This week, I’d like to share with you two methods I’ve been using lately to help balance my diet. These are not original ideas. They have, in fact, been around for a long time. But, they are new to me, and they are proving helpful; and so, I offer them to you, my diminutive readership, in the hopes that they might inspire you to try new things, too.
Believe me when I say the following: it was most definitely time for me to start balancing out my diet. As a freshly married man, I am still very much in the process of emerging from several consecutive months of more or less continual celebration, a fair bit of which has heavily involved food. Traditionally, this celebratory phase would’ve kicked off with a wedding cake, many-layered and beautifully white, but we actually didn’t have a cake at our wedding. Instead, being both proudly nonconformist and generally indecisive, we celebrated with both pies and cookies.
Yes, I ate several cookies. And yes, I ate a pie. Yes, the whole pie. No, not all at once. We took it with us in the getaway car. Chelsea helped eat it. (A bit.) Let’s just say, it was gone within 48 hours. It really doesn’t matter who ate 3/4s of it. (It was me.) After that, we went on a really cool honeymoon to Colonial Williamsburg, which involved eating at all the cool, old-timey restaurants there. All of them. And now, Chelsea and I live together, obviously, cooking and eating and going out and eating, and it’s a whole thing. So, you can just trust me when I say that I really needed to start trying things out and balancing my diet.
As I may have mentioned before, balance is not my strong suit. When unchecked, my propensity is to swing between extremes. You will find me either surreptitiously attempting to eat the entire box of donuts at the office or battling to only eat “paleo” or something else equally stringent and difficult to maintain. So, this time, rather than adopting a new stricter-than-ever diet program and swiftly falling off the wagon, I have instead attacked the matter from a different angle.
Method one! I have begun something that is technically called “intermittent fasting”, although I do not like that term. It sounds frightening and almost monastic, like something a reclusive hermit would do to appease his distant and angry god, but it really isn’t like that. It simply means that I only eat within a certain window of time each day. My eating window starts with my first cup of coffee or bite of breakfast. From then on, I have twelve hours in which to eat. When my twelve hour window is up, I stop eating, and I allow my body twelve hours to rest from digesting food. The only thing I have during my twelve hour fast is water.
Again, this sounds dreadful, but it really isn’t. First off, the “fasting” isn’t that bad. Most of it is spent sleeping, which is always, for all of us (unless you suffer from particularly aggressive sleepwalking), a time of natural fasting. This “twelve hours on/twelve hours off” has brought significant balance to my eating habits. When I wake up bright and early, I am hungry, so I eat. Throughout my day, I make sure to get in snacks and meals to power me through my work. When I get home from work, I have a substantial, but still reasonably healthy dinner (with maybe a pleasantly adult beverage or two), and then I stop eating, because my time is up. During the several hours left before bed, I hydrate with water. This isn’t hard to do, because I already ate enough during the day. And - and this is the really KEY PART - as my body winds down from the day, burning through the last of the fuel I ate, it naturally gets sleepy.
So then I sleep.
It makes complete sense if you think about it. We are always told not to eat “late at night,” but that way of thinking about this idea always struck me as stupid. I naturally want to fly in the face of such pithy, commonly bandied about rules. They annoy me! Thinking about it in terms of cycles of “now I eat, now I rest”, though, has a much stronger appeal for me. For whatever reason, it hacks into a slightly more rational part of my brain, one that I am only now realizing I have.
There are scores of supposed health benefits to this intermittent fasting. I could cite sources, but if you are interested, look them up. The internet has a lot of stuff on it. Supposedly, it helps promote lean muscle growth and lowers diabetes risk and cancer growth. It even helps regulate your hormones. All this can be yours by simply giving your digestive system, that tired old workhorse behind your belly button, dedicated periods of rest. The benefits allegedly increase if you shorten the eating window down to just nine or ten hours, but I think twelve is a more manageable place to begin. We are all busy, and what with work and errands, etc, it is hard to get enough calories in if you make the window too short.
All I know for certain is that I feel a lot better when I eat this way. And, it doesn’t really feel like you are “dieting” per say, because you actually have to be careful to eat enough during the time that you have to eat. So you get to eat! If you want a treat, have a treat. If you are really hungry, eat more. Just eat during your eating window. Like I say, this is a way to bring balance to your diet. It is a natural, healthy limiter, not an absolute “thou shalt not.”
It works for me, but then, in fairness, I am a young, reasonably healthy person who enjoys mixing things up and trying new things. Obviously, talk with your doctor if you are considering any large dietary changes. However, if you want to try this, feel free to message me or leave a comment below. I have only my own experiences from which to extrapolate, but I am always available if you have a comment or question.
I have already rambled substantially, so let us proceed with greater brevity.
My wife and I are trying to eat more meals at home, which means we have been cooking more. This is fun. We enjoy it. You will, too! I recommend poking around YouTube. There are tons of cool cooking channels there with lots of fun and delicious recipes. Two that I enjoy are Jamie Oliver and The Happy Pear.
However, my wife and I have a deal. We cook differently. When I cook, I cook Vegan dishes, and when my wife cooks, she can cook whatever she wants, which typically involves meat or cheese of one kind or another. This helps us maintain a varied and balanced diet. Vegan and vegetarian dishes are a great way to get a lot of vegetables and fruits into your diet all at the same time in tasty ways, instead of relegating them to the status of bland, unappealing, and therefore often uneaten side dishes.
I mention this not to brag that I only have to cook half of the time (that would be unfair), but only to remind you that you don’t have to be all one thing. As humans, we suffer from a tendency to be very “either/or”. Know that you can be multiple things. I like meat, but I don’t eat it all the time. I love vegetables, too. (I think I just love food in general.)
Why not be a vegan or vegetarian one day a week? Or every other day? Or one meal a day? Mix it up! Have fun! Above all, find balance.
Next week, we’ll talk about changes I’ve made in the way I use social media. If that interests you, please join me again next week. If not, go in peace. I mean you no harm!
Months have passed since I last uploaded a blog post. Most of this time was spent in Southern California, where I live now, save for a brief matrimonial excursion to Tennessee, followed by a week’s worth of honeyed moon spent in Virginia, which I am pleased to report, just as the state’s motto would tell you, is indeed “for lovers”.
Let’s all be classy and leave the matter there. Although, if you really would like me to gush about the wedding (the wedding part - calm down), feel free to call me. If you don’t have my number, there may be a reason. Or, I suppose you could message me. Weddings are sacred and lovely things (ours was perfection), but they are only of limited interest to those not directly involved. You can admit it; my feelings are not bruised in any way. You didn’t want to read another long, bloggy, rambly blah-blah-blah about a wonderful wedding.
Instead, I would like to spend the next few weeks discussing a few positive changes I have made to my life in the intervening months, excluding, of course, my marriage, which is, naturally, highly personal and experimentally non-repeatable. It’s not really something you can go out there and replicate with precision, although you are welcome to try. I recommend finding someone who makes you laugh and who challenges you to try and be your best self.
This week, let’s discuss meditation.
Yes, I am now one of those insufferable people who go around saying unbearably Californian things like, “Do you meditate?” It was only a matter of time. I already exercise and try to eat vegetables, etc, so clearly I've sipped the metaphorical Cool-Aid at some point since I moved out here.
But, honestly, I wish I had started meditating years ago. It is exactly as helpful as everyone says it is. Possibly more so. In this day and age of constant information and stress, we all know our brains are overly burdened, exerted, and whelmed. I knew mine was, but for the longest time I didn’t know what to do about it. I didn’t think there was anything I could do...until I finally tried that thing everyone always recommends (meditation) and then - surprise! - it turned out that the thing monks have been doing for millennia actually is helpful.
Who woulda thought?
Meditation doesn’t take as much time as you’d think. Ten to fifteen minutes. Personally, I use an app called Calm, although friends have also recommended an app called Headspace. For a low fee, these apps give you recordings of “guided meditations” where a person with an irrationally soothing voice walks you through the process. Basically, you sit still, close your eyes, and focus on your breath. You train your mind, just a little each day, to control its constant thinking. You learn how to appreciate the moment. It sounds boring, and it just isn’t. Trust me. It’s what your brain is longing for, and it’s what you haven’t been giving it enough of - rest. Not sleep, but a break.
Now, let me rush in here and say this is not a paid endorsement for Calm or Headspace. The makers of these fine apps do not have to pay me, because I have been doing this for several weeks now, and I am enjoying tangible mental benefits. Each morning, I get up - just ten or fifteen minutes before I normally would. I put on the coffee (because, duh). Then, I pull out a chair, I sit, I put headphones on my head, and I take a few minutes to clear my mind before the day really begins.
I always assumed that if I tried to do something that involved closing my eyes in the morning, this would just put me back to sleep. And, I do yawn once or twice. But, the strange thing is it actually wakes me up. I find I am drinking less coffee. Clearing my mind allows me to appreciate the little things I used to overlook, like breakfasts and sunrises and the sound of a song on my car stereo. I am finding it easier to enjoy my job working with children. I am simply more present.
The real kicker for me, though, is that this discipline of training my mind to let go and relax has been helping with my addiction to constant noise. As my wife could tell you, I have always needed to have a sound on. A podcast. An audiobook. Something! This was to drown out my constant stream of thought. This was always racing, it was often negative and self-destructive, and I had no idea how to turn it off. The only thing I knew to do was to drown it out.
But, it turns out your mind is a muscle. You can train it. This is not always easy, but, remember, it doesn’t take that much time out of your day. And, it gets easier as you go, like anything. Think of it as a really, really, relaxing yoga class for your brain. Only, unlike yoga, you don’t even have to move, and it only takes ten to fifteen minutes, instead of an HOUR AND A HALF. Seriously. I love yoga, but whoever decided an HOUR AND A HALF was a reasonable length of time for a class is…probably a better person than me.
What can I say? I am a work in progress, as are we all.
Now go meditate. Or, take a walk. We can all use a break these days. I'll catch you next week.