Just Keep it Simple, Steve.

I’ve been dragging my feet on this first post because with 30+ years of practice under my belt, I’ve got this whole procrastination thing down to a science.  And I don’t believe laziness has ever been the culprit, rather a tendency to overthink things.  Those of you who know me well might accuse me of not thinking enough.  However, like most Americans who are inundated with information – some of which is credible, most of which is conceptual marketing – I spend way too much time thinking and not enough time doing.  To be fair, this more accurately describes my former self, eighty-five-pounds heavier and so depressed I couldn’t figure out where to begin.  THAT plunge into something new was radical; writing about what my wife and I are doing shouldn’t be.  So as time passes and I struggle to come up with a reason for sharing our stories and philosophies, I’ve landed on the concept of simplicity, something that was so far removed from my previous lifestyle that I was on the precipice of giving up.

When I was overweight, no one said a thing to me.  Well, my grandmother would congratulate my wife on a good job feeding me, but for the most part, all of the abuse was self-manufactured.  People are genuinely shocked when they learn how miserable I felt.  Now things are different.  I’ve spent the past four years gradually eliminating the standard American toxins, alcohol, saturated fat, and animal protein from my lifestyle, I’ve achieved a level of fitness and well-being that surpasses that of my high school and collegiate athletic career, and I’m in love with everything about my life; the 4:00 AM runs with a lamp on my head and the yoga that follows, our daily family breakfasts, listening to Jackson sing as I drive him to school on a full belly at 6:15 AM, my 7:00 AM swim practices where my athletes arrive to a chilly pool having just left their dreams (they’re usually not as excited to see me), the second breakfast that follows practice, the recruits from all over the world who choose to interact with me, my athletic and academic colleagues who are always willing to share their ideas (it doesn’t hurt to have an institution’s nutrition department at my disposal), an occasional second run, lunch #1, lunch #2, practice #2, a quick dinner before driving home to my beautiful family around 6:00 PM, perhaps a recruiting call on the way, bath, book, and bedtime with my son, dessert and an hour of mindless television with my wife, a little pre-bed yoga, and an 8:30 PM bedtime are all things that excite me these days.  But as if I’m lacking the energy to get all of this done on a daily basis, I’ve been on the receiving end of more (nutritional) interventions than Charlie Sheen.  It’s odd, isn’t it?  I get it; it’s a hallmark of today’s society.  When weight is the issue, it’s never the only issue, and it’s tough to broach the subject.  But there were times when I thought I was going to be held down and force-fed a bacon cheeseburger.  For the most part, people have adjusted to my new appearance and lifestyle.  In fact, my athletes are often eager to discuss nutrition with me these days and they do not live in fear of someone challenging their own concepts of nutrition.  Here are some of the typical questions and comments a plant-based fella might hear.

  • Steve, you look great! But it’s not your plant-based diet; it’s the running.
  • Are you okay, Steve? Have you thought about being tested for HIV?
  • You’re TOO skinny, Steve, and it’s probably because you don’t get enough protein.
  • Coach, I see it’s working for you. What can I eat more or less of?
  • Have you considered taking an iron supplement?
  • How are you going to raise a child without giving him milk and eggs? Where will he get his calcium protein?  What will he eat at parties?

Here are the rapid-fire answers, all of which I’ll get into with depth as we update our blog.

Yes, it is the plant-based lifestyle (I’m averaging about 27 minutes of cardio each day), no AIDS to report at this time, protein levels are in the ideal range according to blood tests, you can eat more starches, veggies, and fruits, you can eat less meat, dairy, eggs, fish, and processed food, supplements are largely unregulated, overrated, and unnecessary, and our child eats food (hope they have some of that stuff at parties).

It’s this simple – If you want to be healthy, trim, and fit, eat more food.

But here’s where we’ve complicated things.  We’re no longer able to identify food.  We’ve lost track of the most appropriate foods for human beings, starches, vegetables, and fruits.  Yes, I know – “starch” is a nasty word these days.  So keeping in mind I’ll expound upon all of this in future posts, starches are barley, buckwheat, corn, millet, oats, rice, rye, wheat, wild rice, legumes like beans, lentils, and peas, starchy vegetables like carrots, parsnips, potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squashes, and yes, even pastas and breads.

I don’t think we were meant to sit down at a table to order a macronutrient, micronutrient, or a vitamin; we eat food because we need energy.  The cleanest energy source available to human beings also happens to be inexpensive, abundantly available, delicious, easy to prepare, and the food choice of every large, healthy population in human history – starch.

Because I’d like nothing more than to see others avoid my own mistakes, I’d like to share some of the ideas that may shape future posts and some of the simple things that work for me and my family.  I’d also like to hear from people because while the research is mounting overwhelmingly in favor of a plant-based diet over the standard American diet, there is still quite a bit of confusion.

Food is a package deal.  Choose the right package.

If you want to be healthy, trim, and fit, eat more food.  Specifically, eat plant-based foods – starches, veggies, and fruits.  There is no way to eat animal-based foods without consuming protein, saturated fats, cholesterol, dietary acid, and methionine in excess, all of which contribute to major health issues.  Heart disease is the number-one killer in the United States and it’s totally preventable on a plant-based diet.  Not only do we not need to succumb to heart disease, but Nathan Pritikin and Dean Ornish have both proven that we can reverse heart disease simply by prescribing a plant-based diet to patients.  No more meat, dairy, and eggs?  No more heart disease.  In every population study, we see instances of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, dementia, colitis, kidney stones, acne, and a host of other chronic diseases decrease where meat consumption is less prevalent.  Yes, genes do play a role, but it’s a smaller role than we think.  Those genes need to be expressed and we now know that nutrition plays a major role.  Our genes will load the gun.  Our lifestyles will pull the trigger.

“The fat you eat is the fat you wear.” –Dr. John McDougall

If you don’t think that’s accurate, check out current statistics.  68% of American adults are overweight and more than one-third are obese, and we eat more meat and consume more dairy than any other industrialized country (we also spend more on health care per capita than any other industrialized nation).  Fat is the metabolic dollar our bodies utilize during famine.  When consumed, we wear it as body fat with the surplus being stored in the liver, heart, and muscles which facilitates insulin resistance, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and stimulates cancer growth.

Eliminate decision fatigue and improve athletic performance by keeping it simple.

I’ll elaborate on this concept quite a bit in future posts, but here’s what I mean.  Animal-based foods offer no known advantage over plant-based foods.  In fact, all of the research points to populations living longer with less chronic disease when consuming a diet higher in rice, corn, potatoes, and legumes.  All of these choices are inexpensive, simple to prepare, and make perfect bases to just about any meal concept.  By spending just a few hours on a Saturday or Sunday preparing sauces, veggies, and toppings to be added to the starches, we’ll have every meal for the week packaged and ready to go.  No deliberating over dinners and lunches, no poor restaurant choices because we’re hungry, and here’s the kicker – no inflammation after workouts.  When I first eliminated eggs and diary from my diet, I discovered that I could run at greater volumes on less recovery time.  My 70-mile weeks turned into 80-mile, 90-mile, and 100-mile weeks, all while working a full-time job and raising a child, and my first race after eliminating animal foods entirely from my diet was an ultramarathon.  While I’ve decided to cut back on my running volume these days (still at my ultramarathon weight), my wife is now running more, recovering faster (something she used to struggle with), and eating all of the starch-based foods she wants.  Based on what we’ve discovered in our research and in our own experience, I also believe a starch-based diet is ideal for athletes.  Higher in fiber, antioxidants, and all of the nutrients human beings require without any of the baggage, power and endurance athletes alike will experience less inflammation, more energy, and better rates of recovery.  I’m proud to announce that my good friends in the West Chester University nutrition department will be running a plant-based workshop with our swimmers during the winter break.  How cool is that?

I’m looking forward to sharing stories and photos from the plant-based workshop, our family experiences, and some thoughts along the way.  Perhaps the coolest thing for myself is that I get to approach this wearing a few different hats: husband, father, coach, and athlete.  I’m especially pumped to hear from others.  If you are considering a plant-based diet, have any questions, or if you are local and have mastered this whole plant-based thing, feel free to reach out and say hello.

Happy Thanksgiving (load up on the side dishes)!

Choose Happy,

-Steve

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