Tag: diet

Get The Most Out of Summer

Now that summer is here, the days are incredibly long where I live (it was light out at 4:40 a.m. here this morning, and it will stay light until well after 9:00 p.m.). It’s true that I get less sleep in the summer, but all of that daylight energizes me and makes me want to get the most out of every sun-filled minute. To help me do that, I try to stick to a few habits in the summertime. I thought I’d share those habits with you today.

Rise and Rest With the Sun
Admittedly, this can be tough to do for the first few days, but when I do align my sleep cycle with the sun, I feel amazing! The best part – getting all of my work for the day done before noon.

Eat Seasonal Treats
To me, nothing symbolizes summer more than roaming the aisles at my local farmer’s market, filling a couple of canvas bags with whatever looks irresistible, and then planning a week’s-worth of healthy meals using those fresh, local finds. Well, except maybe biking to my local ice cream shop and ordering a hand-scooped vegan cone. These are the things I’ll dream about longingly come February.

Enjoy Summer Sippers
In the summertime, I like to turn hydration into a creative experiment. My go-to favorite is the fruit or citrus spritzer: squeeze 1/4 of a citrus fruit or muddle a few fresh berries in the bottom of a tall glass, add ice, fill with bubbly water, stir and enjoy. If you’re so inclined, you can make this into a light cocktail by adding half an ounce of any clear liquor, but it tastes so good on its own, you won’t miss the extra calories if you leave that part out.

Make Errands an Adventure
All summer long, I like to take every opportunity to get outside. This means that I hardly drive anywhere, opting to walk or bike instead if at all possible. I invested in a simple rack and a couple of nice panniers (saddle bags) for my bike a few years ago, and they allow me to use pedal power rather than petrol for just about anything I need to do.

Take Your Workouts to the Park
My gym membership doesn’t get as much use during the summer because I try to exercise outdoors at least three or four days per week. Jogging, hiking, cycling and bodyweight exercises in the park are my go-to workouts from May to October. At least once a week, I try to get out of the city and immerse myself in nature, which is as beneficial for my mental health as it is for my body.

What summertime rituals do you have? Share them with the WCL community on our Facebook page.


Newsflash: Everything You Know About Protein is Wrong

Proteinaholic I’ve been a personal trainer for eight years and in that time, I’ve seen a lot of diet and exercise trends come and go. While most trends catch fire for a few months and then enjoy maybe a year or two of waning popularity, there’s one trend that’s been around much longer than I’ve been a fitness professional, and that trend is protein.

A quick scan of blogpost titles, best seller lists, and packaged food boxes will confirm protein’s unrivaled celebrity. Indeed, protein is considered by many to be the most important nutrient in our diet. I used to be one of the people who believed that.

In my book, Reboot Your Body, I advocated for a higher protein diet as one of several healthy alternatives for people who want to lose weight. Paradoxically, at the same time I was writing that section of my book, I was telling other clients to load up on protein if they wanted to bulk up.

The irony of that never hit me until I read Proteinaholic, by Garth Davis, MD and Howard Jacobson, PhD.

I’ve read many books and studies and seen several great documentaries all saying that our societal love of protein has been misplaced, but this book was different. This book really changed my mind.

Protein Does Not Lead to Weight Loss

For starters, Dr. Davis is a prominent weight loss surgeon. If there’s any one “fact” about protein that is universally accepted above all others, it’s that high-protein diets lead to weight loss, yet here was an expert in the field telling us otherwise. That got my attention right away, but it was Davis’ personal story that finally made me question what I had thought of as indisputable truths about protein.

In the first few chapters of the book, Davis recounts his personal struggles with keeping weight off in his 30’s, which culminated in a health scare when his optometrist told him she could see cholesterol in the capillaries of his eyeballs during a routine eye exam. Dr. Davis was also unhappy about the number of boomerang patients he was seeing – ones who had initially lost weight after surgery, but had gained back most or all of the weight over time. This prompted him to learn everything he could about diet and weight loss (surprisingly, not something most weight loss doctors are taught in medical school), so he began reading any bit of research he could find.

A few months in, Davis started to see a pattern emerge, so he decided to test a theory out on himself – he switched to a plant-based diet, just to see what would happen. He lost weight, felt amazing and his health markers improved dramatically. But he wasn’t convinced that this was something that would work for everyone, so before he started advocating a plant-based diet to his patients, he did more research. The further he dug, the more convinced he became, until the evidence was so overwhelming, he changed the basis of his medical practice and began writing Proteinaholic. While he still performs surgery on patients who have no other option, he now works very hard to intervene long before they get to that point. His intervention strategy is based on the strong recommendation that patients adopt a plant-based diet.

But What About…?

Everything Davis and Jacobson wrote made perfect sense to me, but there was still that voice in the back of my head, the one that said, “But what about…?”

But I’m very active, so what about getting enough protein to build muscle?
But I’m getting older, so aren’t my protein needs higher?
But I’m already vegan, so don’t I need to worry about getting enough protein?

Dr. Davis addressed all of those questions in his book. His answer? “You’re already getting more than you need.”

I was shocked to learn that the US RDA for protein is only 46 grams per day for women and 56 grams per day for men, regardless of age. Active individuals may need to bump those levels up a bit, but results from scientific studies on that subject are actually mixed.

At the very most, it appears that athletes and adults over 65 may benefit from getting somewhere around 1.0 – 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight. If I could call myself an athlete, that would put my own daily requirement somewhere around 65 grams of protein per day, while a 200-pound bodybuilder would need no more than 110 grams per day. That number – 110 grams – is right around the average amount of protein most American men consume every single day. How many of them are 200-pound body builders, I wonder?

Every Food Manufacturer’s Best Friend

A quick google search yielded dozens of articles, many published by and for the food industry, all confirming one thing: Americans are crazy about protein. Manufacturers know they can get a significant boost in product sales by changing nothing other than putting the word “protein” somewhere on the product label. Most consumers do, in fact, seek out foods with higher protein content, whether it’s good for them or not.

As it turns out, it’s not.

Too Much Protein Is Bad For Your Health

In their book, Davis and Jacobson cite nearly 700 sources backing the assertion that consuming too much protein leads to obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers. Last month I had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Davis in an interview I conducted for NextAvenue. What struck me most was the honest conviction with which he spoke. Here was a doctor who stood to lose business if people followed his advice, and yet he was eager to answer any question I put to him. He genuinely wanted to help me understand the truth behind our widespread, misguided beliefs.

In the weeks ahead, I’ll follow up with a few posts elaborating on some of the specific topics Dr. Davis and I talked about, but for now, I will say this: Three years ago, I switched to a vegan diet for ethical reasons, and nearly every day I worried about whether I was getting enough protein. After reading Proteinaholic, I don’t worry about myself any more. Now I worry about everyone else.

Winding Down My Crazy Diet Experiment

It’s only been two solid weeks on the elimination diet, but already I’ve let a lot of things back in. The only things that have stayed resolutely out have been caffeine, alcohol, gluten and oranges. I’ve also only had soy on one occasion, and haven’t had any added sugar except what’s in the chocolate I’ve been eating after dinner. Generally, I’ve been sleeping better and my workouts have been more energized, but I still feel that afternoon lag nearly every day.

Ever the experimenter, I’ll continue tweaking things until I hit upon a diet and sleep routine that makes me feel like I’m 25 again (actually, I hope to feel a lot better than I did when I was 25, because I certainly didn’t eat very healthfully back then). I know it’s possible, because I’ve been close before. Interestingly, the best I’ve felt in a few years was when I did a 3-day liquid diet consisting of vegetable blends and soups. I’m toying with the idea now of going raw for a week or so, just to see what that does.

It’s important to note that I don’t intend for any of this to be permanent. Rather, I’ll use what I learn to make small adjustments going forward. That’s the goal of every “crazy” experimental diet I ever do. What I’ve learned so far on this one is that there are dozens or hundreds of delicious meals that can be made with absolutely no processed ingredients and no added sugar of any kind. We’ve even come up with a delicious dessert made entirely of Medjool dates, almonds and coconut oil.

I’m giving the experiment one more full week and then I’ll relax it a little or change it up. I’ll let you know at the end what new healthy habits I take away from it. Bon appetit!

Elimination Diet Update

Diet It’s been a full week since I started the elimination diet, and I’ve had my ups and downs. On the one hand, I’ve been surprised at how well I’ve been eating and how seldom I’ve experienced any cravings, but on the other hand, I’m looking forward to bringing a few things back into my diet sooner rather than later.

While I’ve been fine without alcohol and gluten and even soy, I miss tomatoes, peppers and oranges. Caffeine, I’ve found has been hard to give up in a different way.

Prior to starting the diet, I was only drinking about 12 ounces of caffeinated coffee each day. I would occasionally have a cup of black, green or white tea in the early afternoon, but that would have amounted to a “high-caffeine” day for me. Yet I suffered from serious withdrawal headaches for the first three days on the diet, and milder, more short-lived headaches through day five. It surprised me that caffeine would have such an effect on me. It makes me wonder if I’ll go back to it at all after the diet trial is over.

Sugar has been tough to leave out, not so much for the cravings, as for the role it plays as an ingredient in things like salad dressings and sauces. I have been eating lots of fresh fruit for dessert, and more dried fruit than usual (which I’m not even sure is strictly allowed on the diet, but I couldn’t find anything saying one way or the other).

The most disappointing thing is that so far, I haven’t noticed any big changes. I feel well enough, but my energy levels are pretty much the same. I still experience an afternoon lag and my workouts have been mediocre. I have noticed a slight improvement to the quality of my sleep. I’ve slept for five hours straight without waking up the past two nights in a row, which is about 90 minutes longer than usual. So far, that extra sleep hasn’t translated to extra daytime energy, but it’s a positive sign, so I’ll stick with the elimination phase of the diet a bit longer to see if that turns around.

I should mention that a few days before I started the diet I also started the first run streak I’ve ever attempted – running every single day for a stretch of days. I’m supposed to tough it out for the month of January, and I suppose I will. Perhaps starting these two unusual challenges at the same time wasn’t the wisest decision, but I’m keeping the runs short and easy, so hopefully that isn’t interfering too much with the diet experiment.

I’ll check in again in a week or so, when I may or may not be eating tomatoes, peppers and oranges again. So far, I’d have to say that embarking on an elimination diet without having a specific list of foods to exclude, provided by medical testing, feels a bit haphazard, and I don’t know that it’s worth the bother. Then again, my “symptoms” are not really symptoms at all. Those experiencing real health concerns should probably feel very differently. After all, this is a completely risk-free way to determine potential dietary triggers for a variety of symptoms. How great would it be if you could just stop eating or drinking something and experience relief, rather than have to take prescription medication for the rest of your life?

My Elimination Diet Experiment

Diet Today marks the official end of my holiday season, and with it comes the end of bad eating. This holiday season was better than most for me, but there were still a lot more cookies than I’d care to admit to. As I often do at this time of year, I’m shoring up my eating habits. But this January I’m trying something I’ve never done before: an elimination diet.

For those not familiar, an elimination diet consists of two phases: In the Restriction Phase, I’ll cut out many categories of foods that could be causing adverse reactions in my body for a set period of time. Then, during the Challenge Phase, I’ll slowly bring them back one by one, monitoring how each one makes me feel. The idea is to identify those foods or classes of food that might be causing trouble. The purported conditions that may be affected by diet ranges from low energy, to digestive issues, to a compromised immune system, to neurological dysfunction and many more. While there isn’t much scientific evidence supporting a cause-and-effect relationship between certain foods and certain maladies, there many studies that show a correlation between foods or food compounds and various conditions. An elimination diet is a relatively easy and safe way for individuals to rule out food as the cause of a certain condition either before seeking medical screening or testing, or after medical testing has failed to produce any results.

I’ve decided to try it out because, although I eat a pretty healthy diet, I don’t always feel as energetic as I’d like. My doctor and I already ruled out any nutritional deficiency with blood work last year, so I’m hypothesizing that my low energy levels could be due to either poor sleep quality, or perhaps to something I’m eating that my body doesn’t like. Over the next month, I aim to find out.

I’m using the list found here (pages 4 and 5) as a general guideline, but of course, I won’t eat any animal protein, since I follow a vegan diet. I’m also cherry picking a bit from other elimination diet lists I’ve found that will allow me to eat all fruit except for oranges and orange juice.

The diet is quite restrictive, in terms of what it cuts out, but one thing I noticed when looking at the list is that if one is accustomed to eating a whole food, plant-based diet, this is actually pretty similar. I can load up on pseudo grains (quinoa, millet and amaranth), beans, lentils, nuts and seeds and have almost all the fruits and vegetables my heart desires. The toughest part for me will be abstaining from nightshade fruits and vegetables – tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and potatoes. It makes me a little nervous: I love tomatoes and peppers, but what if they don’t love me?

I’ll check in every few days with a post update to let you know how it’s going. So far, I’ve made it through breakfast and lunch and I feel quite well. We’ll see how I’m holding up in four or five days, though.

Vegan On Vacation

stone-dam-waterfall This post is coming to you live from the beautiful island of Kauai! I’ve been here for four days already and I have to say that I’m pretty impressed with how healthy I’ve been eating. I owe this almost entirely to the fact that this is the first time I’ve committed to eating 100% vegan on vacation. In the past, I’ve used vacation as an excuse to stray from my plant-based diet, but this time I wanted to see what my experience would like be if I didn’t make those excuses. The verdict: I have not felt like I’ve had to sacrifice once!

It’s been an interesting experiment. I’ve been making very different food choices than I normally would, especially here in Hawaii (which I visit relatively frequently because my wife is from here and my in-laws live here). I love fresh fish, and especially sushi and sashimi, and you can’t get any better than here on the islands. That used to be a usual vacation “cheat” for me, and while it’s not unhealthy (assuming low mercury levels), it’s certainly not a humane food choice. So I’ve been saying no to fish this time around, and I haven’t missed it.

Cheese is another usual vacation cheat for me, largely because it comes on virtually everything that doesn’t have meat. It’s easy to eat vegetarian almost anywhere in the world today, but eating vegan is another story. Cheese was one of the hardest things for me to give up, but at this point I don’t miss it at all, so it’s easy (and much healthier) for me to just ask the kitchen to leave the cheese off.

Eggs are another temptation for me in Hawaii, and particularly on Kauai because of the chickens. For some reason, the island is overrun with chickens – there are literally tens of thousands of them running around wild everywhere. This means that a lot of people keep hens in their yard and have fresh eggs all the time. My sister-in-law is one such person. These eggs are delicious, and they come from hens that are seemingly well-treated, so this should be a no-brainer, right? But I wonder about the entire life-cycle of these hens (where did they come from as chicks; what happens to the male chicks, etc.) so it’s just been easier for me to skip the eggs. So far…

Instead of eating fish and cheese and eggs, I’ve been doubling down on fresh Hawaiian fruits: mangoes, papaya, pineapple, lychee; and Laura and I have been hitting the local farmer’s markets and health food stores to choose ingredients for simple but delicious meals we’ve been cooking here in our little bungalow. At a local restaurant the other night I enjoyed a dinner of roasted olives; gazpacho made from fresh, local ingredients; and the most unusual bruschetta I’ve ever had: a roasted, whole tomato was submerged in the most delicious balsamic and fresh-herb brine and served up in a bowl with fresh-baked bread on the side. The bread wasn’t very healthy, I’m sure, but hey – I’m on vacation!