“You can’t exercise away a crappy diet.” – anonymous
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” – Hippocrates
There is SO MUCH information available nowadays about diet, nutrition, exercise, getting lean, etc… it can be overwhelming. AND, there is so much potentially incorrect information floating around, that it can inhibit a person’s ability to understand what is really going on, and how to come up with an approach that makes sense for him/herself. Unless a person really wants to fall down the rabbit hole and try to learn the basics about what drives our biology, the default will be to trust the advice of the mainstream, and (god forbid) follow the “standard american diet.”
Many of my friends/colleagues like to pick my brain about what exactly it is that I do in terms of fitness and nutrition. They see me as the relatively fit/strong guy that participates in a ton of athletic activities. So, as people usually do, if they see a person doing something that they want to do, they start to ask questions. They know that I’m not a professional in either area, but they do know that I’m obsessive about reading and researching topics that interest me, and I’m pretty hardcore when it comes to fitness. Or, at least that is the assumption. They know that if you get me going about anything related to fitness or nutrition, I’ll talk your ear off for an hour.
What I’ve learned in the past 6+ years of researching health, fitness, and nutrition is that you need to balance the two. It’s possible to be overall fit, but have poor nutrition; and, it’s also possible to have good nutrition with poor overall fitness. I firmly believe that you need a synergy between the two, and you need to have a clear way to measure your success. I’ve moved way beyond using the number on the scale to tell me how I’m doing. Overall body weight is such a false idol when you are trying to gauge your health/fitness.
Numbers like body fat percentage, skeletal muscle percentage, and other metrics derived from blood panels give you a look under the hood to see how things are really going. I’ve also learned that you need to UNDERSTAND what the metrics are saying, and what metrics to avoid. For the most part, I have zero faith in body weight, BMI, and even total cholesterol as ways to measure my health. I do care about my VO2 max, my resting heart rate, my body fat percentage, my ratio of LDL to HDL, my ratio of triglycerides to HDL, and my fasting glucose. These are numbers that mean something, and are actionable to me. There are a bunch of other advanced metrics you can track if you have the means and drive.
The following is a history on how I came to my own personal nutrition philosophy. There will be some fitness commentary peppered in, but that is unavoidable – one does impact the other.
I spent a majority of my 20’s not really caring (too much) about what I ate or drank. I was a relatively fit guy, and went to the gym about 3-4 days per week. I never really did any type of cardio training – mostly weight lifting. My nutrition centered around consuming a lot of protein (because that is what you do when you lift weights – eat protein BRO). I’d say that I fluctuated between about 190-200 lbs during that decade. Note – I weighed in around 185 lbs during my freshman year of college.
About 190 lbs in my 20’s back when Sam Adams was a “craft” beer.
As for the other macronutrients, I didn’t really have a set plan other than to consume “whole-grains” if I was going to eat grains because, well, that was the prevailing wisdom at the time. If you ate steel-cut oats, whole-grain or multi-grain bread, and avoided “processed” grains, you were doing it right. In terms of muscle, I was a strong guy, and in terms of body type, I could probably make out the outline of an abdominal muscle if a flexed hard enough. At my peak for football (in my late 20’s), I weighed about 200 pounds (on a 5’10” frame). I knew I carried a little bit of extra weight, but I figured that was good if I was going to play strong safety for my football team. I got most of my health advice from either Men’s Health magazine, Men’s Health sponsored books, or various other things I read in mainstream fitness books. I don’t know what my blood work looked like back in those days (and didn’t even know to care), but I do know that I was carrying some abdominal weight.
Bulked up about 10 lbs for my “football frame.” About 200 lbs in my late 20’s carried into my early 30’s. Killer farmer’s tan. That happens when you play baseball/golf as much as I do.
So, to sum up, focusing on protein, consuming whole grains, and moderate exercise were NOT the magic bullet to ripped body type.
Something shifted in my brain when I moved to Kansas from New Jersey. For some reason, I became hyper-aware that I was carrying some extra fat in the belly area. It wasn’t a single incident that was my tipping point, but an accumulation of feelings/thoughts. I do remember being a little ticked off that I couldn’t close my old suit pants that I used to wear in my early 20’s.
Prior to moving to Kansas, I had started to dabble with bodyweight training. I was tired of having a gym membership, going 3 days a week to crank out the obligatory 3 sets of 10 reps, and not really having a point to what I was doing. It felt very mouse on the exercise wheel. Very generic. Very blah. At that same time, a friend of mine (who was overweight) was considering making a lifestyle change, and wanted to exercise more/lose weight. He asked my advice, and since I was going to start a new bodyweight regiment, I offered to coach him through it as well. It seemed like a good idea because…
- The cost of entry is pretty low – just buy the book of exercises, get a pullup bar, and go to work.
- You don’t really need a spotter if you are doing bodyweight stuff – you can kind of manage yourself
In addition, he wanted some diet guidance, so I just defaulted to my own prior notions and advice, but we focused on eating more frequently and calorie restriction (pretty ubiquitous advice in the Men’s Health archives). I suggested he read “The Abs Diet” and “The Flat Belly Diet.” Both were in the Men’s Health library. They peddled the same approach – quality macronutrients, whole grains, frequent meals to “keep the metabolic fire burning,” etc…
Long story short – he lost some weight, but, in time, it looks like some of it came back. For me, I didn’t really lose anything, but my passion for bodyweight training was born. During this entire experience, I was still of the mindset that exercise played more of a role in body type than nutrition. I hadn’t yet realized that it’s the other way around. Who would have thought a book about cholesterol would start me on the path to where I’m at right now? Since that book, most of my nutritional philosophy has fallen into place like a little intricate puzzle.
Puzzle Piece 1: The Great Cholesterol Myth (buy it here from Amazon – The Great Cholesterol Myth)
Around the time that I read this book, some studies were starting to surface suggesting that dietary fat and dietary cholesterol weren’t the devil they had been made out to be. My dad for some reason insisted that I get and read “The Great Cholesterol Myth.” I didn’t know why – I didn’t have high cholesterol (I didn’t think), I didn’t have heart disease, and this was probably the furthest from any type of book that I’d buy and read. However, my girlfriend at the time had high cholesterol, and was to the point where her doctor was going to prescribe statin drugs. Wanting to understand her situation a little better, I bought the book and read it.
This was the first time I was introduced to the idea of “chronic inflammation.” To quote the book directly, “…chronic inflammation is a significant component of virtually every single degenerative condition, including Alzheimer’s, diabetes, obesity, arthritis, cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, chronic lower respiratory disease, influenza and pneumonia, chronic liver and kidney diseases, and, most especially, heart disease.”
This is the first time I had ever heard about chronic or systemic inflammation. I knew that my finger would be “inflamed” when I slammed it in a door, but I never thought about inflammation happening inside my “system.” The book even talks about how sugar is one of the “four horsemen of the aging apocalypse.” Basically, high levels of blood sugar cause the lining cells of the arteries to be inflamed, and excess sugar attaches to structures through a process called “glycation,” and become too big to squeeze through small blood vessels. They in turn become toxic, damage the body, and trigger an immune response. The result – INFLAMMATION. I didn’t know what to do with this information at the time. I just found it to be very interesting.
Key takeaways – systemic inflammation is a bad thing, and dietary fat/cholesterol don’t correlate to heart disease. And, avoid SUGAR.
Puzzle Piece 2: The GI (glycemic index) Diet (Buy it here from Amazon – The G.I. Diet)
Once transplanted to Kansas, I moved into a townhouse with a garage. This was a nice change from my prior apartments. I now had a space to set up as my gym (why waste that space by parking a car???). I committed to losing some of that belly fat, so I decided to introduce myself to the wonderful world of high intensity interval training (HIIT). It seemed like a nice logical progression from the bodyweight workouts I had been doing. How hard could it be? My indoctrination into this world was a program called Insanity.
The exercise program also had a nutrition plan which I decided to try and follow. In a lot of ways, this nutrition plan didn’t vary too much from what the Men’s Health style diet plans advocated. And, the meal timing/frequency advice was relatively the same. There was, however, a new piece of information that I had never seen/heard about before. The Glycemic Index of food. The Glycemic Index measures the speed at which you digest food and convert it to glucose.
In a nutshell, if a food has a high GI number, it means it converts to glucose very fast. Conversely, if the food has a low GI number, it means it converts to glucose slowly. This also was my first deep dive into what insulin is and how it works in the body. I’d go on to learn that you should only have so much sugar in your blood. If the body detects high levels, the pancreas secretes insulin to take the excess sugar from the bloodstream and funnel it to the liver, muscle cells, and fat cells. So, the lesson to be learned from the GI Diet – structure your food choices to try and MINIMIZE blood sugar spikes (i.e – low GI number foods). Doing so will reduce the flow of insulin, and thus the trigger to store excess energy. Oh, and by the way, you’ll be low risk for diabetes if you keep your blood sugar and insulin secretions in check.
About halfway into the Insanity exercise program, and eating a diet mindful of GI numbers, I still wasn’t losing weight in a manner that I thought I should. I’m talking less than a pound a week. I was killing it on the workouts, but I wasn’t really seeing a change in body type or in how my clothes fit. By this point, I had heard about the Paleo Diet, but had no idea what it was.
Key takeaways – food is metabolized at different rates, and those that convert to glucose quickly spike insulin (which is a bad thing). The goal should be to eat foods that minimize insulin spikes. Insulin is a storage hormone, and it will store unused glucose in your fat cells.
Puzzle Piece 3: The Paleo Diet (Buy it here from Amazon – The Paleo Diet: Lose Weight and Get Healthy by Eating the Foods You Were Designed to Eat)
The simple and popular tagline of the Paleo Diet is that if a caveman didn’t eat it, you shouldn’t eat it. That is the broadest stroke that people are familiar with. Back in 2012/2013, it was still a pretty fringe thing, but now in 2018, dare I say, it’s trying to become a mainstream idea. There are TONS of food blogs and other miscellaneous blogs dedicated to discussing the Paleo diet. It is even the recommended diet of the CrossFit movement.
I read this book pretty fast. It was very interesting. Dr. Cordain’s thesis pretty much demonized a lot of the basic food staples in the standard american diet – specifically grains and dairy. Other items that are blacklisted include sugar (unless it comes from fruit), beans/legumes, and most processed food stuffs. This nutritional approach posited that we WERE a hunter-gatherer species, and only in the past couple thousand years did we discover agriculture, and thus grains became a staple in our diet (which they shouldn’t be). Our hunter-gatherer persona was used to eating meat, veggies, fruits, nuts, and seeds.
Paleo enthusiasts argue that we weren’t meant to eat grains; therefore, our system doesn’t handle them that well. They will tell you that grains contain gluten and lectins (more on that later), and those “anti-nutrients” put our system into a state of inflammation. Paleo advocates argue that we aren’t meant to drink another animal’s milk, AND, we aren’t meant to drink milk (in general) beyond around age 2 when our pancreas stops producing lactase (the enzyme for digesting lactose). The argument against dairy follows similar lines of “inflammation” due to the presence of lactose and casein protein. Hmmm. Grains = inflammation? Dairy = inflammation?
Wait – inflammation? Haven’t I heard that before? Dr. Cordain would argue that a Paleo-style diet is in fact an anti-inflammation diet.
This was the first “diet” where I saw the recommended percentage of carbohydrates (as a macronutrient) under 40% of the recommended total daily intake. In contrast, the standard american diet puts a big emphasis on carbohydrates. Other “diets” suggested that your daily macro breakdown should look like this:
- 40% carbs
- 40% protein
- 20% fat
The Paleo approach shifted the emphasis to protein and fat, and carbs came up the back in 3rd place.
The simple thing about Paleo is how binary it is. Grains = NO. Grass-fed meats = YES. Dairy = NO. Fruits/veggies = YES. Legumes = NO. It is very simplistic to implement. But, if you are used to living on the “NO” stuff, you’ll find it VERY restrictive. Since I was willing to try anything new to get some results, I dove in. The cool thing is, by default, the Paleo Diet was anti-inflammation, and it was low glycemic index. It kind of fit with what I had learned previously, and a larger picture started to form.
For the remainder of my Insanity program, I applied the Paleo principles, and was pretty militant about it. I certainly got questions from my friends/colleagues when I’d order food off the menu, and start omitting the stuff that was “forbidden.” Also, going the Paleo route made me a much more active and refined food label reader. The grocery store is full of nutritional landmines if you don’t know how to read a food label. My conclusion – HOLY SHIT THEY ADD SUGAR TO A LOT OF STUFF.
In my experience, the Paleo diet was my first major breakthrough in nutrition, and in attaining some semblance of the body type goal I had in mind. This is a picture from after my round of Insanity, post Paleo diet. The Insanity workouts surely led to the muscle definition, but I’ll say with confidence that the Paleo diet reduced the fat stores in my body – for sure.
33 years old, 187 lbs. Thank you Paleo.
Key takeaways – we may not be built to consume agriculture-type products (grains). There is evidence that a diet including processed sugar and grains will not only lead to weight gain, but also systemic inflammation.
Puzzle Piece 4: The Primal Blueprint (Buy it here on Amazon – The Primal Blueprint)
You could say that I fell down two rabbit holes at the same time. The first was HIIT and bodyweight training. After the success I had with Insanity, I was addicted. I couldn’t get enough. My sports performance went through the roof. In addition to kicking ass at the stuff I normally did, I started to see success in areas I never even considered. For no reason at all, I decided to start running a series of 5K races, and I went on a tear in 2014 and finished first in my age group in 9 straight races. I also excelled at obstacle course (mud run) races. I also found that my body didn’t hurt, and old aches/pains started going away. In my 20’s, I had never considered mobility and flexibility training as part of my fitness regime. Now dynamic stretching and yoga were important pieces of what I was doing. I’d move on to study advanced bodyweight calisthenics and advanced bar calisthenics (and still do to this day).
The other rabbit hole is best described (and this is my own label) as alternative nutrition. I’m not going to put on a tin foil hat and say there is a huge food conspiracy out there (believe me, there are enough of those folks out there without another voice chiming in), but I will say that I became very skeptical of the conventional nutrition “wisdom” that was floating around. I started to question everything. All of my preconceived notions went out the window, and I started to rebuild my nutrition belief system around a bedrock of Paleo. I started scouring the internet for blogs and articles that would further feed my knowledge appetite. Once I found Mark’s Daily Apple, I stumbled upon a treasure trove of information.
Mark’s book “The Primal Blueprint,” provided a nutrition/lifestyle that is less dogmatic than the Paleo Diet. Rather than a binary YES/NO approach to food, The Primal Blueprint aimed to identify a principal, explain the science/evidence around it, and then lay out an approach to apply it. Mark’s “10 Primal Blueprint Laws” are 10 generally worded rules, that provide a framework on how to behave. The emphasis here is framework. Mark’s blueprint is holistic in nature, and covers the gamut from nutrition to fitness to sun exposure. While all of it is intriguing, I really honed in on the nutrition side of the blueprint. This really felt like my next step beyond Paleo.
For example, Mark’s first two laws are:
- Eat Plants and Animals – gotta love that. Straight and to the point. See plant, eat plant. See animal, eat animal. Notice that its a framework. Find plants and animals you like and chow down.
- Avoid Poisonous Things – I loved this. In Paleo, you have the very simple edict of DON’T EAT GRAINS. In the Primal Blueprint, Mark takes the view away from the “tree,” and shows you the “forest.” He focuses on explaining how certain foods are poisonous to the human condition, and goes into a great amount of detail explaining the ins/outs. Grains are just a subset of the “avoid poisonous things” idea. In future blog posts and other books, Mark would explain that if you absolutely had to eat bread, you do the least amount of damage by eating sourdough bread due to the fermentation process that it goes through, and how that deactivates the WGA (the troublesome lectin in grains).
The discussion about the big dairy controversy exemplifies the idea of “framework” versus “dogma.” Mark explains that we’d probably live a perfectly good life without dairy; however, if a person is so inclined to continue to consume dairy, here are the things you should consider and look for. He points out that the person should determine if they have a sensitivity to lactose and/or casein. If not, then he lays out the “best” choices, and explains very specifically why those choices make nutritional sense.
This book was also the first time it was hammered home to me that nutrition is more important to fitness/health than exercise. Mark states directly in the book that about 80% of your body composition success can and will be attributed to your nutrition. Also, Mark goes into some great detail about the inner-workings of cholesterol, and basically mimicked EVERYTHING THAT I HAD READ in the Great Cholesterol Myth a short time prior. I really felt like the circle was completing itself. Mark goes into some great detail about aiming to reduce overall systemic inflammation in the body. I’m not saying this is a better version of the Paleo Diet; rather, I’m saying that this approach resonated with me on a level that Paleo did not. All of this new information inspired me to keep digging.
Key takeaways – you don’t necessarily need to demonize entire subsets of food; rather if you understand the mechanism that makes them undesirable, perhaps you can prepare them in a way that makes them less harmful. And, maybe your system can handle some things that others can’t (the dairy example). Understand the framework and principles, and apply in a way that benefits you.
Puzzle Piece 5: Eat Dirt (Buy it here from Amazon – Eat Dirt: Why Leaky Gut May Be the Root Cause of Your Health Problems and 5 Surprising Steps to Cure It )
All disease begins in the gut. – Hippocrates
How many people actually care about their gut? I’m not talking about the spare tire around your midsection, I’m talking about the ecosystem inside of you that is collectively known as your gut. For a deep dive on the human “gut” – check this out.
I never really cared about my gut, gut biome, gut flora, or any of that other stuff. I didn’t even realize there was an ecosystem in there trying to fight the good fight. I figured that I eat food, it passes through, and I poop it out. End of story. I did know that yogurt has probiotics, and those were “good” for you, but beyond that, I didn’t know much. During the course of my rabbit hole diving, I came across some blog posts and YouTube videos by a guy named Dr. Josh Axe. He had a lot of interesting things to say about SYSTEMIC INFLAMMATION (there it is again), and how leaky gut plays a role in it. Dr. Axe explains in his book that over 70% of our immune system is in our gut, and that when it suffers, we suffer. In no uncertain terms, he aims to link poor gut health to a myriad of ailments including allergies, asthma, food sensitivities, diabetes, digestive diseases, arthritis, thyroid conditions, chronic fatigue, and even autism.
A “leaky gut” occurs when the tight junctions of the intestinal wall break down and allow food, bacteria, and toxins to leak into the blood stream (hence – “leaky gut”). This in turn makes our immune system work much harder and longer than its supposed do, and we are then in a chronic state of inflammation. This chronic overwork of the immune system COULD be the root cause of a lot of autoimmune issues, so he argues. At the center of the leaky gut firestorm is GLUTEN. Dr. Axe argues that research shows gluten as a major actor in the opening of the tight junctions of the intestinal wall.
Dr. Axe’s book isn’t just a 300 page book about the evils of gluten, the book is an overall treatise on how we need to treat our gut biome better. Believe it or not, the prescription is to expose ourselves to more dirt. That’s right – the title is less “tongue in cheek” than you’d think. Short of slurping down a handful of mud, Dr. Axe wants us to consider intentionally exposing ourselves to more of the friendly bacteria that our body not only needs, but already has and DEPENDS on.
This idea of eating dirt isn’t pitched as a weight loss diet – its positioned as a holistic approach to improving your health (beyond body type). BUT, in terms of achieving body type goals, you can argue that there is a correlation. It has been documented that obese people DO have unhealthy guts (check out this blog post). So, it isn’t a far stretch to conclude that making dietary/nutrition choices in the best interest of your gut will help further your goal of losing weight/achieving body type goals. For me, the biggest selling point for adapting this into my overall plan was the point that healthy gut = reduced inflammation. As a result, I’ve been very cognizant about incorporating both probiotic and prebiotic nutrients into my diet, while making sure I either minimize or eliminate the stuff that causes inflammation.
Key takeaways – you need to think about your gut biome, and make sure you are eating food that not only doesn’t hurt it, but will allow those little bacteria guys to thrive.
Puzzle Piece 6: The Wild Diet (Buy it here from Amazon – The Wild Diet: Go Beyond Paleo to Burn Fat, Beat Cravings, and Drop 20 Pounds in 40 days)
In 2016, ABC aired a TV show called “My Diet is Better Than Yours.” The ONLY reason I binge watched this show is because it was hosted by Shaun Thompson, the architect of my favorite exercise program of all time – INSANITY. The premise of the show was actually kind of cool (if you are a fitness/nutrition nerd like me). Each “contestant” on the show had to pick a diet to follow for the duration of the show. At the end of the show, the person with the best overall results (weight loss) could crow that their diet was the best. The founder/advocate for the diet plan was also on the show and paired with the contestant as their personal trainer/coach. The entire show cataloged the process/progress, and you got a very in depth look at each approach. This is where I first learned about Abel James (the Fat Burning Man) and his “Wild Diet.”
Spoiler alert – his program ended up getting the 2nd best results in the show (and it was a really close second). The kicker – his guy achieved his weight loss goals by drinking butter coffee, slurping down bacon, and gobbling up rib eye steaks. Pretty sweet, eh? As I watched his client progress throughout the show, and learned more about what Abel was pushing, I decided to get his book and read up. And, seeing a guy get crazy awesome results really makes you think – this thing works.
“The Wild Diet” wasn’t really breaking any new ground for me in terms of what it was saying. It checked all of the boxes in terms of pushing no sugar, minimizing blood sugar spikes, no processed foods, how dietary fat and cholesterol aren’t the demons they have been made out to be, and treat your gut biome properly. He also discussed ideas about how fasting (periods of no eating) are good for you, and how your goal should be to use fat as a primary energy source as opposed to glucose (if you follow the standard american diet, you are a sugar burner for sure).
Abel’s message in terms of converting to a fat burning machine is simple – consume between 50 and 100 grams of NET CARBS a day, and you’ll fast track your body’s ability to tap into fat as energy. When it comes to carbs, the Wild Diet isn’t as strict as Paleo in saying 100% no grains. He doesn’t have an issue with whole-grain wild rice. Also, he doesn’t demonize legumes as long as they are prepared properly. He just points out that your goal should be to target foods with low GI numbers.
Even though he didn’t come right out and say it in the book. Abel was pushing a ketogenic type diet. He claimed that your perfect range of carbs was in the 50g to 150g range, but if you really wanted to kick start fat loss, shoot for under 50g. I’d later learn that this is considered the Ketogenic diet (more on that later). In total, I felt this book made a fat-adapted lifestyle seem accessible. Plus, I never really considered that there was a choice between being a sugar burner and a fat burner. In retrospect, the Paleo Diet, and Mark Sisson’s Primal Blueprint were pushing the same ideal. Duh. Call it clever marketing, or maybe the ability to learn this from him on TV and use the book as a supplement, it really clicked that the goal should be to burn fat as a primary fuel source if you can.
Key takeaways – maybe the best way is to develop a framework around being a fat-burning machine rather than relying on glucose?
Puzzle Piece 7: The Bulletproof Diet/cookbook (Buy it here from Amazon – Bulletproof: The Cookbook: Lose Up to a Pound a Day, Increase Your Energy, and End Food Cravings for Good)
David Asprey falls into that class of people that you’d call biohackers. Prior to reading David’s work, I never knew what a biohacker was, or what they did. Since glimpsing into that world, I’ve been exposed to writings by Tim Ferriss and Ben Greenfield. I must say that their collective information is VERY interesting. It’s kind of a side rabbit hole you can fall down. I still listen to all of their podcasts and read their blogs to this day. You might have heard of Tim’s book “The 4-Hour Workweek.” Jeff Rose of Good Financial Cents ranks this book in his top-10 of books that aspiring entrepreneurs must read. I’ve read it – it’s a good book. I was able to implement a lot of the ideas in my normal day-to-day life (both personal and work).
Anyway, a biohacker is somebody that is aiming to extend their life (in terms of years lived), and improve their life quality (in terms of health, peak performance, or any other metric they find important). Here is the fun part – true biohackers conduct mini-experiments on themselves, and report the results. While not 100% scientific method, the results they publish are pretty darn impressive, and get your brain thinking if their are applications in what you do. For example – I now wear blue-light blocking glasses when I’ll be in front of a computer for extended periods of time. I read about this not only with David’s work, but also with Ben Greenfield’s work. I’m pleasantly surprised that I don’t experience eye-fatigue anymore.
David is known as the Bulletproof Executive, and you could say that he is responsible for making butter-coffee a mainstream idea. If you’ve heard of Bulletproof Coffee – that is him. His book is called “The Bulletproof Diet,” and he comes right out and says this is a ketogenic diet. So, this would be the first book that I read explicitly calling something a ketogenic diet. He stresses early on that a great emphasis is placed on veggies rather than fruit (since fruit is full of fructose), and he also states that his approach aims to limit protein intake. Thusly, the hierarchy of macros for him goes FAT, protein, carbs.
His position on the high protein requirements of Paleo were quite interesting – he said those diets were, “…high enough in protein to trigger inflammation…” Interesting – hadn’t heard that before (but I’d go on to read that point two more times in other books). He is very clear about focusing on the correct types of fats because bad fats will expose you to toxins, and impact your overall system. He also talks about proper cooking of food as to not adversely alter its structure and or nutrient content. And, he’s very anti-microwave.
If you go Bulletproof, you won’t need to worry about counting calories, timing meals, or anything like that. David argues that you’ll just eat when you are hungry. You’ll be more in tune with your hunger signals, and this will make intermittent fasting a lot easier. I can personally attest to this – while on a ketogenic diet (or the maintenance phase of it), I’ll routinely go 16+ hours before I get the urge to eat. AND, in that time, I will have knocked out a workout.
He offers 12 very specific steps to get you started on a Bulletproof diet. Many of these we’ve seen before – eliminate sugar, eliminate gluten completely, remove grains and vegetable oils, remove processed/pasteurized dairy, and eliminate gluten. He calls out specifically to limit fruit intake due to sugar content, choose seafood and grass-fed meat, and cook your food gently. He doesn’t go into a ton of detail in “Bulletproof, the Cookbook;” however, in a later book called Head Strong, he discusses how the Bulletproof Diet plays a key role in ensuring optimal BRAIN performance, and how our brains function better on ketones as a primary fuel than glucose.
Key takeaways – there is a such thing as too much protein (which can lead to inflammation). Proper fats should make up the MAJORITY of your macro breakdown. Ketosis is a natural state for the body – it will automatically default to using fat for energy once glucose reserves are gone. If you want evidence, look at the eskimo people – they have almost zero carbs in their diet, and they are in great health. The way to get the best sustained results from ketosis is to cycle in/out of it (I have read this somewhere else too).
Puzzle Piece 8: The Plant Paradox (Buy it here from Amazon – The Plant Paradox: The Hidden Dangers in “Healthy” Foods That Cause Disease and Weight Gain)
This book is stirring up its share of controversy. Dr. Gundry’s thesis is that many “healthy” foods are actually slowly poisoning us. He argues that there is an epic war between plants and animals, and that the natural state of a plant is to not be eaten by a predator. I guess that makes sense. The plants evolve and develop sophisticated ways to defend themselves against being eaten. The main weapon that leads this defense is the LECTIN. In short, a lectin is a protein present in both plants and animals. I’ll let Dr. Gundry explain this part, excerpted straight from his book…
“…lectins in the seeds, grains, skins, rinds, and leaves of most plants bind to carbohydrates (sugars), and particularly to complex sugars called polysaccharides, in the predator’s body after it consumes the plant. Like smart bombs, lectins target and attach themselves to sugar molecules, primarily on the surface of the cells of other organisms – particularly fungi, insects, and other animals. They also bind to sialic acid, a sugar molecule found in the gut, in the brain, between nerve endings, in joints, and in all bodily fluids, including the blood vessel lining of all creatures. Lectins are sometimes referred to as “sticky proteins” because of this binding process, which means they can interrupt messaging between cells or otherwise cause TOXIC OR INFLAMMATORY REACTIONS…” The bold is mine.
His reasoning is simple – the plants don’t want to be eaten, so the lectins are the defensive mechanism meant to discourage the predator from eating it (again). In smaller organisms, this poisoning would results in paralysis or death. For larger organisms like humans, the result is a disruption to the system (illness, allergy, etc). He outlines the lectin attack strategy as such:
- Attack the gut wall and get through it. Basically break up the tight junctions. Remember when we learned about leaky gut earlier? THIS IS IT!
- Confuse the immune system with “molecular mimicry.” This one is tricky – the lectin proteins mimic the look of good proteins, and once they bind to cell receptors, they start creating incorrect communication inside the body. The immune system starts attacking stuff it shouldn’t, and yes, they even trigger fat storage.
- Disrupt cellular communication. This is accomplished by blocking hormone signals. For example – lectins can disrupt the proper function of insulin clearing excess glucose out of the blood stream. That is bad.
This guy isn’t a quack. He is a renowned cardiologist and heart surgeon, and claims to have shaped his practice around this nutrition prescription with amazing results. In his clinics, he has successfully treated tens of thousands of patients with ailments ranging from autoimmune disorder to diabetes, leaky gut syndrome, heart disease, and more. This book isn’t instructing the reader to swear off vegetables; rather, he provides a list of the vegetables you should look long and hard at before eating, and he gives instructions on how to prepare certain vegetables to “deactivate” the lectin potency.
He is a strong advocate for the person testing their own tolerance for the various food items. He pitches an elimination diet type of testing. He says for a brief period, you should swear off ALL of the trouble items. After a short period of time, once your system detoxifies, you should start to SLOWLY reintroduce the items you removed, and see what makes you sick, or causes distress. If you can add back the item without an issue, you can continue to eat it. But, if you have an adverse reaction to the item (and these can vary), you have found an item you should avoid.
Dr. Gundry is also a huge advocate for focusing on gut health. A majority of his objection to lectins is the havoc they wreak on your digestive system. As a result, your gut biome buddies are under constant assault. It’s in this book that I heard about resistant starches for the 2nd time – this time, it stuck. A resistant starch is a starch that passes through your small intestine intact (rather than being broken down into glucose). These foods are resistant to the enzymes that breakdown complex starches. There are two benefits here – you don’t see a spike in insulin since your blood sugar doesn’t go up, and, these resistant starches provide a FEAST for your gut buddies. They will increase the proportion of good bacteria in your gut, thus fostering a very nice gut biome.
I can personally say that I’ve seen some great benefits to removing/reducing the amount of lectins I consume. I used to eat cashews by the handful, and a lot of the snack bars I consumed were full of cashews. I used to eat huge cobb salads that were loaded with a lot of the lectin bombs that he mentions in the book. Once I stopped just those two things, I noticed that I didn’t feel bloat or discomfort in my gut anymore. Being cognizant of the dangers of lectins has made me an even better label reader – you’d be shocked as to how many lectins are peppered into everyday food items. Whether it’s a coating or an emulsifier, Dr. Gundry would argue it could be no good for you or your gut.
Key takeaways – I feel like this book is the final piece of the puzzle. Through my entire nutrition “journey” there has been a consistent cast of villains. The first is sugar. Dr. Gundry keeps that momentum going and demonizes processed sugar. He also advocates minimizing fruit due to the fructose. The second villain has been gluten. Dr. Gundry offered an entirely new perspective on gluten. Rather than saying its bad because we can’t digest it properly, he takes a huge step back and widens the perspective. Gluten is just one lectin in a sea of lectins that are doing us damage. By the way, WGA is the specific protein in gluten that is the danger. Dr. Gundry would argue that a person could avoid gluten, but, if they are eating a lot of the other lectins that are harmful, they could still suffer from a lot of the same conditions that a person consuming gluten would experience. Understanding that the lectin is the problem offers a more refined perspective than just saying gluten is the devil. This allows you to identify and look more holistically at food which could be causing you harm.
My Approach: What Works for Me
As you can see (if you took the time to read all of that), it’s been quite the trip to arrive at what I think is a good nutritional plan for overall health. Here is how I’d distill it down into some high level bullet points:
- Avoid all processed sugars. If you drink soda, stop. If you drink diet soda, stop. If you drink fruit juice, stop. Fruit juice is a false health idol and is a trap. Its fructose without the fiber. Read food labels and buy products that have little to no sugar added. You’d be amazed at how much stuff has sugar in it. Its sad.
- Drink lots of water. Lots of water. You’d be amazed to find that when you think you are hungry – you are just really thirsty.
- DO NOT TRUST THE GOVERNMENT FOR ADVICE ON FOOD. Putting aside the politics that muddy the waters, you need to be responsible for your own nutrition. Do not follow the food pyramid, the food plate, or whatever other garbage Washington is throwing out there. We live in an age where you can research anything you want. Be an advocate for your own health and do some research.
- Adopt a nutritional game plan that emphasizes fat and protein, and puts little emphasis on carbohydrates. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a straight up ketogenic diet (under 50g carbs per day), but probably shouldn’t exceed 100-150g carbs per day since that appears to be the maintenance range advocated by people I’ve read. I’ve cycled in/out of keto, and it isn’t that hard. However, I wouldn’t recommend you start there. Try getting to under 150g of carbs per day for an extended period of time before you try experimenting with keto. You might find that 100g-150g of carbs is just what you need to start shedding unwanted fat. In general. I’ll strive for 60-70% of my calories as fat, 20-30% of my calories as protein, and about 10% as carbohydrates. I kid you not – I eat a lot of fat, and love it.
- In terms of carbohydrates, maximize vegetables, and minimize fruit. Use fruit as a treat – remember – its loaded with fructose. Fructose is sugar.
- When choosing carbohydrates, aim for low glycemic index foods. Controlling blood sugar and managing insulin will not only help you maintain or lose weight, but it will also keep you off the path to diabetes. Understand your inner biology, and realize that a high level of sugar in your blood is bad. Your body will fight back. If it has to do this for too long, you’ll lose the fight.
- Respect your gut biome. Understand that a healthy gut is the key to not only managing your weight, but also managing a healthy and vibrant lifestyle. Understand the role of probiotics and PREBIOTICS (two different things), and figure out ways to get them into your diet.
- Understand that just because you can eat it, doesn’t mean you should. Acute conditions like bloating, brain fog, diarrhea, allergic reaction, etc. are all subtle signs from your body that you just threw a wrench into the machine. Learn to listen to your body. Apply Dr. Gundry’s approach to an elimination diet, and start adding stuff back in to see what causes distress.
- Properly understand how to measure your success in your pursuit of health/nutrition. The number on the scale means almost nothing without a reference point. Total poundage and/or BMI can be grossly misleading out of context. The BMI scale will usually tell highly muscular and athletic people that they are overweight. Utilize the technology and science that is available, and track meaningful metrics. If you want to lose weight, get a scale that estimates body fat, and track the trend on that. If your body fat is going down, you are doing the right thing. It is very possible that you can keep the same overall poundage on the scale, but lose body fat. If you have a sound nutritional plan, and are working out, you’ll simultaneously lose body fat, but gain lean muscle. The overall poundage number will not show that. Also realize that you should be tracking some of your major blood metrics to see how things are going inside your body. It doesn’t matter if you have 6-pack abs if your blood work is trash. Track those numbers as vigilantly as you would your weight/fat %.
- Aim to make your ritual of eating as anti-inflammatory as possible. You could go full boar and try to be 100% anti-inflammatory, but you might find that restrictive. If the aim is to make this a lifestyle change, try to shape a lifestyle that you can stick with. If you reduce/eliminate sugar, reduce/eliminate lectin exposure, and focus on eating more “whole” foods and quality foods (grass-fed meat, pasture eggs, wild fish, organic veggies/fruit, nuts & seeds, and good quality oils), you’ll not only keep your system un-inflamed, you’ll undoubtedly see the results on the outside as well.
- Don’t be afraid to skip meals. I’ve a big advocate of intermittent fasting. I find that my current diet leaves me satiated enough where I’m not “starving” and needing my next meal. I just eat when I’m hungry. Sometimes, that can mean 16-18 hours between one meal and the next. I don’t do that because I’m watching the clock and trying to intentionally delay the next meal, I’m really just not hungry. It’s amazing how filling a diet of fat and protein with good carbs can be.
- Become a student of your own nutrition. There is a ton of information out there. Rather than just accepting a very binary dogma of “eat this/not that” learn the bigger picture, so you can make targeted decisions. Understand that you don’t have to swear off tomatoes, but you’ll make it much less inflammatory if you peel and seed them first. Understand that cooked white rice triggers a bad response in your body, but cold sushi rice is a resistant starch and will feed your gut biome. That is why I liked Mark Sisson’s Primal Blueprint so much – it aimed to teach the theory – not the dogma.
Age 38, 188 lbs, great blood work, and I could probably kick the hell out of mid-20’s me
My Next Steps
I’ve recently read Mark Sisson’s “The Keto Reset Diet,” and will probably experiment more with cycling in/out of a keto diet. To be strict keto, you need to hit 50g or less of carbs, AND, you need to have measurable amounts of ketone bodies in your blood/urine. There are test strips that you can buy, and basically dipstick your urine each day to see if you are in keto. The thing that “stinks” about keto is that one slip up, and you fall out of keto. You don’t really get a cheat day. That is why Mark recommends cycling in/out at certain intervals to be the more sustainable “lifestyle.” That isn’t to say that people don’t stay in keto for long periods of time – I’m just saying that seems/sounds hard. No matter what I do, I’ll be sure to measure it, and make sure I’m getting the results that I want.
Quick 10 Second Recommendation
I get asked this question a lot, “…what do you think I should do???” Well, if you aren’t interested in heeding my #12 above, here is the down and dirty. Flip a coin and choose between “The Wild Diet” and “The Primal Blueprint.” In my opinion, it doesn’t really matter. I personally gravitate to “The Primal Blueprint.” In addition to that, I’d strongly recommend you add in the recommendations from “The Plant Paradox.” In my opinion, combining those nutritional theories checks a majority of the boxes I outlined above. Going with the Keto version of the Primal Blueprint, plus the learnings of the Plant Paradox, in my opinion, is as close to perfect as a nutritional philosophy can get.