“What do you eat?”
I get that a lot. Amongst my friends, family, and readership, I can be a bit of a gastronomical puzzle. I have written a bunch of stuff about nutrition, and in all aspects of my life I am a big proponent of just “doing what works” as opposed to following one particular prescription written up by someone who may or may not know better than me. When it comes right down to it, I eat in a manner that I have found to produce the following outcomes:
- I don’t worry about calories as they pertain to weight gain.
- I have plenty of energy.
- I have excellent mental clarity.
- I have gotten rid of the “old injury”-related joint pain that once plagued me.
- I eat when I am hungry and am not a slave to mealtime.
- I eat food that I find appealing and tasty.
I have discovered what works for me over the last few years simply by extensive self-experimentation. This comes somewhat naturally to me, since my “real” j.o.b. is that of a scientist. However, this has not been done in a vacuum. I am a voracious reader and digester of information, and have found appealing various aspects of movements/lifestyles like ancestral health (paleo, primal, etc.), real food, low carb, and even ketosis. Something else I find appealing, however, is not stressing about things. I am a very driven, “type-A” person who can easily become hyper-obsessed with something I find interesting. To combat that, I try to not get wrapped up in the militant, prescriptive aspects of any of the above lifestyle choices. My approach is very much a hybrid of various things that make sense to me when balancing the science, lifestyle, and personal health aspects. Hopefully you also will consider doing a bit of reading and self-experimentation yourself in order to arrive at an approach that makes you feel awesome. For me, all of this was a complete game-changer. As the title of this post suggests, this is not a meal plan. Meal plans seem kinda stupid to me because they suggest that the detailed “plan” is somehow the “right way” to eat. I keep saying over and over again, figure out what works for you, and base your eating on your experience and thoughtfulness regarding what your body needs to function well.
Ok, so back to the original question – what do I eat? The basic principles I follow in my dietary habits are:
- Avoid processed carbohydrate at all costs.
- I try to not eat bread, pasta, etc. I also limit my intake of rice, potatoes and other starchy foods, but they are much more “in bounds” than things made from processed grain flours. Sweet potatoes are the least evil of the starches, in my book.
- Don’t eat sugar.
- I avoid sweets (almost) like the plague. Yes, I occasionally “cheat” but that is all part of not being completely inflexible and obsessive – a little here and there won’t kill you.
- If fresh fruits and vegetables are available, eat them.
- I enjoy fruits and veggies, and that enjoyment outweighs any perceived need/benefit of going whole-hog into a ketogenic diet. I prefer berries over bananas and would rather have kale or collards than lima beans, but again, there is something to be said for just relaxing a bit and not sweating the small stuff.
- Eat as much fat as possible.
- The amount of carbohydrate I take in from fruits and (mainly) veggies pretty much keeps me from going into ketosis, but I still make a valiant effort to get my calories from fat up in the 60-70% range. That fat is from nuts, fish, red and white meat, and dairy. Obviously stay away from trans-fats and things like canola oil. Avocado is awesome – don’t ever forget it.
- Be carnivorous.
- I eat lots of different types of meat. If possible, I will try to get grass-fed beef, pastured eggs, etc. but that is not always convenient. The fact of the matter is, if you are getting rid of processed carbohydrate and sugars, you are eating healthier than 99% of the folks in the country, so that is pretty good. You will see below that I do eat processed meats. Again, I imagine that a grass-fed steak is better for me than a hunk of salami (the data don’t necessarily say this), but both are sooooo much better than a bowl of pasta or a fast-food hamburger (with bun) that I don’t sweat it too much.
- Dairy is my vice.
- Lots of folks will talk about the evils of dairy, even though it is probably not as pro-inflammatory as many have claimed. Nonetheless, many people have poor dairy tolerance, which may not even be due to allergy or lactose intolerance. I deal with it well, although it can lead to a bit of fat storage and weight gain for me. Since I deal well with it, I haven’t worked to eliminate it from my diet – others may discover that they respond differently.
Given those principles, my daily routine includes some or all of the following:
–Fatty Coffee: this is derived from the Bulletproof Coffee popularized by Dave Asprey. I don’t seem to have the mycotoxin sensitivities that he has, so I don’t worry about buying his super-pure coffee, and therefore I don’t call it “bulletproof”. Some swear by Dave’s beans though, so you might give it a shot. Anyway, I use my morning coffee as the ultimate energy drink.
In a blender, combine:
- 2 cups of brewed coffee
- 2 tablespoons of pastured, unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons of expeller pressed coconut oil or MCT oil
2-3 drops of honey (totally optional)**
This makes a rich, foamy, delicious breakfast that can easily be a meal replacement for most people, especially if you are fat-adapted already. You might not get the same benefits if you are still fixing your metabolism from years of processed carbohydrate-related abuse. It can take weeks or months to fix that damage, so don’t get discouraged if you are just coming over from the dark side.
–Meat and Eggs: Bacon, chicken, left over pork chops or steak, it does not matter too much. I throw that stuff in a frying pan and cook it up in some butter (except for the bacon – buttered bacon would be a bit over the top, no?). Once the meat is almost done, I throw a couple of eggs in on top of the meat and let that go for a minute or two. To avoid having to flip this meat+egg composite mess, I toss in a little water and cover the pan with a lid until the water is evaporated. This steams the eggs and cooks them thoroughly without having to flip (and risk a potentially catastrophic yolk breaking episode). The more water you use (and hence the longer time to evaporation) the more done the yolks will get. If you like runny yolks, just a tablespoon of water is enough to cook the whites without petrifying the yolks.
–Omelets: This is pretty simple. If you don’t know how to make an omelet, or you don’t know what you would like in an omelet, then you need to do more self experimentation than I banked on. The general formula I follow is beaten eggs + meat + cheese + onions + peppers + mushrooms + jalepenos = awesome omelet.
–Flourless Pancakes: These are ridiculously delicious. Mash or immersion blend together a ripe banana, 1-2 eggs (depending on how egg-y you want them), and 1-2 tablespoons of almond butter. Spoon the mixture into a melted butter-laden frying pan and cook like regular pancakes. Your flipping determination and technique will be tested, as these are a bit softer and less easily flipped than a flour pancake, but you just need to commit to it, and be sure to not flip them too early. Experiment a bit with the recipe – it is very forgiving of modifications. I will sometimes add flax, honey, or cinnamon to change it up a bit.
For most people, once you get past breakfast the range of options opens up significantly. Since I am often grabbing lunch while I am out of the house, I am limited to what you can typically get on a restaurant menu (unless I am motivated enough to brown bag it). Note that I actually often don’t feel the need to eat at lunchtime if I had a breakfast of one of the items above plus a fatty coffee. On those days I will just grab a latté for a little bit of a boost and then get on with my day.
If I do feel the need to grab something more substantial, it really isn’t that hard to find an awesome meal. I am a big fan of bunless burgers (loaded up with so much stuff it looks like a salad with a burger underneath – don’t forget the avocado), rotisserie chicken, sushi, tuna salad, big green salads with steak, tuna, chicken, avocado or bacon, and even a small steak + veggies. I avoid pizza, pasta, sandwiches, buns, and tacos.
When you have a wonderful wife, who after a day of doing her own j.o.b. is still willing to cook a meal for the family, you eat what she cooks. Luckily, she is sensitive to my dietary peculiarities so our meals are always flexible enough that I am not forced to eat anything on my no-go list. Pasta with meatballs or sausage? I eat the meatballs, sausage, veggies, plus a salad. Perfect. Taco meat + salad = awesome taco salad. No tortilla needed. Pork chops, fish, chicken, or steak + veggie + salad = a no worries meal. If you are not into the a la carte meal assembly thing like I am and need something that looks restaurant prepared, there are like a MILLION different places to get good recipes. Some good options are here, here, here, here, and here.
I am addicted to nuts (pistachios, almonds, cashews) and will often munch on them while drinking a glass of red wine. I am also a big fan of simple meat + cheese plates – some high quality cured meats with some good cheeses plus some decent wine is my perfect late-evening snack. Dark chocolate is also in my evening eating rotation.
However, in my house I am famous for my “energy pudding”, which I have nearly every day at some point. To make energy pudding, stir together these ingredients in a bowl:
- 2 tablespoons almond butter
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil or MCT oil
- ½ teaspoon honey
- ¼ cup shaved, unsweetened coconut
- 1 square of dark chocolate (>70%), shaved or grated
The proportions can be changed without too much worry. If you like more/less honey or coconut, make the change. The chocolate is totally optional, as well. The almond butter is the foundation of this, so it is hard to get rid of it, but any of the other ingredients can be reduced, increased, eliminated, or replaced without too much trouble. The texture will vary as you change the proportions, but again this is all about experimenting and finding what works for you. Personally, this is like another meal for me and is something I will often have right before going to train – it is an immediate energy boost that is very sustaining.
Ok, so there you have it. A dietary framework that, for me, led to amazing weight loss, improved athletic performance, metabolic repair, increased mental acuity, increased muscle mass (with exercise, obviously), and a range of other benefits. Go ahead and experiment yourselves and let me know what has worked for you.
**Edit – I have ditched the honey lately in an attempt to totally eliminate added sugars from my diet.