“…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.
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.
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:
- Eat five or six times a day
- Limit your consumption of sugars and processed foods
- Eat fruits and vegetables throughout the day
- Drink more water and cut out calorie-containing beverages (beer, soda, and so forth)
- Focus on consuming more lean proteins throughout the day
- 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.