Category Archives: Nutrition

Farmer_s_Market

The Diet Dilemma

“Can I get that with no cheese, no bread, and substitute the dressing with olive oil?”

“Wow, you sure know how to suck the life out of a salad.”

“Oh, I’m on this new Paleo diet. It’s basically eating like a caveman.”

“Didn’t most cavemen die before the age of 40?”

“I don’t know, but my friend just started and he lost 20 lbs. in like two weeks so it must be good.”

How often do you find yourself a victim of mindless banter like this when waiting in line at your favorite restaurant? Does it ever grab your attention? Do you find yourself reaching for your phone to Google the “fill-in-the-blank” diet craze that everyone seems to be talking about? Don’t worry. You’re not alone. This scenario has replayed itself throughout history for decades and has only been exacerbated by the constant availability of data (often flawed) at our fingertips, compliments of the information age.

From Atkins, to Paleo, to South Beach, to Vegetarian, to Zone, the amount of dietary theories that have been force fed to us over the past 40+ years is enough to make you lose your appetite. As if managing your own nutritional decisions isn’t enough, then there are your children. First the USDA gave us the Food Pyramid and that has since evolved to MyPlate, part of a larger communications initiative based on 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans to help consumers make better food choices. Despite progress, you can’t help but wonder after the pizza sauce debacle when Congress declared that the tomato paste used on pizza for school lunches qualified as a serving of vegetables. This is not exactly instilling sound nutritional decision-making criteria for the leaders of tomorrow. To make matters worse, almost every one of these theories has at least one notable, “celebrity” champion conveniently invading your favorite TV shows, blogs, news publications, social media feeds, and of course the dialogue of bystanders at your favorite restaurants.

With so much information and – more often than not – misinformation, how can anyone be expected to juggle the decision about what to eat on top of the more pressing issues that claim the lion’s share of our precious mental capacity? Luckily, there are some very simple changes that you can incorporate into your daily life without having to commit to a torturous 30 days of deprivation that throws you into fits of rage over cravings for cookies and ice cream. But before considering any kind of changes, it’s important to evaluate your current condition to help direct your decisions. Think of it as declaring a “state of the union” on your health. As a framework, ask yourself these simple questions:

Are you making conscious decisions about what you use to fuel your body? Do you think about the ingredients going into the meals you eat? There is truth to the phrase “you are what you eat” and too often we miss this point by focusing on the quantity of calories vs. the quality.  How do you feel at different times after your meals? Immediately following? Two hours after? Are you sluggish and experiencing a “crash” or are you energetic and focused on the task at hand? Keeping with the theme of making conscious decisions, being mindful of your reaction to different foods is a foolproof way to confirm if it’s time for a change.

Finally, what is going to motivate you to incorporate change into your routine? Having an end goal in mind is a vital step to making positive change. Maybe you’re looking to lose ten pounds or maybe you just simply want to look sexier in your bathing suit for that upcoming Spring Break trip. Either way, defining a motive will help to ensure you stick to your changes.

Now that you’ve had an honest conversation with yourself about making changes, let’s get to the fun part. As someone that has studied numerous dietary theories, there are certain commonalities that often apply regardless of the “diet of the week train” that everyone can’t seem to board fast enough. You might be the type of person that is on a budget and in a hurry and defaults to the Wendy’s next to the office for a quick lunch. On the other hand, you might be preparing a fresh sandwich in the morning to bring to work or packing leftovers into a glass container. Whatever your current means of fueling your body, here are some quick fixes that anyone can incorporate without taking drastic leaps outside of their comfort zone:

  • Eat more vegetables (your Mom was right). What does “more” mean? Everyone’s situation is different. If you had to look up “vegetable” when you read this, start by picking one meal throughout the day and adding vegetables to that meal. If you’re reaching for a bag of potato chips or crackers for your midday snack, swap them out with carrots or celery sticks paired with your favorite nut or seed butter. If you’re eating vegetables at most of your meals, try to increase your servings by 1-3 per day. To get the right amount of key nutrients naturally, vegetables should account for at least one third of each meal.  Regardless of where you are starting, eat the vegetables first before you move on to the rest of your meal. This guarantees you’ll get the important nutrients your body needs before moving on to less nutrient dense foods.
  • Seek out your local grocery store. The supermarket down the street isn’t just for your bi-weekly trips to stock the refrigerator and pantry. More often than not, supermarkets offer to go options that are made fresh daily or use higher quality ingredients. When given the option, walk the extra block past your favorite chain and head to the deli section or salad bar of your local grocery store. Chances are, the quality and nutritional content of the selection will be far greater than what you would find at your favorite fast-food chain (especially if you’re choosing locally sourced and/or organic foods). There is a direct correlation between the distance your food travels from its original source and the nutritional integrity it maintains by the time it reaches your plate. As the distance from source to plate increases, the nutritional value diminishes accordingly.
  • Drink more water. The amount of articles being published recently about the benefits of water is dumbfounding. Nothing about this advice is revolutionary. Simply consider the fact that your body is 75% water and this should explain why this simple step is important. Still not satisfied? Additional benefits include healthier, younger looking skin, improved digestion and nutrient absorption, increased energy, and improved brain function. Try an app like Watermind to keep track of your intake.

Hopefully in reviewing these tips, you noticed something different than the guidelines that generally accompany traditional dietary recommendations. No cutting out junk food? No restriction on sweets? No deprivation from bread and pasta? While these common themes often serve a beneficial purpose, you can begin applying the above changes tomorrow without much planning or derailing your current routine.  You’ll also notice that this isn’t a six-minute, one-hour, week long, or month-long Band-Aid to lose weight and feel great. These are sustainable changes that don’t expire. Do them everyday and you’ll begin to feel the benefits in no time.

CrossFit competition

The Beginning of the End

Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.

-Ferris Bueller

The journey to optimal health and happiness is rarely easy and it never ends.  My own personal story started like many others in middle America, filled with formula milk as a child followed by a steady 24 or so years of pure, chemically fueled ignorance.  I have fond memories of Golden Crisp, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Cap’n Crunch, and the best part of all — the mind-numbingly sweet bowl of 2% milk at the end to wash it all down.  And for some reason, my mom and dad couldn’t understand why it was such a chore for me to finish the frozen vegetables at dinner every night (probably my only serving of the day if I was able to choke them down).

Therein started my heavy reliance on stimulants to get me through each day and the beginning of a SAD (Standard American Diet) life.  This continued through elementary school and high school where I bounced from karate to little league baseball to soccer to football to track through the first half of my junior year.  At that point, I decided the overwhelming stress of puberty was too much to bear and I needed something else to help me cope — enter Marlboro Menthol Lights.  A minty fresh way to begin one of the most self destructing habits known to man.  And what better accompaniment to nicotine than caffeine.  At least three, 16 oz.,  Mountain Dew Code Reds a day kept me alive to make it through my classes and provided the fuel I needed to make it to the weight room at the end of each day where I struggled to understand why I couldn’t get stronger.  I had even given up high school sports to focus purely on weight lifting.  Attempting to add five pounds to each major lift each week, I plodded through two or three types of bench press, countless curls, and anything else that would build massive arms and a massive ego (I can confidently say the growth of the ego far surpassed any major muscle group).

My “rebellion” started here and lasted through college where weekends filled with binge drinking and dorm food continued my losing streak in life.  I somehow managed to graduate high school with what would be considered a strong GPA and squeaked through college with mediocre performance, but enough to get me my first job.  My years in college were filled with constant ups and downs of continuing on my quest to get bigger and stronger while fighting with my addiction to cigarettes, which to this day I won’t admit was an addiction, but rather triggered by external factors like stress or other substances (i.e. Captain Morgan Spiced Rum).  By my Senior year I had somehow curbed the smoking habit to a reasonable level (only on the weekends when I was drinking) and had introduced supplements into my daily regimen (after all, what difference was more chemicals going to make after the beating my body was already taking).  I experimented with a nitric oxide supplement called NO-Xplode coupled with 40-50g protein shakes.  This became a daily occurrence and my first true year as a “meathead”.  Finally the gains started to show and after years of being unable to gain weight or muscle, I started to see increases.  Perhaps it was getting the smoking under control or the fact that I was buying my own groceries and eating most of my meals at home (even though most of the food was processed and laden with chemicals).

I was actually convinced that I was getting “healthy”.  In all likelihood, it actually may have been an improvement from my youth, but a far cry from what I now consider “healthy”.  When college ended, the drinking and smoking continued, but started to taper off as the hard truths of the “real world” came into focus.  College was over and therefore the party was over.  Without my roommate to lift with everyday, I decided I would find a new fitness endeavor and take a break from the constant abuse my liver and kidneys were taking.  I started mixed martial arts and took classes in boxing, muay thai kickboxing, and eventually a little Brazilian jiu jitsu (perhaps I lied about giving my kidneys a break).  I enjoyed the stand up fighting more likely due to the fact that upper body strength was more of a factor and it was all I had.  Despite being far more challenging than weight lifting and some light cardio, it still wasn’t enough to stop the drinking and smoking on the weekends.  After all, giving up on partying would leave me with nothing to look forward to on the weekends.

By 2009, two years out of college, I had been introduced to some blogs and what would be the start of some very positive influences. The list includes, but is not limited to:

(Three out of the four authors mentioned above are based in San Francisco and they just might have posted about each other or contributed a guest post to one another’s blog at some point along the way).

By 2010, I had returned to my home town of Chicago from my college town of Milwaukee, WI.  Through a former colleague and because I became an avid follower of Tim (mentioned above), I learned of his upcoming book release, The Four Hour Body.  This was the beginning of my epiphany.  For the first time in my life, I was learning about the damaging effect that my diet was having on my body.  I soaked up everything like a sponge.  Resting blood glucose levels, hyperinsulinemia, slow-digesting carbohydrates; the veil had been lifted and I eagerly took the “red pill” to venture down the nutritional rabbit hole.  Coincidentally, during the same time I picked up the book, I had also taken an interest in a trend that had emerged as a result of the movie 300.  Through a combination of a grueling fitness regimen and grossly overdone make-up and special effects, the cast of 300 had been transformed from men into Gods.  The fitness world became crazed with an obsession over the “300 workout”.  Articles flooded the internet and people across blogs and forums argued over the validity of each new post.

Somewhere in all of the noise, I stumbled upon CrossFit.  At the time it had not yet become the mainstream phenomenon that it is today.  This attracted me to it and ultimately lead to me taking a leap of faith and showing up at the door of what would appear to be nothing more than an old warehouse.  As I stepped inside, I was met by a large “box” filled with barbells, squat racks, and a pull-up “cage” with rings hanging from it.  I was greeted by the owner of CrossFit Defined, Noal.  After a five to ten minute discussion about my fitness experience, it was decided that I should try out a “sample” and if I liked it, I was welcome to return for a full class.  At the time, I was roughly two years into my experience with martial arts and felt like nothing could stop me…

Approximately eight minutes later after a “half tabata” I realized this was going to be a game changer.  More than anything, I was motivated by the fact that it would be physically impossible for me to continue destroying my body through my weekend escapades and still participate in CrossFit.  I was faced with a choice: quit smoking and partying like a rock star or piss away my monthly membership fee and fall back into the habits that were destroying my body and limiting my physical and mental progress.

I started going to CrossFit three to four times per week and eventually worked up to five.  It took some time, but after about a year, the smoking had dwindled significantly and I had become even more interested in the diet and nutrition aspect of fitness.  By 2011, I had been consistently going to CrossFit for a year and was fully committed to the slow-carb diet from the 4 Hour Body.  Around this time I was introduced to the Paleo diet, which was somewhat similar to my existing way of eating, but with a stronger focus on the quality and source of the food.  Once again – hook, line, and sinker.  I dove in.  By 2012 I was all in on CrossFit and made the decision to get my Level I Certification (completed in March of 2012).  Shortly after, I moved to San Francisco for two years for a job opportunity (I will save that experience for another post as it opened my eyes even further to what it means to live a healthy lifestyle).

The latest step in my path to optimal health was getting certified as an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach.  I wrapped up my curriculum in October and have been working with clients for the past six months to reawaken the energy, strength, and vitality of their youth and to take ownership of their wellbeing through small, lasting changes that promote a healthier and happier lifestyle.

Throughout the site, you can learn more about the details of my coaching style and practice and the programs I offer.  If you’ve made it this far, I hope you’ve found inspiration in this story and at least some part of it resonates with you.  As the story goes, I’m still in the process of pursuing the summit of my health and wellbeing and it took a lot of falling down the mountain to get here.  I hope you’ll join me in my quest to live a stronger, happier, and more fulfilling life.

If you feel inclined, share your personal journey to health in the comments below.  We can all benefit from some humility!