For the past five to ten years, maybe even longer by now, I have been fiddling with different “diets” to see what works for me and which ones have the highest likelihood that I’ll stick with it longer than a week or two.
The biggest dietary change, which I have been able to internalize very well, was learning how destructive highly processed foods were and what a large percentage of my daily caloric input was actually made up of “food” that I would now be embarrassed to have in my house.
Once I set myself straight and realized that fast food restaurants were out, along with the daily consumption of crackers, bread, ice cream, cereal, packaged snacks and the like, then it was time to really figure out what that means each and every day.
Do I think that I’d ever want to give up bread or ice cream forever in order to hopefully live a cleaner healthier life? Nope, not a realistic option. At the same time, do I want to gain a little weight each and every year and become physically impaired and unhealthy by the time I might expect to become a grandparent? Again, a big no.
Eating the very foods that I know, on an intellectual level, are no good for me brings me a certain amount of joy. The actual act of eating a chocolate eclair or fresh bread out of the oven I find to be delightful. In addition, I very much enjoy cooking for my friends and family, and I don’t like to feel too constrained when hosting a dinner party. The smiles and compliments I receive when pulling fresh dinner rolls out of the oven when my relatives are visiting means that I am going to continue to cheat and eat bread, and dessert, at least every now and then.
But I also realize it can’t all be dinner rolls and cake either! I enjoy being physically fit and capable of walking without pain, running and playing sports if and when I choose to. Which means I must balance two seemingly exclusionary ideas in my life at the same time.
First, I can’t eat everything I want, whenever I want to eat it. If I do so, and I’ve tried this in the past, I will gain weight. A lot. And quickly! And Secondly, I need to leave room in my diet where I can eat whatever I want, whenever I want to eat it, if I am going to have any realistic chance at long term success.
As a high school and college athlete, I grew up accustomed to eating as much as I wanted, as often as I wanted, with zero negative consequences. When my mid to late 20’s rolled around, I was easily 20-30 pounds heavier than I was just five to 10 years earlier, hitting 200 on the scale. At that point, I realized a few changes were needed!
So I checked out a few different approaches to eating. At the same time, I took a few cooking classes. The cooking classes won. I learned how to make fresh bread, and fresh pasta. Both delicious, but seriously, is it any wonder I packed on a few pounds?
I never dabbled in veganism or vegetarianism, and I can’t imagine I ever will, but in the years since I first hit 200 on the scale, I have probably read about or tried just about every other “diet” or approach to eating that you can think of.
And here’s what I’ve ended up with, as I approach 50 years old, and almost 15 years removed from 200 lbs.
I have combined my favorite parts of Tim Ferriss’ Slow Carb Diet made famous in his 4-Hour Body book, with parts of Intermittent Fasting, plus a few rules for myself, and have found a working diet in which I can easily lose weight when needed and still allow myself the freedom to eat literally whatever I want, any time of day, as long as that day is Saturday!
First, here are Tim’s basic rules for his Slow Carb Diet, you’ll notice that highly refined foods are nowhere to be found…
- Avoid white starchy carbohydrates
- Eat the same meals over and over (and over and over)
- Don’t drink your calories
- Don’t eat fruit
- Take one day off each week and eat whatever you want
And just as quickly, here are my complaints with this approach…
- I don’t like eating the same meal over and over
- I still like to have a coffee with cream and sugar
- I like fruit
- There are no constraints on how much food to eat
That last item is my biggest concern, and resembles the issue I’ve had with many dietary approaches in the past. It’s great if I clean up my diet and eat only the healthiest of foods, but if I still shovel down 3000 calories a day, and then sit on my butt without visiting a gym every now and then, guess what? I’m going to gain weight!
I need some kind of control in place, to protect me from myself. And measuring everything out to the gram is not the approach I’m looking for. I don’t want to have to carry a scale with me at every meal, to cross reference a macro-nutrient table to figure out if I am eating appropriately. I want a fairly reliable system that just feels right and that gets the job done.
Which led me to the fairly cheesy website of Brad Pilon, where I first read about intermittent fasting. He’s completely shredded and looks great, but I didn’t really buy what he was selling, until years after first reading his articles. A few days each week, he barely eats, maybe 500-600 calories all day, and the other days, he eats like a champ. Fun to read, but I didn’t see how that would apply to my life. And I made sure it didn’t, for years and years.
There are many different varieties of intermittent fasting, but they all boil down to this… you restrict the number of hours in the day that you allow yourself to eat, with the idea that over time, maybe over each week, you eat fewer calories than you burn, and you end up losing some weight. So basically, eat less, ok, yeah, I’ve heard that one before.
But there’s more to intermittent fasting. It turns out that many studies, or at least many people reporting on many studies, have written about how restricted eating actually leads to many health benefits, such as longevity, mental clarity, stress resistance and insulin stability, all good things in my book!
From what I can tell, most folks start with fasting overnight, to give themselves a head start, and then continue into the day. For instance, quit eating at 8:00 pm in the evening, and don’t eat until lunch at noon or 1:00 the next day. But of course, there are show offs who like to push it even further, and eat within only a four hour window each day or skip entire days, or two days, with nothing but water or tea to drink!
At this point in my life, not eating for a full day, or two, has very little appeal. But holding off on a meal until lunch sounds very reasonable, and has been pretty easy to incorporate into my daily routine. I may still go for a coffee in the morning a few days each week, but without sugar, using monk fruit as my sweetener of choice, and just a little bit of milk or half and half.
Doesn’t the dairy count as calories, which means I’m not literally fasting anymore? Yes it does. But not by much, so it’s good enough for me. And when I want to be stricter, it is fairly easy to skip the coffee, and conform to a true fast until I decide to eat a meal.
When lunch time rolls around, I borrow one of Tim’s Slow Carb Diet rules and try to eat meals I’ve had before. Not because eating the same meal repeatedly is healthier for me, but rather because I know I won’t overeat if I choose only restaurants that provide portion control as part of their menu.
For me, that means that I alternate between Chipotle, or something similar, and a taco stand. In both cases, I skip the tortillas, and end up with a meal consisting of protein, guacamole and whatever salsas I’m in the mood for.
After lunch, I sometimes diverge from Tim’s rules with a piece of fruit in the middle of the afternoon, either an apple or plum, or now that I’ve moved to Texas, maybe even a mango. But sometimes I don’t, again, it’s all about how strict I want to be on any given day or week.
Lately I’ve been cooking at home six nights a week, with dinner out on Saturday nights. At home, we avoid breads and grains, and focus on having a quality protein with two or three vegetable options each night. But each night is different, I am ill suited to cooking, or eating, the same dinner night after night.
For example, a somewhat typical dinner might entail blackened fish, probably a local black drum, fresh guacamole, roasted squash, arugula or some other greens, and an avocado oil vinaigrette that I made earlier in the week.
And then no dessert. Well, no sugar desserts. In a departure from the Low Carb Diet, I sometimes have a piece of fruit in the evening if I didn’t have any that afternoon. But that’s it. No eating again until lunch the next day.
To summarize, here are my completely made up rules for my Intermittent Fasting And Slow Carb Diet Mashup:
- I don’t eat between 8:00 pm and noon the following day, usually
- An occassional coffee is ok in the morning with limited cream and sweeteners
- Medium sized lunch, quality protein and veggies, no processed food
- One piece of fruit each day if desired, two if I’m really hungry and my weight is ok
- Medium sized dinner, quality protein and veggies, no processed food
- Feeling hungry before meals is a good sign
- Weigh myself frequently and adjust food quantities as needed
- On the 7th day of each week, eat whatever I want. Literally.
I know some people don’t believe me when I say that I eat whatever I want on Saturdays, but it’s true. I do not eat to the point of physical pain or being (too) uncomfortable, but I certainly eat more on Saturday than any day of the week, and it’s not even close.
To give you a better idea, let me give you an idea of what this past Saturday looked like. First, I got up in the morning, took my dog for a walk to Starbuck’s and got a cold brew coffee with some half and half and sugar. And a glazed doughnut. For real.
For lunch, my wife and I went to Taco Deli, a local favorite, and I ordered two breakfast tacos, with the tortillas, and their pozole soup, which is always delicious. In the middle of the afternoon, I visited Common Bond, a local bakery and ordered that individual chocolate cake pictured earlier in this post, and ate the whole thing, by myself. I also had a latte.
For dinner, we took my son out, who was home from college for a few days, to an Italian restaurant walking distance from our house. I had a cocktail, or two, mushroom risotto appetizer, a tomato salad, a bowl of pasta, and then creme brulee for dessert. Yes, I was a little past full, but I wasn’t in pain and completely disgusted with myself, so I’ll chalk that one up as a win.
Now for the warnings! Get ready when you step on the scale, you will see some wild fluctuations with this style of eating if you decide to try it out. Saturday, Sunday and Monday will all be scary days on the scale. By they time Tuesday rolls around, for me at least, I will have lost most of the weight I gained with my crazy Saturday eating, and the rest of the week will be spent trying to either maintain my weight or lose an extra pound or so.
Real life examples? Sure thing! This past Saturday, after waking up and using the bathroom, I stepped on the scale at 171 pounds. Saturday night, that was up to 176.5! Sunday morning was 175, a little water retention going on from eating so many carbs! Sunday night was 175.8. Monday’s readings were 173.5 in the morning and 175 at night. Tuesday morning was 173 and in the evening, 173.8, down almost three pounds already from Saturday night.
By the time Saturday morning rolls around, I will likely weigh in at 170 or 171, give or take a little, and be ready for another full day of eating!