“…look at me I’m skinny…” Diet, exercise, nature, and nurture

I’m a skinny dude. I was chunky for a bit around 4th and 5th grade, around the time my parents became shareholders in Wendy’s and I started eating bacon double cheeseburgers for dinner a couple nights a week, but that stopped and I went back to being a skinny guy for the rest of my life.

All the time people say to me, “Oh you don’t need to worry about what you eat,” and generally snicker at my biking to work and 6 day-a-week workout program as wasted energy by a perpetually lean person. The general idea I think is that I’m a skinny guy and therefore I don’t need to think about any of these things.

I gotta be honest, those comments are kinda insulting. As if 18 years of not eating meat, multiple years of not eating fast food, constant diet tweaking, a conscious decision to bike more and drive less, making exercising a priority even when traveling, etc don’t have any impact on my body shape and health?

Meanwhile I’m also looked at as the difficult, elitist crazy-guy who refuses to eat at chain restaurants and would starve to death locked inside an airport for a month, and everyone else is easy-going and normal, eating another burger and fries or triple-fried whatever from the Panda Express.

Denial ain’t a river in Africa, folks. To quote former FDA commissioner David Kessler from the book I just read (and the impetus for this post), The End of Overeating, “People get fat because they eat more than people who are lean…we finally have strong evidence that weight gain is primarily due to overeating.” Period.

Are there differences between my body and your body which are due to genetics? Of course, and more importantly the way our brains are wired to drive us toward the reward of eating likely differs greatly, too. It’s cool by me if you’d prefer not to and I certainly understand if it’s not easy to eat like I do, but kindly ask you give nurture the credit for my size, not nature. And please stop fooling yourself that you can hit the gym a couple times a week, eat like an average American and lose weight. It’s just not scientifically sound.

I wish there was a way to get all of America to read David Kessler’s The End of Overeating (oh wait, there is, how do you lobby Oprah’s Book Club, anyway?). The book chronicles the author’s very human quest to understand why America started gaining weight in the 80s, a Fast Food Nation which instead of looking just at the “business” of food it looks at human beings and asks science why eating sugar, fat, and salt makes us want to eat more sugar, fat, and salt. What’s happening with food in the US (and we’re exporting worldwide!) is pretty terrifying, and the number of people who are complicit (you?) is really discouraging. As Kessler says:

“The stakes are higher with food than with most other commercial products. Intentionally or not, industry activities take advantage of the biology of the brain, selling us products that alter our bodies.”

For more check out this New York Times article on the book, which a friend on Twitter pointed me to last week and how I ended up reading it.

I hesitate to write about this stuff, it’s a little personal and as I mentioned it feels elitist. I’m not bragging. My general philosophy in life (to quote Jenny Aurthur) is “don’t yuk yuk someone else’s yum yum”. But there’s really something scary going on in this country now with respect to diet (Wall-E capturing the end of the trajectory we’re on at the moment). But I don’t think we’ll let it go that far. We’ve managed to smoke less as a society, I think we can manage to eat less, too, and send a message that it might just be good business to serve food that won’t make us fat in public places. Please take a read through The End of Overeating and buy it for anyone you think would benefit from it. I fear most people just don’t know how bad most of what they’re putting in their bodies is and they don’t have enough info to make the right choices. Education seems the right way to start and The End of Overeating is a great, modern Diet For A New America that doesn’t come across as activism, just a doctor looking for answers and to help a nation who can’t seem to stop getting fatter.

I’m not going to judge anyone if they’re not ready just yet, but I’d like to put it out there that I’m more than happy to play diet coach for anyone who would like some support. It’s pretty straight-forward, but easier to do when it’s not your body, as Dr. Kessler’s book does a great job of explaining. Hit me up here or on Twitter and let’s do this.

Tontino's party pizza!

I ate like shit growing up, frozen pizzas, burritos, nachos, and blue Kool-Aid, but my mom was a marathon runner and health food aficionado who put in her time at the local co-op grocery so thankfully I had some basis for what was and wasn’t good for me when I was old enough to care. I stopped eating meat, there was a period of time where I didn’t eat cheese either, then I started eating fish again, then when I met my wife I started eating cheese again, too, just to be a little less of a pain in the ass to share a meal with. But I’ve always had my Achilles heels, mostly eating way too many chips and/or crackers or way too much bread, and only in the past couple of years have I started to get a handle on it.

LL Cool J's Platinum Workout

It started as most people’s workout routines do, with LL Cool J. My beloved AllHipHop.com alerts told me Cool J had made a workout book, and as a joke I thought I’d give it a go and blog about it. But just a couple weeks in I decided I actually liked the routine. The advice seemed solid, the workout very cross-train-oriented with a little weights and a little cardio, and the book had been written so a gym newbie wouldn’t be too creeped out. My employer at the time (Yahoo!) had just started free gym memberships so I signed up and got my Cool J on, starting 3 mornings and eventually 5 mornings a week. Just to add to it, I also took the opportunity to cycle through LL Cool J’s catalog, allowing myself only to listen to Cool J in the gym, which really wasn’t a bad thing at all, the first four records are all still dope and 14 Shots isn’t as bad as you thought it was back then, trust me.

Cool J covered diet in the book, too, prescribing what I now realize is the basic diet recommended by every exercise book (see below). I started trying to adjust my diet a bit, and since I don’t eat meat (except fish) I started trying to get a little more protein.

I figured it was irresponsible to base my new workout and nutrition plan solely on a book written by LL Cool J, so I searched Amazon for something a little more standard fare to supplement with. Men’s Health’s Book of Muscle was pretty well-reviewed, so I picked that up. Turned out I liked the Cool J book better as it seemed a little more balanced; the Men’s Health book was more on the “don’t do cardio you won’t get huge” tip. I wasn’t trying to get huge, just be kinda in shape, so I stuck with the Cool J book.

I told Kid Rock I was doing the Cool J workout and he laughed, “You are the worst spokesman for his book! Just what he needs, a skinny white kid telling people, ‘hey look at me, I did the Cool J workout!’ That’s like me wearing Russel Simmons clothes!” Probably true. But I’m also probably one of the only people on earth who did everything the book told me to for six months. I completed the LL Cool J Platinum Workout 100%. In its entirety. End-to-end. Anyone else? Anyone?

I liked having the prescribed workouts. Having a plan when you walk into a gym is a good thing. Having someone else come up with that plan is also a good thing. So I needed a new plan. I turned to the Men’s Health “Book of Muscle” book and decided to play a trick on it: I’d do the Intermediate workout series three days per week and run the other three days. I did that for six months and now have almost completed the “Advanced” six months in the book, too, along with the running or some sort of cardio on the off days (it’s been a lot of elliptical trainer as of late due to a running-related injury).

Somewhere along the way I picked up the Nike+ setup. For those who don’t know, it’s a little pedometer/transmitter that goes on your shoe, and a receiver that plugs into your iPod Nano. When you head out for a run you can tell it to tell you when you’re half-way to five miles, or 45 minutes, or just to pay attention. Then when you get home and reconnect your iPod to iTunes, it uploads the data from your run to the worst Web site in the world, NikePlus.com, where so long as you’re willing to struggle through a “Web site” built entirely in Flash you can track your runs over time or participate in “challenges” with other Nike+ users worldwide (here’s a link to my profile on their godforsaken site). I actually got into it originally when I found out I could run with my friends Vince Koser and Emi Guner, both who live far away, and my first running injury came when I doubled my mileage to beat a bunch of Swedish girls in a Run With E challenge. Whoops. There are a couple of great alternatives to the unfathomably terrible, marketing-dollars-gone-wrong Nike+ Web site, namely Rasmus’ SlowGeek.com and RunnerPlus.com.

Along the way I also picked up the Men’s Health Muscle Chow diet/nutrition book and the Power Training book (which I plan to pull my workout routine from next, now that I’m about to complete the Book of Muscle workouts). I dunno about you but I personally find it embarrassing to own these books, with their Gold’s Gym vibe and people on the cover who I’ll never look like (and don’t want to), but they’re both actually excellent books and I’d recommend them. Muscle Chow features a bunch of really simple recipes and is a great, simple, overall diet plan. Power Training actually features a really good nutrition section, too, with the six basic rules all these books point to, and as far as I know are pretty sound advice:

  1. Eat five or six times a day
  2. Limit your consumption of sugars and processed foods
  3. Eat fruits and vegetables throughout the day
  4. Drink more water and cut out calorie-containing beverages (beer, soda, and so forth)
  5. Focus on consuming more lean proteins throughout the day
  6. Save starch-containing foods until after a workout or for breakfast

Pretty straight-forward, no magic, no surprises, but I had to completely change my diet around to get there. I’m stoked to be here, though, I feel better, I’m never hungry, and I rarely have guilt/regret about eating. I’m always looking for ways to improve on the nutrition front, but it’s definitely been worth the effort.

An average day for me looks like this:

Pre-workout: Protein power, Glutamine, and Lecithin mixed w/water
Breakfast: Whole grain non-instant oatmeal w/ Oat Bran, Raisins, Almonds, Skim Milk (no sugar), plus a multivitamin and some omega 3 pills
Lunch: Small salad w/protein (lettuce, broccoli, tuna, tofu, garbonzos, black beans, salsa, flax seed oil)
Afternoon snack: Cottage cheese
Dinner: Some lean protein (fish, eggs, etc) w/veggies, ideally
Bedtime snack: Plain yogurt w/berries and maybe some protein powder

A few changes I’ve made recently to try to push things even more the right direction:

  • Trying to eat less salt, so I’m eating the plain tofu instead of the baked “wok” tofu, etc.
  • Trying to eat less sugar/carbs, so I swapped out the boxed cereal (even the healthy one I used to eat) for oatmeal. Tis hearty and delicious and I’m not hungry til lunch.
  • Swapped skim milk instead of the rice milk I used to drink. Way less sugar/carbs, and more protein.
  • Changed from vanilla yogurt to plain yogurt. Way less sugar.
  • Trying to eat more whole grains, so eating Ezekiel 4:9 bread as french toast, PB&J, or with eggs.
  • Water, not soda. Not even diet soda. More water.
  • Wine (usually red) a couple days a week at most. No mixed drinks. No beer.

Just a few examples of things I’ve been looking out for/habits I’ve been trying to change recently. Thought it might help you take a look at what you’re currently eating and make some simple changes, too.

I’m sure most people are going to read this and think I’m some health freak or worry that I’m going to turn into Joe Piscopo or some shit. I get it. That’s why I was hesitant to post anything at all. But that book at the top of the page inspired me a little. Maybe just one or two people will also get inspired, grab the book, maybe even follow those six rules above a little more than they used to (#2 at the very least!). The real trap is thinking that worrying about what you’re putting in your body is only something health freaks worry about, and everyone else should pour in all the salt, fat, and sugar the fine folks at Pepsico make for them.

Thanks for reading.

ian

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  2. Simple Changes Aren’t Always Simple on 21 Jun 2010 at 9:30 am

    [...] is Ian Rogers, who blogs about his health at Fistfulayen. In one of his best posts, he writes about his use of the L.L. Cool J workout, which eventually turns into an astute point that virtually every “healthy diet” book [...]

  3. Hacking Crossfit: How to Use CrossFit.com to Get Fit For Free at FISTFULAYEN on 30 Oct 2012 at 11:19 pm

    [...] I’ve tried a number of workout programs over the past five or six years starting as a goof; my first consisted of following the LL Cool J Platinum Workout Book front-to-back. Surprisingly, I dug it. So I ordered another book on Amazon. And another. And one more. [...]

Comments

  1. Cecilie wrote:

    I don’t think this makes you sound like a freak at all. Its really just reasonable advice on taking care of yourself. The people who I think are crazy are those on some fad diet like the “only eat grapefruit on Wednesday” diet* or “eat ice cream for dinner” diet**.

    I think the key to is willpower! Seriously, I don’t think you give yourself enough credit for having awesome willpower. And that doesn’t mean other people can’t do it. It just means they have to work on willpower. I know that is my biggest problem. Willpower to get myself out of bed so I can go to the gym or willpower not to have a piece of cake. So what I would want to know is how do you drive yourself to do those things or avoid the things you have to avoid? And if you say you just don’t like cake or something, I may have to hate you a little bit. :)

    * not a real diet, I don’t think
    ** a diet my grandmother swore by in her later years.

  2. cristobal wrote:

    Hey – where are the post LL Cool J photos that were promised?

    How much weight have you gained? That was part of the goal wasn’t it? Should have gotten the body fat analysis baseline…can still goto getdunked.com and get hooked up.

    men’s fitness is too generic and into vanity muscles – go with Pavel over at dragondoor.com. Or the burn the fat feed the muscle dude. Venutto or something like that. I haven’t bought that book yet cause I know it’ll tell me to do things that I’m not yet ready to do.

    I imagine you’re still annoying to try and order a pizza with though possibly even more so now? But I’ll try and find out first hand this summer sometime. By then, I might not mind as much, as I’m slowly becoming a food snob too.

    Savor the superiority!

  3. iancr wrote:

    Hi Cecile,

    Thanks for the comment. I appreciate the kind words.

    You really should grab that book, this is pretty much what it’s about. The fact is, the willpower part is *really* hard, and much harder for some people than others. Dr. Kessler spends many chapters explaining how it works, and how to address it.

    For me personally I think that’s why the workout fits well with the diet. You’re eating for locomotion, not for comfort, and if you ran this morning and are working out tomorrow morning it’s hard (for me) to want to waste the effort by slamming a piece of cake at night. I’d rather solve my sweet tooth and sleep well by pouring some yogurt on blueberries (which I just did tonight, like most nights). Maybe I’m lucky in that yeah, I actually love that dessert, too.

    But I’ll also have a few bites of dessert after eating out. It’s all about what you do 90% of the time. A nip of something here or there isn’t going to make a bit of difference. The trick is just not going crazy, and making your “habits” good ones.

    For me the hardest thing continues to be crackers and chips. I could eat an entire box of crackers or every chip in the restaurant no matter how not hungry I am. The only answer for me with those is to just not eat them, period. Maybe I’m just getting old but now I know myself well enough to know I’ll eat too many, and I’ll feel sick, so I just skip ‘em.

    Hope that’s helpful. Thanks again for the comment.

    ian

  4. iancr wrote:

    Cris and Catherine are Kettle Ball King and Queen of Sunnyvale. I can’t compete with that shit.

    I think I’ve gained about 5 lbs. I was 162 at the doc last week (when I was getting treated for swine flu) but then I had shoes and all my clothes on. So maybe not that much. I was 149 in the middle of the Cool J workout.

    You’re right about the Book of Muscle being all “mirror muscles”. I think it’s pretty weak, really, but not a bad baseline. Better than nothing. I don’t feel like I wasted a year or anything.

    I’m kinda stoked on the Power one, much more total body stuff. No kettle balls, but tons of compound movement exercises. I think you’d approve, even if Pavel doesn’t. We can’t all have dragon balls.

    What are your stats? You’ve been kettle ballin’ for a long time. What’s the damage? How huge are your forearms? Is that muscle or just huge callusing from catching the ball there all the time?

    ian

  5. Wayne wrote:

    I highly recommend the Ezekiel brand cereals, they have whole grains and protein, a good alternative to Grape Nuts. My breakfast is usually plain (full-fat) yogurt with some of that cereal and a touch of maple syrup. When they add their own sweetener, most people probably would only want a fraction of the sugars in the flavored varieties.

  6. Lucas wrote:

    Funny to see how far the LL Cool J thing led you, Ian.

    I found this post useful in the sense of comparing notes. I put effort into maintaining my body in decent condition and it was cool to learn what you do. Reading this made me realize that it’s too bad people don’t talk about nutrition more often.

    For example, non-instant oatmeal is a very practical food. It keeps forever and is easy to make. But it makes a mess in the kitchen, especially when the pot boils over, which it always does.

    Something that drives me nuts is how expensive it is to eat well when I eat out. At home the economics favor fish or a salad, but it’s the opposite in a restaurant.

    I get the sense that what you eat is very precise. You seem to be going after specific results. That makes me wonder about metrics…

  7. Tyler wrote:

    Hey Ian –

    This was a great post that I shared with a couple people immediately.

    As you know, we’re similar body types, and being 37 now, my body is telling me I need to get in shape, even though I don’t really look out of shape.

    I’ve hard the hardest time finding motivation, but a couple weeks ago I got a Wii with EA Sports Active, and its been great – I break a sweat, do cardio, upper and lower, and it makes me want to exercise more and be more active in general.

    I also *feel* when I’m not eating as well I should, unlike when I was in my twenties and could eat anything (particularly Del Taco on the way home from playing a gig). So I’m working on cutting way back on sugar, caffeine, fried foods (including chips) and any alcohol. Sugar and alcohol are the easiest for me, caffeine the toughest by far, especially if I even try to knock off the green tea.

    Thanks for a thoughtful post, and good to see you’re doing well.

  8. Mark wrote:

    Hi Ian,

    Thanks for the post. Even though I do not have weight issues and am not confronted with the amount of fast and processed food as you guys are over in the US (I live in The Netherlands), your post inspired me to take a good look at what I currently eat and drink. I might even throw a little exercise in here and there :-).

    Cheers,

    Mark

  9. nordlyss wrote:

    Hi Ian,

    Thanks for writing this, and especially for that routinely mentioned ‘biking to work and 6 day-a-week workout program’ )) I’ve just realized that my current mindset of “well i’m already fine, and if i manage not to skip that third cardio day on top of two workouts, i’ll be super cool” is kinda…. laughable…… In past i have periods of two workouts a week (plus cardio) and two more days – cardio only, and this with a strict diet seemed to be a working recipe for me, but – too hard to stick to it. Well maybe it’s not that much effort. Not *too much* )))

    Cecilie is right, it’s all about willpower. I flatter myself that I know what to do, mainly, and but I’m lazy, and think too much about food, enjoy way too much all the things that I’d better avoid. Now really hope to find in that Kessler book some ideas on how to fight my food obsessions…

    That’s funny, I signed up for this blog for music/music biz/IT-related stuff, and this one was totally unexpected…. but maybe eventually much more useful, we’ll see. Need me some motivation. Discipline. Hah, yeah, because once I start……. :)

  10. Eric Burke wrote:

    Hey Ian — great post! Definitely not elitist or freaky at all. It’s kind of sad that someone posting tips/tricks/stories about how to stay healthy is met with “freak!” — tells you a lot about what people will do to not listen to someone who does things “differently”. (Not that we didn’t know that already about people.)

    Re: cereal, not sure if you’ve tried the Kashi Go Lean (the red box, not the “Crunch”) — it has 140cal, 10g fiber and 13g protein per 1 cup serving. With regular cereal, I’ll be hungry within an hour; when I eat the Kashi with some banana, I can be full for a long time.

    Anyhow, thanks for the post. Filed away. ;)

  11. Andrew wrote:

    Hey Ian,

    Good article. You did mention “No beer” twice in your article. That’s rough man. I recently read “In Defense of Food” which was less about exercise than it was about diet, and it had a pretty good take on the rise of the western diet (highly processed foods) and the rise of obesity, chronic heart disease, diabetes, etc. Scary how so many people fooled themselves into thinking that eating vitamin fortified fruit loops was good for them.

    Does this mean you don’t eat grilled cheese anymore? or only on Ezekiel 4:9 bread?

  12. steve wrote:

    You’re not elitist by sharing your lifestyle. You’re doing what you gotta do and trying to live by being a good example. Thanks. You’ve inspired me to get the Cool J book, Muscle Chow and Kessler’s. The gf and I are always interested in new tasty & healthy recipes. If it tastes like crap, you’re not going to eat it. I’m in the middle of a lifestyle/diet/fitness reboot after being tired of being out of breath when rapping. What better than LL Cool J fitness? I was headed back to being as fat as I was during high school and nobody wants that.

    Don’t turn into Carrot Top either.

    funky49
    (endomorph)

    p.s.
    I’m the complete dork who thought it would be cool to write your FAQ back in the day.

  13. Jason wrote:

    Yup, the Y! gym thing helped me get back into working out… two kids under six make me do it less than before, but now starting to get more time. It is a lifestyle.

    Thanks for the book reference — I’m going to download it today. I got the “Eat this, not that!” book and it grossed me out of a lot of the restaurant stuff you mentioned. That approach is not for everyone.

    You might like reading some of David Murdock’s thinking (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Murdock). I heard him speak a month ago, and he’s in concert with you on a no. of things.

    -Jason

    P.S. Kid Rock story = instant laughing.

    P.P.S. I know you dropped the iPhone, but Nike+ at least did that app well (the site does sucketh).

  14. iancr wrote:

    Wow. Thanks everyone for the kind comments. That was great to wake up to. Glad y’all enjoyed it.

    Wayne, I haven’t tried the Ezekiel brand cereals. Eric, when my mom comes to town she rocks the Kashi one these days, too. Seems really good. I like the Optimum Slim, also whole grain, high in protein and fiber, but it’s from a sugar perspective that it’s a little unnecessary. All really good options, though. The oatmeal has definitely stepped in for me, though. Here’s the recipe:

    1/2 cup whole oats
    1 cup water

    mix and put in the microwave for 3:30.

    when it’s done, add 1/4 cup oat bran. stir.

    add skim milk, almonds, and raisins. eat.

    If I’ve just worked out I might add some protein to the milk before putting it on.

    Hey Andrew. I’ve never been a big beer drinker, so that’s pretty easy. As Julie will tell you, it’s only in the past few years that I’ve had an occasional beer and she always looks surprised — what are you doing drinking beer? We haven’t drank nearly as many mixed drinks since she got pregnant 3.5 years ago, either. We do enjoy wine, though, so I’ll lean a little on the findings that there’s something magic in red wine that makes the French live forever and continue to enjoy the occasional glass or two. The only change here is to maybe stop there and not go in for three or four glasses. ;-) And maybe one night a week, two max, not five. I don’t eat those grilled swiss on rye with mayo like we did in the music library anymore, it’s true. ;-)

    Tyler I know what you mean on the age front. That was part of the motivation for me. I could see my body starting to change a couple years ago and figured, well, it’s gonna go one way or the other. I may as well help it go the good way rather than throwing in the towel and letting it change now.

    I can see where my body type heads by looking at my dad. When he was in his 40s he was the “skinny guy with the huge gut”. All signs point to that being my fate, too, in lieu of all this. Not the end of the world, but not really where I want to be with a choice. Also, my dad had a cholesterol scare ten or fifteen years ago and the doctor prescribed no more red meat. Guess what? The gut disappeared…

    Also, one interesting thing is that all the exercise books I have condone a caffeine and a couple cups of coffee a day. I have never drank coffee and caffeine isn’t kind to me so this isn’t an issue for me, but the workout nerds are of the mind that, a) no one has proved any harm from caffeine, b) it’s a stimulant that increases your metabolism and therefore contributes to fat burning, c) go for it. My wife and I just had a conversation about this last week — feel free to draw your own conclusion and prioritize what “health” means to you — but it would seem that enjoying a couple cups of coffee or tea in the morning (with skim milk and no sugar) aren’t contributing to the overeating or overweight problem in the US. It’s that Frappacino in the afternoon that’s killing us…

    Hi Lucas, that’s why this post was so long-coming — the Cool J thing did indeed spiral out of control. The simplicity of having a “next step” was really addictive. Sometimes my workout is only 20 minutes, but I feel like I did what’s part of the overall plan, and it serves it’s purpose.

    My meal plan really isn’t that precise at all, but it is pre-meditated. On a day like today, when I have a work dinner at Bar Chloe where grilled cheese and sliders are the basic fare, then I head straight to the airport, I need to have a plan for how I’m going to eat something that isn’t going to make me feel sick, so I’ll pack a sandwich or come up with an alternate plan so I don’t just get out there, super busy, and eat some bullshit. Also, as you point out, that bullshit is usually expensive. Lame!

    Thanks again, everyone. Really appreciate all the good feedback.

    ian

  15. Bill T wrote:

    I applaud your iron will. I don’t know If I want to be quite so restrictive in my diet, being a Bay Arean and somewhat of a foodie. I do however, living on an acre of land in the woods grow a lot of my own fruits and veggies — tomatoes, lettuce, greens, peppers, artichokes, plums, apples, cherries, grapes, squash, melons and have 4 hives of bees for organic honey. I also switched to fresh fruit for workplace snacks a while back and do a 16 mile up and down hills ride to work. My main motivation beyond wanting to feel energized and just generally good is to keep feeling strong and young as I drift into middle age. I refuse to turn into a ball of flab like my father and uncles. I can’t give up my gin and tonics around the weekend barbecues. Life would be too too lean if I left aside ALL my vices.

    I just ordered the book and am very much looking forward to reading it. Thanks for the tip.

  16. Ari wrote:

    Hey Ian,
    In terms of bigger picture food-health/theory/agri-business I also endorse (and encourage everyone to read) the book Andrew mentions above “In Defense of Food” as well as another Michael Pollan book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”.

    The primary tenants are to a)try to eat foods that are “real”, containing a total of 5 recognizable ingredients – see Totinos fail above, and b) Eat food (see a), not too much, mostly plants.
    -A

  17. Aidan Nulman wrote:

    Hey Ian,

    Thanks a lot for writing this. As a student who moved out of school residences in September to start living on my own, I’ve slowly been learning how to eat “better”. It started with figuring out one or two easy, cheap, but really tasty meals and allowing myself some processed microwave-meals when I was too busy to cook.

    Now I’m in a new city and a new apartment, and I’m forcing myself to make at least one new meal every week. I’m definitely going to pick up Muscle Chow this week and start learning a couple of leaner meals.

    That said, I could never give up the “best burger ever” that I worked so hard to figure out… though I’ll probably thin out the non-lean-beef with some more vegetables.

    –Aidan

  18. Vince Koser wrote:

    Nice post, I’ve really been concentrating only on endurance training for a few years focused on doing events, running, cycling and swimming to compete in marathons and triathlons and while I’m in pretty good shape I’m far from the right weight. It’s funny how running 30 miles a week and cycling 60+ miles doesn’t just magically make you skinny without other changes (at least it hasn’t for me). I think I’ll take a queue from you and pickup a book and try and get onto some weights mixed in with my normal long distance cardio and try swapping my diet around. I’ve got the foundation going I think it’s time to complete the picture and straighten out my nutrition. Thanks for the motivator.

  19. iancr wrote:

    The Michael Pollan books seem to be widely recommended. I just added to my Kindle. Thanks.

    Vince, I know what you mean about running not equaling weight-loss. When we ran the marathon in 2002 I was surprised how much weight I *didn’t* lose. I’m sure it’s because mentally I was saying, yo, I’m marathon training, I’ll eat whatever the fuck I want. It wasn’t that bad, but I’m sure I was eating large portions and overall not thinking that much about it. And I didn’t get any skinnier, even training for a marathon for six months.

    Another thing I should have mentioned in the “things I’m trying to change in my diet” part is that I don’t eat/drink any of the “protein bar” things anymore. They’re all full of sugar and carbs, and you can get protein in way better ways (by mixing protein powder with water, or eating a little thing of low-fat cottage cheese, for example).

    The one thing that’s changed the way I feel the most lately is making changes like that. Cutting down on the sugar in my diet, the sugar I didn’t even know was there, has really made me feel different (in a good way) on a daily basis.

    ian

  20. Gary Gold wrote:

    Respect! You’re a good man Ian.

  21. Paul Klump wrote:

    Ian,

    Great post, I can understand your trepidation about not wanting to come across like a self-righteous wonk on this topic, but I’m glad you shared anyway. Diet is such a critical component of our physical and mental well-being, there can never be enough real talk on this subject.

    The six tips you listed are a good starting point, but the first step I’d give anyone trying to move toward a healthier lifestyle is up the water intake (at least 64 oz a day to start, more if you’re physically active), and work on eliminating sodas and sugary drinks. Most people don’t get enough liquids of any form anyway, and the ones they do drink are diuretics. Compared to changing what foods a person eats, switching to water is relatively easy, and can show results fairly quickly, which is an important motivation factor when making a lifestyle change.

  22. Gail wrote:

    This topic has been on my mind quite a bit. I had so many anorexic friends as a girl and young woman, that for many years I was on a campaign to fight this country’s obsession with UNDEReating. “Feed those curves!” I’d say, and I’d snub my nose at anything labeled as fat-free. But of course, undereating and overeating are just two sides of the same coin in some ways–though I’ve also learned that anorexia doesn’t have nearly as much to do with food as one might think.

    But the truth is, overall I’ve always eaten pretty well. Having come from a large family with a small budget, I grew up with rules like “you can either have one piece of bologna with two pieces of bread, or two pieces of bologna with one piece of bread.” So I just never had that habit early on of overeating. Then I became a vegetarian in my teens and then when I went to college I discovered fresh vegetables and liked them. So even though I was always encouraging people to eat, I don’t think I realized that when most people in the US eat, they are eating garbage and lots of it.

    I’ve recently moved to a very rural area where especially the men are extremely large and it has really put everything in a new focus for me. I see these men–the sort that we always used to affectionately label “big boys”–who love being active and being outside to fish, hunt, ride horses, canoe, etc. and by the time they are 35 they are barely able to do anything active because they are too big. It makes me really sad not just for them but for their families, who then also become less active because they want to spend time together with a man who can’t do that much. It’s not that the people here are really any bigger overall than they were in Detroit, where I moved from, so I’m not sure why I find it so much more depressing here.

    So I plan to read this book and I continue to look for ways to encourage good health without sounding like an elitist, as you say, or in any way fueling the low self-esteem that gets wrapped up in awet burrito with extra sour cream. Thanks for posting this.

  23. Mike Hughes wrote:

    Hey Ian-

    Great post. I always enjoy reading what you’ve got to say because it’s always sincere and genuine. It’s refreshing to read something like this from someone that’s actually taken the time to invest in it and share their results instead of the “yo, i’ve been doing this Cool J workout for three weeks now and it’s the bomb!”. Not that you would say “the bomb”, but you know what I’m saying.

    I took an indefinate haitus from drinking alcohol about 20 months ago in preparation for having our first kid and letting my aging body take a break from too many “fun” weekends. The more time I was away from it, the more I realized how much alcohol has permeated our lives socially. Just like overeating and junk food in general, drinking is just *everywhere*. Don’t get me wrong, I really don’t care if people drink, I’m just surprised how prevelant the marketing of it is. It’s the same with crap food. These days, it’s so damn confusing for people to understand that “healthy choice” doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Zero trans fat, ahhh, but it really does have trans fat. Marketing genius, no? For the companies that market these foods, it’s more about semantics and sales than it is about having any real concern with your health. I’ve learned that the key to eating healthy is being willing to throw away convenience for commitment. Unfortunately we live in a society that is so based on convenience that just making the commitment to travel a few extra miles to the farmers market instead of Safeway or taking the time to make lunch at home vs. eating out can be a deal breaker. What I learned from quitting drinking was that the minute it was about making a lifestyle change (and not being a martyr), it was much easier and made more sense. It surely doesn’t come easy which is why the term yo yo dieting exists (unless Yo Yo wrote a diet book when LL Cool J did).

    Anyhow, thanks for the words of inspiration. I had a horrible run this morning and reading this again helped me pick myself up and dust myself off, ready for the next one. By the way, for all the iPhone 3G users out there, I’m using RunKeeper Free which is pretty awesome. It tracks by GPS so it’s pretty accurate (from what I’ve seen).

    Mike

  24. Markie Broiler wrote:

    Hey Ivan,

    I’ll definitely check out the book, but I guess I’m a little unclear as to what you see as the ends of such a carefully regimented diet and exercise plan. I mean, healthy is cool, but it’s kind of a big leap from cutting out soda to eating powdered protein for breakfast, you know?

    A Paragon of Health and Virtue,
    Markles

    You can see Dr. Kessler speak here. Fun Fact: He was also the next-door neighbor of the Jeffersons.
    http://fora.tv/2009/05/08/The_End_of_Overeating_Dr_David_A_Kessler

  25. iancr wrote:

    Hi Mark in Qatar! Thanks for reading/posting.

    I get your question and you’re right. There’s eating healthy and then there’s the nutty workout routine thing, and those are really separate issues. One is health, and the other is either vanity or sport or who knows what.

    For me I suppose it’s a little of all of the above. Truth be told I’d prefer to surf or skate but the workout/run thing is just something I can do in 30 minutes to an hour without leaving my house (or pushing Lucinda in the stroller). I listen to the tech news, have some time to myself, release some endorphins, and get a little something out of that. Also, eating for the locomotion of the workout definitely helps me from a motivation perspective.

    Not really any endgame, just a healthy habit that fits into my lifestyle.

    ian

  26. CJ wrote:

    Hey Ian,

    And to think, all the time we’ve known each other I always did think you were just the naturally “skinny guy.” Your discipline and willpower is extremely impressive and are two things I’ve always lacked. Keep up the great (hard) work!

    cj

  27. Stuart wrote:

    Ian,

    Very interesting post and all good points. If you want another good book that might dovetail with Kessler’s, you should check out Gary Taubes’ “Good Calories, Bad Calories”. I started reading it on a recommendation and it has been a real eye opener (I’m about 3/4 done). It’s (among other things) a history of the science of nutrition and dieting in the 20th century. If you believe Taubes there’s quite a bit of misinformation out there that’s become enshrined as conventional wisdom.

    His book is a really interesting & a fairly fast paced read. He’s not crazy (not at all!) and I hope I’m not coming off as crazy for suggesting his book.

    I’d read more posts like this one if you felt like writing them, good stuff.

    -Stuart

  28. Brian wrote:

    Great post. I look forward to checking that book out. I am also intrigued to see that documentary Food Inc mentioned in the NYT, with Michael Pollan in it.

    I recommend the documentary ‘King Corn’ for folks interested in just one slice of the problem.

    One minor quibble with the photo of LL Cool J. Look at photo’s of him from 1989 and then 1990 when he released Momma Said Knock You Out. He went from a skinny black guy to this amazing physique in less than twelve months. There is simply no way to do this naturally.

    LL Cool J is no different from Christian Bale or Brad Pitt – steroids are rampant in entertainment. They all deny it and chalk it up to great trainers and diet. I don’t agree with holding anyone like that up as a role model for fitness, because without steroids few people can attain the look LL Cool J is promoting on the cover.

  29. cristobal wrote:

    Wait – he is a naturally skinny guy.

    I think he’s just eating better and is improving his body fat/lean ratio too.

    Days of chips and grilled cheese only are gone – but the weight hasn’t changed much. Just much better fuel in the system, no?

    Callouses peel off. Its more the tense muscles that are an issue. Tightness. Working on more body weight exercises now – again trying to reduce the obstacles to working out.

    But I don’t like them. Maybe once I lose more body weight…

    But have increased my vertical leap 3 inches over the last couple of months. Squats are everything. Haven’t done deadlifts yet.

  30. Jonathan wrote:

    “We’ve managed to smoke less as a society, I think we can manage to eat less, too…”

    Ahh, but here is something smoking and not gorging yourself have in common: our genetic precursors would look at both of those and scratch their heads. Smoking tastes like shit, makes you sick and causes you to become ostracized. It’s not hard to see how you could lower smoking rates simply by appealing to instinct — if not causing smokers to quit, then at lease preventing people from starting in the first place.

    But asking someone to pass on large amounts of cheap, tasty food… I just don’t think we’re wired for that. We evolved to cope with scarcity, and now that we live in a time of plenty, our genes are behind the times.

  31. Shamal Ranasinghe wrote:

    Dude, I was going to have a beer tonight, and you totally screwed it up for me. Gee…thanks. I guess I’ll have a nice cup of refreshing water at Bar Chloe.

  32. Rob wrote:

    You should definitely check out a book called “The China Study”. It details the world’s largest and only mass-population dietary study done on humans and is worth a read — especially for those of us with similar diets to what you’ve listed here. Great post!

  33. Gregory E Jacobs wrote:

    Man, I can’t believe nobody else got your reference.

    Ok, maybe I’m a dork and a loser. :)

  34. ReillyO' wrote:

    How can he be so skinny and live so phat ?

  35. iancr wrote:

    Julie and I were just talking about the caloric and carb content of beer, wine, and hard liquor and I found this:

    http://www.consumerfed.org/pdfs/CFA_Alcohol_Facts_Poster_FINAL.pdf

    Pretty interesting. Spirits have about the same about of calories as a light beer and no carbs (of course it depends what you mix it with) and red wine is slightly higher in calories and has is not terribly low on the carbs side (though nothing compared to the sugary wine cooler kinda drinks.

    As a point of reference, a pepsi has about the same number of calories as the light beer and about 6x the carbs.

  36. Thomas wrote:

    Hey Ian great post. I feel you on the sentiment that you should be able to eat whatever you want. I gained 40 pounds after arriving in college and then proceeded to lose 90 and have maintained that weight but since then people always complain when I don’t want to eat something. It’s driven home how much of a social activity eating is since I’m generally willing to go out and watch others consume whatever food they want and this rarely satisfies them. Of course there is a point where one does become unreasonable. I would prefer to make all my meals for myself but that’s just not going to happen. I’m curious how you manage eating out.

  37. JM wrote:

    Nice one.

  38. Healthnut wrote:

    Why do you use the word “shit” so much? It makes you sound like an uneducated ghetto punk.

  39. iancr wrote:

    Healthnut,

    Not really sure what you mean, since I only say “shit” twice in this article. One, saying I ate like shit when I was growing up. That’s sort colloquial, but not really “ghetto”, and a pretty standard phrase in my view. Your mileage may vary of course. The other is when I say “Joe Piscopo or some shit”, which is perhaps more “ghetto” in your worldview, for me it was meant for comedic affect, trying trying to lessen the overall holier than thou-ness of the article and address the concern that I would take this to it’s extremes in a light-hearted way.

    Let me know how you talk after six months of the LL Cool J Platinum workout and an audio diet of only early LL Cool records.

    ian

  40. Capt. Colours wrote:

    I <3 Panda Express dude.

  41. iancr wrote:

    Greg Jacobs, this one is for you: http://www.fistfulayen.com/blog/?p=115 Check the answering machine message at the very bottom of the page (not the video, the audio). A prize possession. Shock Geezy, call me, man, Topspin can help you out.

    Thomas, on the eating out side I dunno because my plan before was always just eat well whenever I can and then try to eat something not terrible eating out. Fact is my wife and I are semi-high-end foodies anyway, so it’s not like we’re ever eating at a chain restaurant, which probably helps. But now I’m primarily going for the “fish and veggies” entree and trying to stay away from the bread basket. Moving from a burrito a couple fish tacos some rice and beans. Just something good but not decadent. Something one of my European friends wouldn’t look at and go, “Damn, you guys never stop the party, do you?”

    ian

  42. Carl M wrote:

    It’s a pretty simple equation actually:

    Weight Loss = calories out > calories in

  43. Bill T wrote:

    Hey, if you want a pint or two of my bee’s organic peach/pear, plum, apricot honey, hit me up next time you come north. I harvested 6 gallons of the stuff last weekend.

  44. Jenna wrote:

    Hi Ian:

    I stumbled across this post and found it pretty interesting. I’m training for my first 1/2 marathon and I have 2 small (under 2) kids. So, the 1/2 was partly for a challenge and partly to lose the baby weight. The running is going great, but the diet portion is not so great. I’m like you in the sense that I like a plan. I like something to tell me, go to the gym on Monday and do these exercises etc.. I was looking for some motivation to change up my eating. So, if you are looking for a challenge – I’m IN!

  45. SteveR wrote:

    Ha – the holds queue for “The End of Overeating” at Santa Monica Public Library is 45 people long. SanMo is going to look like the skinny zombie army from Thriller in a few months.

    After reading Pollan’s book a few years ago I started practicing vegetarianism on Mondays – I’d highly recommend it for “foodies” who have a tough time with the idea of cutting back their meat intake. http://youarekillingme.net/?p=39

  46. Pregnant Lady wrote:

    What to do when you’re a pregnant lady who craves cheeseburgers after not eating things like that for years? And not just the odd one or two. .

    I ordered the book. Thanks for this post, it’s awesome.

  47. Carmelo wrote:

    Yo, reading this book is making me hungry.

  48. rebecca wrote:

    Okay, I totally get this as a math problem. Ideal input to output, nutritional benefit to calories ratio. But what about the non-functional functions of food: the cultural part, the social part, the fun part?

    You’re talking about a subsumption of the desire-fulfillment loop of eating into the greater goal of health (and/or beauty). A crucial leap at some point, but to what degree? I guess after “middle age” starts to set in, it’s accept some degree of body change or fight like hell to avoid it. But, like, do you still get to take pleasure in eating, go out to dinner, loosen the reins once in a while? Indie, locavorganic style? Or is this a full-on ascetic conversion?

  49. alysha wrote:

    You know, Ian, this is so timely for me. My mom was visiting this past weekend, and I was just horrified by how she eats.

    A bit of reference… I am the same size I was when we you & I met in 1994, give or take 5 pounds. My mom is now over 200 and has been “dieting” more or less my entire life.

    Yeah, she eats too much. No question. But even scarier to me is how she falls prey to “fat-free” and “low-cal” and eats almost NOTHING that I consider to be “food.” Low-fat muffins at Starbucks, liters of Diet Pepsi, etc. Just plain scary. I have tried and tried to talk to her, I have given her books and cooked her healthy meals, all to no avail.

    The HFCS, artificial sweeteners, hydrogenated oils, etc. that people consume in mass quantities in this country scare the *shit* out of me.

    I’ve been a vegetarian for 19 years now and eat steel cut oats almost every morning. I am not into counting calories but do try to stick to eating real, whole foods.

    A couple of tips:
    • If you have a rice cooker, use it to make oatmeal. Mine has a timer. I wake up to breakfast perfection every morning. Add some milk, dried cranberries, and a bit of agave nectar… so good!
    • The Ezekiel English muffins are also to die for. I have a sandwich on one almost every day for lunch. I almost always eat some avocado for lunch. I swear my body just loves them.

    Thanks for starting the discussion, Ian. As you can see, it’s something I feel really strongly about, but it is *HARD* to talk about this with some people. My sister and I both wish we could get our parents to listen to us. Has anyone had any luck with a similar situation?

  50. John wrote:

    Ian,
    Enjoyed the article and your book and workout reviews. Thank you for sharing them.
    John

  51. Charlie Dahan wrote:

    Thanks for the kick in the butt, started making some of your adjustment suggestions today. I did it before, no reason I cannot do it again. Thanks!

  52. Samantha Murphy wrote:

    Hey Ian!

    I’m right there with you. Food is fuel and our whole lives are affected by what we put in our bodies and whether or not we have enough stamina to get through the demands of a busy schedule.

    Have you tried Agave? I stopped using sugar and use it exclusively now. It’s high in carbs still, but it’s non-glycemic so it doesn’t affect your blood sugar.

    I tried Ezekial and I just can’t do it, so I usually limit myself to one small slice of rye bread a day before lunch.

    I’ve trained with a variety of “trainers to the stars.” One had me on the Body for Life and I gained so much weight drinking all those shakes and drinks. I’ve stuck with the principle of 3 days cardio and 3 days of weight training though.

    Despite working out as much as I do and eating healthy food for the most part, I struggle with a high body fat content. I drink 1-2 glasses of wine most days and I love chocolate. I have managed to give up cheese though. When I’ve tried giving up meat I can’t seem to get enough protein.

    My hat is off to you for your dedication! If anyone is considering you a health “freak” then wear the badge proudly. It takes a ton of discipline and you should be really proud of your commitment.

    :)

  53. Pat wrote:

    If this is some elaborate plot to get me to stop eating bacon chocolate, you are out of your fucking mind.

    Kidding, but I did enjoy reading this post, although I’m feeling extremely guilty being a sedentary web developer. Not getting enough exercise is the biggest issue. I’ve really changed my diet the last 6 months (WAY more veggies and fruit, no dairy, reducing sugar intake, etc), but making time for exercise is hard. Walking is my favorite thing, but I’m wondering, do you still skate a lot? I get my board every once in awhile and wow, I forgot what a good workout that can be.

  54. JB wrote:

    Wow, fantastic post. Your ‘average day’ struck me as a bit soy-heavy (lecithin, tofu) due to the amount of phyto & xeno-estrogens present in soy derivatives. Might consider reading about the effects of xenoestrogens on the male body – quite alarming. Also, consider the amount of estrogen your body ‘thinks’ is present after eating soy products – 3 servings of tofu is about the same as popping six birth control pills to your endocrine system.

  55. Jake wrote:

    Good stuff. You ever hear of crossfit? It’s pretty intense but you’d probably like it. Compound movements, multi joint exercises, cardio, calisthenics, etc…..http://www.crossfit.com

  56. iancr wrote:

    Hey JB,

    That’s a good thought. My wife read some similar stuff and I’ve been trying not to over-soy. But yeah, I suppose most days I actually do have both the lecithin and some tofu on salad at the very least. Hrm. Thanks for the heads up. I’ll do some more reading on that.

    Maybe it’s too bad I stopped eating chicken and whatnot so long ago that it really doesn’t even seem edible to me. Really hard to imagine eating it again.

    ian

  57. Brian wrote:

    I thought that “soy estrogens are bad for men” was FUD created by the dairy industry.

    Sure, soy has plant phytoestrogens in it (like most things made from plants). If soy was so bad for men, wouldn’t there be a lot of sick or sterile Asian men around? They have eaten a ton of the stuff for generations.

    References:

    (Mitchell et al., Clinical Science 100(6):613-618, 2001 June) – men given 40 mg of soy isoflavones daily for 2 months (there are 20 mg of isoflavones in 1 cup of soy milk; 38 mg in 1/2 cup of tofu), no effects on serum sex hormones, testicular volume, or semen quality.

  58. Kristian wrote:

    Hey Ian, just catching up on my blog reading. This one hit me hard, yo. As you probably remember, I’m not the skinniest dude. I think I am up to 265lbs and even at 6′, that’s just not healthy.

    I think (and hope) this blog just was the the start of a much needed turnaround in my eating and exercise habits. So, the first thing I am going to do is dowload the “The End of Overeating” for my Kindle iPhone app (only 10 bucks). I will start reading it Friday.

    Once I am done with the book, from which I will hopefully have a solid foundation to start this change, I will begin eating healthier and exercising regulary. Who knows, I may start sooner, but I am going to take it one day at a time.

    I will track my progess on my twitter. I will set my ideal weight today at 200 lbs.

    Thanks for the inspiration! :)

  59. heathevescent wrote:

    Awesome post Ian. A few years ago I switched over to sparkling water (cause it’s effervescent) and now I prefer it to soda. If anyone is looking for a good way to switch over from soda to water, I suggest sparkling water – you can even get it in a can.

  60. Chris wrote:

    I eat whatever I want and I’m always thing. I’m a genetic mutant, and apparently it’s going to keep going until I’m ~28. For me it’s a problem because I wish I could put on that natural layer of fat that normal humans have. Sometimes I can get a little pooch after eating 6000+ calories in a day, but by morning, it’s gone again.

  61. Jason wrote:

    Commented on this long ago, but wanted to recognize you with a shout out on my post. I've been hitting it hard for about three months and feel freaking great. Hope to see you in Austin.

    Post link: http://www.jasonsilverstein.com/post/440289863/th

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