When I made the decision to eat as healthily as possible, I noticed that it's actually a bit difficult to figure out what foods that would include. Beyond "eat more vegetables, especially leafy greens," there seems to be a wide divergence of opinion about what constitutes the optimal diet.
In my view, you should eat what makes you feel good and avoid eating what makes you feel bad. In reality, figuring out which foods work with your body is time consuming because it is difficult to try to hold all the myriad of other food variables constant while you experiment with adding or removing only one. In addition, I have noticed that my body can take up to four or five days to fully respond to a problematic food, which makes identifying problem foods even more difficult.
After years of experimentation, I have happened upon a "diet" which is working very, very well for me, so I thought it might work well for you also. I am not a doctor, I'm simply a person relating my experience.
The most important thing is that I don't have any RULES at all for what I can or cannot eat. Instead, I focus on how eating a specific food would make me feel. If I want to feel healthy and vibrant, then I follow my normal eating guidelines (discussed below). As a practical matter I follow the eating guidelines 99.9% of the time. The reason for making them guidelines instead of rules is two-fold: (1) sometimes you will inevitably break the guidelines and you don't want to lose your existing momentum entirely and (2) it increases the pleasure the 0.01% of the time when you are breaking your guidelines.
Here are the guidelines I use for myself when deciding what to eat:
1. No Fast Food
There are not any fast food restaurants that are up to my standard of nutrition. In fact, overall I would suggest getting used to eating at home because it's far easier to prepare your own food versus ordering something super healthy at a restaurant. This will also save you money and help make this experiment affordable.
2. No Gluten (ie. No Baked Goods)
Basically I avoid anything that has flour as an ingredient. If you think about it, wheat paste (wheat flour + water) is a glue that people use when posting street art or concert posters outside. If part of keeping yourself healthy is having good digestion, it is probably best to avoid eating glue.
As a result, I do not eat any product whose ingredients include either wheat, rye, oats, or barley. Note: I am not technically gluten-intolerant based on allergy tests from my doctor. I'm just a normal person who has experimented with both including and removing gluten from my diet and it's quite clear that my body works better with no gluten.
3. No Added Sugar; Minimal Honey
I avoid foods that have refined sugar added as an ingredient. In contrast, I do not concern myself with the natural sugars that occur in the fruits that I eat. Avoiding gluten makes removing added sugars fairly easy because most of the foods that have sugar added are baked goods that I'm already avoiding anyway. Removing added sugar does disallow a lot of boxed "health" foods that seem healthy but actually are not healthy at all.
Note regarding honey: I do add honey to my tea, but I understand that honey is spiking my glycemic index and causing the body's insulin response. I think of honey as sugar + vitamins. By that I mean, honey is an actual food (unlike refined sugar), but it's still not a food that is very good for you, except possibly in moderation as a way of inoculating yourself against allergies.
4. No Pasturized Dairy
Dairy is basically a special food meant for babies as an initial ingredient to form the foundation of an immune system. If you are eating dairy, you are literally stealing food from a baby (in most cases, a baby cow). Human adults are not meant to drink human milk because, if they were, they could easily out-compete new-born human babies, who need the milk as a foundational ingredient for their immune systems. There are no other known species who drink the milk of other animals, although the same logic applies.
Setting aside the issue of the appropriateness of adults ingesting dairy, for me, I feel bloated when I drink milk or eat dairy products, even if I take lactase pills at the same time to aid in digestion. This is my body reacting to the casein, another component in milk and other dairy. I had not previously noticed the bloating symptoms before specifically removing and re-adding dairy to my diet a few different times.
5. No White Rice; No White Potatoes
White rice and/or white potatoes simply turn directly into sugar in your digestive system. This is totally unnecessary since brown rice and sweet potatoes do not do this and are therefore very good substitutes.
6. No Soy
I avoid soy for two reasons. First, as a man, a key part of keeping myself healthy is maintaining a proper hormone balance with my testosterone. Soy is basically straight estrogen, which risks upsetting my hormonal balance. Second, soy is one of the most genetically modified crops, which I try to avoid.
7. Highest Possible Quality Food
I try to avoid eating GMO's (genetically modified foods) whenever possible. When buying produce from a grocery, I try to buy organic if that is an option. While I understand that the organic standard has its own problems, organic is better than nothing. I also often buy "non-GMO" labeled foods on the theory that they are actually using organic practices but haven't been certified organic yet.
Ideally I source all my foods directly from a farm that uses practices I approve of or I grow my own food. In my case right now it's winter and my onsite food production is minimal. I'm primarily sourcing my vegetables from a local winter CSA with food from a big greenhouse on an organic farm near here.
8. Flexitarian + No Tortured Animals
From my research, there is no debate at all surrounding the claim that eating significantly less meat than normal will dramatically improve your health. There is, however, a significant dispute as to whether a 100% vegetarian diet is healthier than a flexitarian diet. Flexitarians eat meat but eat far less than the standard. While most people eat about 20% of their calories in meat, flexitarians strive to make that number around 5%. So the bottom line is that I eat meat, but I eat far less than before. Every day at least one of my meals is vegetarian and often two of them are.
I try to entirely avoid eating any animals that were raised in factory farming situations. Aside from my moral concerns with these practices, I personally believe that meats from tortured animals contain energetic residue from their life experiences which I do not want to absorb into my body. There have been a number of studies supporting this view, which I would like to explore at a later time in another article.
9. Nine Hour Eating Window
This is basically a method of getting the health benefits of fasting. From the first moment in the morning that I ingest something that goes into my stomach other than water, I start a timer for 9 hours. This can include food, coffee, medicine, supplements, etc. Anything other than water that your stomach has to process and the time begins.
As a practical matter, this means I don't drink coffee when I wake up (around 6am typically) and then I delay eating anything as long as possible (until around 9:30am). If I don't do that, dinner ends up being freakishly early.
In my case, I drink two green smoothies immediately upon the start of the timer in the morning. I then work out for about an hour and then eat a very large brunch. I typically snack during the afternoon on fruit or smoothies. About 1.5 hours before my timer goes off, I start eating an enormous dinner. After the timer goes off, I don't eat or drink anything for the rest of the night (including medicines and/or suppliments).
When I began implementing this nine hour eating window, I immediately noticed that my metabolism started working faster. I began springing out of bed each morning, full of energy. I noticed that my dinners began to be far larger than before. In general, I had this feeling like my body wanted to eat as much as it possibly could during the nine hours (which was a positive because I was following the other eating guidelines above). I also had this feeling like food wouldn't always be available, which was a feeling that I had never experienced before but it felt very natural when I was experiencing it. I also noticed that I was very motivated to accomplish work during the nine hour window and that my mind was more focused than previously.
I also noticed significant changes outside of the 9 hour window, the time when I wasn't eating anything. I started to relax more deeply during this period, almost immediately. I also began falling asleep much more easily than before. I attribute this to the fact that if you aren't eating, your mind isn't planning ways to get more food. My body seemed to naturally relax and understand that I had entered a recuperation period.
Later, I tried not following the nine hour eating window just to see the results. I noticed that I wasn't as hungry during breakfast and I had much more trouble going to sleep at night. I immediately re-implemented my nine hour eating regime. My understanding is that you can miss the nine hour window two days per week and still feel the benefits.
10. No / Minimal Alcohol
To be thorough I thought I should at least mention that I have removed alcohol completely from my diet based on my own findings from experiments on myself. I don't expect most people to do this but technically alcohol is a poison and in my case at least it was giving me nightmares.
What Specifically I Do Eat
I mainly eat plants. My primary diet includes:
- Leafy Green Vegetables (Spinach, Kale, Beet Greens, Collard Greens, Nettle, Lettuce, etc)
- Peppers (Hot Peppers, Sweet Peppers)
- Other Vegetables (Broccoli, Cauliflower, Red Cabbage, Okra, etc)
- Tubers (Carrots, Onions, Garlic, Ginger, Sweet Potatoes, etc)
- Fruit (a wide variety)
- Seeds / Nuts
- Meat (preferably fish, see Flexitarian discussion above)
- Healthy Fats (Coconut Oil, Olive Oil, Avocados, etc)
- Fermented Foods (Kombucha, Apple Cider Vinegar, etc)
Foods also allowed within the guidelines but that I eat sparingly:
- Whole Grain Rice (Brown Rice)
- Lentils / Beans
- Honey (Local, Raw, and Unfiltered)
Basically you want to eat things that might appear in a box from your CSA. What you find if you follow my eating guidelines above is that you are going to naturally eat a certain amount of calories in a day and those calories will by default be healthier options when the unhealthy options are completely removed. Here is an example of a typical meal for me.
It's important to remember that what you eat dictates what sorts of foods you crave. If you do a test for yourself and follow these dietary guidelines for a full month, you will notice that your gut biome has evolved significantly and that you will be craving much healthier foods instead of the unhealthy ones. The result will be a significant elevation in your mood and general feeling of well-being because your entire body is going to be feeling better!
For those who try the diet out for themselves, we would love to hear about your results.