Thursday, August 17, 2017

Skinny, Whole and Lo-Pro


To extract the most from my body, I’ve turned to three dietary strategies that I believe support my fullest health and vitality. I maintain a busy schedule with grad-school, teaching and family/social commitments, and I have come to believe that Skinny, Whole and Lo-Pro help me to get more done.

Food and weight are inevitably topics that are strongly infused with emotion. In sharing my ideas and experiences, I hope that you take a few moments to reflect on the vital fuel that you ingest. Are the foods that you eat supporting your fullest expression of life? Or not? While these approaches have worked well for me, they may or may not work for others.

The organic garden at Crestone Mountain Zen Center.
Skinny, as the word implies, refers to my weight. I’ve long tracked the work of the various scientists that study Calorie Restricted (CR) diets. While some adherents take the idea to what I consider extremes, I believe that the emerging scientific evidence supports the health benefits of being skinny. What do I mean by skinny?

There are many ways that we can define skinny – rather than waving my hands in trying to describe skinny, I prefer to reference Body Mass Index (BMI) in this discussion. BMI describes the relationship of your height to your weight. It's not a perfect gauge of skinny/normal/overweight, though it can give you a pretty good sense of your relative proportions. A BMI of 18.5 to 25 is considered normal weight, while BMI below 18.5 is considered too-skinny, and a BMI over 25 is considered overweight. While some of the CR adherents believe in maintaining a  BMI well below 18, I am of the opinion that there is such a thing as being too skinny. As a result, I’ve rather arbitrarily picked a BMI of 21 as my target weight. I think that being on the lower end of normal hedges my bets; I’m pretty skinny if it turns out that CR is really beneficial for health, and not so far out in the ozone if it turns out that CR works better for canines, rodents, and non-human primates than it does for humans!

At the very least, I feel much more energetic when I’m skinnier. As I mentioned in a previous blog posting, most of my body’s aches and pains have disappeared since losing the 40+ pounds that I’d put on since college. In no small measure, I think my capacity to keep up with colleagues that are half my age is related to carrying less weight around.

In addition to maintaining a lower BMI, I also focus on eating whole, unprocessed foods. Over twenty years ago I swore off packaged foods than contained artificial colors, flavors and preservatives, and almost immediately I felt much better. Recently I’ve gone a step further and now focus on eating foods that are closest to their natural state. I am a big believer in cooking food; other than cooking, I strive to alter food as little as possible in its transition from the soil to my belly. Here are some examples:


-I sprinkle freshly ground flax seeds on my salads in lieu of consuming flax oil (much cheaper, too!)
-I make smoothies at home out of whole fruit rather than purchasing pasteurized smoothies at the store (again, much cheaper!)
-A bowl of lightly steamed vegetables really doesn’t need dressing – a squeeze of lemon and a dash of salt helps bring out the food’s natural flavors


As an added bonus, when I eat the simplest and most whole foods, I need less food to maintain my chosen weight. I used to eat 2600+ calories/day to maintain my weight, and since shifting to even simpler foods, I am now maintaining my weight on significantly less than 2000 calories/day. Consuming less food equals lower grocery bills, which allows me the luxury of choosing higher quality foods to eat!

Lastly, I intentionally restrict the quantity of protein that I eat. Yes, you read that correctly – I am not a believer in high protein consumption. When people ask about my vegan diet, almost inevitably they’ll ask where do you get your protein? When I reply that I’m not really too concerned about beefing (sorry – bad reference) up my protein consumption, I get some pretty incredulous looks!

No doubt, protein is an essential nutrient that helps build tissues. I love to run and be physically active, so I’m interested in consuming enough quality protein. That being said, the scientific evidence consistently suggests that the average person should consume 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body mass. I weigh 83 kilograms, which translates into needing 66 grams of protein per day. Most food contains protein (yes, even many vegetables contain a surprising quantity of protein.) When I periodically track my food consumption, I inevitably find that without even trying, I’m easily consuming sufficient quantities of protein (generally 80+ grams of protein/day) Contrary to common belief, protein is not involved with providing energy in the way that fat and carbohydrate are. In addition, your kidneys have to work hard to process protein – why strain your kidneys by eating more protein than is needed?

My approach to food is a work in progress, though I’ve been really enjoying the past year of Skinny, Whole and Lo-Pro eating. As I embark on another busy academic year, I’ve come to believe that my approach to food is a significant contributor to my capacity to juggle home, work and school responsibilities at an age when the AARP is bugging me to join their ranks!