My New Diet Experiment

Delicious chicken burritos

Up until now, most of my health/fitness effort in life has been on the exercise side with nutrition being an afterthought. Of course I know now how foolish this was but hindsight is 20/20. For years, I ate without a thought beyond that I needed a lot of protein and a lot of everything overall and my time in the gym would take care of the rest. This was obviously a terrible approach and I can only guess what it has cost me. Unfortunately, because I usually do spend a prodigious amount of time in the gym, I have always been in above average physical shape so I have never been forced to confront the nutrition side in a serious way. In my mid twenties, I started to pay a little bit of attention to nutrition, but not much. At least I started eating more fruits and vegetables but aside from that, my diet was still pretty bad. When I was married, my diet got a little bit better, but again, not much. We both spent a fair amount of time in the gym and were both in above average shape so again, we did the bare minimum with nutrition and neither of us was interested enough in breaking the cycle.

But when I got divorced, things finally changed. With no one else around to worry about pleasing and a newfound mission to prove someone very, very wrong, I started experimenting more in the kitchen. Instead of choosing a recipe I wanted to eat and then making it, possibly substituting a healthier ingredient or two but otherwise keeping it the same, I started to choose the healthiest ingredients and then find recipes that featured them. And sometimes I would simply build my own recipes from the ground up that would start out as very healthy culinary disasters but evolve over time into very healthy, edible meals – and sometimes even beyond that point. But over the last year, I’ve taken it to the next level. I’ve started paying attention to the big picture – making sure I get plenty of vegetables, a moderate amount of mostly high quality carbohydrates, a reasonable amount of protein, and less garbage. And since this year started, I’ve eaten almost no garbage and have paid for zero. As a result, my fitness level, which was probably at an 8 before, is knocking on the door of 9 – even in spite of a rash of injuries that has held me back.

Why the nutritional history? I want people to know what a flippant attitude I’ve had towards nutrition for most of my life because it’s a great example of how it’s never too late to start doing the right things. This concept applies to many areas, although today I want to talk about nutrition. Over the last year, I’ve heard more and more about intermittent fasting and recently, it reached the tipping point quite by accident. When I sprained my ankle, I wound up missing a couple weeks of doing almost any leg exercises in the gym. In an attempt to mitigate the situation as well as improve my overall efficiency, I devised a plan to eat less. I had been spending 30-40 minutes making elaborate breakfast burritos totally from scratch in the mornings.

I decided to temporarily scrap this meal to account for the dramatic reduction in calories I would be burning and get myself moving more quickly in the mornings at the same time. This is easily the healthiest meal I eat so imagine my surprise when I started feeling better without it (I have since added it back in, often as dinner since I have more time in the evenings). And it wasn’t just the way I felt. Even though I was putting in about half the work in the gym and even less than that on the cardio side, it wasn’t the all out disaster I was expecting. I did lose about twenty pounds (not a one of which I wanted to lose, mind you) and while a lot of it was muscle, I couldn’t help but notice that a lot of it was also fat, to the point where my overall composition was noticeably improving.

I started researching in an effort to figure out what was going on and all roads seemed to lead to the same place. While the focus of nutrition is usually on what you are eating, there is more and more evidence that the timing of that eating is very important as well. I had inadvertently stumbled onto time restricted eating – the very same thing I had overheard so many people talking about and dismissed as “just the latest trend.” I’m still in the process of researching but I’ve learned enough to form a hypothesis and launch an experiment. In simple, general terms, the theory is that one’s metabolism can only work effectively for so many hours per day. Unfortunately, we in the western world tend to eat basically the entire time we’re awake. If you think about it, this wouldn’t have been possible for our distant ancestors and even for people a century ago, who largely wouldn’t have been able to afford such excess. Anyway, for some of those hours we’re eating, our metabolisms are struggling severely. In order for them to work optimally, it appears that eating should be restricted to twelve hours per day on the high end. And there is evidence that fewer hours will yield even better results.

As for me, I’m aiming for eight to nine hours per day. One unwelcome revelation in my research was that coffee counts, even if you only drink it black as I do, because it forces metabolic processes to start. So I’ve had to make some adjustments and here is what I’m doing now. I wake up at 6am and instead of having coffee, I head straight to the gym after chugging the 24 ounces of water I drink immediately when I wake up (your body gets dehydrated during the night). I get home between 7:30 and 8. Then I do 20-30 minutes of core work and then I do some language practice (I’m always working on improving my German and Spanish). Sometimes I also work in a chore or two around the apartment. Finally, around 9, I make coffee, drink a protein shake, and drink a smoothie of mostly leafy green vegetables with a little fruit. When the coffee is ready, I do my morning reading. From there, I get my workday going.

I eat a big lunch and a reasonable sized dinner. But the dinner (and my evening smoothie) has to happen by about 5 if I’m going to stay within my eight hour target. I will note that I’m not going to be 100% rigid. If I’m out for drinks once or twice a week, I’m not going to sit there sipping water in order to keep my fast going. However, I may consider starting the day with a late lunch; I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. Lucky for me, I work out of my home, don’t travel as much as I did in the past, and am usually back home doing emails, follow ups, etc by around 4 so as to avoid as much of the stupidly insane Houston traffic as possible. Back in my office droning days, this would have taken more planning and effort. But even if I were in that position today, I would probably try something like this. For me, success in life is quality times quantity. If there is a way to improve my health and fitness level, then I’d be willing to tolerate a very high cost in both financial expense and inconvenience. There was a time when I didn’t think that way. But I’m thankful to be here today. There is absolutely nothing worth more than health.

After a while, I’ll do another post on this with both my observed results and any conclusions I come to with my research. If anyone out there wants to try this with me, I would love to compare notes!

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