My New Diet Experiment

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!

Today I’m Going to Challenge You

It is no secret among those who know me that I have struggled with depression for most of my life. While it seems counterintuitive, there does appear to be a strong correlation between the prevalence of this problem and the unprecedented and continuing economic success our country has enjoyed. So if you struggle with it, there is absolutely nothing wrong with you. Most of us do, at least some of the time, and our circumstances in life really don’t seem to have a significant effect on that. As difficult as depression symptoms are to deal with, the sheer persistence of the disease in the face of long term, consistent efforts to eradicate it, has been the most frustrating aspect for me.

However, there is plenty to be hopeful about. Several months ago, I started making a more focused effort than ever to get my depression under control. First I had to accept, once and for all, that depression is a part of me and probably always will be. Acceptance is so important! As I understand it, suffering isn’t a direct result of circumstances, but rather, the result of the difference between those circumstances and one’s expectations. So in other words, anyone can be unhappy if he isn’t willing to accept reality. This is a large part of the explanation for miserable billionaires and happy people who don’t know where their next meals are coming from.

Accepting the reality that I will always have depression to contend with was a huge help. The next big step was taking responsibility for my own mental health. Too often in my life I’ve leaned on mental health professionals, thinking that if I invested enough time and money, I would have to see results. But just like with anything else, that isn’t enough. Simply going through the motions didn’t work for me. I wasted thousands of dollars in copays and hundreds of hours because I went in with the wrong mindset. The correct mindset, as in any situation, is to take responsibility – not for making the investment, but for attaining the RESULTS. When I finally did that around the middle of last year, I naturally started putting in the focused work that was necessary and everything changed.

What were my tactics? For one thing, I started reading with the specific purpose of defeating depression. Some of the books that really helped me include: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, The Four Agreements by Miguel Ruiz, Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by David Burns, Self-Compassion: The Power of Being Kind to Yourself by Kristin Neff, Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life by Eric Greitens, Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALS Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, and Mind Over Mood: Change How You Feel By Changing the Way You Think by Dennis Greenberger, Christine Padesky, and Aaron Beck. But beyond just reading, I started actively working on changing my thought process. There are hundreds of very worthwhile exercises and things to think about in just the books I listed and I highly recommend working through them all to find the ones that help you.

But reading books takes time. Today I want to challenge you to start with one simple, but incredibly powerful concept: gratitude. This isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned it in this young blog and that is no accident. Why is it so important? If you can change the way you think and start looking for positives instead of negatives, a few things will happen. Biologically, you will literally change your physical brain as you force it to work in different ways. That means that thinking positively will become easier with practice just like lifting weights does as your muscles get stronger. You will likely notice that your happiness level increases fairly quickly. But maybe the most exciting thing that will happen when you make it a priority to be thankful for the good things in your life is that you will get more of them. That’s right; changing the way you think will literally change your circumstances in life.

This isn’t some silly gimmick or pseudo-science. I’m not talking about thinking about things you want and the universe magically manifesting them for you. What I’m talking about is real. How does it work? When you start focusing on positive things in your life and being thankful for them, you will start to see more of them. This is human nature; you tend to find what you’re looking for and miss a lot of what you aren’t. When you start seeing more positive things, you start feeling better. When that happens, you start acting differently. You make an extra sales call. You meet a smoking hot girl and ask her out on the spot. Or maybe you just simply hold the door for someone. When you change your actions, your results start to change. Each of the examples I just listed can lead to something good happening for you and if you make enough changes like them, they certainly will. The first step to success is simply showing up and doing something. Success has a way of snowballing really quickly so literally all you have to do is start the process and ride the momentum from there and things will improve.

So how am I going to challenge you today? I want you to focus on making gratitude a part of your life. Immediately. In order for this to be as effective as possible, it needs to be obnoxious. Start keeping a notebook around or taking notes in your phone or whatever works for you. Every hour you’re awake, write down something you’re thankful for. Every single hour. I guarantee you can think of something. It can be as big as getting a promotion at work or as small as a conversation you had that you enjoyed. Still can’t find something? I bet you aren’t dying of cancer right now. I’ll bet even more that a tsunami didn’t just destroy your house and all your belongings. Try not to lean on the “it could always be worse” crutch too often but you can use it when you have to.

At the end of each day, review your list and pick out your favorites. Think about them as you lay in bed and go to sleep. There is no better way to start a night of restful sleep. Look back over previous days’ lists whenever you’re starting to feel down and remind yourself of some of the blessings in your life until the mood passes.

This exercise isn’t going to cure anyone’s depression. Much like alcoholism, I am not sure there is a cure. I think you just have to acknowledge that it exists and commit to fighting it every day. Do my gratitude challenge for a week or two and see how you feel. See if it is easier to come up with an item to add to the list than it was when you started. You are already going to notice progress and that is a money back guarantee! Obviously this doesn’t end your war. But it puts one battle in the win column. Next, pick out something else to try. Remember, big victories are made up of many little ones. If anyone decides to complete my challenge, I would love to hear about the results. So leave a comment or email me at admin@healthwealthpower.com and let me know how it worked for you.

The Most Important Investment

Investing is one of my favorite activities and I look forward to writing plenty about it on this blog. But I’d be doing you a terrible disservice if I didn’t start with the most important investment: your health. The quote “health is wealth” and permutations of it are so common that there is no single known source and many of the quotes date back well over a thousand years. And it is universally true in every way possible.

There is certainly an economic argument. Health care is expensive. I don’t need to tell you it’s already expensive today at whatever age you are and the cost is only going to go up. The current estimate is that the average person will spend roughly $250k from traditional retirement age to death on health care and of course inflation will increase that number if you aren’t there yet. But in this case, the best defense is a good offense. If you are in good health, you can reduce your exposure to the health care system or even eliminate it for anything beyond your annual preventative care visits and the occasional issue that pops up. $250k is a huge figure to chip away at and you can start saving money in this area every year before you get to retirement age as well.

But this is even bigger than economics. After all, even a billionaire can’t buy back his good health once it’s gone. His vast fortune will get him the best care available and make him as comfortable as possible while he dies but it can’t get back what has been lost. Most of us will never be billionaires but this is one rare example of something we can have that some of them can’t.

And this is so much more than simply putting off death. By investing in your health, you will improve the quality of your life every single day. See those people all over the place who are so fat they can barely move much less live the kind of active lifestyle a fit person does? Now take a look at the attractive people the obese masses try so hard to convince you represent an unrealistic standard. Which group do you want to be a part of? How much money do you think the people in the first group would pay to be part of the second instead? That’s right; this investment yields a return you can’t even quantify. And it is much easier to stay part of the second group from day one on than it is to renounce your membership in group one and join group two. As in most areas of life, preventative maintenance is much, much easier and cheaper than repairing damage.

And please, ignore the naysayers. You do not want the bitter, resentful life they are living. You can’t change your genetics but you can certainly change lifestyle factors. Anyone could potentially get lung cancer but it is far less likely to happen to someone who doesn’t smoke. Everyone has heard of the occasional fitness fanatic who had a heart attack and died at fifty. But the only reason those stories are even noteworthy enough to get your attention is that the scenario is extremely unlikely and therefore shocking. Lifetime smokers, obese people, etc, die young every day so no one is even going to bat an eyelash when they do. You can’t outwork the possibility of all negative outcomes but you can most definitely put the odds in your favor and win most of the time.

So how do you start investing? You don’t need a dollar to do it although gym memberships are very cheap these days (I’ve seen as low as $10 a month) and that’s the most effective route for most people. Your main investments are time and effort but you also need knowledge and discipline – both of which can be acquired and increased with time and effort.

How much time? Your government overlords tell you 150 minutes per week is the minimum. I don’t like mediocrity so my minimum is 300 minutes. That’s 30 minutes of moderate intensity cardio every day with 30 minutes of serious resistance training three days a week. And again, that’s a minimum. That’s what you do if you’re sick or maybe rehabbing an injury. That also doesn’t include walking. It is very important to walk around at regular intervals throughout the day. You should avoid sitting for more than a half hour of uninterrupted time at all costs. Get a Fitbit or another fitness watch that incorporates a pedometer if it helps you. The science is very clear on the devastating impact of long periods of sitting – even if you get enough exercise overall.

Again, that’s the minimum. What do I do under normal circumstances? 570-750 minutes per week is a rough estimate. That is comprised of: 30 minutes of moderate intensity cardio every day, 60 minutes of serious resistance training 4-5 days a week, and 2-4 hours of participating in sports in a typical week (in my case, lately that has been mostly tennis, basketball, or hitting a heavy bag – no, I don’t count golf as a sport although I enjoy that too). Some weeks I’m a little below that and many weeks I’m above. The latest and greatest studies show there really is no reasonable upper limit to the amount of exercise people can benefit from. I actually consciously moderate mine as my body is very prone to overtraining and injuries in general so your numbers could go higher if you are more genetically blessed in that area.

Another facet is exercise intensity level. As a general rule, start slow/light and gradually work your way up. Don’t try to go from zero to hero overnight. The lost time spent dealing with injuries will easily destroy any additional benefits whereas the long term progress of ramping up gradually, but consistently, will be an incredibly rewarding experience.

Another huge aspect is diet/nutrition. This is easily an entire series of posts all by itself but here are some of the basics. In general, American portion sizes are much too big. You need a lot less food than you think. A good rule of thumb is that if you’re eating at a restaurant, you should be taking home at least half of what is served in a to-go box; this is a financially friendly practice as well. Eat lots of vegetables – at least five servings a day. You almost can’t overdo this. And no, potatoes and corn don’t count. Eat some fruit but in moderation as there can be a lot of sugar in it. Go high protein; .5-1 gram per pound of bodyweight per day is a good range for most people. Eat a moderate amount of high quality carbohydrates. So whole grain bread instead of white, brown rice instead of white, complex versus simple. These are items you should eat.

But you also need to minimize eating garbage or eliminate it altogether if you struggle with the minimal concept like I do. And yes, soda falls into the garbage category along with anything else that is highly processed or made of primarily sugar, fat (chips, fries, etc), or both (ice cream). And no, diet soda isn’t better. Soda in all of its forms is pretty close to cigarette status as far as your health is concerned; you simply shouldn’t ever consume it unless you really hate being alive and want to get it over with ASAP. Avoid soy as much as possible, especially if you’re a man. It’s horrifying how much of this poison has worked its way into our food supply. It requires tons of processing just to make it consumable by humans but even worse, it messes with your hormones. Anything in that category should be setting off a bright, flashing, go straight to jail, do not pass go, do not collect $200 alarm in your head. While we’re on the subject of avoidance, minimize dairy consumption. Studies are still somewhat conflicting but are starting to trend towards anti-dairy conclusions, particularly when you factor in how many of them are funded by the powerful dairy industry. I treat dairy as a garnish item and an occasional treat and even that policy is probably pushing it.

The most important thing with investing in your health is to get started. If you’re currently leading a sedentary lifestyle, I have good news for you. Just by getting started, you are likely to see benefits much more rapidly than the average person. That’s not to say that it isn’t worthwhile to work on improvements if you’re in that average camp or even if you are a fitness veteran. The further up the fitness ladder you can get without it becoming psychologically unhealthy, the better. Too much of anything can be problematic – even something good. But in modern society, we have precious few people who are in any danger of reaching that level in the area of fitness and nearly all of us could benefit from some ramping up. You will notice the differences all over your life – feeling better both physically and psychologically, people responding more positively to you, clothes fitting better, sleeping better, looking better, and on and on. Simply put, I can’t overstate the value of investing in your health and if you start doing it more, I almost guarantee you will agree.