Learning a new habit isn’t easy. It takes time, and various stages. The goal of any new habit is to get to the “maintenance” phase. That’s the point where everything is clicking. It’s become second nature.
Most people this this is where the journey ends, that this is the goal, the stopping point.
When I was in grad school I had a professor say this to us: at some point in your life, each and every one of your healthy habits will be challenged and you will likely relapse into old patterns.
I was pretty shocked. Every habit will relapse at some point? But she was convincing — the research suggests that any new health habit you acquire is temporary, and at some point, it will fail.
It may be after 5 minutes (like trying to quit smoking), 5 days (a crash diet), 5 months (an exercise program), or 5 years.
It may be after 30 years.
But no habit is safe.
Why is this? Why can we never rest on our newly found laurels? We’ve just spent months or years learning these new habits. We’ve got systems in place. We rely on our routines. Life is good, everything is on autopilot.
That’s the thing about life. It is inherently unpredictable, uncertain. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either lying or a hermit that never leaves the house.
Life changes, all the time. You move. A relationship starts or ends. Jobs, kids, the economy — it all changes.
That’s not to say you can’t get back to maintenance. That process will likely be easier the second time around — you have a history with this habit, and you can probably find your way back. But you will experience a period where it falters and your old habits reemerge.
For me, I find it very hard to believe that my vegan/plant-based diet will ever change. This feels more than just a habit. But maybe even that isn’t 100% safe. I shouldn’t show such hubris.
One habit that is in flux right now, at the moment, is meditation. I have been trying to build this habit for nearly 3 years now.
For a good year or more I was meditating every morning when I awoke and every night before bed, along with some light yoga.
It was a great habit, and lead to some profound personal growth and discovery. It made me a better, happier person.
But even though the research suggests benefit even with as little as five minutes a day, there is something so challenging about…just…stopping. It’s so antithetical to our western, fast paced culture. With the internet always on, we can be always on.
Taking a break to just sit there quietly with your breath and noticing your thoughts, who’s got the time for that?!
Well I did — off and on for 3 years.
But life happens.
For the past few weeks I have been in transition mode, between apartments and possibly moving cities for a new opportunity. While everything that is happening is both exciting and challenging, the uncertainty is stressful.
Of course, this would be likely the most important time for me to be meditating regularly.
Yet the mind goes elsewhere, old habits come back in. Novel life stress causes relapse in habits, and getting lost in Netflix all of a sudden is way more appealing. I spend all day consumed by the anxiety of my thoughts, why would I want to devote 5-10 minutes a day to listening to them even more intently??
So I have not been meditating. I have relapsed. Relapsed into old patterns, old stress-relievers, etc.
I still carry the lessons I learned from when I was in maintenance of this meditation habit. It still has made me a million times better at coping with this life stress. Those lessons are with me.
I share this story not to scare you but to simply share the reality — no habit is safe from relapse. Instead of having that scare you I hope it helps you feel OK when it does happen. It’s normal. Be gentle with yourself when it happens, dust yourself off, and figure out what you need to do to get back to it.
For me, it starts tomorrow!
….wait. I said that I learned the lessons of meditation.
It starts NOW! (Off to meditate!)
Can you picture it? A vegan world? When will it come?
A lot of people ask me this when they find out that I am vegan.
“Do you really think all human beings will give up meat??”
“How will you convince everyone to give up meat?
I think I have an answer:
Make meat unappealing.
Now I know what you’re thinking. You’re probably thinking that’s kind of obvious, and you’re probably thinking I mean increase the awareness over the animal rights, environmental and health disaster that is animal agriculture.
And while I do think all three of those things are incredibly important to educate people about, that’s not what I mean.
Maybe I’ll put it differently: make alternatives the appealing choice.
Yes, I’m talking about fake meat.
Here’s the deal — meat from animals is inefficient. You pretty much can’t argue this. It’s just physics. It’s ecology. Eating higher on the food chain is inherently inefficient. Eating lower on the food chain will always be more efficient.
Why? Because things higher on the food chain require more inputs (water, food, fertilizer, antiobiotics, etc). Those inputs cost money and resources and are thusly inefficient.
Plants are lower on the food chain and are more efficient, both from a resource perspective and a cost perspective.
So alternatives (yes, I mean fake meat) outperform meat from animals in cost and environmental efficiency. They also obviously outperform meat from animals from an ethical standpoint. No dead cows means a more ethical burger.
The remaining question: taste.
Well if you haven’t tried fake meat in awhile, they are damn good. I’ve fooled many meat-loving peers of mine with fake meat products. I’ve served them without telling them what it was and they’ve been floored. I’ve asked them “if fake meat tasted identical or better to the real thing would you eat it?” I’ve never had a friend answer anything other than “yes.”
Then there’s this: a vegan burger just won Best Burger in the World.
Note: that didn’t say “Best Veggie Burger in the World.” Meat burgers were in the running, but one made from plants won the day.
So if plants can be cheaper, better for the environment, more humane, more nutritious and tastier???
We may not have to convince anyone to go vegan, we merely have to continue to work to make alternatives win in all these categories. If it’s cheaper and tastes just as good, this will be the end of meat and no one will miss it.
For more meat-free products check out Gardein, Beyond Meat, Tofurky, and many others. If you live in the Minneapolis area you can check out the world’s first Vegan Butcher for artisanal vegan meats and cheeses at The Herbivorous Butcher.
*That burger is 100% vegan. It won Best Burger
A week or two ago I saw a meme on Facebook.
Ok I see lots of memes on Facebook, and to be honest, most are pretty meaningless.
But this one was a quote from the Dalai Lama. He’s a pretty wise man, so I tend to listen to what he has to say.
Take a look:
This meme succinctly describes the hypocrisy of how many modern humans conduct their lives. I’m not here to point any fingers or blame anyone for this imbalance. I merely want to shine a light on it, and suggest that we’ve got it all wrong.
I want to make the plea for health.
We tend to sacrifice a lot of ourselves in the pursuit of attaining more – more money, more status, more clothing, more possessions, etc.
We tend to, as a culture, be over-worked and over-stressed in these pursuits.
We, as the quote suggests, sacrifice our health in the pursuit of wealth, only to, as we get older, use that wealth to try to buy back some health.
As I said, we’ve got this all wrong, and I can prove it.
The future does not exist.
Bear with me for a second here, I am going to get just a bit existential.
The future does not exist. It’s not real. That may or may not sound controversial to you. But it’s hard to argue with.
We can reasonably predict that some future will take place in some way.
Things have continued for however many years we’ve already lived, and with a little luck, we can reasonably assume that we will continue to exist in a relatively similar fashion.
But we have little actual impact on that future. The amount that we control in that future is very very small.
This isn’t to say that we should not work hard or save money. For many life goals, money is essential.
But while the future is and always will be a fantasy, an idea, there is something real that you are experiencing right now.
Can you guess?
It’s… RIGHT NOW.
The present moment is real, it is tangible. You are experiencing it right now, and believe it or not, it’s all you actually have. Even when the future comes you will experience it in the present moment.
So if you are still with me, it stands to reason that we should place more value on what is now than what will be. (Again, I am not saying throw away all planning or forethought toward the future, just stay with me.)
And while a lot of people think that investing in your health is solely for the purposes of attaining more future (increasing the amount of years you have on the planet), the real benefit of health is experienced in the NOW.
This is the only time when you can experience anything!
That, and because health is a present state of being. I am not a healthy 80-year old. I am a healthy 29-year old, and as such I am fit, in shape, and eat a diet that gives me abundant energy in the moment. It makes me feel good today, not 50 years from now!
If I am fortunate the choices I make today can lead to a better reality for myself in 50 years. But that is simply a fantasy, an illusion. Not entirely unimportant to consider, but not where the real benefit of a healthy lifestyle is conferred.
Look, money, hard work, promotions – these are good things for which to strive. But do not sacrifice your health in their pursuit, because this is a truly foolish trade. You trade your wellbeing now (the only time you can experience wellbeing) for potential future wellbeing. Once this future is achieved, you need to trade back the money you got for the health you gave up in the form of expensive drugs and surgeries.
It’s a raw deal.
Invest in your health TODAY, in THIS MOMENT. It is far more valuable than any sum of money you could possibly dream of.
Now I don’t follow UFC in any way, but I still know who Conor McGregor is. His personality is larger than life. His tattooed bulk frame, Irish accent, and machismo attitude epitomizes the sport of competitive fighting.
McGregor had a fight last weekend against Nate Diaz. Going into this battle, McGregor was undefeated in UFC fights.
He was the Ronda Rousey of male UFC fighters. No one expected him to lose.
But he did.
I don’t really care, since I don’t follow the sport. Sure I know him and his personality well, simply from being a sports fan, but the fact that he lost doesn’t mean a thing.
Except for one fact: Nate Diaz is
vegan a plant-based athlete, following a mostly raw vegan diet.
A vegan just took down the world’s most accomplished and feared fighter.
Why does this matter?
This probably doesn’t matter to most of you reading this. You probably don’t follow UFC, don’t know who these people are, don’t care.
But you know who does?
The male roommate of one of my friends, who has no real knowledge of or interest in the vegan diet. About all he knows is that vegans supposedly suffer in their search for protein in their measly leaves they eat.
But as we sat around talking about how both of us are vegan and loving it, and trying to open his mind to it, I casually threw out this fact: “you know the guy who just beat Conor McGregor is vegan…”
His ears perked up. I had his attention. This stood out to him.
So no, the result of this UFC fight is not very important to my life. But is is very important to the vegan movement. Not because Nate Diaz needs to be an ambassador for the lifestyle. But because his accomplishments can speak to a demographic that other vegans simply can’t.
The strongest man in the world just got beat by a vegan. Deal with it.
If you follow current health trends online — subscribe to a blog, follow a nutrition “expert” on social media, etc — you may feel like there is a ridiculous amount of conflicting evidence pointing one way or another on diet advice.
There’s the classic divide between paleo and vegan, but then there’s low-carb, low-fat, high-fat, Zone, South Beach, etc.
There’s a lot to be confused about.
Or so it would seem…
The reality is there is far more consensus on what we should be eating than you probably realize. Why might you not know this?
Controversy sells books.
The next study showing a previously heralded food is bad for you will be music to the ears of book publishers. They can’t wait to sell you the next greatest thing in to the diet crazed public.
Don’t buy the hype. Literally. Save your money.
Healthy eating is simple, and a few weeks ago leaders from all walks of nutrition, paleo advocates and vegan plant-based advocates alike, all met to discuss common ground.
And while many topics were discussed, this is where they landed:
“The foods that define a healthy diet include abundant fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, legumes and minimal amounts of refined starch, sugar and red meat, especially keeping processed red meat intake low.”
Nothing too inflammatory there. Honestly nothing that would make for a New York Times Bestseller.
And that’s how you know it’s true.
All leading experts agree — paleos and vegans — that our diets need to be centered around whole plant foods and not animal or processed foods! It’s really that simple.
They went on to also agree on another key, interesting point:
“Food insecurity cannot be solved without sustainable food systems. Inattention to sustainability is willful disregard for the quality and quantity of food available to the next generation, i.e., our own children.”
And even a paleo die hard, Boyd Eaton, stated: “Red meat is incompatible with environmental health in a sustainable world. We need a diet that equals the nutrition of our Paleo ancestors, but is sustainable.”
The message is clear and simple, and still, to this day, best summed up by Michael Pollan’s seven simple words: “Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants.”
If you’d like to read more about this meeting of the minds, as well as see who was on the panel, check out the write up by Forks Over Knives.
Dietary advice these days is just too complicated. There’s literally thousands of different “miracle diets” online and in best-selling books. And the worst part is you can routinely find polar opposite advice being sold as the miracle answer.
Well, I’ve got my own miracle answer, but unlike the others out there, I’m not selling anything and my answer is super super simple. Like, really simple.
If you want to lose weight and get healthy just do this one thing:
I’m not sure why, but I am really drawn to dietary experiments.
I find them really fascinating. I think it’s really powerful to, instead of contemplating how a dietary change may affect your health or your weight or your bottom line or your taste buds, to simply do it.
Just Do It.
It’s how I went vegetarian, how I went vegan, and how I started to eat whole-foods plant-based.
Each time I started with trial periods. I just did it.
Sure I had thought about some of the changes before taking action. But at the end of the day, taking the leap was far more powerful — and taught me more — than any amount of thinking ever could.
So with that in mind, I recently embarked on a one-week trial of a completely salt-free diet.
Why did I want to test this out?
Well I work with people who weigh-in everyday, and one thing I’ve noticed is that their weight tends to fluctuate a decent amount from day-to-day. It depends a bit on the person, but some people can change as much as a few pounds every single day. Up one day, down the next, then up a bit. It’s this vicious cycle (when you’re not used to it) that stresses people out when they start tracking their weight.
Yet tracking your weight is so important to weight loss and weight maintenance. And what is ultimately going on here is not changes in fat, but changes in water retention.
One of the big culprits in water retention is the amount of sodium we eat.
So, I entered into this experiment hoping to learn about how sodium affected my daily weight.
But I also wanted to learn more. Many followers of a whole foods plant-based diet also follow a “No S.O.S.” diet, which means no added salt, oil, or sugar to their food.
In short, I personally don’t add oil to my food. The only sugar I add is some maple syrup to my oatmeal and have sugar in the occasional vegan dessert or some processed cereal as a treat.
But I’ve never explored salt. Ever. I’ve literally never even thought about it, except to feel that by avoiding most processed foods and all animal products, and staying hydrated, I’d be fine. Salt was not a worry.
A few months ago I saw a YouTube video by a vegan who ate no salt in her diet. Her video was on the opposite experiment to mine — she added salt to her food for one week. And in that week she noted feeling bloated, fatigued, and having headaches.
Was I having these symptoms without noticing simply because I’d never gone salt-free? I was reminded of going plant-based — before I ate this way I had no idea I could feel this good, this energized.
When you eat a Standard American Diet you really don’t know what healthy feels like. It’s only when you have that feeling that you realize how awful you felt in the past.
Was the same true about salt? I had to find out.
I tracked my weight for the week leading up to the experiment so I would have baseline data. How did my weight fluctuate on my normal salty diet?
THURSDAY – 173.8
FRIDAY – 172.8
SATURDAY – 174.6
SUNDAY – 177.2
MONDAY – 174
TUESDAY – 174
WEDNESDAY – 172.8
As you can see from the graph, my weight fluctuates a decent amount during the week.
In my baseline, my lowest weight was 172.8 on Friday, and highest was 177.2 on Sunday. [NOTE: Research has shown that people are, on average, their lightest on Friday morning, and their heaviest on Monday morning. We tend to indulge on the weekends…]
That’s a 4.4 pound change in just 2 days! Did I gain 4.4 pounds of fat in 2 days?
Well I wasn’t in any hot dog eating contests that weekend, so…no.
It was changes in water weight!
Here’s a look at my salt-free week weights:
THURSDAY – 171.4
FRIDAY – 174
SATURDAY – 174
SUNDAY – 171.6
MONDAY – 172.8
TUESDAY – 170.6
WEDNESDAY – 171.6
The red line on the graph is my salt-free week. Notice how on average I am below the baseline week.
On the weekend my weight is still the highest, but after that the line trends downward.
[A note about that — on Thursday of that week I hung out with a friend and we went to Chipotle, where it is physically impossible to order anything without salt, so this day was not salt-free. More on that in a second.]
My average weight for my baseline week was 174.4 and my average weight for my salt-free week was 172.4.
That’s 2 pounds lighter! Of course that is changes in water weight, not fat, but it is still less weight that I am carrying around, and a tighter look to my physique.
How Did I Feel?
Besides being down 2 pounds on average, did I notice any change in how I felt? Was I noticing less fatigue, feeling less bloated, noticing a clearer mental state?
Overall I’d say… sort of. I don’t think there was any profound changes in mood or energy level, but I will say that I definitely felt lighter. Not just because I was carrying around 2 lbs less water, but just in general I felt maybe a lightness of mood and mental clarity. I won’t call this definitive, but definitely plausible that going salt-free lead to this outcome.
How Did It Taste?
This was my biggest concern — taste.
Salt is just delicious, plain and simple. There’s a reason we add it to our food. And to be fair to salt, it is absolutely necessary for bodily function. The problem is we simply eat too much of it, and too much salt leads to higher blood pressures and greater risk for heart disease.
In fact the American Heart Association recommends we stick to less than 1500 milligrams of sodium per day. Your average American gets 3400 milligrams per day — or more than double the AHA recommendation!
But how did my food taste?
Probably the most interesting result of this entire experiment was that my hunger was reduced by eating salt-free. One of my go-to lunches is brown rice, chickpeas, carrots, kale, nutritional yeast, and soy sauce. The soy sauce-nutritional yeast combo gives it a nice cheesy taste and it’s pretty irresistible. I usually polish of a giant bowl of it and still feel like I could eat more.
All week I made this same lunch minus the soy sauce, and even though the quantity I served myself was the exact same, my desire to finish it diminished drastically.
With the salt, I craved the next bite. The salt fueled my appetite.
Without the salt, I lost interest, and my appetite faded quicker. I still finished my meal, but it took me longer, and I was less satisfied. It still tasted alright, but it was far less “craveable.”
Now for someone hoping to lose weight, that is a very great thing! Eating more slowly no doubt leads to more of a feeling of fullness. And reduced appetite is obviously helpful for losing weight!
For someone hoping to simply enjoy their food, it may not be so welcomed. The one major caveat is this — when reducing salt it is highly recommended that you go down incrementally over the course of a few weeks. Your taste buds will adjust if you decrease incrementally. If you go from full salt to no salt overnight like I did, you may find your food tasting a little on the bland side.
What Did I Give Up?
One thing I noticed was how salt lurks in so many things you don’t realize!
I knew I wouldn’t have any potato chips this week, or use any salt in my cooking. But I roasted up some potatoes and realized I couldn’t have ketchup with them — plenty of salt in there.
I had some beans but couldn’t add salsa, no way!
I even grabbed a box of Kashi cereal that had no salt, but couldn’t add my almond milk because lo and behold — added salt!
I finally found a Westsoy Soy Milk product that had no added salt — just soybeans and water — so I used that.
Salt is in everything.
Another thing I had to give up was eating out. Except for that trip to Chipotle.
This was another profound realization of this experiment.
I have a hard enough time eating out as a vegan. Well really it’s not that hard — I’m used to it and know how to do it (reading menus ahead of time, having a plan, etc).
It is impossible to eat out if you are trying to eat salt-free.
As my friend and I were hanging out and contemplating grabbing food, I realized there wasn’t a single restaurant I could choose that would serve me salt-free food, unless I ordered a salad with no dressing, and that didn’t sound particularly appealing.
The other thing I learned is that while my friends are used to me being vegan and give ample consideration for my need (thanks guys), suggesting we eat salt-free was just too much…
I offered to cook up a salt-free meal and my friend looked at me like I was from Mars.
So I caved and I had Chipotle, where it’s easy to be vegan but impossible to be salt-free.
That’s ok. It was part of the experiment. I learned a lot. If you want to cut salt, you cannot eat out.
My post Chipotle weigh-ins confirmed there was a spike in my weight for about 2 days, then back down.
Where Am I Now?
I learned a lot from going salt-free for a week. I learned how it is in everything, how eating out is impossible, how it contributes to holding onto water weight, how much my weight fluctuates in general, and how my friends are able to cope with my weird vegan diet but are simply not on board with me going salt-free completely!
That’s why I love dietary experiments!
You learn so much.
So, with what I’ve learned, how will my behavior change?
Well, I’m not sure I can quite answer this yet… What I do know is that today I am far more aware of the impact salt has on my weight and how I feel than I was a few weeks ago. I think I’ll still use store bought condiments — I currently don’t feel super motivated to make my own ketchup or almond milk on a regular basis. But I could go easy on the salt in the foods I prepare…
The next step may be to track the actual number of milligrams I consume everyday. I would wager that I average below the AHA recommendation of 1500 milligrams even with my soy sauce and store bought salsa and occasional trip to Chipotle. But regardless, going salt-free lead to a feeling of lightness and 2 pounds lost, so I can’t say that salt has no impact on me!
Armed with that knowledge, I think I’ll be much more aware of how heavy my hand is with the salt-shaker! And the lighter feeling is motivating…!