The Easy Way to Get Healthy

I was recently disturbed by something I saw on Facebook. (I know I shouldn’t take things so seriously, but, honestly, some things are just disturbing.)

One of the people in my timeline had posted a status update about some fitness program he is doing, how he loves it, is losing weight, his cholesterol is going down, you know, the kind of weird post that only fitness fanatics can love.

In the comments section, the conversation went something like this:

  • Commenter: Wow, that sounds great, Original Poster. I have been looking for something like that myself.
  • Original Poster: It is great, Commenter.  You should give it a try!
  • Commenter: Maybe I’ll do that. Is it easy? It has to be easy, or I won’t do it.
  • Original Poster: It’s not easy, but anything worth doing isn’t easy.

And the Commenter was not heard from again.

Getting fit is definitely not easy. It takes hard work to build muscle, because the only way to build it is to tear it down first by lifting heavy objects.

But wait a minute.

Getting fit is one thing. Fitness involves building muscle and aerobic stamina. There is almost no way to make that easy. It takes time and effort, like one of the fitness programs in the ads on this page.

However, getting healthy is a different matter.

I mean, sure, they tend to go hand in hand, but, honestly, you can get healthy — e.g. get your blood pressure and cholesterol down, avoid heart disease, severely lower your risk of cancer — relatively easily. All you have to do is change the way you eat.

You are going to eat anyway, right? 75% to 80% of your body composition is determined by what you eat, right? So … why not just eat the right things? Assuming you don’t have access to some kind of magic wand, what can be easier than that?

Well, maybe it’s not so easy. After all, there are some things that make it difficult for people to change the way they eat.

  • Ingrained beliefs – We learn what is good and bad for us as children, and what we learned way back then tends to stick. We have a hard time overcoming those beliefs that were hammered into us all those years ago.
  • Disbelief – How can being healthy be as simple as changing what I put into my digestive tract?
  • Not wanting to stand out  – As humans living in society, we tend to be continually influenced by peer, family, and other social pressures, and many of us simply want to fit in. Why stand out from the crowd because we “eat weird”?
  • Playing the odds – That [insert ailment or disease here] won’t happen to me, right?

The funny thing is that most of those barriers to healthy eating go away once we suffer some kind of medical trauma, like a heart attack or stroke. Once that happens, oh, yeah, then we are ready to make a change.

That is kind of like installing the alarm after the burglary. Sure, you may help prevent future problems, but you are lucky that first incident didn’t put you under.

I prefer to take preventive measures to avoid the issue altogether, and the current route I am taking toward staying healthy is a plant-based diet. When I use the term “diet”, by the way, I am referring to a way of eating, not a short-term plan.

Why plant-based? Check out this short written interview with T. Colin Campbell for a quick rundown.

Plant-based is my choice, but yours might be different.

Whatever you choose, please know that you can be much more healthy if you simply change the way you eat! Be conscious of what you put into your mouth. Stay away from all that refined and processed food. Try to eat whole foods. If you include meat, try to get the good stuff without all the drugs and other gunk in it. Keep dietary fats low.

Eat to satisfy your hunger, not your emotions, and, while you won’t see the changes overnight, you may be surprised how quickly your health improves.

Is soy dangerous?

I have still not looked that deeply into soy, but public opinion seems to be split on it, so I keep my intake rather low to hedge my bets until I can figure it out. Being the cynic that I am, it’s hard for me to believe anything, and, in fact, I really don’t put my faith 100% anywhere, so it takes me a while to get a handle on some concepts, especially one with such a diversity of opinions, all with, of course, scientific evidence to back them up.

I used to drink a lot of soymilk, but a few years ago my friend Hans told me how much better almond milk was for me — he was buying into anti-soy rhetoric, which, as I said, may indeed be valid, but I just don’t know. Anyway, I tried almond milk and immediately switched, primarily because almond milk just tastes a lot better than soy milk.

Outside soy milk, which I used in my breakfast cereal and protein shakes, I didn’t really eat soy, except for soy sauce sometimes, and a little tofu here and there from Pei Wei, which has the best tasting tofu, I think, although I cannot to speak to its nutritional value ;=)

Well, that was then, and this is now. Then I was consuming a lot of animal protein. Now I am eating mostly vegan, so I need my plant-based protein, and soy products like tempeh, tofu, and edamame are really good sources of it. The Ultimate Reset taught me that. (Um, not about the tofu. The creators of The Reset are not so hot on tofu, because it is processed and often done so with chlorine. Horrors! But I like it, and I think the benefits outweigh the risks.)

My current thought is that non-GMO (GMO stands for “genetically modified organism” and, yeah, there is a movement against that, too, which seems to be somewhat valid, so I try to stick with non-GMO when possible) tempeh and edamame are okay with me, along with tofu. They are great sources of plant protein, and are eaten by a large percentage of the world’s population, so my cynicism tells me that most of the anti-soy rap has been generated by the meat industry, which sees soy as stiff competition.

Soy or no soy, well, life doesn’t really boil down to that, now does it? I mean, how can we possibly know what one particular ingredient does to our bodies? There is simply too much going on inside for one ingredient to be “the one thing” that will either kill or cure us, right?

I fact, I am at the point where I cannot even continue to demonize sugar, because there is a lot of sugar in the good fruits we should eat. Okay, maybe refined sugars and flours are bad for us, but perhaps that is simply a problem of volume, and if we only ate a little of that stuff, we’d be fine, right?

Ultimately, it’s virtually impossible to know the answers. The body interacts with the nutrients we ingest in so many ways, there are too many factors to determine what a particular ingredient does inside us. We have a hard time knowing whether it ever makes it to where it needs to be, or whether it has the opportunity to do the damage or uplift the health the way researchers claim it can do.

So what I currently do is strive to eat a lot of plants, and even, on rare occasions, some fish or eggs, and that should be me as close to “okay” as I can get. That’s my take on it for today, anyway. As you may have noticed, I am always open to change, if the right evidence comes along.

But I’ll tell you, I’ve been through a lot up to now, and a whole foods plant-based diet, including non-GMO soy, seems right.

Is muscle soreness reduced by a vegan diet?

When I switched from paleo to vegan a few months ago — an unexpected result, by the way, of my having gone through The Ultimate Reset — I did so because in the 21 days of The Reset I (1) lost weight that I thought I had no chance of losing, (2) my lower leg and foot cramps were gone, and (3) my eyes were not burning all the time like they used to. Given those results, I figured I’d try a vegan diet for a year or so, then re-assess at that time.

I have discovered an unexpected side effect of my plant-based diet, though: I am not nearly as sore the day after a workout as I used to be.

At first, I thought this lack of delayed onset muscle soreness — abbreviated as “DOMS”, that’s the soreness I would always feel the day after a workout and beyond — was because I was not fully recovered from The Reset, so I just wasn’t pushing it that hard. As the weeks passed, though, and the DOMS remained severely diminished, I decided to put it to the test.

One sure way for me to feel sore the next day is to do my Steve’s Chest & Back routine. I do all the exercises to exhaustion, so there is no way to dog it, and I have felt so sore from this in the past that I could barely move my arms the next day, because of all the DOMS in my chest and lats.

I did it, gave it all I had, and the next day … nothing. Well, not completely nothing, but not nearly close to any kind of soreness I’d felt in the past.

“Okay,” I thought. “Maybe there is some connection between a plant-based diet and a lack of muscle soreness.” But I was not convinced. So I waited 6 weeks and tried it again.

Again, I was barely sore the next day. Hmmmmm….

I started looking around a bit, once again, at DOMS, and there is still not a lot of consensus as to what makes us feel DOMS. Some say lactic acid. Some say lack of stretching. Some say muscle spasms. No one seems to know for sure.

I did discover, though, that Brendan Brazier, the guy who wrote the book Thrive: The Vegan Nutrition Guide to Optimal Performance in Sports and Life, also noticed his DOMS was much less severe when he went vegan.

Again, hmmmmm….

I will continue to test this hypothesis on myself, but I would say that my soreness is at least 65% to 70% less as a vegan than it was when I was eating a high-animal-protein diet.

And that’s a good thing.

RECIPE: World’s Best Oatmeal – slow cooked

If you’ve been following along, you may know that I’ve recently gone to a mostly plant-based diet. I still allow myself eggs, whey protein, and fish, but not much of those.

Why have I done this?

Well, after I completed The Ultimate Reset, a 21-day detoxification process, which involved my learning more about plant-based nutrition (and during which I lost 2 inches off my waist along with 10+ pounds), I felt so good that I decided to see if it was sustainable by staying mostly vegan. I enjoy the food quite a lot, so I am looking forward to the next year or so of this near-vegan experiment.

In the course of my post-Reset diet, then, I adapted this recipe for oatmeal from one that was posted in a Facebook group.

It involves slow-cooking, which may or may not be necessary, but I think it’s gotta help blend the flavors, right?

INGREDIENTS

  • 2/3 cup steel-cut oats
  • ¼ cup ground flaxseed
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp Himalayan salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 Tbs coconut oil
  • 4 cups water
  • ½ cup unsweetened dried apricots, chopped
  • ¼ to ½ cup cup toasted pumpkin seeds
  • Sweetener like raw honey, stevia, or agave nectar to taste (if necessary — I didn’t use any)

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Add all ingredients except sweetener and pumpkin seeds to small slow cooker. Stir to combine. Cook on low for 2 to 6 hours (those small slow cookers vary temperature-wise), until liquid is gone.
  2. Mix in sweetener (if desired) and spoon into serving bowls.
  3. Sprinkle top with pumpkin seeds.

Makes 2 large servings.

You can use whatever fruit and nuts you like. I think a green apple and some walnuts would be tasty. Or maybe some raisins and pecans. Up to you. Enjoy!

Switching from Low-Carb Eating to Vegetarianism. Why?

As you may or may not know, I have been a low-carb eater for more than 2 years now. That means I ate very few grains, a lot of meat, and some fruit and vegetables.

I’m changing that, doing almost a 180, in fact. For at least the next year, I’ll be eating a modified vegetarian diet, which means I’ll eat only plant-based foods, but also include whey protein, eggs, and fish. Some call that “pescetarian” or “pescatarian”, but, really, fish will be a very small part of my diet, as will eggs.

Why?

Low-carb was great for me for weight loss, because I could feel satisfied on the low-carb, high-fat/protein regimen. The problem is that I’ve been stuck for more than 2 years. I cannot seem to budge below the 170-175 range.

Or I should say that I could not budge below that range. I have now busted through with the help of The Ultimate Reset.

What is the Reset? I explain that more in depth here, but, basically, it’s a 21-day detoxification process that attempts to rid your body of contaminants through a vegan diet and reset it to zero so you can, essentially, start over. And that’s what I’m doing. Starting over.

Not only that, but I am starting over 11 pounds lighter. That’s right, in 21 days I lost 11 pounds and 2 inches off my waist. That’s significant, because I had struggled to lose that gut fat, and now it’s shrinking.

In light of that, then, I decided I should take a closer look at plant-based nutrition.

The first thing I noticed is that while most eating plans focus on the fact that you can lose fat on them, and, thereby receive all the health benefits of a leaner body, vegan eating also has been shown to reverse diseases like heart disease and cancer. Reverse them.

The second thing I noticed is that when I looked at vegan recipes, often the nutritional breakdown was missing, so there was no listing of macronutrients like fat, carb, protein grams. Why? Because who cares, that’s why. You can’t get too many calories on an plant-based diet. Okay, that’s not really true, but if you stay away from processed foods of all kinds, like flours, oils, sugars, you’ll be okay. Yeah, you gotta watch your protein, and my sample size is probably too small to determine that this is a trend, but I found it interesting.

The third thing I noticed is that I’ve never been talking to a fat person about nutrition and had him tell me, “I’m a vegan.” That’s not to mention that the vegetarians I do know are all thin.

By the way, I should caveat this with the fact that I do believe that heredity definitely impacts all of our body compositions. Some people are naturally thin, some are naturally fat, some in-between. That’s why some have to work harder at staying thin than others. I do not use “fat” as a pejorative term here. Fat is fat, same as thin is thin.

Finally, and most importantly, is that it seems to work for me. I lost that gut fat that had hung on for so long. And my eyes have stopped burning! They used to burn so often, and I often blamed it on allergies or staring too much at the computer screen. I’m sure my doctor would have diagnosed it as dry-eye syndrome, if I’d told her about it. But here on this vegan diet, no burning eyes, and that is a huge mood changer for me.

With all that in mind, I’m going to give a modified vegetarian lifestyle — maybe merging into a vegan lifestyle — a shot for at least a year and see how it treats me, make sure this isn’t just a short term fluke.

[UPDATE ON OCTOBER 25, 2012] After further research, I have decided to drop all animal products from my diet and eat vegan at least through October, 2013. I figured, what the hell, might as well go all in, right?

I’m pretty excited about it, because it’s something new to learn, and I love learning. Drop me a line if you want to join me or just have something to say about it, because I’m all ears!