A few weeks ago, I wrote about trying to do an all-Soylent diet for a work week, and while I failed horribly, it did get me to think more about what I'm putting into my body.
Though I typically think that I have a well-rounded diet, after coming off of my third day of consuming nothing but Soylent, I fell back into my normal eating routines. This time, however, I was paying attention to what I was actually consuming. I made a few notes about my eating habits. What I discovered was that my diet wasn't quite as well-rounded as I thought, and I wasn't doing myself any favors in the way that I've been consuming food.
Here's what I mean– I was eating healthy foods regularly, but was undermining their nutritional benefit by:
- Eating processed foods between meals
- Snacking on foods that are high in processed sugars and simple carbohydrates
- Consuming dairy with most of my meals
- Adding highly caloric sauces or condiments to my meals
- Not exercising on a consistent basis
- Not drinking enough water throughout the day
As a result of eating this way, I'm the heaviest I've ever been, and I've started to notice that some of my clothes are fitting a bit snugger than they used to. I've been telling myself that I'm not going to have the metabolism of a 24-year old forever and that I might as well take advantage of it in terms of writing myself a permission slip for junk food, and as a result, I've been a total hypocrite.
Writing about wellness is something I've done pretty extensively. I've invested a significant amount of time into studying nutrition and wellness as it's a topic I've blogged about pretty frequently for some of my freelance clients.
The thing is, I knew better. I knew that what I was putting into my body wasn't food that honored it and allowed it to perform at its best. On top of that, I've also been navigating significantly higher stress levels than normal, and have used that stress as an excuse to not only eat more junk food, but to eat more food in general. Though I knew that eating a low-quality diet would only aggravate my stress on a physiological level, I let my caveman brain take full-control and reached for anything that would give me a temporary bump.
Now, I'm dealing with breakouts on my shoulders that won't go away (which happens when I consume too much dairy and processed sugars), and I've generally been feeling pretty down about my body image. I'm at a place where enough is just enough. Rather than eating and living on autopilot, I've got to make some intentional changes that will help me get back on track to getting into shape and living a healthier lifestyle.
The 4-Hour Body, but 24/7
In an effort to reign in my bad eating habits and get myself motivated to get back into shape, I bought The 4-Hour Body by Timothy Ferriss. I often joke that the only thing I've ever been good at is learning, and while I typically say this within the context of a joke, it's a partially true statement. I have a knack for being able to accomplish whatever I put my mind to, but in order for me to commit and really focus on something, I need to be actively learning something new and challenging my own ways of thinking.
Like many others, I first encountered Tim Ferriss when I read The 4-Hour Work Week. At the time, I had mixed feelings about the book (which could be distilled as "good ideas, but they're not universally applicable across all types of work"), but I found Tim fascinating. He's a living experiment, and he's constantly testing and tinkering for the sake of figuring out how to make life better. In this case, he's specifically testing to find ways to optimize weight loss and muscle gain, among other things. To quote the subtitle of The 4-Hour Body, it's "an uncommon guide to rapid fat-loss, incredible sex, and becoming superhuman." I'm game for all three of those things, so the book went in my shopping cart, I swiped my credit card, and read through the first 150 pages or so in a single sitting.
In the past, when I've been strict with my diet for the sake of either building muscle or losing weight, the approach that I've taken has just been the standard "all things in moderation" diet. I'd prioritize and primarily consume leafy greens and lean proteins, and everything else I would just consume in smaller portions or with less frequency. When I've eaten this way, it has worked for me. But, I didn't want to do that again for a few major reasons:
- The last time I ate that way, I had just turned 20 and was running at least 3 miles per day. At the current stage in my life, I don't have the free time to be as physically active as I was then.
- "All things in moderation" doesn't provide a clear framework or established boundaries. When approaching food from this mentality, if you're not 100000000% committed, it's way too easy to think of nutrition in a "net loss" manner: I'll eat the cupcake today and get on the treadmill tomorrow.
- Finally, it's just not interesting to blog about "Oh, I had one handful of potato chips instead of half the bag."
So, since Tim "the-Modern-Alchemist" Ferriss has already done the testing and documenting to create a plan better than "all things in moderation," and which doesn't feel like a fad diet that only operates on a principle of calorie deficits, I'm going to give it a go.
The Slow Carb Diet
According to Ferriss, the Slow-Carb diet is "the only diet besides the rather extreme Cyclical Ketogenic Diet (CKD) that has produced veins across [his] abdomen." He also introduces the chapter in The 4-Hour Body on it with the subtitle "How to Lose 20 Pounds in 30 Days Without Exercise."
Abdomen veins and 20 pounds in 30 days? Okay, cool. I'm hooked. So what is it?
The Slow Carb diet focuses on eating a controlled diet of proteins, legumes, and vegetables six days out of the week, and, to use the technical term, going wild on the 7th. Ferriss has designed the Slow Carb diet to be governed by five rules that are relatively easy to be integrated into your daily life. They are:
- Rule #1: Avoid "white" carbohydrates
- AKA, avoid foods like bread, rice, cereal, potatoes, pasta, tortillas, and fried foods with breading.
- Rule #2: Eat the same few meals over and over again
- Ferriss provides a specific list of foods that are slow carb-approved, and recommends mixing and matching those to create three or four meals that are easy to fix, and eating those over and over again.
- Rule #3: Don't drink calories
- Go for water, and maybe a glass or two of red wine.
- Rule#4: Don't eat fruit
- This one surprised my fiber-loving colon, but fruits are full of fructose, "which is converted to glycerol phosphate more efficiently than almost all other carbohydrates. Glycerol phosphate –> triglycerides (via the liver) –> fat storage."
- Rule #5: Take one day off per week
- I love this rule because it makes me think of the movie "The Purge." Rather than having a day where all crime is legal, you have one day per week where you get to eat whatever you want and as much of it. This can help prevent cravings throughout the rest of the week, and "dramatically spiking caloric intake in this way once per week increases fat-loss by ensuring that your metabolic rate (thyroid function and conversion of T4 to T3, etc.) doesn't downshift from extended caloric restriction.
My Goals for the Slow Carb Diet
The chapter tagline that promised the loss of 20 pounds in 30 days stuck out to me because that's in the ballpark of my overall fitness goal. While I don't want to weight 20 pounds less than I currently do, I would ideally like to lose 20 pounds of fat-weight while putting on 8-10 pounds of muscle-weight. That would get me near the shape that I was in at what I would consider my physical peak, and would set me up with a stronger foundation for further successes and subsequent wellness goals.
Challenges I Anticipate
Because the Slow-Carb diet will be a pretty significant lifestyle shift for me, I know that it's going to come with a few challenges. While some of these challenges will be more of a struggle than others, I don't think they'll derail me. I'm not going to say that I have the iron willpower needed to avoid all temptation, but I do know that when you can anticipate the challenges you will face, it's easier to put together a strategy for avoiding and overcoming them.
My job is very time-consuming and stressful, and I know that I have a tendency to eat in a rush so that I can use my lunch break as added working time rather than an actual break. To counteract this, I've prepped enough meals for the work week so that I can stick one in the microwave, warm it up, and go.
Traveling for Work
Not only does my work routine not lend itself to eating healthfully, but I'm also going to be traveling to my company's headquarters in about a week's time. As a result, I'm not going to have my prepped meals with me, and I'm going to be tempted by our office's beer garden, which has beers on tap and an abundance of snack food within reach. So, my plan is to (a) carry a large water bottle with me and keep it full constantly, and (c) buy easy-to-eat slow-carb foods like packaged tuna, nuts, and carrots that I can put in plastic baggies and carry with me around the office.
I'm quite close to my family, and eat many of my meals with them. Choosing one of my prepped Slow-Carb dinners over whatever my mom fixes will definitely be quite the task since she's a damn good cook, and as a Southern family, we're never shy on sauces, breading, and cheese. To avoid falling into this trap, I've explained the Slow-Carb diet to my family and have set the expectation that I'm going to only be eating my set meals. That way, even when I join them, we'll be on the same page that I won't be eating the same foods as them, and I'll request that they not even prepare a portion that would include me.
Holding Myself Accountable
My goal is to publish a blog post each week as a check-in to provide updates on how I'm doing and what challenges I've had to face and overcome. That being said, I also know from experience just how easy it is to not publish a blog post due to my schedule. So, I'm adding 10-15 minutes of journaling time to my mornings for just after I eat my breakfast.
Each morning I will (a) weight myself, (b) brew coffee and fix breakfast, (c) eat my breakfast, (d) make a brief journal entry.
Even if I don't publish a live blog post regarding my progress each week, keeping the journal will keep me on track. Plus, it will allow me to put my goals in writing on a daily basis, which will help solidify them and keep me accountable to them.
The next thirty days will certainly be interesting, and I'm curious to see the outcome!