AtA: Of Calories, Cravings, and Variety

Posted June 18th, 2010 in Ask the Author, Foods by Clint

DH writes:

To be honest I didn’t really “get it” until I did it. I really love food, especially sweets, and I never thought that I’d ever be that way either. When people talked about it, it sounded really weird and unlikely to me. I basically set out to create meals that would fit into my desired calories and macronutrient breakdown so that I could be assured I was getting the right amount. I didn’t think that tracking every meal and then fudging towards the end of the day was really the right solution for me. Especially because this way I could make sure that a good number of the meals were portable and I could cook things that needed pre-cooking bulk. I was afraid that doing the same meals would get boring but it was actually really easy and ended up not being a problem at all really. A month or so I in I went to the grocery store and glanced a box of cookies and realized I didn’t even have the faintest desire to buy them, which was totally out of character but also totally awesome. Not having to deal with the whims of my gustatory desires is pretty cool a lot of the time.

This really resonates with both my own experience and what I hear from others.

One thing that stands out when helping people change their eating habits is especially prevalent with people who have means. They’ll go out to restaurants 2-3 times a day, eat expensive, decadent foods, yet hardly even taste them anymore. When ‘treats’ become commonplace they lose the magic of being ‘special’.

You get almost the same vibe from people who simply eat fast food constantly (due to travel, habit, whatever); in many cases it feels like they’re too depressed to generate the motivation to cook even crockpot-level foods or deal with a stove. If they do eat at home it’s a frozen dinner, because they’re too exhausted/depressed to deal with the car/drive-through.

By starting (or resetting) your diet with simple (but not bland), basic meals, you can regain an appreciation for what makes food taste good in the first place, and by focusing on your health/fitness/aesthetic goals you undermine all the emotional attachments that come along with eating garbage-food.

And yeah. The best thing is seeing something you remember loving and being disgusted by it, rather than simply trying to play the MY WILL IS STRONG OH GOD DADDY WAAAAANT game. When I was a kid I used to love Little Debbie cakes, but after being apart from them for a few years and then having the opportunity to try them, I realized they tasted like wax ass. As there is nothing redeeming at all in their nutritional content, that’s a pretty good habit shift to get.

AtA: So what do I eat, a hunk of meat?

Posted June 16th, 2010 in Ask the Author, Foods by Clint

In looking though various food options I’m having trouble finding protein. Besides protein powder and beef/chicken/fish/pork/kangaroo etc. are there other recommended sources of protein? It seems to be difficult to find something (besides meat) that doesn’t have a 2:1 fat or carb to protein ratio.

As mentioned on pg 34, you’ve also got dairy sources and eggs as well as supplementary protein from various beans and nuts. But as I’ve said before, at present I regrettably don’t know of a viable vegan/vegetarian suggestion or solution.

Considering many people I work with and talk to who won’t have anything to do with “weird” meats (or seafood) and stick to chicken and beef (or just chicken), it’s still surprising how versatile even one meat is. While food-as-fuel can lend a helpful perspective, I personally love to eat, and do my chef-ing for pleasure as much as for fuel.

However, I also eat wild boar, venison, clams, crawfish and so forth on a regular basis (although obviously not nearly as often as chicken and beef), so it’s not often meals get repetitive. But I hit up things like garlic and lemon juice all the time, and most of my meals, while robust, are absurdly simple.

Then again, we’ve come a long way from meals being a hunk of moldy cheese and hard cornbread. Or a scupper-full of lutefisk (ugh, I feel queasy just typing the word). So these “simple meals” are in actuality fairly exotic if not opulent, both compared to the current non-1st-world countries and to everything up to the last century.

A helpful reader suggests:

The tip in the book about the chicken will put you on the right track. Buy some kinda raw meat and two vegetables. Cut’em up however you think would be best and cook’em. Chicken breast (or Turkey Sausage), onion, green pepper. Salmon, zucchini, tomatoes (I like to soak them in balsamic vinegar with some salt and eat’em raw with this). Very cheap meals that are very easy to make in an amount that will give you 4 – 6 meals. So, cook this kinda shit to start with 2 or 3 nights a week and fill in the gaps with protein shakes and other simple snacks like nuts, beef jerky (this one’s not so cheap), and cottage cheese.

This is working out pretty great for me and when I get bored of eating this kind of stuff I’ll learn to cook more complex meals, but for now some minimal spicing of some simple meat + veg gets me some pretty tasty eats that make it easy to stick to base meals.

This right here is aces, and expresses the point perfectly. Start with simple building blocks and then grow creative, rather than blowing your load cooking some 4 hour casserole monstrosity and then being annoyed and frustrated at the idea of making food and hitting up the Arby’s. The idea isn’t that feeding is a boring chore, but that you can make simple things great despite (or perhaps because of) their simplicity.

AtA: The Pollan Conclusion and Brain Over Brawn

Posted June 7th, 2010 in Ask the Author, Foods by Clint

[...]when I was reading the section on food and obesity and your critiques on the food industry, I though I was reading Pollan. Yet you arrived at a very different conclusion, and a low carb one at that, with room for exceptions. I was wondering if you came across Pollan when you were researching the food and nutrition section, and if so what your opinions are of him? More broadly, is the recommendation of 40:20:40 p/c/f because you feel this is a reasonable goal for people to aim for, or is this what you have found is an ideal ratio from your experience helping your individual clients?

Pollan is certainly a hell of smart dude, and even though some of his thoughts are hard (for me) to mutually reconcile, his books are worth reading just because he has an incredible style, and puts forth some really well-researched analysis that may blow your mind, even if the particular study may be familiar to you. He also manages his activism where he can get his point across without coming off with that slimy ulterior-motive aftertaste that’s so frequent lately in the wake of evolutionary/historical diet becoming A Big Thing. I’ve only read “In Defense of Food” and “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”, but Food Rules is in my cart and I intend to read it soon.

My major divergences are probably summarized due to two things:

1) Individuals. People are radically different not just on the genetic and biological levels, but on the ways all these systems interact with each other. There are millions of permutations that make it to where two people on the exact same diet and program will almost invariably get differing results. Hard to say with someone’s lineage what sort of responses, tolerances, and so forth will apply, and each of those things complicate still further based on the the interactions of food, stress, stimulus and so forth.

In short, people are mad complex and there’s no blanket solution. However, one thing that is becoming apparent (thanks to diabetic research more than anything diet or supplement companies have contributed) is that many diet profiles are complicated and hindered by poor carbohydrate control, especially in excessive sugars. Vice versa, controlled-carb diet studies suggest that body composition and health are improved, independent to exercise or even (gasp) genetic/ethnic diversity.

That said, I seldom advocate extremism (the exception being against trans fats) and I feel like carbs have a place in a diet, and exercise both enhances the benefit from carbs and minimizes the potential negative impact.

2) Practicality. A pragmatic, realistic approach for “everyone” is a core concept of Brain Over Brawn. Even if we had the infrastructure in place for everyone to switch to a quinoa-and-red-yeast-rice diet tomorrow morning, not everyone has the money to buy everything organic and local, and even fewer have the immediate desire. Or to give up all their foods, or eat “mostly plants” or anything else. It’s certainly something I can agree with philosophically, and I respect Pollan’s stand against the factory-farm food industry. But it’s not going to change overnight, and my target with Brain Over Brawn was specifically designed to be things that can change overnight, or even right now, as someone reads it.

And all that said, I agree with you. Macros really aren’t that important in the grand scheme, especially since the type and quality of food, the foods with it, the eater’s internal chemistry (both genetic disposition and at-the-time), add so many factors that the same meal could have a significantly different effect on a different person or just a different day.

The best practical solution I’ve found is to orient carbs to exercise, making carbs less of a factor for people when physical activity is also less of a factor for them, and allowing for increased carbs alongside more exercise (both as a reward, and due to the tendency for higher tolerances due to improved physical profile). I allow for most vegetables in Base meals (without fearing for carb count), and for fruits as well in Peak meals; the 40/40/20 split is a target for people who simply can’t come to terms with the Base/Peak division of meals. Going with the Base and Peak meal design makes accurate counting/hair-splitting largely irrelevant; restricted carbs for sedentary people, carb allowance for active people. Bing bang boom.

AtA: Cookbooks and Meal Design

Posted May 28th, 2010 in Ask the Author, Foods by Clint

Do you have any recommendations for good cookbooks for your base and peak meal structure? I have this “Healthy College Cookbook” which I thought would be awesome because I can’t cook [...] and it lists nutritional info for every meal but all of them pretty much have more carbs than anything.

That cookbook appears to have the problems typical of many cookbooks, then. I have two suggestions for this.

The first is starting with simplicity. Pick a lean protein, such as chicken, fish, beef, whatever. Pick a vegetable or two. Season them. Then cook and eat them. Prepare multiple servings and eat the leftovers later on (so you’re not having to turn on the stove every 2 hours).

At some point you might get bored of just ‘seasoned meat+vegetable’ (some do, some don’t). The easiest thing then is to find a low-carb cookbook for your ‘base meals’, and a low-fat cookbook for peak meals. Since most of your meals will be low-carb, that’s really the ‘learning curve’. It’s easy to get carbs for the Peak meals (rice, grains, potatoes, etc); all you have to do is minimize the fat content.

AtA: The Carby Nature of Breakfast Foods

Posted May 17th, 2010 in Ask the Author, Foods by Clint

I love the book, the whole concept of base and peak meals makes a lot of sense to me so I started with it today. The problem is, I love my breakfast oats, and I only exercise in the evening. Can I keep the oatmeal and still make my breakfast a base meal?

Though oats are typically a superior carbohydrate (especially compared to cereal, muffins or other breakfast-type carbs), that’s what they are. Can’t really will them into something else.

However, though one person might see this as a threat to your way of life, another might well see this as an opportunity. If you were to get up even 5-10 minutes earlier, put your oats in the pot or microwave, and then crush out an Interval Exercise, you can earn those delicious carbs and just roll with a Peak Meal. As a personal example, there’s an awesome hill less than a block from my house that I visit a couple times a week for sprints. Though I feel like yarfing as I finish, with the walk home to wind down, by the time I’m here I can usually be ready to eat.

Or jumping rope, doing thrusters, working the heavy bag, or whatever it is you’d enjoy doing (or can tolerate best). Putting your body in an active state early in the morning is something you can do in under 15 minutes, you can enjoy your breakfast oats, and likewise have an improved metabolic profile and higher energy levels throughout the day (I myself am sluggish if I wake up alarm clock style, but an IE sets that right).

AtA: Thoughts on ‘The China Study’ and meat

Posted May 12th, 2010 in Ask the Author, Foods by Clint

Have you ever read the book The China Study? I’d be curious what your thoughts on that are, if you have.

I read it back when it came out. Though I thought the findings from his sourced studies were interesting, I didn’t find them conclusive and feel he had to make some serious stretches to attempt to correlate them with the anti-meat/dairy agenda he’s pushing. The main thing I ended up taking away from it was that it came off like promotional material for a Vegan lifestyle, albeit significantly less slimy-salesman and shameless than the crew that writes the “Skinny Bitch” series.

While it might very well be true the average American could benefit from adhering to the lifestyle proposed, that’s because we’re by and large so awful that just about any change is an improvement. While I am convinced of the necessity and manifold benefit of vegetables and fruits (and thereby recommend having at least a serving with each and every meal), I feel there are also a multitude of benefits from the consumption of meat and animal-related protein products. The DHA/EPA from fish, essential amino acids that are extremely low or unavailable in plant sources (like carnitine and carnosine), iron, zinc, B-complexes and so on.

I’m not saying there’s nothing to the study, but I think the conclusions he draws don’t tend to follow. You can also find reasonably credible studies showing that wheat is killing us, and that soy will give your unborn children sexual deformities.

I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t really advocate any sort of extremism. Everything’s got cancer in it, we’re all gonna die immediately, sky is falling. I think meat and dairy are an important part of a diet, but I strongly recommend the vegetables and their glorious antioxidants and phytochemicals and so forth also, not instead of.

While I don’t have a fundamental concern with the consumption of meat and dairy, the ‘factory farm’ situation and the unethical and insane treatment of animals and what we do to them chemically and biologically for profit purposes is mortifying. I however do not have a solution at present and have yet to see one manifest (a whole lot of yelling ‘fire’ but few people with buckets). It’s ever in my thoughts though.

AtA: Macro-split (PFC) Clarification

Posted May 5th, 2010 in Ask the Author, Foods by Clint

Got a question about the nutrition profile: How’d you decide on 50% protein? Some sort of “Tell them the meeting starts at 19:30 so everyone will be there by 20:00″ deal? (I’ll also need to read it a few more times to mull stuff over.)

I’m not entirely sure which part you’re referring to, but I’ll make a couple guesses and you let me know if you were interpreting something else.

In the Base meal section, where it says “protein totals equal to or higher than the total amount of fat (by gram)”, the idea is if they go by gram and hit close to 50/50, they’re in actuality getting significantly more calories from fat. I don’t necessarily think that’s a negative thing, even in a sedentary individual, but that’s why I say keep the protein up above, which implies that protein can be even significantly higher. With regular exercise this balances out with Peak meals providing that same level of protein but minimal levels of fat to where you still end up at a rough 40/40/20 ratio (as in the section 40/40/20).

Speaking of that section, that’s my other assumption of your reference. In that section there are two optimal, if somewhat plain, meals that meet the requirements for the types of meals. But again, we’re assuming 4-5 Base meals in a day, and 1-2 Peak meals, so once this is all factored out we still roughly end up at about a 40/40/20 split. I try to keep the focus on getting protein in every meal no matter what type of meal it is; with the extra calories per gram in fat and the readily available sources, it’s easy to meet the 40% Fat requirements. Many people have a tendency to grossly underestimate the carb content of foods, but this approach helps to balance that as well.

Protein is the common link between the two meals, and healthy and robust Base meals will include some ‘carbs’ from vegetables, and peak meals will typically include some fats from sources no matter how lean. That ‘half’ target is to help compensate for the fact we don’t get our macros from a super-soldier machine strapped to our back that feeds us intravenously. And I didn’t want people fretting over the 3g of carbs from having mushrooms with their steak, while still being conscious of the fat in the dressing they want to slather on their salads.

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