In the first article I gave some simple rules of thumb as a way to get out of the metaphoric swamp of poor diet and inactivity. I made a choice to start this way because I want to underline the point that you get to decide what you do to begin to navigate out of the sticky and unhealthy situation.
In this article I want to point out tools that you may find useful. These tools include some more heuristics about food, movement and a way to gauge speed or distance in this metaphoric landscape.
Once you actually start to travel it is likely you will begin to notice that others have made their way out of the swamp before you. They have left traces, paths, tracks. If you follow one of these paths it is quite likely you come across a fellow traveler, and it can be heartening to travel with companions.
What you eat
As far as food is concerned there are a few heuristics that I like. The first is simply the paleo idea, to eat only what our pre-agricultural ancestors would have eaten, or foods that are close to it.
A second idea is to distinguish food from edible food like substances (thanks Frank Forencich for this distinction). What’s the difference? A food is a carrot, a fish or something that a 19th century farmer would recognize as food. Industrial cheese slices buried in plastic – probably an edible food like substance, along with all kinds of confectionery, chips/crisps, breakfast cereals. Much as the food industry would argue otherwise pizza is not a vegetable, nor is ketchup and fruit juice is mostly sugar in water – avoid!
Another way to think of it, if you couldn’t reasonably cook or prepare something at home from base ingredients DON’T EAT IT!
This assumes that you have some idea how to cook. If you do not know how to cook, I’d consider it a basic life skill, it will help you begin to appreciate different foods and make choices that can help keep you healthy.
A third heuristic that I think memorable simple and applicable is the Crossfit dietary prescription.
“In plain language, base your diet on garden vegetables, especially greens, lean meats, nuts and seeds, little starch, and no sugar. That’s about as simple as we can get. Many have observed that keeping your grocery cart to the perimeter of the grocery store while avoiding the aisles is a great way to protect your health. Food is perishable. The stuff with long shelf life is all suspect. If you follow these simple guidelines you will benefit from nearly all that can be achieved through nutrition.”
You do not need the latest ‘super foods’ to eat well. Generally the best foods require the least processing, packaging or advertising. Ever seen an advert for carrots? No? That’s because the food industry makes profit by using a combination of cheap chemical ingredient and flavoring combined with processing to make stuff it can package. Industrial food is flavored to be push primitive brain buttons, not to actually be nutritious.
Junk food is a bit like porn or soap operas. These two staples of modern media hook into the parts of our brain wired for social interaction/belonging and reproduction/attraction, but nobody passed on their genes wanking into a tissue, or met the partner of their dreams watching a soap – still the part of the brain that ‘recognises’ good mating material does not care. This is known as a supernormal stimulus. Silicone breast enhancement is a similar rip off – breasts are attractive essentially because the capacity to lactate is pretty useful to bring up kids (that is very much an over simplification of secondary sex characteristics), but ‘enhanced’ breasts are considerably worse at lactation.
Am I suggesting that when you next get tempted by junk food you imagine you are about to bite into silicone cushion wrapped in some used tissues? I wouldn’t be so revolting, would I?….I explained how the ‘fitness’ and ‘beauty’ industries are more concerned with profit than health or happiness. Guess what, the agro-food industry is generally more concerned with profit than nutrition. Unless you are a lawyer suing a farmer for having had their crops contaminated by their copyrighted genes, Monsanto is not your friend. Real food does not need flavouring or additives nor are they enhanced by liberally applied synthetic biocides.
A long time ago I used to smoke. One of the factors that helped me stop was rage. I realized that the tobacco industry had not only been lying about its products for decades, knowing full well the disease they caused, they also had been intimidating scientists and buying politicians. There was no way I wanted to fund that kind of scumbag company, and remembering this helped me to stop smoking.
The agro-food industry does the same kind of things, skewing science, adding sugar, replacing nutrition for ‘flavour’, pressuring politicians, bullying small farmers. Public opinion is beginning to wake up to it.
I think a sense of justice is one of those innate human qualities. If justice is important to you, consider how it applies to the food you eat.
If you have been raised on hamburgers, fries, fried chicken and other edible food like substances it might be a little bit of a leap to start eating well all at once, and especially if that’s all the people around you eat.
So use the easiest heuristic I explained last time. Phase junk out and reasonable food in. Take one category of shit food and stop it. Then stop another, and another until your meals are pretty good.
Other tips and tactics that can help include emptying your house and kitchen of the worst foods. We all know what it’s like to find yourself hungry and tired and reach for the easiest (which may be what you are most used to) snack. Make sure what’s easiest is also pretty good.
I also recommend cheat days, at least to start with. One day a week give yourself permission to eat all the junk you want. To start with you may gorge yourself, but after a while your tastes will probably change. What attracted you before will begin to repel you more and more. After a while you will not want to cheat at all, you will appreciate that delicious and healthy go together far more naturally than delicious and junk.
I wrote about this some time ago here.
Organics and vegetarian food deserves a mention. As far as I know there is little scientific evidence showing organic food is better for you. Without starting to question the science, which I could, I will say that I think the greatest reason to eat organic and vegetarian is social rather than personal. Organic food can annoy me too – often overhyped and overpriced, used as a marketing gimmick. The best stuff comes in plain paper bags direct from local farms (actually the best comes from your garden, or allotment, window box if you are lucky enough to have one).
We definitely know that farmers and the ecosystem are harmed by pesticides and heavy fertilizer run offs, and meat requires great amounts of resources to produce. Cutting down on meat and buying more organic may not make you healthier, but it does make the world a nicer place.
Before I sign off on this topic you may notice that I have not talked about diets, or calories. That’s on purpose. If you have not read the preceding article about the ‘fitness’ ‘beauty’ and ‘diet’ industries it explains why.
Educate yourself about cooking, educate yourself about food, avoid fad diets and super foods, look at what traditional people ate for generations – that will probably be more useful than the latest research. Once you follow a basically sound diet as in the Crossfit one described above then start tweaking and narrowing down to what works best for you.
Wait weight wait weight wait – no way
While I’m talking about food I’ll go on to mention it’s absurd associate, weight. Body weight is easy to measure, so it gets measured a lot, and because it is a poor measure that encourages confusion and obsession the diet peddlers love it.
Loss is a concept that human beings do not like. Gain is something we tend to have a more positive attitude to. It is a losing strategy to think of food in terms of loss. C’mon where else in your life do you want to lose? So stop thinking about weight loss, about losing pounds or stone or kilos. You want to to think of loss? Think of health loss whenever you get tempted by some edible food like substance. Don’t think of weight gain either, consider what health gain might involve or life gain.
The only reasons to weigh yourself that I can think of are to be in the category you want for a sporting competition and to see if you can make the scales change by imagining that you are made of feathers. Go along with it if a doctor asks you too.
Actually you can weigh your self from time to time. Weekly is ok, monthly is better. I weighed myself for a while, and found that my weight could change 3kg from morning to evening (I weigh about 70kg) from the hours of martial arts practice I’d put in through the day. Did that give me any useful measure of body composition? No. It just gave me lots of noisy data. You can use weight as a measure, as a sign of progress, just don’t make it the only one. How clothes fit is a more useful measure, along with how energetic you feel (though you can expect big fluctuations in what you feel when you change your food habits – Paleo is hard to start with or a lot of people, then gets easier after days or weeks).
What counts is whether your body changes, whether your shape changes, whether you move more easily, whether you feel more alive. Not so easy to measure, but far more interesting.
- Educate yourself – learn more about food and cooking
- Eat food, not edible food like substances
- Apply the easiest heuristic – phase things out a bit at a time
- Remove temptation from your kitchen
- It’s not just about you – use your sense of justice for motivation
- Use cheat days – it’s not about guilt it’s about contrast and learning new habits
- Don’t frame in terms of weight loss – health gain will probably have a better effect
- Movement vs exercise
- Some movements and shapes to start with
- Listening to your body
- A quick review of movement communities/groups