By Leo Babauta
I’m in the best shape in my life.
I’m incredibly happy to say that. For years (as many of you know) I was in terrible health — I was overweight and sedentary and addicted to junk food and a smoker and overworked.
Today after more than five years of living healthy I am about 65 pounds lighter. I’m leaner than I’ve been since probably high school with the same pants size as I had in high school (31 inches) — while being much stronger than I was back then. More importantly I am fitter: I can run and play sports and hike and do activities of all kinds better than ever before.
How have I achieved all of this? Slow change. I’ve done no fad diets or quick weight loss. I’ve done nothing extreme. Everything is about living healthier and eating whole foods and being active most days. And about enjoying the journey.
Today I thought I’d share a bit about how I eat. It’s not meant to be copied exactly but to inform others trying to make a similar journey. Also see the next post: How I Train.
My general philosophy of eating:
- I don’t go for anything extreme. I’ve made small changes to my diet over the years and have found this works best: if you try for drastic changes you’ll hate it and won’t stick to it for long. But add a few extra fruits and veggies and it’s not hard. Change soda to water next month and it’s not deprivation.
- I eat slowly. OK … not always but most of the time. Eating slowly allows me to fully savor the taste of the healthy food I eat and at the same time eat less while still feeling satiated (not stuffed).
- I eat real foods. I try for veggies and fruits and raw nuts and seeds and beans and some whole grains. Sometimes my food is processed but mostly it’s just the stuff you’ll find in the produce and bulk sections of a supermarket (or farmer’s market).
- I eat plants. I do that mostly for reasons of compassion (killing animals for pleasure doesn’t feel right to me) but I’ve found it’s also an extremely healthy way to eat. Sure it’s possible to be vegan and unhealthy (eat processed fake meats and sweets) but if you’re a whole-food vegan it’s hard to go wrong. And yes it’s easy to get protein as a vegan.
- I enjoy myself. I look for healthy foods I love — berries for example — and savor them. I’ll eat sweets now and then but in small portions and truly enjoy the few bites I have. I have red wine and love it. I drink beer sometimes and it’s wonderful. I have pizza about once a week and it’s delicious. Eating healthy isn’t about deprivation but about finding ways to enjoy yourself while living a healthy life.
This month I’ve cut my less healthy choices down to Saturdays — as inspired by Tim Ferriss’s book The 4-Hour Body. That means I only eat pasta and pizza and sweets and beer and French fries on Saturdays. This has gotten me even leaner and I recommend this way of living.
The rest of the week I eat my own version of Tim’s Slow Carb Diet — the Leo version. That means I eat a little fruit and a few whole grains and I don’t eat the meat. I don’t eat fried foods or drink calories (other than red wine at dinner) or eat white carbs (pasta bread rice potatoes pizza).
What I eat:
- Beans – lentils and black beans and kidney beans and pintos and soybeans.
- Nuts and seeds – raw almonds and walnuts and seeds and olive oil and avocadoes.
- Veggies – lots of greens like kale and spinach and chard and broccoli. Carrots and various bell peppers and sprouts and so on.
- Fruits – berries and apples and oranges and a little dried fruits like raisins. In moderation.
- Whole grains – steel-cut oats and Ezekiel flourless sprouted-grains bread and quinoa (not technically a grain). That’s about it — I don’t eat pastas or whole-grain muffins or the like.
My typical day usually goes like this:
- Breakfast: Every day I eat steel-cut oats for breakfast late in the morning (usually between 10:30 and 11:30). I cook it and then mix it with flaxseeds and cinnamon and blueberries and raw almonds and a few raisins and maybe a small amount of banana or raspberries.
- Lunch: Typically a big-ass salad with kale and spinach and sprouts and avocados and beans and raw nuts and a little fruit with balsamic vinegar. Sometimes I’ll eat a tofu stir-fry with greens.
- Snack: If I’m hungry in the afternoon I’ll eat some raw nuts and dried fruit or veggies and hummus.
- Dinner: Beans and veggies or a tofu-stir fry or veggie chili with beans. This meal varies. Sometimes the beans will be Indian style or Mexican style. Usually the veggies will be greens like kale or broccoli or chard. Sometimes I’ll have quinoa. Red wine with dinner.
And that’s about it. Over time I’ve found I need less food than I used to. Eat slowly and you’ll find yourself full on less food.
I used to spread my “cheats” throughout the week — a whole-grain muffin here and some pizza there and beer more than I’d like to admit. But putting everything on Saturdays has helped me be honest the rest of the week.
I honestly enjoy eating whole foods. I enjoy being lighter and leaner. I’ve gained muscle eating these foods though I might focus on building more muscle later in the year.
I run faster than ever. I can do more intense workouts than ever before. I was tested for various health indicators recently and everything was perfect. Eating this way has absolutely changed my life.
A couple notes to answer potential questions:
- Soy is not unhealthy. You might have read various scare articles on the Internet about soy (usually based on misleading articles from the Weston A. Price Foundation) but they’re misinterpretations of science. I eat soy in moderation and try for whole soy in natural forms (tofu, tempeh, edamame, some natural soy milk). I don’t have man boobs and I’m absolutely healthy. Instead of pointing to “scientific” explanations of why soy is unhealthy show me the actual peer-reviewed studies that show that moderate amounts of natural soy (not soy protein isolate) have caused health problems.
- You can absolutely get enough protein and calcium and iron on a vegan diet if you eat whole foods and not junk.
- Sugar is junk and that includes white flour pasta and breads and French fries. It’s worthless calories. Whole grains in moderation provide nutrients and fiber.
- A little meat in moderation is not unhealthy — especially if you choose grass fed and free range. Most people eat unhealthy amounts of meat and eggs and dairy. Those foods in any amount are unethical in my opinion — even if they’re grass fed and free range. Exploitation of animals as objects and their suffering for our pleasure is not compassionate. We don’t need animal products to live healthy lives — as my example shows — so the only reason to eat them is for our pleasure (we like the taste).