Ask a hundred healthy people what the perfect diet looks like, and you’re likely to get a pretty wide variety of answers. There’s a fair amount of seemingly conflicting science and a huge level of subjectivity in the “healthy eating” space. In my journey, I’ve come to two non-negotiables:
- I have to like what I eat (it has to taste good to me – again, “tastes good” is highly subjective)
- It has to provide energy. Any diet that robs me of energy or clarity just doesn’t work.
With that in mind, I’m not a fan of the no carb diets. I’ve tried several. I need some carbs (my go to is whole grain bread) to keep my energy level up. And I can’t do the lengthy fasting (I’ve tried those too) for the same reason: food intake provides the energy that I need (or at the very least, that I feel like I need).
While I feel like I need the carbs, I’ve seen the biggest benefit (in terms of both mind and body) by cutting out the bulk of sugars and processed foods from my diet. As you’ll see below, my diet is largely void of unnatural sugars, and almost completely void of processed food. When we bought our house it had a huge pantry. That is used more for storage than for food these days… In its place, a second refrigerator: we need lots of fridge space to eat the way that we do!
While we can debate what to eat and why, I think we can all agree that developing healthy eating habits has more to do with discipline than food. It often has as much to do with quantity as quality. For me, it has far more to do with emotion than science.
In my journey, I’ve been most positively influenced by a simple book called What to Eat When by Michael F. Roizen, MD and Michael Crupain, MD. If you’d like to read the book, I highly recommend it. I can also share with you the two core principles that I took from it and have employed in my everyday life in under 25 words:
- Eat when the sun is up (or better put: don’t eat when the sun is down)
- Front load your calories.
Front load your calories? Simply put: eat a bigger breakfast (with lots of protein) than is typical. Eat a fairly typical lunch. And eat a much smaller dinner than is typical (think 25% of your current regular supper). It makes good sense: you’ve got all day to use (and burn off) the energy consumed at breakfast. Most of us have just a few hours (often of inactivity) between dinner and bedtime.
Admittedly, this was the hardest part for me initially. Like many of you, I assume, I regularly ate large dinners. I didn’t just eat until I was full: if the meal was to my liking, I took pride in emptying my plate. And, like most, I was a fan of the evening snack. So I figured this would be a difficult transition. And for the first several nights, it was. I would stare longingly at what would typically be the “rest” of my dinner. Then an hour or so later, I would feel hungry. I had an overwhelming urge to eat.
But I forced myself to go to bed. And you know what blew my mind? I’d go to bed feeling like I was starving. And then I’d wake up and not be hungry. What seemed odd to me is now obvious. I wasn’t hungry. I just wanted to eat. I had a craving. And I was so conditioned to eating in the evening that it felt unnatural not to. Yet, 7 hours later when I awoke, I was fine drinking my celery juice and Athletic Greens and going to the gym – with energy for a solid workout or run! I didn’t need those late night calories. I just wanted them. Once I became aware of that, those cravings were much easier to deal with.
In addition to the three regular meals, I personally try to incorporate at least two snacks a day between the core meals. I do this for three reasons: 1.) it makes me less hungry at meal time (so it’s easier to find the discipline to eat a smaller quantity). 2.) it helps to speed up my metabolism (simply because I’m eating more often). And 3.) I feel like it keeps my energy level more consistent throughout the day: there’s no lapse from being hungry and there’s no lull from being overly full.
I like consistency. I guess that’s the bracket racer coming out in me! I’m very much a creature of habit and I truly enjoy a regular routine. This was a theme that I stole from Tim Ferriss’s 4-Hour Body, as it applies to meals: consistency. For the most part, I eat the same things each day. I do this for two reasons: First, I really like the meals that I’ve developed. And second (probably more importantly), they’re easy and convenient for me. I don’t need to think “What can I do for a healthy breakfast today?” Instead, I typically just make the same thing I did yesterday. My breakfasts are really consistent. My snacks are typically as well. I’m a little less consistent with lunch. I have about 3-5 go-to’s, and I’ll often mix in some leftovers here… which is a hidden benefit to eating smaller portions at dinner! And then we typically use dinner as family time, and as any of you who have a family know, everyone usually wants something a little different. So there’s plenty of variety there!
Another idea that What to Eat When emphasizes is that there’s really no value in stereotyping our food. It’s OK to eat eggs for dinner. Just like it’s OK to eat fish for breakfast.
With those principles in mind, my “perfect” day looks something like this. Notice, I said “perfect.” While this template is my guide and I abide by it 90+% of the time, I’m far from perfect in my eating habits. Like I said in the opening blog of this sequence, the day after perfect is far more important than the perfect day. Grace trumps perfection and a willingness to develop the skill of beginning again is crucial! Within this daily schedule, I’ll also note some of the highlights from last week’s What to Drink entry, just so you can get a better idea of where they fit into my day.
5:30 AM: Celery Juice.
6:00 AM: Athletic Greens
7:30 AM: My go to breakfast consists of:
- A salmon burger
- An egg white vegetable frittata (I vary the veggies, but the one pictured has spinach, tomatoes, bell peppers and black olives)
- 1 slice of avocado toast on whole grain bread
8:00 AM: Amped Hydrate
10:00 AM: Snack – my go-to here lately has been a Perfect Bar. The peanut butter and dark chocolate is my favorite!
Noon: Lunch – most typically a salad (spinach, cucumbers, olives, jicama, carrots, broccoli, bell peppers, tomatoes, etc.). But I’ll often have a sandwich (chicken or turkey on whole grain bread; I like to toast the bread) with some carrots, broccoli, and hummus. Or leftovers from the previous night’s dinner.
2:30: Snack – my go-to here is a bowl of almonds and blueberries.
6:00: A sensible dinner, but a smaller portion than you’re probably used to (in What to Eat When they actually recommend a dinner portion that’s only about ¼ of what most American’s actually consume).
Along with lots of water throughout the day of course.