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Thursday, May 2, 2013

"So THAT's a Parsnip?... Do You Eat It?", and Other Dietary Considerations

The next few blog posts will basically continue some of the background information, including how I am eating, how I am training, and the effect this is having versus my previous lifestyle choices. As the title above suggests, this post will be dedicated to my diet and nutrition.

To state the obvious, I am not a doctor or a nutritionist and by no means do I have any significant expertise on the subject of nutrition aside from what I am learning now. My experience up to this point has simply been based on trust; If a restaurant, supermarket, box, can, paper bag, or creepy guy in a van classified something as food, I would eat it. Within the last few months as I have been more conscious of my diet, I've started to learn the ins and outs (figuratively and literally) of different fats, carbs, and proteins.

What have I learned thus far? There are no shortage "opinions" on the subject of how we diet. And when I say "opinions" I mean rabid and didactic blow-hardiness. Lifestyle choices we hear about, such as low-carb, low-fat, gluten free, vegetarian, vegan, fruititarian, Taco Bell and beer, etc., are often presented as the only way, and this can be frustrating to some people who aren't as convicted. The fact that many people are living healthy lifestyles under different programs leads me to believe there's merit to these lifestyles. Further it tells me that the body is an amazing thing that can adapt and thrive in many conditions and that dietary tolerances vary from person to person. For this reason I'm taking a balanced approach to nutrition. With the training I have ahead, I know I will need a proper mix of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates, so going to the extreme in any direction may be unhealthy for me. As much as possible, I am cutting out all processed food, attempting to go "mostly" organic, and adopting a plant based diet. When I say plant "based" I mean the plants serve as an appropriate "base" on which to put healthy meats and eggs. Most of my dinners are colorful and have a variety of vegetables and fibers (WARNING!: Super pretentious dinner plate photos to follow)

Salmon on a bed of brown rice (that has a name I can't pronounce) with black beans, brussel sprouts, and asparagus. 
Before a few months ago, I never took into consideration any balance. I don't need to tell you what I was eating, as we all know what happens when we stop caring about what we put in our body. So what is this balance? As I said above, I believe every person is different, and so is every purpose for the diet. I am following a training program in which I am building endurance, and thus burning more fat. Therefore my balance is about 35-40% fats, 25% protein, and 35-40% carbohydrates. The diet is mainly comprised of eggs, nuts (such as almonds), olive oils, avocados, and beans for fats and proteins, For my carbohydrates I mainly try to get these from fruits and vegetables, which requires me to include vegetable portions to all my meals. I have also gone with the recommendation to eat more, smaller meals throughout the day vs. the three square alternative. It goes without saying that I abstain from drinking alcohol as that was proven to not be a healthy choice for me.

More about the veggies. We get a box of organic produce from a company that partners with local farms. Really, they just throw a bunch of vegetables in there that I've never heard of and we have fun trying to figure out how to eat it. Most of the time I just throw all of it into a salad, bear down, and dig in.

What has been the net effect of this? Naturally, I have had much more energy. My body is spending less energy breaking down the food because the food is natural and I am eating fewer calories per meal. More nutrients are getting to my body which means I am functioning more effectively. My brain (for what it's worth) is clearer now than it ever was before. I'm feeling less achy, with no headaches and pains, and I'm not winded walking up the stairs. I feel like I'm adequately fueled to work out for a lengthy time. I've also lost 15 lbs in the last couple months (exercise also played a role in this).

So here's where I'm supposed to jump on a soapbox and shout about how easy and fun it is to eat healthy, and how I have effortlessly made the transition as the food is just as enjoyable as the unhealthy alternatives, "free at last, free at last!" Indulging this idea for a second I will say that eating naturally and organically is very much more self satisfying than the alternative. I will also concede that eating this way MAY be more enjoyable depending on the individual's motivation and tolerance (I, for one, enjoyed lots of unhealthy foods, and often miss them terribly. However I have an obsessive personality). I don't want to diminish the above benefits because they are enormous and far outweigh the drawbacks. However anyone who claims that it is "easy and fun" is just not being truthful.

First let's look at the products. Buying organically severely limits your options, and significantly increases your budget. Once you get the product home you have to store it. No more prepackaged easy to fit boxes to go in the freezer for a few months. Instead you're trying to fit four different kinds of lettuce into the refrigerator. If you don't eat it within a few days it will go bad quickly, so more frequent trips to the store are necessary.

It takes a significant amount of time to prep the products (let alone figure out how to eat the produce you've never heard of before). It also takes a lot longer to eat the products, so not only am I eating more meals, I'm taking longer to eat them. While I thought that the physical training would be the most time consuming element of this adventure, by far the nutrition takes the cake (or... black bean cookies maybe? bleh). By far eating processed food is much easier and cheaper than eating healthy.

The candy bowl, ineffectively hidden from me and the kids in our broken microwave
But that is how I've been conditioned to eat throughout my life. I've become conditioned to use eating as a "comfort" mechanism, or to "grab a quick bite", or "scarf down a burrito". The appreciation is coming with time, and I am already starting to obsess less about the unhealthy foods (especially refined sugars - Ah, M&M's, you horrible temptress! I still have a huge bag of these that are calling out from my broken microwave oven... don't ask), and obsess more about the healthy diet. I simply need to be reconditioned to appreciate this new lifestyle and the grace God has given me to be able to have access to fresh and high quality food. Everything else is a first world problem, as I am blessed with an abundance of Grace. It's all about perspective.

By the way, in case you haven't noticed, I have set up my Compassion fundraiser page, so that is up and running and linked to the right of the page. If you're feeling generous please click on over and make a donation. The goal for this one is $1,000 because it is the first time I am doing this and I don't know what to expect. If that is exceeded pretty quickly I'll just increase the goal. Also, I will be adding two more fundraisers to the Cabo Ironman, and that will tie into the who "tri" theme (I didn't initially recognize the implication of "tri-fund-racing", but it makes sense). The Ironman itself will be a pretty extreme challenge, why not make the fundraisers pretty extreme as well? Once they are up I will let you know. Thank you in advance!