I’ve had a lot of questions from people on how I got to where I am with diet and nutrition. This is a really long post, over 3000 words. I have people ask me how I did what I did often. I never am able to tell them properly. Now I can direct them here if they are inclined to try. Thanks to my darling wife who sent me the following article which prompted me to finally write all this down. Link to article on food myths. (The formatting is a bit weird, it’s a 14 page article. Find the next button to continue reading)
Eating the way we currently do on the farm isn’t something that I’ve always done. Growing up I had the best steak dinner in the world most Saturday nights (it was family night at our house growing up) the rest of of the nights growing up were as often a TV dinner as anything else. Processed convenience foods were the staple of our household and whatever was quickest and easiest is what was served. The times when my mother would make something homemade, I would complain mightily and never let her hear the end of it till pizza was ordered in defeat (sound familiar to any moms?) In addition to that poor start, my mother went on every fad diet the came and went from the 70s till I turned 16 in 1988 and I started feeding myself by going out for meals breakfast lunch and dinner. I was more than thankful to go out since I could have all the McDonalds that I wanted. During high school it was fast food 1-2 times per day and the same on into college, except now the McDonalds super sized value meal was washed down with cheap beer. If a nutrition class was offered in my major, I’d have changed majors.
Fortunately while in college I discovered that girls like to eat food cooked by a man who knows how. One day while shopping for something I stumbled across this book. With a tongue planted firmly in cheek, the cookbook was laid out from appetizers to breakfast (in that order) and had chapters and cartoon drawings on helpful things like cleaning up your disgusting man’s bathroom and what is a pan used for besides killing a bug. Despite all the humor and cartoons, it actually did have quite a few good recipes and helpful suggestions of what sides go with which entree and which wine goes with the meal effectively giving you the look of someone who knows what they are doing. While I did feed a few girls I never did get to make it to the chapter on breakfast but I was lucky enough to get something much better and that was the beginning of a lifelong appreciation for home cooking. The pots and pans I bought back then are the ones I still use today (All-clad wasn’t very well known back then thank God, I can’t afford them now). More importantly, I took a step into adulthood that I didn’t quite recognize at the time. While my friends were ordering pizza or running out for a burger, I would whip up a quick chicken marsala. I was no great cook by any means, but I found that I had somehow stepped away from my peers in how I viewed food and how they viewed me.
After college, I had to good fortune to discover The Food Network and a new show called Good Eats with Alton Brown. Of course, this was a closet indulgence because nobody but housewives eating bon bon’s watched cooking shows back then. Even when I would admit that I watched Good Eats, nobody I knew had ever heard of it. I was always amazed that it stayed on the air because I honestly felt like I was the only one watching. Young, single, and working a new career I found I didn’t cook that much but I did watch a good bit of Good Eats and continued to build the knowledge base and cooking paraphernalia (Thank you Alton for not letting me have uni-taskers in my kitchen) It’s safe to say that as far as my cooking goes, I grew up on Good Eats and Alton is still my first reference today for many things. Along this time I met the lady who became known as SWMBO (She Who Must Be Obeyed). She is to cooking everything that I am not. I will plan a meal days in advance, shop for all the ingredients, likely at multiple stores. On the appointed day, I’ll start at least 3 hours before we are planning on eating but more likely 6 hours before (basically I start cooking dinner at lunch). I will make multiple versions of the same thing, with all the best ingredients all hand selected, hand cut, hand prepared, and fussed over to no end. I have backup thermometers for the pan, the oven, etc. and leave nothing to chance. If I’m making something like bread, or green bean casserole, then that’s what we’re having. Bread OR casserole, not both. I don’t make a meal, I make one thing and I make the heck out of it. And it’s probably good or even great, although eating at 6pm is somewhat of a miracle. 8 or even 10 is more commonplace. I have used all the dishes, all the spatulas, all the aluminum foil, both ovens, and everything now has a covering of something that I’ve spilled. Like Alton Brown, I’m a bit mad scientist.
My darling wife on the other hand, cooks with a glance at two different recipes, plus the one in her head she’s remembering wrong. She has perhaps half the ingredients, plus a few extra that are not part of any of the recipes. Her oven/range/etc. has two settings. Off and Nuclear Heat. Her meals arrive steaming hot and delicious at 5:59pm, with two sides and a dessert, plus two loads of laundry were done during prep, she’s been on the phone to her mother, and she’s consumed most of the wine I opened for myself. She’s used two pots and a spoon. She’s a force of nature in the kitchen and I’m a bit afraid of her (I keep putting the knives just a bit higher every few months hoping one day she won’t be able to reach. So far no go.)
So what does this have to do with nutrition? SWMBO won’t set foot in a McDonalds. Once when I was able to get her in Mickey Ds while on a trip, I had to pull over later because she got sick. Having eaten fast food all my life I thought she was being a little over the top and hard to get along with. However, my days of eating fast food were numbered, I just didn’t know it. Car trips became trips with a cooler and sandwiches packed. Much like with my mother’s cooking, I actually resented the home cooked food and was bothered I couldn’t get my burger and fries. Sometimes I’d sneak in a burger here or there just because I knew she wouldn’t let me when we were together. Over this time period we had 3 kids, I worked overtime, I took over my family business, the family farm, and I went from about 220 pounds to about 250 pounds.
Taking over the family farm caused me to start getting involved in the food culture that is so vibrant in NC. I began to read articles and then books on localvores and the local food scene. We were still eating a somewhat typical American diet, albeit with more focus on home cooking and fresh made from scratch but nutritionally something that the USDA would bless. Then one day I came across a new book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and I found myself looking at food differently than I ever had before. I’d never thought about my bananas from Chile, or even my oranges from Florida. I’m not a save the world eco-hippie by ANY stretch of the imagination. What touched on my psyche was that I know that my tomatoes in my garden are better than ones from the grocery store. They are better than the ones even at the farmers market. The closer they are to my kitchen, the better they taste. I know that the sweet corn I grow is so good when it’s picked that when the wife says go out and bring in enough corn for dinner, I wait till it’s time to eat, then walk out to the garden and pick 5 ears of corn. I eat my ear raw on the walk back because in 5 minutes it won’t taste as good. I know what a difference garden fresh vs market fresh means and I certainly know what garden fresh vs. shipped across the globe means. After reading Barbara Kingsolver’s book I began to reconnect to the seasons. Tomatoes weren’t just in abundance in summer. They were ONLY available in summer unless I’d canned them. Red ripe tomatoes in February just aren’t natural, and whatever it took to put them in the supermarket didn’t do a good job of making a palatable tomato and couldn’t have done much for the nutritional value.
Once I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I ended up going down the rabbit hole on Amazon’s recommendations and quickly came to Omnivore’s dilemma. I won’t go into the details of that book other than to say it opened my eyes to the ingredients in our food that really aren’t food and shouldn’t be there, especially the amount of corn products we consume. My summary of that book is, I try not to eat anything that has more than 7 ingredients on the label and I try not to eat anything with a word that I cannot pronounce. So by this point I’m now off of fast food, eating what I grow or source somewhat well, eating little processed food, I am part of the localvore movement not just as a consumer but as a producer growing beef, pork, and chicken and I’m 6’5″ and weigh around 250+ pounds. I take antacids daily, often multiple times per day and I can tell I’m on the way to 280 pounds at this rate by the time I’m 65, which means obesity and possible diabetes. So I’m someone that should be doing everything right with unlimited amounts of grass raised beef, pork, and chicken, a wife who cooks home made meals every night, and plenty of exercise from the farm work yet the results I’m getting are going entirely the wrong direction.
Enter that lady I love one evening when I get home from work who informs me that she’s going on a diet. More importantly, if I were a loving and supportive husband, I’d go on the diet with her. Having grown up in a household where mom went on about 3-4 diets per year I said fine which completely shocked her. She thought I’d be a much tougher sale. SWMBO informed me we were going on the Atkin’s diet. Not the modern one, but the one originally made famous by Dr. Atkins. Apparently there is a difference, I don’t know because I never read the book. After about 30 days of my eating the wrong thing each day because I’d not read the book, I finally settled into the routine of staying on the diet each day and weighing in each morning before I moved the cows and chickens with Spork. Much to my delight, the weight started to come off. Even more amazing, my acid problems with my stomach went away completely. This is something that I’d already been prescribed various pills by the doctors, none of which I’d get the prescription filled. None of the doctors ever hinted at carbohydrates having anything to do with my issues. Now in a weeks time I’d gotten rid of a problem they wanted to put me on maintenance drugs for for the rest of my life, and I was loosing weight.
So today, I weigh 208 pounds, which is 4 pounds less than I weighed when I graduated high school. I take no medication of any kind except aspirin when I have a headache or ibuprofen when I have a backache. I agreed to back off of the diet through the summer so that I could enjoy ice cream and similar things with the kids. Despite all my “cheats” all summer I haven’t put the weight back on. With today’s 40 degree start to the day, I’m looking forward to going back onto Atkin’s induction and getting 10 more pounds off of my frame which at 200 pounds would put me in the best shape of my teenage and adult life, all without changing my exercise from what I was doing at 250 lbs. I’m seeing books like Wheat Belly starting to really question why we have a food pyramid with wheat products as the core of nutrition. I’m seeing people in the paleo community question why we eat wheat at all and challenge that it’s actually responsible for things like crohns disease, arthritis, and many other auto immune diseases. I don’t know if it is or not, but I’ve seen first hand digestive problems that my father fought all his life and that I’ve fought since my twenties completely go away with my diet. Problems that for him ended up with diverticulitis and having part of his intestines removed. A path I was heading down before this change. I see how hard it is to avoid the things that aren’t allowed on my diet in the typical American diet. Every meal has one item that I can’t have. Stir fry, with rice. Steak and potato. Burger and fries. A starch is part of every meal even without the bread. I also have learned that there is a nearly perfect inverse relationship between how convenient a food is and how good it is for you. I see now why we have obesity at the levels we do. I have friends who get excited when they see how I look and feel and want to know what I do to be so successful. When I tell them how they need to eat, I see the light fade before I can even finish telling them. “I could never give up bread.” “Ugh, fat makes you fat.” “I couldn’t eat all that meat and be healthy.” “Aren’t you worried about heart disease?” Between the discipline to stay on a diet and the brainwashing we’ve received from the government and our medical groups, you are really stepping off the reservation to go onto a diet like Atkins or Paleo. If you do what you’re told by general health guidelines and your doctor, it’s nearly impossible to have a happy, healthy life without constant struggle for weight control.
I realized this when I was a young teenager and the study came out saying that eggs were a huge source of cholesterol and should be avoided. Overnight eggs disappeared from stores and egg substitutes became common place. When informed by my mother that we were not having eggs anymore, I responded that I didn’t believe the study. That anything as perfect as the egg can’t be bad for you, period. It was many years later that eggs were found to have high cholesterol but actually the newly discovered “good” cholesterol. I shrugged my shoulders and kept on eating my fried eggs. I knew enough at 13 to know it was bunk, and I know it now. There is always a new study saying this juice will make you live forever, that mineral will cause cancer. I’ve lived long enough now that I just don’t believe any of them anymore, even the ones that agree with what I think. I don’t base my diet off of studies, government programs, or even the books I’ve detailed here for you. I base my diet off of observation of a single data point case study, me. Since going on Atkins, I have a consistent routine of observing what I eat, then observing the result.
- Lasagna? Gained 5 pounds in 1 day!
- Ice cream in moderation, no real change.
- Gin and tonic, not a problem.
- Rum and coke, not too promising.
- Chips and salsa? Negligible difference.
- Nigiri sushi (the kind with rice)? +4 pounds after 1 meal.
The list goes on and on, but the point is I do for myself what those studies profess to do. I test and observe. Then I assimilate the results into my diet. Strangely enough, this is what the Atkin’s diet says to do. What I’ve found is that people I’ve talked to don’t know this about Atkins, including the ones who are familiar with the diet. When you get into the later phases of Atkins, the maintenance phases, it’s all about slowly adding back foods and seeing the results. So with 2000 plus words to describe 40 years of nutrition and life experience, what do I do now to eat healthy?
- Eating this way is a lifestyle, not a diet. I will be on Atkins the rest of my life. That doesn’t mean I won’t have spaghetti again, or ice cream. It means that they will be the exception and only when I’m on my target weight and in control. I’m greatly encouraged by how free I can be with my eating and still maintain my weight. I’ve downed a ton of ice cream this summer and maintained my weight.
- Just try it. You can get irradiated by uranium without penalty for certain amounts of time. In other words even if you don’t believe in a no-carb diet, try it for 6 months. It won’t kill you. Most people I’ve talked to that have tried to emulate what I do fall off the wagon quickly. Usually around 14 days after they start. It’s not that they eat too much, it’s that they go back to eating the convenient foods or that their long held beliefs that bacon is bad and bagels are good trip them up.
- If you are having a tough craving, eat something on the diet till you are sick. Don’t give into the craving. I didn’t loose 1 ounce the first 30 days. Stick with the plan.
- If you cheat, don’t blow the day or the diet. “Oh, I ate a doughnut at the office this morning. I’ve blown the day may as well have lasagna.” If you cheat, stop there and then. Don’t go crazy and have a “cheat day.” When I had lasagna and gained 5 pounds in a day, it took me a week to get it off. A cheat day like that would have taken me 2-3 weeks which would just kill your attitude.
- Fat doesn’t make you fat. Period. It actually made me skinny if you cut out the carbs. Fat helps you from eating all the calories. It helps trigger your body that you are satiated. Slather on the butter, get the ribeye rather than the filet, get the whole chicken, not the boneless skinless breast.
- Eat with the seasons. The food is better and better for you. Learn to cook different things. It’s winter right now, find some winter squash and do something with it. Expand your culinary horizons.
- Avoid wheat and corn like the plague. Just avoiding those two is 95% of the battle. This will cut out nearly everything in a box. That’s good.
- You are your own personal chemistry set. Test and evaluate. Do you loose weight when you’re on the diet 99% of the time? Good. No, then change what the 1% cheat is to something different and try again.
- Eat only items that have 7 ingredients or less on the box.
- Don’t eat anything you cannot pronounce.
- Don’t eat anything your great grandfather wouldn’t recognize as food (that eliminates about 90% of what is in a grocery store)
- Eating out isn’t the problem. While I was loosing my 40 pounds, I ate out on average once per day. Eating out making you fat comes from the fact that restaurants always have a starch as part of the meal (ask for double veggies instead), always have a bread (decline, or get it bunless) and cook in real fats like butter and use things like cream because it tastes good. That’s actually the cooking you want.
- Don’t use any unnatural oils. No peanut oil, no canola oil, no vegetable oil. Instead use lard, butter, coconut oil, olive oil.
- Butter, bacon, fatty meat, cream, sour cream, all the things we were raised to believe are bad for you are not. Period. Learn to enjoy food again.
The biggest takeaway I have for anyone is that I ate like a king and lost weight doing it. Don’t think about what you don’t have, embrace all the things that you can and I promise you can enjoy “dieting.”