I was listening to someone talk about how the food we put in our bodies is essentially a drug. I think that’s a bit extreme, but the comparison was made to prove a point. Drugs cause a chemical reaction, a physiological change in the body, but you don’t really look at food that way, do you?
Food looks good. It tastes good. And even if for only a short time, it makes you feel good. That feeling, no matter how short-lived, is often more about comfort, reward, and connection than what it does to and for our bodies. It comforts because it reminds you of simple, happy times, perhaps with loved ones or when you didn’t have so much to worry about. It’s a reward because, well, you worked damn hard, and you deserve it! And for the longest time, food has been something that helps us connect with each other. You sit down with some delicious food, some friends, some family, and all of a sudden your guard is down, your stresses fade away, and you eat and talk to your heart’s content, right? I mean, they don’t say eat, drink, and be merry for nothing.
The thing is, though, what we put in affects what we get out. It’s not what you do once in a while on Thanksgiving that makes the biggest changes. It’s what you’re doing day in and day out that’s going to affect how you look, feel, and perform in every aspect of your life. I’m no doctor or nutritionist, but from what I’ve read and experienced, if you’re smart about what you eat most of the time, you can enjoy the foods you love without having to worry about the typical bad side effects.
But with so much information out there and so many different diets, how do you know what’s going to work for you? First, consult your doctor. Get the appropriate tests done so you know where you’re at, and follow their advice. Your doctor will likely have a good variety of tests to help you gauge where you’re at, where you want to go and your progress along the way. You could also look into performance tests like the Performance and Wellness Panel at Denver Sports Recovery which I took and discussed in a bonus episode with Dr. Matt Reddy and Nutritionist Stephanie Morish.
“The best way to think about blood testing is this: it’s like paying attention to your check-engine light instead of waiting for smoke to shoot out of the hood.” ~Ben Greenfield
As they say, what get measured gets managed, and these tests will help you track important markers like hormone levels and inflammation among others. Experiment to see what works for you. Take note of how you feel when you eat certain foods, paying attention to quantities, the time of day, and even how certain food combinations make you feel.
Your Guide to Popular Diets
For most of us, staying healthy is a constant challenge that is made all the more complicated by the fact that we are surrounded by food that is both terrible for us and delicious. Thankfully, however, there are ways to get around this fact, and that’s by following a diet and exercise regimen to help shed pounds and live a longer, healthier life.
But how do you know which diet plan is right for you? There are so many out there, each with various rules and routines that you have to follow. Fortunately, we are going to dive into five such diets right now, meaning that you should be able to find one that meets your needs and will help you get your body back on track.
This is one of the more popular diets of recent memory, with people from all walks of life swearing by it and saying that it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to them. The idea of this diet is to remove all modern ingredients from your food, including preservatives, processed foods, and some animal by-products. If eating like a caveman sounds appealing to you, then this diet could be a fantastic option.
So what all can you eat on the Paleo Diet? Because it’s all about removing foods that didn’t exist thousands of years ago, how can you be sure that you’re following it correctly? Well, while this isn’t a complete list of dietary restrictions, this should give you an idea of what’s involved with Paleo.
What to Eat
- Grass fed beef, all natural organic meats
- Fish and seafood that has not been farmed
- Fresh fruits and veggies (organic)
- Eggs that come from free-range chickens
- Nuts and seeds
- Healthy oils, such as olive, walnut, and flaxseed oil
What NOT to Eat
- Cereals and grains
- Legumes, such as peanuts
- Dairy products (including goat milk)
- Refined sugar
- Processed foods with artificial ingredients
- Refined vegetable oils
So, as you can see, you are limited to eating whole foods that are not processed at all or treated by modern standards.
The main purpose of the Paleo Diet is to get rid of everything that is not natural and revert yourself into a healthy, hunter/gatherer state. Modern science has shown that fats, sugars, and artificial ingredients can have lasting negative health effects, so going on Paleo means that you don’t have to worry about any of that.
So what can you expect as a result of following this diet? You will lose weight, your body will feel better, and you will recover faster from workouts and strenuous activity. Also, you will have much better blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and blood lipids than you did before. Essentially, this diet will reset your body to be as natural as possible.
It can be incredibly difficult to find non-processed foods, and the ones that you do find will be much more expensive than ones that have artificial ingredients and preservatives. Overall, going on the Paleo Diet means that you will have to plan your meals better and you will have to spend more time and money finding foods and cooking them.
Fortunately, because Paleo is becoming more popular, there are a variety of stores that make it easy to get started and will ensure that you are following the program to a T. Also, some restaurants are serving Paleo-friendly meals, which means that you can skip cooking for a night or two without worrying about going off the wagon.
How to Start
The biggest change when starting Paleo is that you have to give up grains and dairy. If that sounds incredibly difficult, then start by doing Paleo a few times a week, until you can manage to avoid bread and grains altogether.
A great source of Paleo foods is farmers markets, and usually, you can buy ingredients for much less than you would at a grocery store. If you don’t have access to a farmer’s market, then start paying attention to foods that you can find at the supermarket that will be Paleo-approved. Once you have developed a list, then you can start to incorporate them into your diet, until you have fully transferred over. Overall, the best thing you can do is start slowly and not rush into anything.
If you’re familiar with Atkins at all, then you know that a lot of diets will tell you to limit the amount of carbs that you consume as a way to lose weight (including Paleo). While that can help, cutting out carbohydrates completely can be a drastic change, which means that most people are likely to stop doing it after some time.
So, with the Slow-Carb Diet, you’re avoiding most foods that have carbs, but you’re not removing them entirely. While this diet is a bit more complex than others, it can have a lot of benefits for your health.
The idea of this diet is to remove as much processed food, sugar, and dairy as possible. However, what makes this plan much more appealing is that you can take one cheat day to eat whatever you want, meaning that you don’t feel like you’re starving yourself or anything. Here is a list of foods to eat and avoid. As for the “what to eat” list, you can have as much of these foods as you want so that you don’t feel hungry.
What to Eat
- Egg whites or organic, free range eggs
- Chicken breast or thigh
- Black beans
- Grass-fed beef
- Natural pork
- Pinto beans
- Red beans
- Broccoli or cauliflower
- Sauerkraut or Kimchee
- Green Beans
What NOT to Eat
- Refined sugar
- Processed foods
- Complex carbs (grains)
With regard to avoiding fruits, tomatoes and avocados are okay in moderation, as is red wine. However, try to drink as much water as possible on this diet to help boost your body’s metabolism. Another key strategy of this diet is to eat immediately after waking up so as to jumpstart your day. As for the cheat day, it is built into this diet, so don’t think that it’s something you should avoid.
The main purpose of this diet is to promote weight loss, but there are some physiological benefits as well. Following this regimen will help you reduce your cholesterol levels and can contribute to lessening the chance of developing diabetes.
The biggest challenge with this diet is that you have to eat specific foods. Unlike Paleo, which gives you more of a broad option when it comes to dieting, this method has a particular list of ingredients. That being said, as long as you keep them on hand all the time, you should be able to follow through just fine.
Another problem with the Slow-Carb Diet is that it can be hard to find qualifying foods when eating out. Also, taking one cheat day can be a slippery slope for some people, so make sure that you’re only taking one day out of the week and not letting it snowball.
How to Start
The best way to get started on this diet is to stock up on the ingredients that are listed above. Once you’ve done that, then it’s a matter of changing your eating habits. Avoiding sugar can be remarkably hard for some people, so don’t rush it if that sounds like something you won’t be able to follow right away.
Another thing that is great about this diet is that you can eat as much of the approved foods as you want, meaning that you don’t have to count calories or make sure that you’re not overeating. To help ensure that you feel full, eat a lot of veggies and legumes with your meals, as these will provide the most long-term satisfaction.
Other tips to help you stay on track include repeating meals as often as possible (for convenience), eating slowly to ensure that you don’t get too full, and eating first thing in the morning to boost your metabolism.
For many years, one ingredient was demonized more than anything else as a surefire way to gain weight and be unhealthy. Fat has gotten a bad reputation over time, but it’s not entirely deserved. In fact, new research suggests that it’s sugar and complex carbs that have more of an impact on your health and weight, meaning that fat is not your enemy.
Such is the idea behind this diet, which is designed to be low in carbohydrates and high in fat. While that may seem like a bad idea, it actually works well at helping you lose weight.
The name of this diet derives from the term “ketogenesis,” which is when your body is burning fat for energy rather than carbs. When you enter ketogenesis, the pounds will melt away as your body will burn them off rapidly, meaning that you can see incredible results as soon as you get to that point.
So how does this all work? Essentially, you should be getting sixty-five to seventy-five percent of your daily calories from fat, and the rest from fresh organic vegetables and whole foods. Here is what you can and can’t eat on this diet.
What to Eat
- Grass-fed, organic meat
- Fish that hasn’t been farmed
- Free-range eggs
- Any non-starchy veggies (like potatoes)
- Whole dairy products (avoid fat-free versions)
- Natural oils and meat fats
- Limited berries
- Water, coffee, and unsweetened tea
- Condiments without any added sugar
- Meat broths
- Pickles and other fermented foods
- Seeds and nuts
What NOT to Eat
- Sugar (refined or otherwise)
- Starches and grains
- Complex carbohydrates
- Legumes (beans and peanuts)
- Vegetable or seed oils
Overall, the point is to get as many whole foods as you can, but as long as your diet doesn’t come with any excess salt or sugar, you can eat a lot of different things. That’s one of the benefits of this diet, is that you can indulge in high-fat ingredients while still losing weight.
The main goal of the Ketogenic Diet is to burn off fat, but there are some other primary benefits as well, including lower cholesterol, reduced blood sugar and insulin levels, a decrease in appetite, and more energy.
Some studies into this meal plan have also shown that the diet can help reduce your risk of cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and even epilepsy. While that doesn’t mean that this program can cure those conditions, it will help your body avoid them in the future.
One common setback that people encounter with this diet is what’s known as the “Keto Flu.” It happens when you first start the program as your body is not getting the electrolytes and sugars that it craves. To help mitigate this problem, you can add more salt into your diet, as long as you reduce it over time.
Symptoms of the Keto Flu include fatigue, headaches, irritability, and nausea. It should go away after a few days, but if it doesn’t then you might have to stop the diet for a while until you can figure out a way to avoid it in the future.
How to Start
One of the other selling points of this diet is that it is a temporary program that lasts only fourteen days. While that doesn’t mean that you should do it once and then be done with it, it does make it a lot easier to stick to the regimen, knowing that it will come to an end.
The best way to get started is to figure out a diet plan for all fourteen days and then stick to it as much as possible. After you’re finished with the program, then it’s important that you continue to reduce your sugar and grain intake, as this will help you keep off the weight that you lost.
So far, we’ve seen diet plans that emphasize what you eat over how often you do it. In fact, most of these plans actively encourage you to eat as much as you want whenever you want, as long as you’re not stuffing your face full of the “wrong kinds” of food.
However, this next plan is completely different in that it focuses on when you eat more than anything else. In fact, depending on the method you choose, you can eat as you would normally, as long as you get your fasts in between feeding times.
Multiple programs follow the Intermittent Fasting Method, so it’s important that you find one that is right for you. The most common system is to fast for up to sixteen hours a day, and then eat for the remaining eight hours. So, does that mean that you’re stuffing your face all that time? Obviously not, but it does mean that you are limited to when you can eat, and it’s imperative that you stick to the plan regardless of how hungry you are.
The premise of Intermittent Fasting is that by following this program, you are ultimately reducing your caloric intake overall, meaning that you can lose weight. Some plans require that you follow dietary guidelines, while others don’t have any restrictions on food. Here are five Intermittent Fasting Methods that you can follow.
This is the plan we mentioned above, where you fast for fourteen or sixteen hours and then eat during the remaining eight. Most people choose to skip breakfast and eat during the middle of the day, as it is much easier to do for the long term.
#2 Eat Stop Eat
In this case, you will fast for up to twenty-four hours at a time, once or twice a week. The idea is that because you are skipping whole days of eating, your caloric intake will be significantly reduced. The best way to try this plan is to go as long as possible without eating, and then try to extend it next time. So, if you can’t go more than fourteen hours without eating, then start there and build to twenty-four hour fasting periods.
The other important thing to remember is not to overload when coming out of the fast, as that will cause metabolic problems and could result in fatigue or weakness. Once you’re past your twenty-four hour period, then go back to eating as normal.
#3 The Warrior Diet
In this plan, you will be fasting twenty hours a day and then be eating one big meal at night. While you are technically fasting, in this case, you are reducing your food intake throughout the day, meaning that you can snack on fruits or veggies at certain times. The downside of this plan is that you have to follow a strict diet, which will vary depending on where you get it.
#4 Fat Loss Forever
This is a proprietary diet that you have to follow, but the idea is that you combine all of the different methods that we’ve seen so far, and include a cheat day where you can eat whatever you want. After the cheat day, you will fast for thirty-six hours (brutal), and the rest of the week will be a mixture of skipping whole days and fasting for preset periods.
#5 Up Day, Down Day
This is another easy method to follow, as it works by forcing you to eat scant amounts one day and then eat regularly the next. On your “down days,” you should be eating one fifth of your normal caloric intake, which means that you can have about four to five hundred calories total.
The idea behind Intermittent Fasting is to lose weight and become leaner. Overall, depending on the specific program you use, you can also reap other rewards such as lower blood sugar, lower cholesterol, and optimized hormone levels, but the main purpose is to help you shed pounds, period.
It should go without saying that fasting for long periods can be hard for some people, especially if the plan requires you to go for a whole day without eating. Thankfully, though, because the exact eating plans are not specified, you can avoid calorie counting or removing food from your diet, as you’re paying more attention to when you eat rather than what you eat. Many debate if anything other than water will break your fast. Personally, I find a little caffeine and BCAAs to be helpful, especially for the first few days. The BCAAs help me if I’m feeling light-headed, getting tired or having cravings, and one serving’s usually around twenty calories and next to no sugar. I’ll often find Trace Minerals post workout on sale at Sprouts or Whole Foods. Xtend’s a great one too.
This last diet focuses mainly on elimination and combinations.
The Conscious Cleanse is a step-by-step, 14-day program that will teach you how to detoxify and heal your body, discover what food makes you feel the best and what food might actually be giving you problems. The idea is to help you fuel your body in a way that’s best for you and that will help you get the most out of the food you eat and the life you’re living.
The basic principles are: eat whole foods that exist in nature; Eat raw and living foods; Eat clean; Eat when you’re hungry; Eat foods you like and keep it simple.
What to Eat
- Collard greens
- Dandelion greens
- Swiss/Rainbow Chard
- Beet greens
- Romaine lettuce
- Adzuki beans
- Black-eyed peas
- Black beans
- Split peas
- Brussel Sprouts
- Wild Mushrooms
- Brazil Nuts
- Pumpkin seeds
- Avocado oil
- Coconut oil
- Olive oil
- Apple Cider vinegar
- Balsamic vinegar
- Red wine vinegar
- Buffalo or Bison
- Wild game
- Cold water fish (wild salmon, cod, halibut)
- Free range chicken, turkey, and duck
Ok, there’s more, but that should be a good start for you. More important is the food combination and what not to eat.
What NOT to Eat
- Beef and Pork
I cried a little for those last two. There’s a recommended 5 day pre-cleanse that will help ease you into it. My advice, don’t skip it. Specifically for the coffee, I went down to one cup, then switched to decaf and tea, then herbal tea which helped a ton. And the list continues…
- Nightshades (potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers)
- Vegetable, bean and seed oils
- Wheat and gluten products
- Yeast ( and yeasted products like brewer’s yeast, kombucha, and some fermented foods
- Proteins combine with veggies
- Grains combine with veggies
- Avoid proteins and grains in the same meal
- Examples of vegetable proteins include beans, nuts, and seeds. (Choose beans or nuts/seeds, not both.)
- Try to eat more vegetables that fruit by a ratio of 3:1.
This isn’t about a quick fix. It’s designed to educate you so you can make smarter choices for years to come. I felt almost like the fog had cleared in some respects. I’m not going around telling people I’m gluten intolerant or anything. But it does tend to give me some pretty bad gas and keep me up at night from time to time. What I loved the most was that feeling of getting energy from one cup of coffee, and knowing what foods were making me sluggish and which ones helped me focus.
It sucks going without some of your favorite foods or drinks like chocolate and coffee for me. I love a good beer and a steak but the former was much harder to give up. Just know that it’s probably going to suck for the first few days. You’ll likely be cranky, tired and generally unmotivated and unpleasant to be around.
How to Start
You’re eliminating stimulants, potential allergens, and toxins so that your body can heal, reset, and perform more like it should. Again, ween yourself off of your biggest vices in those first 5 pre-cleanse days. Head over to ConsciousCleanse.com to check out their different programs, FAQs, and tips. The Conscious Cleanse Book is a great resource for recipes and suggestions too. Remember that it’s only 14 days. After that, you’ll be slowly reintroducing certain foods like coffee, eggs, and dairy back into your diet. For instance, day 15 you might have a cup of coffee (and if you’re like me, that’s going to seem like the best coffee ever. Enjoy it!). Day 16 is only CC approved foods. Day 17 you might try eggs. Day 18, only CC approved foods and so on. The idea is to feel how the food makes you feel and whether or not you actually like it and do well on it. You might discover you’ve had an allergy to something and not even have known it. Ideally, you would stick to your own version of the CC diet and have those naughty foods a little less often.
Meal Delivery and Meal Prep
Understanding these diets is one thing but sticking to them can be another all together. Life gets in the way, you get stressed or in a hurry, and all of a sudden you get off track. First, don’t beat yourself up. Just get back on track asap. You don’t have to be perfect. Just do your best to be consistent. Consider cooking your food for the week ahead on Sundays. This way you don’t have to think about it, and you’re relying less on willpower. I love crockpot meals, simple, slow-cooked and delicious. Something else that’s becoming more and more popular is meal delivery. Check out some locals: Caveman Chefs, Progressive Paleo, Real Food Ready, and Ready Fit Go.
Have you ever struggled with eating? What’s helped you int the past? Leave a comment below or reach out on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.
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I’ll talk to ya again soon. Until then, get out there. Have some fun and Explore Your Fitness.
Here’s to your health!