Why skipping meals might be exactly what you need.

refusing foodBreakfast is the most important meal of the day.  No skipping meals.  Eat often.  Hunger is to be avoided.  We’ve all heard these truths.  They’re repeated to us and every health and fitness magazine recycles this advice in their headlines in some form or another, month after month. The advice all seems sound.  Logical.   Even intuitive.  Except it’s wrong.

So what if everything you thought you knew wasn’t true?  What if breakfast is not essential, and in fact, maybe while you’re at it you don’t need lunch or dinner either?  Sure, I know, skipping meals is not the American thing to do.  Rather, the American thing to do is eat and eat and eat.  Then eat some more.

Case in point: I recently had to visit a furniture store.  Which, in my mind,  is almost as bad as going to a used car lot.  Halfway through the showroom of this furniture store was the unmistakable smell of movie theater popcorn, all heavily salted and artificially buttered up and nestled in those colorful giant buckets.

But wait, this isn’t a movie theater.  WTF? Lo and behold, there is an actual food court in the middle of this furniture store.  You know, just like Target.  Just in case you or your offspring can’t make it through a couple of hours picking out a new La-Z-Boy and require some sustenance in the form of good old-fashioned junk food.  We’ve got you covered with popcorn, candy and hot dogs.  There there now.  We can’t have people starving, right?

So how is this practice of near constant eating helping us?  Based on the obesity epidemic in this country, not that well.   We’re getting fatter and unhealthier by the minute.  Could the solution to this problem be the opposite of what we’ve been told?  Could skipping meals be a good thing?

The opposite of eating too frequently is fasting.  True fasting is abstaining from food completely, while taking in just water in a state of rest. The practice of fasting is not new.  It’s been practiced for hundreds of years and by many different religions as a way to cleanse the body.

Done correctly, with proper supervision, fasting is both therapeutic and healthy.  Studies have shown that skipping meals results in leanness, a longer life and even more robust brain cells.  Some even show that intermittent fasting can prevent heart disease.

Fasting gives your body an opportunity to heal itself without being distracted by the work of digesting food.  By eating every few hours, the body has little time to do anything other than process this food.

While the research is certainly there as to the benefits of fasting, people are so entrenched in their beliefs of the way things are based on their limited life experiences, they would never consider such a departure.  Surely it must be bad for you not to eat.  Everyone knows that, right?

I began an experiment with intermittent fasting recently.  I am over 11 weeks into my experiment with fasting and I’ve been more successful at losing weight by doing this than anything I’ve ever tried.  In total, I’ve lost 12 lbs, or 9.1% of my body weight.

As a runner and cyclist, I’m acutely aware of my weight.  If you’ve ever ran a marathon you realize the importance of being as lean as you possibly can be.  In the latter stages of an endurance race, every extra pound you carry feels like 20.  Also, every pound over your ideal weight will affect not only how fast you can run (important), but also the rate at which you suffer injuries (essential).

For this reason, and because I’m a bit of a health food nut, I do worship at the altar of ideal body weight.  No, it doesn’t rule my life.  I don’t have an eating disorder.  I don’t obsess over it.  But I do consider it very important, perhaps more so than 99% of the population, to be as close to my ideal body weight as I can.

So I started intermittent fasting to lose weight and body fat.  I began by skipping breakfast. I eat 2 meals a day, and I eat from 11am to 7pm.  I then fast for the remaining 16 hours of the day.

Skipping breakfast at first was difficult.  I felt like I was hungry but as soon as I drank some water or became busy the feeling disappeared. So I became busy being very busy.  Bees looked downright lazy compared to me.  After a few weeks, I wondered what the heck I was doing eating breakfast at all for all those years.  I didn’t miss it.

Now,  I don’t typically feel hungry until late morning.  The other day I didn’t feel hungry until around 1pm.

How is it that someone who has always eaten breakfast can, after a few weeks, give it up entirely?  Was I really that out of tune with my body?  Apparently so.  I responded to my external environment, like the availability of food, the smell of food and a 45 year old habit of consuming food at a certain time (in the morning).  I wasn’t responding to an actual feeling of hunger, but something I thought was hunger.

When I do eat my midday meal now, I am truly experiencing hunger.  I feel the sensation in my mouth and throat, not in my stomach.  The other benefit?  Food tastes absolutely AMAZING when you’re actually hungry.  It really does.  It’s hard to put into words but being hungry adds a whole additional flavor profile to foods.  I can taste lettuce now.  I have a new found obsession with papaya, which never appealed to me before.  Foods have such complexity of flavor, now that I am actually hungry when I eat.  What a concept.

Admittedly, the general public won’t run out and begin fasting anytime soon.  It does require a good amount of self-discipline, as well as the desire to educate yourself on the benefits of the practice of fasting.  A good place to start is this recent article by Keira Butler in Mother Jones.  Then there’s this article by Jennifer Marano from TrueNorth Health Center about intermittent fasting and weight loss.

You can choose to believe what you want, of course, about fasting.  You can believe that skipping meals isn’t healthy, or that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  Or you can review the research and perhaps give intermittent fasting a try to see what effect it has on you.

Regardless, the important takeaway from an experiment with fasting may just be the ability to understand what true hunger feels like and to only eat when you’re experiencing it.

It’s truly as simple as that.

EatPlantsLiveWell!

 

 

6 reasons fruit is better than just about anything.

row of fruit

I eat fruit.  A lot.  For breakfast today I just had 5 bananas, a small Melia melon and 2 lbs of mandarins.  And I’m not even a monkey.  Yet.  Why? Because fruit is better than just about anything.

People stop me at my local Trader Joe’s and ask me if I’m going to eat all those bananas.  Or oranges. Or fill in the blank with whatever happens to be dwarfing my cart.  I’ve eaten primarily fruit since trying an all raw food vegan diet 3 years ago.

I’ve also never felt better, with enough energy to run, bike and boot camp my way into feeling much younger than the 45th birthday I just celebrated.

How can you eat just fruit?  I’m often asked this question, and though I love other vegan foods like hummus, brown rice and potatoes, I always prefer fresh, ripe fruit to any processed foods (even minimally processed).  Since I always get asked the question, here are my top reasons why fresh ripe fruit is better than just about anything:

  1. Presentation   

Most food, after you cook it, is probably gray or brown or some other unappealing color.  Fresh, ripe fruit is usually always visually appealing, with vibrant colors that let you know it’s ripe and ready to be eaten.  Case in point:

Papaya and bananas with lime:

mango and banana
yummmmm.

vs. gravy

gravy boat
probably not vegan. gross.

 

Come on, which would you rather eat?  No contest! Go with the color!

2.  Preparation

We all love convenience, right?  Since we’re all too busy to read books, a blog post longer than 2 sentences or directions on how to assemble an Ikea nightstand, fruit is the ultimate in easy peasy.  How hard is peeling a banana?  You don’t even have to dirty utensils or a plate.

messy kitchen
what happened here?

Cut up a watermelon in 5 minutes, max.  You have a  knife to clean and a cutting board to wash.  Done! No pans to scrub, no oven to clean and no messy stovetop.  Your kitchen will hardly ever look like this when eating and preparing fruit.  If it does, you are definitely doing something wrong.

3.  Higher Cost

Okay, this one is a little counter-intuitive so you’ll have to stick with me.  Fresh quality fruit isn’t cheap.  There is no dollar menu for fruit.  Which is a good thing.   My position on cost is this, and you may have heard it before: you get what you pay for.  

I have friends that complain about the cost of organic fruit at Whole Foods but don’t hesitate to pick up a hundred dollar bar tab for some artisan drinks.  What?

I am a firm believer in spending money on good quality food.  I would rather spend a higher percentage of my income on food now rather than spend it on prescription drugs or surgery later in life.  Makes sense, right?  So quit bellyaching about the cost of fresh fruit and realize that pinching pennies when it comes to what you put in your body is short-sighted and kind of silly.

Of course, you shouldn’t be out there dropping ten dollars on a pint of blueberries in the middle of winter.   Fruit that is out of season is not only expensive but usually tastes about as good as eating that same ten dollar bill.  Buy produce that’s on sale and in season.

4.  Fruit is the Perfect Food for Athletes

I competed in a mountain bike race called the Whiskey 50 a few years ago.  Common sense led me to believe that it was 50 miles, but it ended up being more like 54 miles, much of it a serious uphill climb out of a dreaded place called Skull Valley in Prescott, AZ.  I reached an aid station near the top of that long uphill slog with both quads threatening to cramp and the inevitable Why Am I Doing This? question burning in my mind.  I ate two quartered oranges handed to me by an aid station volunteer and I’m pretty sure I’ve never tasted anything as good as those oranges ever again.

Forget about gels, chews, sport beans or energy bars.  There’s a reason why aid stations at marathons and bike events have those orange slices and banana halves.   Okay, sure, aid stations do often have all that other junk too, but steer clear of that.  What your body needs to fuel your chosen sport isn’t manufactured in a lab.  It’s not Muscle Milk or Peanut M&M’s or Skittles.  It grows on trees and vines and such.  Do you really need me to tell you that?

The best fruit for post workout meals are high water content fruits like watermelon and cantaloupe.  Not only do these nourish the body but they also provide a good amount of hydration.  Other fruits like cherries can also help with muscle soreness following difficult workouts.  What else can fruit do?  What about reducing muscle fatigue with citrus?  How cool is that?

5.  No calorie counting

While I do calorie count with cronometer occasionally, there is no need to do this when you’re eating fruit.  I eat fruit until I feel full and then I stop.  Since most fruit is high in water content, it fills my stomach and my body knows that I’m full.  There is no need to restrict calories when you’re eating this way.

overeating bananas
not me, eating bananas. naked?

Sure, you can overeat fruit, just as you can overeat any food.  But it is a heck of a lot harder to eat too many oranges than it is to overeat on high calorie foods like nuts, crackers, cookies and other highly processed foods.  The need to count calories and restrict portion sizes only happens when you’re eating foods that don’t provide satiation signals.

Fruit, by virtue of it being very nutrient dense and calorie dilute, fills the stomach and triggers those very important signals saying I’m full!  Stop eating!

6.  Fiber

But what about all the sugar in fruit?  Isn’t eating a banana like eating a Snicker’s Bar? That’s a good one.  I’ve heard that a lot lately.  May have been those Paleo people.  Ha!  Just kidding.  Kind of.

I hope comparing a Snicker’s Bar to a banana seems as ridiculous to you as it does to me.  They are completely different in all ways.  Fruit is packaged perfectly by mother nature in it’s whole food form.  Candy bars are packaged by corporations in factories and are both calorically dense and nutrient poor.

Yes, fruit has  sugar in the form of fructose, but it also comes packaged with it’s natural fiber, which helps blunt the effects of the fructose and it’s effect on blood sugar.   Added sugars are certainly to be avoided on a healthy diet, but restricting fruit because of it’s fructose content is like avoiding water because it’s wet.

Bottom line

Fruit really is the perfect food.  Eat more of it and I promise you’ll want to eat more.  Not just an apple or banana here or there.  Like real quantities of fruit.  Eat enough for a meal.  Eat fruit after your workouts. Eat fruit for dessert.

EatPlantsLiveWell!

 

 

Cheat meals and why I’m not a fan.

overeatingAh, the joys of a cheat meal.  Whether it happens on your birthday, holiday or after a particularly grueling endurance event, the cheat meal holds a special place in our hearts.  We spend weeks before the meal daydreaming about all of the foods we might possibly want to indulge in for our special cheat meal.  What combination is best?  Sweet or savory?  Do I want salty crackers or chocolatey goodness?

I’m no exception to this rule.  I have indulged in cheat meals to end all cheat meals.  Though I always and forever remain vegan, I have definitely indulged in foods that I typically don’t eat as a reward.  Being a long distance runner, sometimes the thought of a cheat meal was needed to get me through some tough miles near the end of a race. After the Boston Marathon last year I ate an entire large vegan pizza.  An entire pizza!  After doing my first 50k last year at the Foothills Frenzy I consumed a soft pretzel the size (and shape?) of my mountain bike.  For Christmas last year, I gorged on a faux turkey field roast, mashed potatoes and mushroom gravy.

So last week I celebrated a birthday, and thoughts of a cheat meal or cheat day (even better!) entered my mind.  It’s my birthday, of course I needed a cheat meal, right? Since I’ve been eating all raw, mostly fruit of late, thoughts of cooked foods danced in my head.  Vegan pizza!  Roasted potatoes!  Crunchy vegan crackers!  Pretzels! It began to feel overwhelming just to keep track of what I might possibly eat on my birthday.

But then I started to think about how I felt after eating cheat meals.  Since I’ve been eating raw, and intermittent fasting for the last 8 weeks, I’ve felt remarkably good.  I’ve been enjoying a mostly fruit diet of seasonal items, including clementines, mandarins, cara cara oranges and bananas.  I even gave papaya, a fruit I didn’t think I liked, another try the other day.  With the addition of fresh lime juice, I found it delightful.  My meals are super simple and I feel energized after eating, rather than tired and lethargic.  I’ve even experienced some weight loss over the last 2 months without calorie restricting or portion control.

Of course, nobody expects to feel good after a cheat meal.  Whether it’s the darkening cloud of regret gathering over you as you finish off that last piece of pizza when you know you’re too full to eat more, or the turmoil in your stomach as your body tries to digest everything you’ve just thrown at it, you know there’s a price to pay for over indulging.

Another bummer I’ve discovered: the better your diet is and the longer you’ve been doing it, the worse you’re going to feel after eating something that isn’t optimal or normal.  In my case, I’ve created this super efficient body that can easily and happily process the juicy fruits and tender vegetables I’ve been feeding it.  What’s going to happen when I throw a bunch of different foods down there that are not only difficult to digest anyway, but that my body isn’t used to handling? Yikes.

Thoughts of those after meal feelings began to make me wonder if a cheat meal for my birthday is what I really wanted.  Sure, a vegan pizza would taste amazing, as would a soft doughy and salty pretzel.   But did I really want to make myself feel bad?  Did that even make sense? The taste of the food would only last for minutes, while feeling bad would last for hours.  As I often wonder, would the punishment fit the crime?

The power of delay.

In the end, I took the advice of Loren Lockman.  Check out his YouTube channel here about the benefits of fasting and his retreat in Costa Rica.  He discusses dealing with cravings the way a friend once recommended it to him.  If you wake up and find yourself craving an unhealthy food, tell yourself you can have it.  But have it later.  Like tomorrow.  Then if you wake up the next day and find yourself still craving it, tell yourself you can have it, but not until later.  Or tomorrow.

On Thursday, I told myself I could have my cheat meal on Saturday.  Then on Saturday, I bargained with myself and decided to have it Sunday.  Well it’s Monday today, and I didn’t wake up craving anything this morning.  I never told myself I wasn’t going to have it, just that it would probably be later.  Sneaky, right?

So I didn’t indulge in a cheat meal for my birthday, even though there were challenges.  Later that weekend, I was even tempted with a trip to Whole Foods and a glance over at the pizzas all lined up under the heat lamps.  I watched a friend manhandle a vegan burrito.  I sat across from another friend eating tofu scramble and roasted rosemary potatoes for breakfast.  Someone nearby spread Toffutti cream cheese over a toasted bagel.  The smell and look of the food was almost overwhelming.  Does it get any easier, I wondered?

Find your focus.

Not only did continuous delaying of the cheat meal make it easier, but I also employed another technique you might find helpful. It’s kind of simple and a but trite, but I focused on what I could have, not what I couldn’t.  Instead of sulking down the hot food bar in Whole Foods, wishing I could eat all their delectable but high salt, high fat, calorie dense offerings,  I walked myself right over to the produce area.

There I found clementines on sale, a hefty 5 lb. bag of juicy orange goodness for $4.99. I bought two.  I found a perfectly ripe organic avocado to put in my salad for dinner that night.  The color, smell, and variety of fresh fruits and vegetables in the produce section instantly made me feel better.  I remembered how fortunate I am to be able to have access to so many amazing options in such a convenient way.  How could I possibly feel deprived with such extravagance?  The answer is I could not.

Never again?

Does this mean I’ll never have another cheat meal? Maybe. Maybe not. But it certainly does mean that I now know I can survive without having one now.  The more situations I put myself in where I am able to exert willpower and not indulge, the stronger my conviction is to follow a healthy raw vegan lifestyle.

Wait, what about moderation?

I know there are those of you that heartily believe in cheat meals, or that a little bit of something unhealthy isn’t the end of the world.  A moderation approach, if you will.  Though I respect that approach, and the people that claim they can do it, I can unequivocally say it has never, ever worked for me.  Eating unhealthy foods just makes me want to eat more unhealthy foods. It’s a rabbit hole I would rather not go down.

I also think the majority of people I know aren’t successful at moderation either.  Indulgence just seems to lead to more indulgence for most of us.  Moderation may be nice in theory, but it rarely holds up in practice.

EatPlantsLiveWell!