Unless you live in a cave, you are constantely being told what you should eat, how many spoons of what is neccessary to take every day. What not to eat. What to eat in the morning what in the evening. How healthy it is to fast. How healthy it is to eat regularly. That it is good to skip breakfast. It’s chaos. I don’t want to tell you about what I eat for breakfast or what is right. What´s “right” might be a completely different thing.
This diet, that diet
Before I get started I would like to mention how VERY controversial this topic is. Writing about food – it’s like opening the Pandora’s box in a big way. People are very sensitive to others explaining that something or something else is not totally great for them (bread, milk, potatoes, polystyrene…), as they have been eating it for 40 years and they are fine and super healthy. There are many sacred cows in this field. Ok let’s go.
I’ve tried pretty much everything – I was a vegetarian for two years, which I probably didn’t do right, but at that time it was actually doing me more bad then good. When my religion was CrossFit, my diet was Zone, then for a long time I was into Paleo. I ate a lot of meat. I ate a lot of carbs, lot of fats, little fats. Basically I have tried almost everything, my knowledge isn’t just something theoretical out of a book. Also I have also been pretty active all my live and I have observed what each regime does to me.
Nowdays I munch on pretty much everything, I try to listen to myself, my body and my needs. When I am in Italy I eat pasta and ice-cream because they make them fantastic over there and it would be a shame not to try them (I think).
Healthy diet? For whom?
When I lift weights, I crave meat and I eat a lot of it. After a week of yoga at Srí Lanka I couldn´t even picture meat. When I was in boxing it was a different thing also. The diet should reflect a person’s activity, physical as well as mental. If someone works manually, smashing a pickaxe into asphalt for days on end, you can’t expect him to eat just a salad and tomatoes. Or you can, but he won’t last too long on that. On the other hand, if someone just sits in front of a computer the whole day, then maybe salad and tomatoes are fine.
Food is an individual thing the same way as workout and training are. There is no universal solution or path. Every person is different.
What it was like in the zone
When I did crossfit and zoned (Zone diet), I had 4% BF (body fat) and the performance of a race horse. But I wasn’t much of a person who you could grab a beer with (I didn’t drink beer). I was pretty stressed out about what to eat and if I went for a trip somewhere, what to pack with me to have the optimal intake. I counted my olives and cut away off pieces of chicken, to have it exactly right. It worked absolutely great, but it was also absolutely nuts. When I was doing my trainer course I wrote my final theses about the impact of Zone dieting on my Crossfit performance. I have to say the results where immense, I absolutely didn’t expect that.
My whole dieting ended with me yelling at my wife for stealing two almonds from my carefully counted stack. If you honestly weight and measure everything that you consume, it does have results. There are two sides of these results though,;maybe it is the perfect nutrition but I wasn’t in a perfect state for sure. Maybe you can’t see every vein on my abdomen these days, but on the other hand, I am a lot more chill.
I have been experimenting a lot with “intermittent fasting”, a short term fast. When it comes to health, I can only recommend it, when it comes to performance – well, sometimes I had better results when I didn’t eat for 24 hours (but you know the same happens if you sometimes don’t get enough sleep, so the recommendation to get a constant 8 hours daily is also pretty off – just saying). I still do fasts till this day, sometimes, nothing regular, just incidentally.
Hunger has been humankind’s companion during the whole evolution, so if you can’t go a few hours (or a day or two) without eating, then you should seriously think about yourself.
The Greek bull
When I was in Greece on a kettle bell lifting course, there was one local guy (I forgot his name unfortunately) and he was incredible – strong as a bull, he had outstanding strength endurance, just crazy athletic type.
The funny part came when the American participants asked him about his diet and about what supplements is he using. They got out their pens and papers and listened. He stared at them for a moment and then answered that sometimes he doesn’t eat anything because he doesn’t have the money (he didn’t have a clue about anything like supplements, I suppose).
Every day for lunch we had some vegetables, fries and a mutton gyros. I can assure you that this Greek guy never left a single fry. When he finished his plate was completely spotless.
What’s the optimal diet?
Our perception of food is “a little” different these days. We can eat “ideally”, meat and eggs and vegetables and nuts and avocadoes and fruits (that’s the pattern I more or less follow these days). But we live our lives in a sort of a bubble – we eat this way because we can eat this way. Most of us buys our food, we don’t plant it, and we don’t hunt it down and so on. If you are a vegetarian you can easily munch on tomatoes, salad (or mangoes) in December, just because we can buy this somewhere. It’s simply a “because we can” situation, opportunistic setting. No tomatoes or mangoes grow in the Czech Republic in the winter.
I myself have experienced how you can balance out your body. If you really know it and eat healthy, it will work like a well-oiled machine, functioning perfectly. And then you have some bread or pizza, you gorge on spaghetti and you will feel more or less terrible and you will just suck the next day in the gym. Because you got used to something.
Do you know what the optimal diet is? Anything. It should be exactly the other way around – not to feel good because you eat the perfect diet. I believe that the sign of optimal health is that you can eat anything and you will function perfectly.
I don’t want to encourage anyone to start eating at Burger King, chase it down with muffins and train for a scenario ending in catastrophy. You don’t have to be in the special forces or a soldier on a mission to Iraq to appreciate this. This way you can travel, go on a business trip, eat when on a visit and if you find yourself in a critical situation, you can function on canned food.
The yogi and an archer
I bet you know the “you are what you eat” approach. That’s not correct. Prashanti de Jager, an expert on Ayurveda, had said the following sentence in one of his seminars and I recall it every time I arrive at a similar subject: “A person isn’t what he eats. A person is what he can digest.”
Which makes a huge, huge difference. The digestive system or digestion is an extremely important thing. You can eat the best food available and take many expensive supplements, but if your Agní – the fire that’s supposed to process and absorb everything, is damaged, you just won’t get any benefit from it. On the other hand if you can process anything and everything and get the most out of it – well then you can indulge on rusty nails and it will still be ok.
“A person is not what he eats. A person is what he can digest.”
Maybe you know these types too –they eat one flat bread, wash it down with Coca-cola spend the day on the beach playing capoeira, they have a negative body fat count and infinite energy. Then you have the other type that tries to stick with diets, to follow the regime, sleep well – and nothing happens. Maybe it’s a good idea to look for the source of the problem somewhere else (and there can be many) and at many places.
Maybe we can reach the ideal health through quality food, regular sleep and so on. And then we can eat whatever and function well. But maybe not. As Nassim Taleb teaches us – too much optimization is not a good thing for a living organism (I sincerly recommend his books, it will make you see clearly). In that case especially Antigfragile is a great book to read.
And the same is true for workout or eating. An occasional, maybe unintended mistake, is very beneficial for the whole system.
To sum the article up – the ideal is that you can function optimally on any kind of diet. That’s the sign of good health.