This is not a “life hack”. This is a SHORT/SIMPLE lesson about optimal eating, based on years of playing around. Optimal both physically and mentally. I will summarize my N-of-1 results at the end. I will also cite independent scientific sources that inspired this. The intention is not to prescribe a rigid diet, rather, it’s to teach basics and show what’s possible! Make it your own.
From a physiological standpoint, this is a lesson in how incredible the human body is (autophagy), a lesson in macronutrients, and a lesson in feeling smooth energy all day long.
From a psychological standpoint, this is a lesson in understanding conditioned craving and our relationship with food – homeostatic eating vs. hedonic eating. And finally, as a bonus, this is freedom to eat whatever the hell you want occasionally and feel zero guilt.
First – some real life evidence. 5-7 days per week, this is what I eat, within an 8 hour window. Just these, no snacks.
Breakfast – 9ish AM
Steel cut oats, fruit, cocoa nibs, soft boiled eggs.
Not pictured: unflavored whey protein shake.
Dinner – 5ish PM
Quinoa, chicken, red onion, avocado, street taco seasoning.
Broccoli, carrots, red pepper, zucchini, red onion, lemon juice, pepper.
Not pictured: casein protein and whole milk shake.
Why TF Would Anyone Do This? Part I: Physiological
Whether you are an avid runner, a weight lifter, or everyday person with no interest in physical activity, the following remains true: You ARE what you eat! You need energy, and you need to rebuild tissue. Period. And really, what you eat can only be two things – 1) Energy (fat or carbs), and 2) Tissue Material (protein). Putting aside micronutrients for now, once again, here is the body and macronutrient relationship:
- Purpose: Energy, Macro: Fat, Carbs
- Purpose: Tissue Material, Macro: Protein
No matter what you eat, it is some mix of energy and protein. No matter who you are or what your goals are, you need both. Now, of course there are all sorts of fancy and prescriptive diets – keto, paleo, carnivore, yadda, yadda. But I have no interest in going there. I just want to say: The average diet should be a healthy mix of fats, carbs, and protein. Approximately 35% carbs, 35% protein, and 30% fat. Small variations are fine! Further, prefer quality fats, quality carbs, and quality protein. That’s really it!
OK. But why only two meals per day, and why the same meals? And why eat them within an 8 hour window?
Homeostatic vs Hedonic Eating
If you’ve grown up in the US or any similar industrialized society, you’ve been surrounded by food and snacks, mostly prioritized for PLEASURE! It’s that simple. It is straight-up unnatural and unnecessary to eat food all day long. Period. This is called hedonic (pleasure) based eating, and “grazing” – yes, like the cows. It may make you happy for 3 seconds as you chew and swallow, but your body is saying WTF in parallel. If you cannot get on-board with this view, I suggest you give this article a skim and check out the linked resources. But please, before you worry I’m killing pleasure eating, realize I LOVE it too. It simply has a time and place. We’ll get there.
Homeostatic eating, on the other hand, is looking at food purely as what your body needs to take care of itself. As it turns out, if you feed your body good fuel, even if it’s the same exact fuel you had the day before, and the day before that, it will be very, very happy. Smooth energy. Burned fat. This is not just about WHAT you eat, but about WHEN you eat. You may have heard a name for this – intermittent fasting. By giving your body a long daily break from food, it has a chance to do some cleanup on itself, burning fat and eating broken cells. (Autophagy). And this is NOT complicated! It simply means, eat all your meals during an 8 hour window, so your body can do cleanup for the other 16. That’s it! Our bodies are designed to go without food for a while. Think back to our pre industrial survival days.
And why the same meal? It makes both shopping and following your diet stupid simple. And it does NOT mean sacrificing enjoyment. You will have to do some playing around, but you can find foods you truly love eating every single day (or most days).
Whether you eat 2 or 3 or 4 meals per day, matters less. I really love 2 personally – for simplicity and hunger. Some people have great success only eating 1! The MAIN point is, your body is miraculous and it loves if you give it a break to do cleanup – so eating during an 8 hour window helps that. Second, educate yourself on what quality carbs, fats, and proteins are, and aim for a 35/35/30 (carb/protein/fat) mix. An app like “My Macros+” makes it really easy. Once you have a daily meal that you love, lock it in! Repeat, day after day. I promise you, it may take some experimenting and tuning, but you can eat the same food every day and truly love it, as if it were the first time. I have found the simpler the ingredients, the better. Your body will love you. You will feel smooth energy. And you will slow aging. Wow x 3.
Why TF Would Anyone Do This? Part II: Psychological
Once again, I have to refer to this article, which is broadly about the psychology and science of craving, but beautifully articulates what the mind is doing when it thinks about food. I cannot recommend enough, the linked podcast episode by Dr. Jud Brewer – not merely for diet sake, but to radically change your relationship with desire in general.
Here is the bottom line. When the human mind feels a craving, we typically just run off and satisfy it. It takes a little bit of training, but if instead you just notice the craving, and sit with it, it will fade… magically. Please please, listen to him articulate this. It’s golden.
Why does this matter?
Even though the brain is our friend, it can get very confused in this modern environment with food all around us constantly, and even worse, sugar. The brain is trying to help us survive, so when we find sugar, the body says… OOO – more! Yes, do that again! Again – back in the survival days, when we found food, our brain needed to tell us to take it while we had the chance, because it might go many days without it! Unfortunately this screws us today. Because we go back for more, and more, and more, and there is never any scarcity. Then, fat accumulates, insulin is always spiked, cancer cells can thrive, broken proteins accumulate. Yuck.
So how can we possibly find our way out of this? Trust our body’s ingenious energy management and maintenance processes. Trust the good diet we’ve built for ourselves, and when craving comes barging in to tell us to snack, we say kindly… not right now, thanks. Do this for a few days, and a few weeks, and it totally becomes natural. Your sugar brain is now a thing of the past.
As Dr. Jud discusses, mindfulness is the ability to look not only at cravings, but at ANY emotion, feeling, desire, and quite powerfully… just let it go. Mindfulness is a much broader topic, but it applies so so beautifully here, in putting a healthy diet into place.
Your “cravings” become an object of mindfulness, so to speak. You simply catch them, and let them go. Not only are you defeating your food habits, but training your mindfulness.
Why Listen to Me?
Random Fitness Stats
I have been a runner and weight lifter for over a decade. I weigh about 150lbs and about 8% bodyfat. My average pace for a 6 mile run is about 6:30 per mile. I can run a half marathon in about 6:50 per mile. I can deadlift 335lbs x8. I can do about 16 pullups. By the way, none of this is elite, impressive, or necessarily desirable! I admit that with zero hesitation! There are weightlifters who are far superior. There are runners who are far faster. But, I feel great, and I share this simply to illustrate diet has been instrumental. I really love pushing myself. It gives me great joy to see the magic of the human body come alive and it just feels “right” when you finish a workout and have clear mind. It’s what the body was meant to do. Diet has been crucial this hobby.
Random Comments on Feeling
I am truly excited to eat both of my meals every day. It’s amazing. I used to play little games to make them very flavorful, or salty, or sweet… but over time I realized the golden rule, less is more. It’s wild. The simpler my diet has become, the more sensitive I have become to the simple flavors of whole, unprocessed food. Every meal is equally as satisfying as the previous day. I LOVE not having to think about what to shop for, or how to cook, or where to buy random meals. Because the same old trusty routine is at my side. Of course tiny tweaks are made along the way. Maybe a year from now, one of my meals will be completely different, because of I’ve made a series of small tweaks now and then. By and large, it’s the same. And if an opportunity to have a random meal with friends or family comes up – no problem. Go for that, instead.
Random Comments on EJOYING: Ice Cream, Pizza, Donuts, etc.
Let me tell you, I love all of these things. And to have any of them a couple times per month, or for an entire vacation, or around the holidays, or special occasion – zero concern. I have my fun with food, really appreciate it when the time comes, but then immediately happy to go back to my baseline.
References / More Info
I intentionally did not want to make this article complicated. Reading about diet can get really hairy really fast, and I don’t think it needs to. I wanted to show how such a very simple system can be so successful, for at least one person, by following some very basic rules.
That said, I will update this shortly with deeper references on intermittent fasting, autophagy, macronutrient targets, and macronutrient quality. See the article with Dr. Jud with links in the interim – all the resources there are sufficient.
I wish you the best with diet and mindfulness! Very happy to discuss this further and hear your experiences.