Why going to extremes might just work.

All things in moderation.  Balance. Small changes over time add up to big improvements.  These are all commonly accepted bits wisdom. But do incremental changes really work?

I recently read Penn Jillette’s book Presto! How I Made Over 100 Pounds Disappear.  He’s the Vegas magician that is half the duo known as Penn and Teller.  Well he was really more than half the duo…more like three quarters.

Penn was packing around some spare lbs in 2014. He estimated his weight at 330 at his highest, which was when he found himself in the hospital while his doctor told him one of the arteries surrounding his heart was 80% blocked.

He needed to lose weight yesterday.  Not a cosmetic amount, more like 50lbs.  100 would be better. Heck, if you can lose 100 you won’t even need any of the medication you’re currently taking, he was shocked to hear his doctor say.

That was when Penn realized he wasn’t taking 5 different medications, as he thought, because he was a big loser in the genetic lottery, but because he was a self-described “fat fuck.” The realization that he was where he was because he ate whatever the hell he wanted didn’t sit well with him.  He was disgusted with himself.

It wasn’t as if he hadn’t tried to lose weight in the past.  Just as many of  us do, he tried limiting portions, cutting back on carbs, fats and sugar.  He tried exercising.  But any weight lost always came back, and brought friends that led to his continued and consistent weight gain throughout the years.

So Penn tried something different.  He tried something drastic that most people would never even entertain.  He consciously chose to lose weight not as an adult would, as he put it, but as someone who is willing to do whatever it takes to be successful.  More like as a crazy person would.

So he ate only potatoes for 2 entire weeks.

“It’s much easier for me to make a major change than a minor change.” he hypothesized at a recent Google Talks.

What makes a major change easier?  Progress.  It is often immediate when you make a major change.  For example, in Penn’s situation, eating only potatoes for 2 weeks made him lose weight like a crack addict.  Going from eating a standard American diet of cheeseburgers and chocolate cake to plain potatoes tends to do that.

Stepping on the scale to a new lower number every day certainly makes whatever method you choose easier to stick to.  Positive reinforcement is a lot more encouraging on a daily basis with extreme change than it would be on a weekly or monthly basis with moderation.

While we don’t know if Penn’s weight loss is a permanent one at this point, we do know extreme measures worked much better for him than all his previous attempts at moderation.

Should you go cold turkey?  Extreme or gradual change, which is for you?  While I don’t exactly endorse eating potatoes for 2 weeks, I do understand and have experienced the benefits of extreme changes.  I became vegetarian overnight and then vegan, and also gave up coffee cold.  I had been drinking coffee for 30 years every single day, multiple cups.  I decided back in 2013 that I wanted to part ways with coffee, an amicable divorce if you will.  So I left coffee, walked right out on it.

Sure, I could have weaned myself off, slowly decreasing the amount I drank and then switching to decaf.  My thought at the time was this – I knew leaving coffee was going to be a horrible, terrible, no-good experience.  I might as well just walk out and be done with it.

So I did.  I won’t lie.  Giving up coffee (and caffeine) meant that I suffered tremendously for 3 weeks straight. Head-splitting migraines were my constant companion and sloth like energy levels plagued my every day.

As soon as I began to think it would never get better, everything changed. Headaches vanished, energy level came roaring back, and my life returned as if nothing had ever happened.  It’s been over 3 years now and I have never once wanted for a cup of coffee or a jolt of caffeine.  I wouldn’t change anything about what I did, though it remains one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do.

The point is…and there is a point.  Extreme measures can work.  They’re not popular because, well,  they’re pretty damn hard.  Moderation is a much easier sell.  Most people simply cannot get their heads around the idea that they suddenly can’t have something.

The upside though, is that if you can handle extreme measures, you’re that much more likely to succeed.  Giving up caffeine completely or eating only potatoes for two weeks means most of the hard work is over and done quickly.

Change happens quickly with extreme measures. You body is forced to adapt because it doesn’t really have a choice.

Whatever it is you’re looking to do, whether its becoming vegan, raw vegan, or losing weight, consider making an extreme change rather than moderation.  It will be hard, you will suffer, but you’ll also see some immediate progress that might make the changes that much easier to stick to.

EatPlantsLiveWell!

 

Why you should never count calories, carbs, protein or anything else for that matter.

You should never count calories. Yes, this statement runs counter to every single shred of weight loss advice ever given or received.

Of course we must count calories.   Right? Plus, we should make sure we get at least 30% protein.  But not more than 30% carbs. Not even 31%.  Then keep that fat content below 40% or we’ll balloon up like an Orca.

But what if all of this focus on macronutrients (fat, protein and carbs), counting calories and this ridiculous fear of not getting enough protein is just distracting us from something really important?

Truthfully, what’s really important, even if most people and every single diet program out there fail to realize it, is this:  If you eat whole, fresh, unprocessed foods, you don’t need to break food down into calories or nutrients.  It’s just not necessary.

So no, you don’t need that giant tub of protein powder from Costco, nor that box of Cheerios pronouncing Protein!, or those tortillas with Low Carb all over the package.  Indeed, you need food that isn’t packaged at all.  No nutritional information.  No percent of calories from fat, no serving size calculations.  Just eat an apple.  Mother nature has conveniently packaged fruit and vegetables into perfect serving sizes with just the right amount of calories, protein, fat and carbs.

A friend once called me from the grocery store.  Wanting to eat healthier, she was lamenting the fact that she “needed to get better at reading labels.”  Actually, I told her, you’re better off buying food that doesn’t have a label.

What???

Wait, so I’m just supposed to eat food as it grows in nature?  That sounds too difficult.  What about eating out? What about pizza?

The secret is, eating fresh, whole, unprocessed food is incredibly easy.  Sure, it’s not drive-thru easy.  It’s not order a pizza to be delivered easy.  But it is easy.  As in, if you’re hungry, eat some fruit.  Make a giant salad with fresh, organic vegetables and tender lettuce.  Make you own dressing with tahini and lemon.

Plan on eating a lot, probably more than you’re used to.  You’ll need to in order to get in enough calories.  Processed foods pack a ton of calories in a small package, while fresh produce is mostly water and a much smaller amount of calories.

Also plan on more trips to the grocery store. You won’t make it on a once a week trip to the store, in all likelihood.  You’ll need to go every few days if you’re buying perishable items.

But how does this work?

It has to do with caloric density.

It’s a hugely important concept and one central to a great book on the subject, The Pleasure Trap.  The idea is that food in it’s natural, unadulterated state is low in caloric density.  Therefore, you’re able to eat a volume of food that is probably much higher then you’re used to.  No calorie restriction or small portions.  You can eat until you feel satisfied.

Compare that to food that is high in caloric density, which doesn’t make you feel full and is super high in calories.  Like an orange versus a bagel.  The orange is clearly unprocessed and natural, with a large amount of it’s contents comprised of water. The bagel (and all bread) is a highly processed food where the wheat has been ground into flour and the dough is cooked.  At 1600 calories per pound, it’s easy to overeat bread and still not feel full.

Despite being roughly the same size, an orange is 60 calories and a bagel is at least 250. You could eat 4 oranges to roughly equal the calories of one bagel.  The bagel will not fill your stomach, where 4 oranges will come much closer.

Replacing bread with oranges not only gets you lower and better quality calories, but of course there are all the nutrients in 4 oranges vs the very few nutrients that comprise one bagel.

Eat more, weigh less.

Trying to lose weight by counting calories and macronutrients doesn’t work in the long term.  It simply requires too much discipline and no one likes to feel hungry all the time.

The good news is you don’t have to eat less to lose weight.  It’s not the quantity of food that you’re eating that results in weight gain, but the quality of the food.

So stop reading labels and breaking food down in to it’s nutrient parts.  Start eating lots of unprocessed, whole foods.  You might just be surprised at how easy it is to choose natural foods over heavily processed “food-like” substances with copious amounts of added salt, sugar and fat.

Good luck!

EatPlantsLiveWell!