If we are what we eat, then I’m definitely a taco or a pizza…
Recently, I took on the challenge of improving my diet, in the lead-up to my 4 Trails Challenge in October. From an early age, I’ve been a relatively sensible eater, due to having a compulsive personality and a very poor sense of smell/taste. Meal times have always been more about gaining sustenance than pleasure, which has helped me prevent forming potentially bad eating habits.
My wife learnt early on in our dating life that fine dining was a waste of time. Not only the typically small portions, but the focus on unique flavours complimenting one another was entirely lost on me, given that my food preferences are based on texture, rather than taste. Hence, tacos.
My family also has a history of acid reflux, which I’m sure led to my father contracting oesophageal cancer in his early 50s. Fortunately, he has survived long past the normal life expectancy of someone who has endured the necessary surgery. I put this down to his compulsive approach to researching and adjusting his lifestyle, particularly regarding his diet. As a result, I’ve stayed away from certain foods, such as butter cookies, red meat and milk, and he’s been a big inspiration for me to live more healthily.
It is fascinating how the body builds up a tolerance to certain foods, such as dairy and caffeine, and if you don’t have them, how intolerant you can become. In my late twenties and early thirties, I found I also developed a reaction to certain drinks, tea and wine especially, so I cut them out of my diet without hesitation.
I like to think that my diet is quite healthy, although I have always been very conscious of my sugar intake during periods of training, especially chocolate cake, ice cream and sprinkles. It may not sound like it, but I don’t normally have much of a sweet tooth. Thankfully I’m still fine with beer and pizza, which are most definitely my weaknesses when it comes to food and drink.
It’s in my nature to control my inputs and outputs, however, the largest changes to my diet have always come from an impactful piece of advice. This has applied throughout my life, with many changes, whether related to my relationships, career, or sporting goals.
It was my excellent trainer, David, at Joint Dynamics, who very casually suggested that I, ‘just cut out processed carbohydrates and sugars’. His simple rationale was that these both cause spikes and troughs in energy levels, put excess strain on the body to process them, and are not particularly efficient energy sources for athletes.
David’s advice came at a moment when my diet was at the forefront of my mind. This simple comment resonated with me, particularly the spikes and troughs, which I had noticed were affecting my mental state, as I pushed myself during multiple weekly training sessions.
Comments like these apply to diet, but also other vices that we know we should change. In many cases, obvious advice aimed at helping people change, such as, ‘You should stop smoking, it’s bad for your health’ have little impact. Conversely, a unique, and perfectly timed comment can get people to change their behaviour.
I asked David for some tips on replacement meals, and he suggested eggs, avocado, bacon and smoked salmon for breakfast. This protein-heavy diet would see me through to lunch without needing to snack. I’m not a big snacker anyway, but found that this new breakfast would see me past my normal lunchtime, but I struggled to find lunch options that had a similar impact.
It was at this point I faced my first challenge. After following David’s quick fix, and changing my breakfast, I was out of usable information. Now the road to achieving my goal had just got steeper. It was quite a deflating moment.
I challenge anyone to search the internet for diet ideas to improve performance, and not find, as I did, page after page of weight loss articles and regimes. I like to read up on what I’m doing, and although I’ve found at least 10 different diets to help lose weight, I am always sceptical about any diet that doesn’t focus on volumes of inputs and outputs.
Changing my diet is about making incremental changes, one piece at a time, and accepting a degree of compromise. All while not ignoring related factors, like sleep, which can work against a healthy diet.
I have switched from white to brown rice, and from white to whole wheat bread. I’ve also switched to mixed nuts instead of chocolate, as a midday office snack. For breakfast I’ve stuck with the eggs and avocado, but have added porridge and fruit.
One of my greatest discoveries with adjusting my diet has been trying new things. Changing routines has proved quite liberating. One of my new favourite dishes is cauliflower base pizza. It’s not quite as filling, but it’s definitely a great substitute. I’m also really enjoying plant-based meat substitutes.
I wasn’t able to give up processed carbohydrates completely, and definitely not sugar, but I feel comfortable with the journey I’m on, towards making healthier eating choices.
My other, arguably more prominent, discovery has been the improvement in my mental health. The combination of sport, with a diet that doesn’t drain my resources, makes me smile…