My life long relationship with food

10 years ago, working in pubs, I had a reputation for eating huge amounts of rich and bizarre foods while being very skinny. Stuff like poutine pizza or a steak sandwich that was a literal steak between burger buns.

Naturally peeps were like oh how can you be so skinny eating like that? and I took it for granted that I just could.

But really it’s because I was an accidental anorexic. I’d eat nothing all day and then naturally crave the most high fat, high carb, most oversized meal by the evening at work. And then I’d have nothing but beer and Jameson for the rest of the night. So I was eating like 800 calories a day and drinking 800 more.

And that habit was built on the time before I drank and worked in bars when I was in school and I ate nothing. I’d wake up too late to eat breakfast or make any kind of lunch, plus I thought eating breakfast or especially making lunch was just too keener, so I’d eat nothing until dinner. I was probably eating 500 calories a day, which qualifies as starvation.

And that habit was built in early childhood where no one cared or noticed if I’d eaten at all. I’d inadvertently being living on soda for days because my body craved high energy foods and I couldn’t distinguish between sincere malnutrition and feeling like a pop.

The first time it was ever questioned was the final time I was in school mandated therapy and, after a lot of sessions talking about depression and authority and all that, my therapist just asked what have you eaten today?, it was like 5pm and I said nothing. When she finally understood that I meant literally-nothing not just nothing-special she was aghast and started thinking I was anorexic.

And she, when I was 17, was the first person to ever to imply there was some connection between how I felt and what I ate or to ask me to eat breakfast.

Which I did for the sole reason that I didn’t want her to think I was anorexic because that wasn’t my brand – I was rail thin and depressed and looking forward to being a heroin addict, sure, but anorexia was somehow extremely lame to me. Thank god, I guess?

Curiously I did wind up being an accidental anorexic again later when I went no carb. My normal eating pattern was fine, I was eating 3 meals and snacks and drinking beer so I was caloricly supporting my lifestyle no problem. Cut out sugar though… I went from eating huge burgers with buns and cheese and fries and soda to eating a burger patty in a bowl with a diced tomato, for example. From 800 calorie meals down to, like, 80.

After a few weeks of eating like that I did the math just out of down-time curiosity. I was living on 400 calories a day.

So that was the start of me eating tons. Try eating 3000 calories a day – just a ball park number for an ‘active’ person – and getting one gram of protein per pound of body weight and not eating carbs. It’s a mountain of food.

Which was kinda fun and then on the weekends we’d eat some big treat we’d looked forward to all week and that was awesome too. We, Liv and I, found our favourite restaurant by Googling best lasagna in Calgary and ending up at La Brezza. Fingers crossed they survive this era.

Being no carb and having designated cheat days turned into cheating just a little when I was tired or bored or someone offered me something.

Funny how I can be such a zealot and such an excuser – one day I was fasting, not a single calorie from going to bed thursday until waking up saturday and I went to a show where the band bought pizza for the whole crowd.I just laughed, not tempted in the slightest thinking when you do something bold the most amazing and surprising things will be thrown at you; yet months later it’s just I didn’t sleep well, better eat these doughnuts ’cause they’re here.

And all that brings me to now. I had a good thing going when I was working full time where I obviously had to eat breakfast before work and I obviously had to bring a lunch and I obviously planned a good dinner when I got home. But then not working full time – yet still working just a little – I could, on my days off, forget to eat or think I was doing myself a favour by fasting a bit until midday when I’d confuse a craving for mere calories with a desire to have a drink, and/or I’d wait to eat all day and then feel like only pizza would make me happy.

A complete myth. A wise man once said “How hungry you feel should dictate how soon you eat, not how much you eat.”

Nevertheless that’s my thoughts on my life long relationship with food, like all thing in life I feel a bit cheated that seemingly no one tried, or at least nothing did, get through to me about food and health. When you’re young and can just roll through anything on bravado you never make the connection between how you feel and what you’ve eaten – I still don’t honestly. I know it objectively like a cheat code. I was empty-stomached at work the other day when a shockingly rude customer came through and while I was deliberately calm during the interaction I saw myself spiraling up and up afterward. Alone in the store, telling myself the story of why I’m mad over and over again, just getting into a frenzy I was like Alastair, break the fast, have a snack and I bet you’ll notice you’re not as angry about this. Sure enough, by the time I got home and talked about how my day was I couldn’t find a tenth of the anger I had, it was merely a funny story like any other.

It’s a thing I know I need to check myself on daily – have I eaten my good foods? Eggs, sardines, my vitamins; or have I fucked up and tried to make myself feel good by eating bad? Which, you’ll notice, never works anyway.

Great Advice From Strange Sources

Good advice is everywhere if you keep your ears open.

Get Dressed

I first thought about about what I now know is called enclothed cognition when watching a documentary on phone sex workers.

A pro was coaching some noobs and she explained that some people might feel that because they’re working from home, over the phone, they could be in their sweats with no make-up and that’s the perk of the job but no, she said, get dressed, if you want to project sexiness you have to feel sexy so yes, you’re just lying around at home but put on the lingerie and the make up.

This is why I tell people the first step in fitness is buying a new outfit. Mentally put together a character of you-as-a-fitness-person and give them a costume. Yes, you can work out in old sweats and whatever but you know what? Then you’re just going to feel like you, in some old sweats. And when you’re mind projects onto other people what they might see if they look at you is just you, in some old sweats.

And if you felt all that good in old sweats you wouldn’t be starting a fitness journey.

Buy brand new clothes that look and feel good. When you see yourself you will see a fitness person. And possibly more powerfully, when you are seen or imagine being seen by others you will feel that they see a fitness person.

If you dress like a jogger, like you belong jogging, then you will much more easily feel that you belong jogging.

Or doing phone sex work, whatever.

 

Don’t Get Too Hungry

This seemed like counter-intuitive diet advice when I first heard it. I mean, isn’t dieting about being hungry all the time and merely controlling it with willpower? I naively thought…

But no, that just leads to beating yourself for not being miraculously strong, which leads to quitting, which leads to nihilism which leads to bingeing.

What made the advice stand out even more is that came not from a typical diet coach but from an eating disorder recovery specialist.

Stick to a schedule and it’ll keep your hormones balanced and emotions out of the eating equation, don’t let yourself get too hungry. Hungry isn’t good, don’t think that relying on will power is the only way to make an achievement real. Or as the kids say, don’t play life on hard mode for no reason.

Proscribing People Diet & Exercise (Without Being A Dick About It, Hopefully)

I know I wrote about this already this week but I had a memory today and it’s relevant.

When I was a kid I was given St. John’s Wart and told by my caregiver “We’re both going to take it for awhile, for our memory.”

It was a lie. I was depressed and this was being done with the good intention of fixing me. Which is extremely condescending, dis-empowering, disrespectful, and every other bad thing.

And as a depressed person and an internet person I also see millions of tweets like:

Me: *is extremely depressed*

Everyone: Just go for a walk!

Which I get but I’ve seen it so many times now I feel like it’s the depressed people being dicks at this point. But anyway…

What you never want to do as a role model – and if you’re into fitness and you’re recommending fitness to others with the hope of helping them that’s exactly what you’re being so cope – is give someone the impression they’re not good enough or that this is going to solve their problems.

Depression is real; stress is real; job loss and debt and rejection and existential crisis is real. If your only problem is you don’t exercise then yes, exercise will solve your problem otherwise you are going to have all the same problems.

But it’s like lifting weights – the weight is always going to be as heavy as it is, nothing turns 100 pounds into 75 pounds, but your footwear, your stance, your breathing, your nutrition, and a lot of other factors (like even music) will effect how heavy it feels.

If you were going for a really heavy lift and I thought you had poor shoes on, or like a single hiking boot, I’d get your attention and help you.

And so it is with life. You may be crushing under the weight of something and it isn’t going to change but you can be set up to lift it strong or you can be set up to lift it weak.

I can’t know exactly what you’re going through and nothing is going to magically make into one of the special people who doesn’t have that problem but I have lifted some serious shit in my time and I can at least help you with a form check and add to your base of strength.

 

I Don’t Count Calories But Sometimes It’s Important To Check

I don’t count calories and I don’t weigh myself as a matter of principal. I think those two metrics can be so drastically confused and manipulated that they’re valueless. Your weight is not your health and your calories is not your weight.

However… It is important to check on these things from time to time.

At the start of 2017 I was eating Ad Libitum – the fancy way of saying your diet is you eat whatever you want whenever you want. And I actually thought I was eating healthy because I didn’t – knowingly – eat sugar.

How bad is our nutritional education that at 33, and only because I bought Tim Ferris’ 4-hour body, I found out that bread is sugar; pasta is sugar; beer is sugar. I was drowning in sugar and getting extremely low protein. I was dying. I was shortening my life and destroying myself emotionally and I had no idea.

So I went no carb monday to friday. Kept eating whatever I was accustomed to and eliminated the carbs from each meal. The best example is: I was eating a lot of burgers – I’d eaten hamburgers almost everyday for a decade no joke. In 2016 I cut out the cheese and in 2017 I cut out the bun. So it was a burger bowl – a burger on a bed of vegetables like tomatoes and onions and shredded lettuce.

And I felt good, I was clearly losing fat, but primarily I felt like I was running clean – no post-meal sluggishness and bloating – and boy did I look forward to the weekend when we’d eat at liberty again.

Of course it got tougher and tougher to maintain. For reasons I don’t remember I found out how many calories I approximately should be eating with my 3 work outs a day and my active job – it was about 3500. Neat. So of course I had to do the math of what I was actually taking in (easy for those of us who eat the exact same things every day) and it was less than a thousand.

That’s a severe caloric deficit. That’s fasting according to some people. That’s dangerous crash-dieting according to doctors. All that bread, beer, and pasta was extremely high caloric and I had no idea but it was doing all the work of keeping me moving.

I learned to get more protein and fat and that exercising as much as I was there was no harm – and honestly benefit – to some daily carbs.

And that continued on it’s merry way until I found myself out of a job this year. I fell into a very strict dietary habit of eggs, sardines, Iron Vegan protein, pumpkin seeds, and squares of dark chocolate. All my bare minimum micro-nutrients met to maintain body and mind as far as I was concerned.

But of course I was getting more and more lethargic, seemingly depressed, and I was chalking it up to being out of work and becoming unsocialized. Until finally I was like I think I’m feeling faint, like I’m having a really hard time being mentally present at all when I’m doing anything.

Honestly my first thought was maybe it’s mercury poisoning. Because my mind is catastrophic and Tony Robbins has a story about how he was accidentally getting mercury poisoning but the first 23 (!) doctors he talked to told him he was merely getting old (I’m one of those people that’s like if 3 people call you a horse go buy a saddle and I can’t imagine refuting the consensus of over twenty people but in the end he wasn’t wrong so I think about it a lot).

But then of course it occurred to me to check how many calories I was actually getting in a day and it’s about 800.

It also explains why I was craving junk food and booze. I thought I was being undisciplined and self-pitying but fucking really it was my body screaming for the mere energy to survive.

So stay fed, my friends. Do your diet math today.

Motivation During The Holidays – I Doubt Very Much I Can Help You

It is barely the holiday season, really, but for me the tree has been up for two weeks and I’m sort of on holiday all the time anyway because I don’t have a job so I’m in the spirit.

And I actually really like the holidays – I have such a hard time relaxing most of the year but the lights, the smells, the cozy clothes of Christmas make me feel like yeah, I want to take it easy today.

The thing is I also really like working out and eating right.

So I’ve wound up bouncing back and forth unexpectedly – like the other day I had a healthy breakfast and did my marathon training then I was supposed to eat a meal, recover for a few hours, and do my strength training. Instead I had a beer then more beers then some cookies, played nostalgic video games then watched animated Christmas specials.

And the pie chart is I feel 20% guilty about it and 80% like hey, it’s the holidays, it’s what the holidays are for.

Because the truth is you can’t mess up a week’s progress in one day, you can’t mess up a month’s progress in a week, and you can’t mess up a year’s progress in a month. What matters is trending upwards over the long haul.

Where I think some will run into problems is if they typically view fitness as chore and exploit the holidays to take a break from it – ’cause you’re not getting back on track Monday, man, admit it. You’re gonna coast hard for a month and then at some point you’ll see your reflection (literally or metaphorically) and a lot of guilt and self-loathing is gonna hit you all at once. And that sucks. And all your positive habits will be broken and you’ll have to build up from scratch again with even less confidence you can be successful.

And the other side of that coin is the person so into their fitness they miss the holidays completely. Staying on-lock all the time and being a dick about your gains or your run-times or your energy or whatever makes you feel superior to friends and family who are merely having a good time and want you to join in.

I can’t say more because I honestly don’t know anyone like that – I don’t know anyone who under-indulges in anything – but I know they exist so if that’s you relax, take this time to dispel suspicion that you have an eating disorder. Or to maybe ask yourself if you have an eating disorder.

What matters is that you continue to not use exercise as a punishment. That’s the worst. If you’re having a big carby meal and bottles of wine don’t say I’ll work this off tomorrow or tell yourself it’s okay because you’ll do an extra class this week – it’s okay because it’s okay. It’s okay to eat and enjoy and celebrate. Then keep your gym schedule as normal and that should feel like a celebration too – body fueled up and mind relaxed.

How Eating For My Skin Saved My Life

I have bad skin.

That’s a phrase we all understand even though it’s really weird; because my skin is actually perfectly good in that’s it’s perfectly functional. It does all the things skin should do like protect my veins and muscles, regulate temperature, and filter toxins. When I say it’s bad we all know that means it’s not attractive. I have acne constantly. From 13 to 34 with no signs it’s going to ever truly clear up.

And my feeling that I could do something about it rather than merely suffer from it comes down to a friend who once said we wear what we eat instead of we are what we eat.

That little frame change made me think oh yeah, I should include and exclude foods based on their effect on my skin.

Even though I knew food effects things – things more important than skin included – I’d never thought of it the same as choosing to wear something. Choosing to wear something is a statement you want to make to the world about who you are. Even if you’re the kind of person who thinks I don’t care about that, I’ll wear pajama pants to the gas station you are making the statement that you’re the kind of person who wears pajama pants to the gas station. Which means we never have to listen to you about anything.

So with some Googling I formed a skin-friendly breakfast of bananas and walnuts; and I stopped including cheese in whatever I had for lunch like a burger or a wrap.

Such a simple thing but it represents a systematic shift in me. I ate like a nihilist before, I even made a video about it once.

See, people will answer the question why do you eat with the phrase I eat to live. Which isn’t true. Not only because people eat in a way that’s shortening their life in the long run but because it’s honestly not what they’re thinking. People eat to make hunger go away. Eating isn’t a pro, it’s an anti. It’s done to be anti-hunger, anti-boredom, whatever. That’s why people eat garbage, eating like nihilists, because nothing more than that matters.

And when I started picking foods for reasons other than hoping I’d enjoy them and not feel things, suddenly I thought about it more like equipping my body with the things it needs for the quests I undertake.

So when I was going through severe depression I figured I could deal with it the same way. I already understood that depression comes from neurotransmitters and neurotransmitters come from precursors in vitamins and minerals.

Meaning food.

And all it turned out to be was eggs, sardines, and expensive salt. Getting my daily dose of selenium, choline, zinc, and magnesium was the foundational change that gave me the emotional resilience to start getting up early, exercising, and looking forward to things in life that pulled me out of the depression.

And as I make sure I get all the foods – all the nutritional equipment – that I’ve prescribed myself it turns into a full day of eating where I don’t need much more but if I really want a treat in the evening occasionally that’s okay.

From Couch To Spartan Sprint – Exercise 2.2

Thou Shall Take Your Vitamins.

Which in this case means drinking things that taste like yard clippings.

 

The deeper spirit of Take Your Vitamins though is that most people get hung up on what they like and what you like is nowhere near the fucking point.

For one you can change what you like – people train themselves to like cigarettes and alcohol for years, they train so hard they seek professional help to untrain those cravings.

And second people never question if they really like something or if they merely want the absence of a craving. Let’s use soda as an example because it’s one I’m guilty of – I feel like having pop all the time. When the wanting comes up go ahead and get a soda. Then turn off everything. No video or TV, no music, no scrolling your phone, no nothing. And drink the soda.

Do you feel better? Do you feel the happiness that marketing and your dopamine system promised you? Probably not. You probably feel really underwhelmed and bored and kind of gross and you crave more distraction, because that’s all the soda really was.

You are actually suffering through the things you think you like and numbing it out with distraction.

…And if you’re willing to that for destructive things then go ahead and do it for constructive things. Like fiber shakes. Made from hemp.

From Couch To Spartan Sprint – Exercise 2.2

Taking your vitamins also means not taking in anti-nutrients.

The best way to do it is to fill your kitchen with healthy foods and nothing else. Having boiled eggs and roasted pumpkin seeds on hand is good and so is getting rid of the breads and pastas.

Now something I found by accident when I went low carb is you have to eat a lot more food. A typical hamburger (which was my typical lunch) is like 400 calories and that’s a solid lunch, if you take away the bun and put all the contents in a bowl like a salad (my typical low-carb lunch) it’s about 100 calories.

A muffin is 300 to 500 calories and no one is satisfied with a muffin for meal. It’s calorie-dense and nutrient-poor. It’s fuel and if you don’t burn it you wear it. Around your belly.

Whereas you can eat 5 eggs and be full for a long time while benefiting from the protein, the fats, and the choline and still be under that many calories. So don’t be afraid that you’re eating too much when you’re low carb and you’re training – because it’s almost impossible.

From Couch To Spartan Sprint – Exercise 2

Operation Take Your Vitamins Motherfucker.

So the goal is to get Omega 3s, Glucosamine, and Collagen into your diet to deal with soreness, inflammation, and mobility issues. Healthy joints are safe joints and vice versa.

These micro-nutrients tend to run in a pack, foods with one usually the others, like in eggs and sardines. 3 eggs also has a day’s supply of choline for your brain health as well.

I buy seven cans of sardines in spring water a week (They cost a buck sixty at SuperStore) and everyday drain one, pour on some olive oil and rosemary and eat it out of the can with a spoon. Spartan.

Nuts and seeds are a great healthy choice. I keep roasted pumpkin seeds on hand and have a handful whenever I go through the kitchen. Any grocery store has bulk bins of nuts and seeds so go to town and find what you like, just not peanuts.

Now the thing with Omega 3s in particular is they need to be in a ratio to your Omega 6s. The good ratio is always written up as 1:1 or 1:4, and the common ratio in a typical diet is 1:30 or 1:60 or 1:youregonnafuckingdie. So if you eat a lot of grains and other carbs you may want to supplement your Omega 3 intake or just cut down on those carbs.

Instead get your carbs from cooked vegetables (from raw vegetables you don’t absorb much nutrition) so stir fry is your friend. Whatever oil you use keep it under it’s smoking point because I don’t want you to get cancer.

With all that said you should still expect to be sore at first, there’s no short cut to adaptation, we’re just preventing injury as best we can. Better to put the effort in preventing it than recovering from it. But you’re still going to have aches and pains and the only thing you can do is be mindful of the difference.

Starting out exercise is going to feel uncomfortable and you have learn to recognize what’s the good stress of work being done and what’s the bad stress of an injury creeping in.

Muscle soreness isn’t an injury and even if it’s insanely bad it’ll recover with no intervention and eventually you’ll adapt and it’ll stop happening. Joint pain is bad period. Don’t be a tough guy and fight through the pain, this isn’t about being mentally tough and sacrificing the body, that’s comes later, this is about adapting. We’re boiling a frog here, don’t turn up the heat too fast.

Nate from The Run Experience is always saying you gotta earn your miles. You don’t just step out the door and run 26 miles because you’d wreck yourself for zero benefit. You gotta earn that with smaller, shorter, safer runs.

Well I’m saying you gotta earn your Spartan. And you earn it by doing the truly hard part of putting your ego in check. There’s no epic slow-motion highlight reel of dudes taking collagen and glucosamine every morning for a year before stepping into the ring but they all do it.

How Working Out Can Get Harder As You Get Smarter

So yesterday I wrote about my suspicion that caffeine pills make me feel ill during workouts and what I might try going forward.

Last night, so I wouldn’t forget, I cut a pill in half and left it out for myself.

And I dutifully took it, waited what I thought the time between ingestion and work-out was yesterday and started swinging my warm up kettlebell.

Then, mentally frozen, I stopped. I haven’t eaten anything… I thought. Then the flood – what did I eat yesterday before the work out, I know I got a lot less sleep today than yesterday, and I’m not doing the same work out…

This is a terrible experiment.

Working out when you’re a noob is so easy, you just do it. All of the sudden it’s I didn’t eat a banana and 3 supplements 51 minutes ago, the work out is ruined!

You can go down so many dietary and exercise rabbit holes that you feel like everything could be fatally wrong. Like this meme, you vibe it.

this meme

The important thing to remember is to generally be going in the right direction and don’t get hurt and you’ll be better off at the end of each year than you were at the start. Don’t try to be optimal at everything all the time, no one thing will kill you.

Do experiment, do investigate, do immerse yourself in the knowledge and discussion even if it’s not your sport but ultimately remember that you’re searching for what’s best for you – not the official best thing in the world.

But also it wouldn’t kill me to track what I eat while intending to do a deliberate self-experiment.