splenda simply because it's natural (though in a highly processed state). I don't use Stevia because I don't like the aftertaste, and it doesn't work for cooking and baking. There also have been fewer clinical studies on Stevia, and it's used by a fraction of the number of people who use Splenda. In any case, there are billions of dollars worth of reasons why the "sweet industry" wants to cast Splenda in a bad light. Meanwhile Splenda's market share has rocketed over the years, with many millions of people using it every day, including diabetics and pregnant women.
The benefits of Splenda are unique compared to other sweeteners. Unlike all forms of sugar, Splenda isn't loaded with calories, and it doesn’t spike insulin. It doesn't rot your teeth. It mixes easily into drinks, unlike Stevia (and costs far less). It has no aftertaste, unlike Stevia, Equal, and Sweet u2018n' Low. It doesn’t break down under heat and works great for baking, unlike Stevia, Equal, and Sweet u2018n' Low. And most gloriously, when used properly in food and drinks, it is virtually indistinguishable from sugar, as it is made from sugar. I've countless times served everything from desserts to lemonade to guests who come back for seconds while having no idea that they’re eating sugar-free food. Your body doesn't readily metabolize Splenda, making it in essence sweet fiber. It's truly revolutionary and brilliant. Even though millions use it every day, I don't think it has received the recognition and level of praise it deserves for just how powerful it is in making healthy food more accessible and enjoyable.
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You will profoundly benefit in food enjoyment if you open your mind to being creative with Splenda. You'll be amazed by the myriad ways it can enhance flavor. The trick to cooking without salt or sugar is flavor contrast. Look at a jar of store-bought tomato sauce. Lots of sugar and lots of salt. The acid in a tomato sauce needs to be balanced with sweetness, or the results are bland and flat. If you don’t add sugar and salt to your food, you must create flavor contrast elsewhere or the taste won't be pleasing. The art of preparing great tasting food with no added sugar or salt lies in contrasting Splenda’s sweetness with sour (e.g. lemon or plain yogurt); its sweetness with heat (e.g. chili peppers); its sweetness with spice (e.g. cinnamon); and its sweetness with bitter (e.g. cocoa powder). You will develop a feel for how to use Splenda in different situations, but the following are a few simple examples.
- Use Splenda to make cocoa, lemonade, limeade, or sweet tea.
- Mix Splenda with 25% unsweetened cranberry juice and 75% water. (Don't drink any other juices save for lemonade and limeade.)
- Make cocktails that call for simple syrup (liquid sugar).
- Stir Splenda and cinnamon (or cocoa powder) into regular or Greek nonfat yogurt.
- Mix Splenda into berries if they aren't sweet enough for optimal taste.
- Use a packet to augment soups, sauces, and salad dressings. (Lemonade and limeade make for a good dressing base on certain salads.)
- Mix with unsweetened apple sauce and cinnamon to taste.
- Make Thanksgiving style cranberries with Splenda instead of sugar (easier to use Splenda granular for this since it requires a lot).
- Make fruit compotes by reducing frozen fruit in a pan with Splenda. Add a bit of arrowroot to thicken it more if desired.
- Mash cinnamon and Splenda into a baked sweet potato (occasionally).
For years I have paid absolutely no heed to the quantity of Splenda I use. It’s solely based on whatever makes my food taste the best. It might be a half-packet in a bowl of blueberries, 10 packets in a glass of lemonade, or 20 packets in a batch of vanilla pudding — just depends on what I’m eating or drinking. I had a big bowl of bison chili the other day, and it was good — but it became great with a couple packets of Splenda stirred in.
To sum it up, I owe a lot to Splenda as a product, and I want to give it full recognition for others who might have the same hesitation to use it that I originally had. I lost 100 pounds and restored my health while using it every day for years. And I'm now in the best shape of my life.
Cooking: Putting the Staples to Work
Hop on to Amazon and get these cookbooks. The first three are all easily adaptable to Splenda. The last one is a great Splenda cookbook where you’ll swap the flour out of certain recipes for almond flour or coconut flour. Hold the salt on all recipes. These books will give you tons of great recipes that are easily adapted to grain free, sugar free, salt free cooking. It is important to note that relatively few recipes in any cookbook can be followed verbatim. You may need to omit the salt, substitute sugar for Splenda, decrease the quantity of oil, or add more veggies or fruit. Learning this art of substituting is a key skill you'll develop over a relatively short period of time. At first it will involve some trial and error, but often even your "flops" will taste good. Don't be afraid to try new techniques and substitute ingredients to tweak recipes to suit your palette. Once I learned the techniques of grain-free and sugar-free baking from these cookbooks, I was able to greatly expand my kitchen creations.
It's not out yet, but I'm looking forward to Mark Sisson's upcoming grain-free cookbook as well.
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With these recipes, you'll get a feel for how you like a dish to taste. For example, when making a dish that calls for sugar or an equivalent, instead of matching it with Splenda one-to-one, I often find that dishes turn out better if I up the Splenda by 25–50%, depending on what recipe I'm making. I rarely make something exactly the same way twice, and I often tweak herbs, spices, etc.
Whenever I make up a recipe that works out well, I’ll write it down in order to remember what I did for future reference. To get started right away on your grain-free, sugar-free journey, here are a few examples of some quick dishes:
Blend plain nonfat yogurt with a bag of frozen berries (try strawberry or blueberry to start). Add in a couple shakes of cinnamon, a splash of vanilla extract, and 10–15 packets of Splenda to taste. Add the frozen fruit gradually to help the blending, and thin with milk or unsweetened almond milk as needed to get the desired thickness. Nutmeg or a few mint leaves also make for good variations.
Eggs with sautéed veggies (onions, mushrooms, peppers, etc.) and ground bison or turkey. Sprinkle a little cheese on top if desired. I often add a few shakes of oregano or red chili flakes too.
Curried Tuna (or Chicken) Salad
Yogurt rather than mayo is the binder. Mix in curry powder, Splenda, raisins, chopped celery and apple.
Shred cabbage (purple, green or both) and carrots. Many stores have pre-shredded cabbage, which saves quite a bit of chopping time. In a large bowl, mix non-fat yogurt and almond butter. Sweeten with Splenda to taste, and thin with milk if needed. Add the shredded veggies and toss. There should be enough dressing to generously coat them.
With any recipe, you'll get a feel for how you like the dish to taste. For example, when making a dish from the above cookbooks that calls for sugar, instead of matching with Splenda one-to-one, I often find that dishes turn out better if I up the Splenda by 25–50%, depending on what recipe I'm making. I rarely make something exactly the same way twice, and I often tweak herbs, spices, etc. Whenever I make up a recipe that works out well, I’ll write it down in order to remember what I did for future reference.
Here’s one recently requested by a friend:
2 cans unsweetened pureed Pumpkin (Whole Foods has an organic one)
1 Can Fat-Free Evaporated Milk (you can substitute skim milk if you don’t have it)
2 cups Splenda Granular or to taste
Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Cloves to taste
Vanilla Extract to taste
Stir all the ingredients until thoroughly mixed. Grease two 8" pie pans with grapeseed oil, and split the mixture between them. Cook at 380 for 35–45 minutes. All ovens are different, so just keep an eye on it. When the top starts to brown and it firms up, then it’s done. (I have a small oven, so I cook one at a time. In a larger oven, you should be able to do both at once, but you might have to adjust the time.)
I sometimes serve chopped, toasted nuts on top. If you want to turn it into a pie, you can make the pie crust in The Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook.
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A Word about Eating Out
Preparing your own food is always preferable because you control the ingredients and know exactly what you're eating. But that's not always possible, and the good news is it's not hard to eat out intelligently. First off, unless you're with people who eat bread, tell the waiter put it on the table. If there's ever a time when you're vulnerable to making a poor choice, it's when you're outside your own home, hungry, and sitting with the wrong food in front of you.
When you're looking at a menu, pick dishes comprised of ingredients from the STAPLES list. If the meat or seafood you order comes with potatoes or rice, ask them to substitute other vegetables instead. If you're at an Indian restaurant, order chicken, shrimp, or lamb tandoori and veggie dishes or curries, and ask the waiter to hold the rice and naan. At Thai or Chinese, order stir fry and/or curry dishes, and hold the rice. Bear in mind that after you've been on this path for a while, you typically will weigh more (sometimes 1–2 pounds more) the next morning after you eat out because of water retention from the high salt content of restaurant food. It goes away in another day or two of eating normally.
Both activity as described above and exercise work in tandem to get the results you're seeking. Exercise, as defined in this article, is vigorously exerting yourself for a BRIEF period over multiple time intervals. By brief, I mean 10–20 minutes total. This is called high-intensity interval training (HIIT). What constitutes “high intensity” is based on the individual and will change over time as your fitness improves. The basic idea is to alternate between working near your maximum effort with active recovery rest periods in between.
Programming HIIT workouts is a basic skill that you'll refine over time. At first you won't know what your work capacity is, but you'll very soon find out. You want to challenge yourself throughout the exercise period (10–20 minutes) without burning out before the end of the session. In other words, say you're doing a 10-minute workout alternating pushups and chair squats. If you run out of gas and can't do a single pushup after the 5-minute mark, then you know that you need to scale back the difficulty. In this example, you'd do pushups on your knees.
There are two basic ways to design a HIIT workout. One is using time intervals, and the other is using repetitions (reps). Both are good, but some exercises are more suited to time intervals, while others are more suited to rep intervals. As a result, any given workout session will be either a time-based one or a rep-based one.
Here are the guidelines:
- Exercise 2–5 times per week for 10–20 minutes per session. The point is variation — not regimentation. One week it might be 2 times for 20 minutes; the next week 4 times for 15 minutes; the next a 10, 11, and 17-minute session. Doing 5 sessions for 20 minutes every week is NOT what you want to do. Go by how you feel and intentionally mix it up. When you’re feeling good and your energy level is high, design your workout to match it.
- In addition to the biochemical benefits to your insulin, hormones and metabolism, the overall training goal of HIIT is to improve your work capacity in a fixed period of time. For example, when I started I could only do 3 pushups in 60 seconds. Now I can do over 10x that. The improvement curve has no practical end. I might one day build up to doing 20 one-arm pushups in a minute. To put it another way, you’re not training to be able to exercise longer (like distance running) but rather to do more over a fixed, short period of time. HIIT combines strength with endurance, and it's far more effective and time-leveraged for weight loss and body comp transformation.
- HIIT can be applied to almost any exercise. For example, go walk for 20 minutes, but for 30 seconds, walk as fast as you can (the work interval). Then walk casually for, say, 45 seconds (the rest interval). Then repeat the cycle for 20 minutes. The length of the intervals just depends on the exercise and how you're feeling. Notice the rest interval isn't rest per se. In other words, no sitting or lying down. It’s called "active recovery" because you're catching your breath while doing something that's easier. Try experimenting with intervals in the range of 10–60 seconds, and you’ll soon get a feel for it.
- Your HIIT sessions can have one exercise (like the walking example), or two or three or even four. For example, you might do a workout that cycles jumping jacks, knee pushups, and wall sits.
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- Before you exercise, warm up with about 5 minutes of joint mobility. Shake out your arms and legs for a minute. Do a minute or two of hip circles (think hula-hoop motion with hands on hips). Make big circles forward and backwards with your arms. Do light stretching that feels good — no pain. Bounce up and down on the balls of your feet like you’re barely jumping rope. Your purpose here is to get your blood circulating and to prime your central nervous system for exertion.
- Never roll out of bed and exercise. Be up and about for at least an hour. It’s always nice to exercise when you’re energy level is up, but that doesn’t always happen. (Having a cup of tea or coffee about an hour beforehand helps.) It doesn’t really matter what time of day you do it; whatever works and is convenient. It’s such a short period of time that it can fit almost anywhere. And if for some reason you have a particularly busy day and only have time for, say, a 5-minute workout, that's FAR better than doing nothing.
- Don’t eat food for at least one hour before you exercise. And after exercising, don’t eat for an hour. Pre and post workout snacks and energy drinks are bogus conventional wisdom and should be totally avoided.
- Drink water as desired whenever you feel thirsty.
- You’ll know you’re getting the right intensity in your workouts if you’re huffing and puffing. If you start to get lightheaded or dizzy, you’ve gone too far and should stop. On a scale of 1 to 10 where 1 is standing still and 10 is exerting as hard as you possibly can, you want to be working in the 7.5–8.5 range. Challenging, but no pain. Exertion, but again, no pain. High perceived effort. “Wow, this is tough” is a phrase you should hear yourself saying. Be smart and listen to your body. You’re in this for the long run, and risking injury by trying to hit 10 on your exertion scale isn’t worth it.
- Do not plan workout sessions days in advance. Create your workout that day based on how you feel, working around areas of muscle soreness, your energy level, and whatever feels like an interesting challenge. Decide what you're going to do for the whole session before you begin. In other words, don't start with some pushups and then stop and wonder what you should do next. Choose a work-recovery cycle using 2, 3, or 4 movements. Once you pick what you want to do, decide if it works better using rep counting or time (Gymboss) intervals. Then pick a total session length. Once decided, turn on some music if you like and knock it out.
- You don’t have to write down what you do, but occasionally make workout notes so you can see how you're progressing over time. I look back now and am amazed by how far I've come in the past few years. It helps you keep in touch with where you used to be.
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HIIT Sample Exercises
If you aren't familiar with any of these exercises, I recommend either looking them up on YouTube or having a trainer show you how to do them.
- Speed walking — Once the speed intervals no longer tax you, move up to short bursts of running between recovery walking. Start with just 10 seconds of running. If you do graduate to running, I recommend either a midfoot strike or forefoot strike — NOT a heel strike. Here's a brief summary of what I'm talking about.
- Bike sprints — Works on stationary bikes too. Go almost “all out,” then drop to a recovery speed on the rest interval.
- Jumping jacks — Do shallow, light jumps if your knees are weak. They will strengthen over time.
- Alternating high knees — Lift one knee to waist level and tap the top of it with your opposite hand; then alternate. Go as fast as you can while maintaining form and control.
- Elbow plank — For all planks, tuck your butt in so your lower back doesn’t cave. Go to your knees if needed. This will get hard very quickly at first.
- Pushup plank — Get in the pushup position and hold it. Keep your butt tucked and don’t drop your head or sag anywhere.
- Knee pushups — Keep your butt tucked as with the planks, and don’t dip your head. Same goes for full pushups when you're ready for them.
- Wall sits — Sit with your back to a wall with your legs at almost a right angle. You may only last 10 seconds to start.
- Heel bounces — Bounce up and down on your tip-toes over and over quickly. Your heels barely touch the ground on the way down. In other words, don't slam into the ground.
- Shadow boxing — Throw rapid light punches — jabs, uppercuts, hooks — and keep your hands up and your feet moving. Don’t stay planted for more than a couple seconds at a time. Dial the intensity up or down as needed.
- Chair squats — Keep your back straight and sit down on the front half of a chair until your butt just touches it, and then stand back up.
- Fast feet — Alternate picking your feet off the ground as quickly as you can. They should barely lift off the ground, or you won’t be able to go quickly. Think of doing a drum roll using the balls of your feet.
- Burpees — These are the most advanced exercise on this list. If you're anywhere near the train wreck I was in, you won't initially be ready for this exercise. But once you're able to do it, it's a conditioning tour de force. If I had to pick only one exercise to do, this would be it. It engages your entire body and builds tremendous strength-endurance, power, coordination, and hip mobility. There are also several variations which make burpees more or less challenging. Here's a good how-to video. You'll notice you can do burpees with or without a pushup, and with or without a jump. I suggest starting out with the basic no-pushup, no-jump burpee until you're comfortable with the movement. You also can make them even easier by stepping your feet out one at a time instead of extending both legs at once. Build up your capacity with this exercise slowly, and only try them if you feel ready. See how many you can do in two minutes and track that over the next year. The improvement you see will astound you.
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These are just a small sample of bodyweight exercises to get you up and running. They can all be scaled up or down in difficulty as needed. But to truly open yourself up to the vast world of bodyweight training, get Steve Cotter’s Encyclopedia of Bodyweight Conditioning.
If you want to increase your flexibility, mobility, and joint strength, get Steve Maxwell’s Encyclopedia of Joint Mobility. This is great material for warmup, but not HIIT. Together these DVD sets are $100. This is an incredible bargain, because the value of the instruction is exponentially higher. These guys are the best at what they do.
Never compromise your form while training. If you can’t sustain a particular exercise for the whole session, switch to an easier version of it. Try to keep the overall intensity up throughout the workout, but dial back if needed so that you can reach the end. These workouts are short, and you should typically feel alert and good at the end of them — not utterly wiped out. You’ll often be sore the next day or two as your body adapts and builds muscle. It’s fine to train if you’re mild to moderately sore (it goes away after a few minutes of exercise), but rest if you’re very sore. Never work a muscle or joint that’s in pain, which is not the same thing as soreness.
For everyone but competitive athletes, the only gym you’ll ever need is your body. Truly. That’s not to say that training devices are bad; they’re just simply not needed. If you like to jump rope or lift weights or do kettlebells (the best overall training device if you’re determined to use one), then by all means do it. But never fool yourself into believing you can’t get into OUTSTANDING physical condition without equipment. If you look at Cotter’s DVDs and adapt his exercises to the HIIT format outlined above, I guarantee you will have a lifetime of physical challenge for improving strength, endurance, coordination, and flexibility.
YOU CAN DO IT
If you have even a fraction of the health challenges I had, I hope you're inspired to take action. Everything I've written here is a synthesis of learning from years of failed diet attempts, books, classes, programs, gym memberships, doctors, trainers, nutritionists, and most importantly, trial and error. I hope my approach works as well for you as it has for me.
June 10, 2010
Formerly Spherical is an entrepreneur, ex-pat, and old friend of Lew Rockwell’s.