Nutrition is a freakingly complex topic, and yet, a simple one. One thing I wish I knew 15 years ago is that sticking to nutrition philosophy is more important than sticking to a diet.
And since my personality has changed tremendously in the last two years, I had to dive deep into topics like psychology and philosophy to understand better myself and the changes I was going through. Despite the changes, it was vital for me to adhere to my values without being influenced by external factors.
You will probably hear this a lot in my blog, but stoicism and minimalism have had a massive impact on my philosophical perception of nutrition. I've welcomed the importance of having simple food on my table, following only the pillars and principles which I've tried, and I know that if I stick to them, I will have a winning "diet."
The purpose of this post will be to explain my philosophical views on nutrition, which can be applied to any style of diet you practice.
I call them Pillars and Principles. Let's unfold this topic.
Of the Many Diets I Tried, I Stuck to None
It's true. I've tried probably each trending diet I've heard through the last ten years:
- Food combining diet;
- Low-carb, low-fat diet;
- Low-carb, high-fat diet;
- Carb cycling diet;
- Protein (Atkins) diet;
- Paleo diet;
- No gluten diet;
- No dairy diet;
- Keto diet.
And probably a bunch of more. I don't even remember anymore. What I've never tried is going vegetarian or, God forbid, vegan. I've tried to eliminate meat consumption, but on the third day, I can tell that this non-sense is not for me.
I have nothing against people who are vegetarians or vegans. I have friends in both groups. I just don't consider veganism as a healthy way to feed my body and mind. And this is where I will stop with the topic of veganism.
The Thing Is That…
…all diets have one thing in common, which I loathe – you have to eat your vegetables to get your vitamins and minerals. I mean, how can someone be called healthy if you don't have veggies on your plate, right?
Well, it turns out that it's okay not to like and eat vegetables on each meal. But it took me 13 years to let myself just be the way I am. Not liking vegetables. Being okay with not eating them. Ignoring people's opinion that this isn't healthy.
Which made me look for a completely different type of "diet." A diet that consists of philosophical views, principles aligned with my perception of what I consider healthy for me.
I was really fed up with all the diets praised by fitness gurus and renowned online fitness publications. Didn't they realize that the world around us had totally changed? And with that, people and their goals, and especially the time they had – limited. Why did they continue to preach to us outdated notions about the fitness industry, nutrition, and training?
This is 2020, not 1990.
With all that said so far and all my messy thoughts, one day, I took my notebook and a pen and listed all the essential qualities I was looking for and wanted to get in the long run from my diet.
The 5 Pillars of my Nutrition Philosophy
If I have to describe with a single word what proper nutrition for me is, I will say Antifragile nutrition. Perhaps, you are familiar with the term Antifragile, coined by Professor Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Here is a good definition:
Antifragility is a property of systems that increase in capability to thrive as a result of stressors, shocks, volatility, noise, mistakes, faults, attacks, or failures.
In my case, creating an antifragile nutrition will actually help me to benefit from the future or unknown (today) stressors I will be exposed to someday (or I may not be at all).
The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
Here is an example that resonates with my life and I am quite sure that it happened to you as well:
Your usual Monday morning one-hour meeting took 4 hours. You are accustomed to having breakfast and a snack before lunch. But you are in a 4-hour meeting disaster. You are hungry and already irritated by the fact that you are hungry and also by the fact that the meeting was supposed to be only an hour long. All of your colleagues in the meeting room can tell by your body language and facial expression that, indeed, you are pissed off, make it double.
Is this the way you want your diet habits to affect you in critical moments? Or would you rather be a stoic? A mind and body, unmoved by the lack of immediate access to food.
I would rather influence my nutrition than let my nutrition influence my behavior. So by being exposed to some stressors (no food), you can actually increase your capability to resist hunger for longer hours. And next time when you are stuck in a long meeting, without food, you won't be pissed off.
2) Simplicity and Minimalism
Fancy dishes are not my thing. Three-course meals - also. Full plates, too. I love simple meals. Eggs with little to no salt. Steaks without a side dish. The plate may seem empty, but my eyes see it full. Because I know the food on my plate is enough.
I would like to teach my body to be efficient with just enough food. Because today we live in a consumer society where enough is never enough, and "just enough food" means eating less. And I am not saying that you should be undereating. All I'm saying is to avoid feeding the soul with excess food. You can still have tasty food and a full belly by eating less.
Have you ever seen someone binge eating packs of butter? Me too, I haven't. Usually, after the fifth bite, you will stop, ready to vomit. You have reached your satiety levels.
One of the main reasons I avoid consuming carbohydrates daily is their lack of satiety for me. Carbohydrates will feed my soul, but I will still be hungry in 2 hours.
In my opinion, and from my experience, eating carbohydrates every day is a dangerous habit.
Now, especially for the carbohydrate advocates, I want to emphasize that I am not afraid of eating carbs. I'm worried about catching habits that I know don't work well for me.
A bad habit is easy to catch but hard to quit.
These days, around 10-15% of my food consist of carbohydrates. But the thing is that I don't consume carbs every day. I will instead have a single day of carbs eating. This way, I avoid the possibility of turning carbohydrates consumption into a daily habit.
"What should I eat" is another question I loathe. I don't want a life where I will have to feed five times per day. This is a burden I don't want to carry on my shoulders. And I am not a walking calculator that has to meet exact calories and macros to survive.
Today I may have 1500 calories, and tomorrow they might be 1200. Today I may eat a whole chicken, and tomorrow I may eat whole bread.
There will be times when I will not have access to my preferred food sources - meat and eggs, but I will adapt my nutrition to what's available on the table. I will make the best of the food I have access to. I will let myself be okay with the changes. We evolve through adaptation.
Therefore, I believe that proper nutrition should be easily adaptable to any situation in which life throws us. We live in such a dynamic world, where time is scarce, and while we have it, we should invest it in more valuable deeds than when and what to eat.
"But you are not a vegan, Mila! How can you even spell these two words together while being on a carnivore diet? You are such a hypocrite!"
Okay, okay, I hear you. But much to your surprise, you can eat animal products and still have sustainable nutrition. This is not a sprint to win. It's jogging. One step at a time will eventually lead us to the same goal, as long as we don't interfere with each other.
So my philosophy on good nutrition includes sustainable nutrition. What does this mean for me?
- I prefer locally grown products. We are very fortunate in Bulgaria that we have access to locally grown farm products – meat, eggs, cheese, milk, fruits, nuts, Also, my family produces a considerable quantity of food – vegetables, nuts, and fruits. Moreover, I have direct access to grass-fed beef and free-range eggs.
- I always try to buy plastic-free products.
- I avoid buying imported goods whenever I have the option.
- I avoid buying animal products from big farms.
- I don't buy GMO products. If I don't have any other option, I won't buy the product.
- Consume less.
I may not be a saint when it comes to sustainable nutrition, but I care a great deal about nature and the future of the earth. And I am still learning a lot on my way to sustainable and minimalist living. I try not to leave waste behind me.
The 4 Nutritional Principles I Swear By
1) Don't eat carbs with your first meal
"The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary. — Nassim Nicholas Taleb"
(yes, I am a big fan of Taleb's books, and I am sure that you have already heard it.)
Carbohydrates are addictive. From my personal experience, If I include carbs in my first meal, I will crave more carbs throughout the rest of the day. It's my opinion that most of the time we don't need carbohydrates (of course it depends on whether you are an athlete or not, what kind of athlete, etc.). By "we," I mostly refer to people working in modern-day jobs, which very much includes sitting all day long in front of a monitor.
As I am a big fan of what Charles Poliquin preaches, here is a short video where he explains who and when "deserves" carbs. My opinion is similar.
Of course, I agree to disagree with me. However, to this day, I have seen tens of people binge eating on carbohydrates (including me in the past) but never on beef steaks and packs of butter. Come and tell me again that carbs are not addictive.
2) Fast every day
"Calm the stomach. Move the body. Rest the mind. – naval"
(I am a big fan of Naval, too.)
I have never been a breakfast eater. Very often, after breakfast, I felt sick, ready to vomit. Also, I felt a heaviness in my stomach. I felt sleepy and slow. And so I stopped eating breakfast. I followed my biological sense of hunger. Not what and when it is appropriate to eat according to some dogma.
Fasting became my new normal habit. I will fast until 1-2 pm, eat until 7-8 pm, and then stop. Of course, there are exceptions. For example, when I have late-night biking sessions. Usually, I will eat around 9:30-10 pm, but I will fast longer on the following day. Thus, I will fast for 18-20 hours.
Let me stress out that fasting is NOT just a way to reduce your caloric intake. You can gain weight and built muscle easily on IF (intermittent fasting). For me, IF is a way to align myself with the way I perceive food.
What is food for me? Do I depend that heavily on food so I cannot take more than two hours without thinking about it? Do I want to be that person?
No, no, and no. I don't want to be dependent on food. If I found myself in a situation where I will have to spend days without food, I would like to be the one to survive. And this is a mental game, which needs preparation.
I am not surprised that even the Stoics have spent several days a month without food so that the body doesn't forget how to deal with such a situation.
3) Don't combine carbohydrates with fats
Use only one source of energy per meal. Make it easy for your body to digest the food you eat.
4) Don't fry your food
Don't fry the food you eat and use fats, suitable for cooking.
Let me cite one thought by Ido Portal, whom I admire a lot:
"He is living in a smaller body, because it is more economical and sustainable, and he (referring to Dorian Yates) is preparing himself for awareness, he is more aware."
(Listen to the whole 4-minutes talk by Ido Portal.)
So the point for me is not just to maintain a healthy body, but also to achieve a smaller, economical body, easy to sustain in the long run - both aesthetically and functionally. I want to be that one – the one fully aware of my own body.
But what "a smaller body" means to me and how I work to achieve that goal will be a topic to cover in my next blog post. I will describe in detail my diet – why, what, when, and how much I eat.
Stay true. Stay humble. Stay authentic. Let your MOJO shine.