When my adrenal glands decided to go on strike at the end of last year I already knew that my eating needed some work. Knowing the right things to do and putting those things into practice can be two very different things, especially if you are chronically stressed and can’t think straight.
There’s a difference between sane eating and not eating insane foods, and that difference can be big. Let me explain. When you don’t eat insane foods you avoid sugar of all kinds, grains, highly processed oils, most fruit, and starchy foods. Staying away from those things is awesome for your health. BUT. It’s not the same as sane eating. Sane eating means focusing on nutrient-dense foods containing water, protein, fiber, and whole-food fats – and I mean ALL of those things, not just some of those things. That difference between sane eating and not eating insane foods is where I had inadvertently got off-track.
I was definitely not eating insane foods. If you’ve read The Calorie Myth it’s impossible to see insane foods the same way as you used to. And when you regularly spend hours with The Bailornator it’s pretty hard to look insane foods in the face again, let alone let them past your lips. So it wasn’t eating insane foods that was the problem. Rather it was not focusing on sane eating. It can be easy to think we are doing everything right by not eating insane foods, but that’s not always the case.
There were two things that had unwittingly derailed me in the sane eating department:
- I was skipping a lot of meals altogether. Not out of conscious choice to try and reduce the amount of food I was eating, but because of my exhaustion and ridiculous schedule. I was often too exhausted when I woke up in the morning to get up early enough to eat breakfast, and then, the number of days I had time to run and grab something from the café at work for breakfast was rare. Lunchtime would roll around and if I hadn’t had the energy to pack something before I left the house, the chances of me getting a long enough break to head down to the café were almost zero. Then my schedule regularly had me getting home so late that I was simply too tired to make dinner. I never skipped all three meals in the same day, but there were far too many days where I skipped two, and every day I skipped at least one. As Jonathan has repeatedly told us, “Starvation is not healthy” – whether it’s intentional or not. Skipping meals also completely messes with our metabolism and ability to burn fat.
- I wasn’t eating anywhere near enough non-starchy veggies. When I did eat, the water and fiber parts of sane eating were missing more often than not. Not because I don’t love veggies – I do. For me though, protein and fat is much easier to grab on the go than non-starchy vegetables are. Veggies require some preparation, while beef jerky is ready in the time it takes to pull open the packet. If I had time to eat breakfast at work it was protein and fat heavy – scrambles, omelets, bacon and sausage being the only options other than the usual array of starchy, sugary insanity. The café at my day job just doesn’t have a lot of veggies floating around at 7 am. If I did manage to pack a lunch it was usually some protein grabbed from the meat drawer, some non-fat Greek yogurt, or cottage cheese. Dinner more often than not comprised of more protein from the meat drawer, yogurt, cottage cheese, or scrambled eggs. It wasn’t just lack of physical time, it was also a complete lack of energy or desire to do anything other than sleep when I got in the door.
After finding out that my adrenal glands were on a go-slow I scampered home and did some research. Funnily enough I learned that the best diet for supporting your adrenal glands is what we call sane. No surprise there then. I also learned that when you eat is critical to supporting your adrenal glands function, so the first thing I did was get serious about eating 3 meals a day. NO. MATTER. WHAT. Eating good food before 10 am is vital – skipping breakfast had to stop, even though I rarely wake up hungry. My adrenals were depending on me to send some good energy coursing through my veins as soon as I swung my legs over the side of the bed.
The other thing that happened that forced me to become laser-focused on sane eating was that after I got my stress and sleep under control, and started doing my eccentrics and interval training every week, my appetite tanked. Given the small amount of food I could consume at one sitting, I had to focus on eating super-sane in order to get enough nutrients into my body.
Those two things – needing to eat breakfast and having a very small appetite – led to me developing The Hardcore Green Smoothie. It takes a couple of minutes to make, is not huge, and is about the sanest thing you could possibly drink. Making this smoothie is the first thing that I do every day after my feet hit the floor. It also gets 6 servings of non-starchy veg inside me before I’ve been awake for 15 minutes. Just drinking this smoothie every day increased my overall nutrition dramatically over where I had been.
I now eat lunch and dinner every single day. Somewhere between noon and 1 pm you will find me eating a bowl of scrumptious sane soup or protein with salad, and somewhere between 6 and 7 pm I’ll be guzzling down some protein and delicious veggies. On the odd occasion I feel the need for a snack I eat a handful of roasted hazelnuts or macadamias. Now I am focused on sane eating, as opposed to just not eating insane foods.
Now that my body is in fat-burning mode – and I have fat to burn – my appetite is reduced, so there is no room for other sane treats. Once my appetite increases again I will simply add some sane treats on top of my current regimen, but what I am doing now has become my new baseline way of eating.
So what made these changes possible?
- Making a commitment to myself. I determined that eating 3 meals of highly nutritious food every day was critical to my recovery and long-term wellbeing, and I made the decision that this was non-negotiable.
- Refusing to leave the house in the morning before I’ve had a Hardcore Green Smoothie, or at the very least making it and carrying it out the door with me.
- Grocery shopping twice a week instead of once every other week, so I always have fresh veggies (especially all that spinach!) in the house.
- Focusing on getting protein and non-starchy veggies first, and then filling in any gaps with whole-food fats.
- Having stuff ready in advance for the work-week. Pre-cooking a pile of turkey or salmon burgers, hard-boiling eggs, making big batches of my soups, cutting up veggies in advance – either to eat raw or be ready to cook. Having proteins and veggies ready to go mean I eat even when I don’t have the time or energy to cook. This little trick may horrify some of you, because I am after all supposed to be the chef around here. I am unrepentant. I’ve started adding pre-cooked chicken pieces to my Trader Joe’s shopping list. Now you very well may think that’s being lazy, but if I come home late at night I know myself well enough to know that I am not going to start cooking. Having some pre-cooked chicken and salad ready in 2 minutes is *way* better than not eating, stuffing down something insane, or swinging by the drive-through. Sane eating when you are tired is infinitely more important than feeling morally superior for cooking the chicken yourself. So these days I always have some pre-cooked chicken on hand for such occasions. Whatever makes it more likely that we will do more sane eating is what we should do.
The two things that had the biggest impact for me in terms of making these changes were 1) recognizing that I had inadvertently got off track, and 2) making a commitment to eating 3 meals of highly nutritious food every day. Once I got my head sorted out with those 2 things, figuring out what I needed to do came easily, and putting it into action was just practicing until they became habits. Now I don’t even have to think about food, yet I am eating healthier than I ever have. Not to mention that less things to think about = a more peaceful life.
If your fat-loss has stalled, it’s worth a look to see if you are erring on the side of not eating insane foods rather than sane eating, or skipping meals too often. A little tweak could make all the difference.