Hungry? Try this: Chicken Tikka Masala. I tweak it for paleo by exchanging chicken breast for boneless skinless chicken thighs, omit the yogurt, and trade the heavy cream for skimming the cream out of a can of organic unsweetened coconut milk.
I hurt my back. One thing is for certain, my psoas is firmly locked in a spasm, and while I work through this issue safely with a very good doctor I am, for the time being, taking a forced break from CrossFit for an undefined period. Instead of kicking around being miffed that I can’t go spend time at my happy place with all my happy friends doing happy lifts, I’m taking this opportunity to look at my eating as a CrossFit-esque workout. Often times a workout written on the board looks ominous and impossible, and before I know it I’ve done the whole thing and I’m not dead. So, even though being focused and particular with my eating looks difficult, if I pace myself, stabilize my midline, and BREAAATH I should prove victorious.
January is the penultimate season of nutrition and eating challenges. People hunt for an accountability buddy, make goals, pick a diet program/idea/concept and go for it. And, every February 1 profits at Dunkin’ and Shipley Donuts soar. Make no mistake, I’ve participated in my fair share of these challenges, and they can be marvelous for any number of reasons. If even only one person out of a thousand are successful, that’s one more person who has turned their life around for the better. And, the other 999 get applause for trying. Thanks to a fender bender turned insurance deductible payment any plans I had for joining in a nutrition challenge for 2015 have been sidelined so I have been watching from the outside and some thoughts have come unbidden into my head, which of course, means they have to be expressed. Publicly, if possible.
Every challenge needs levels. A scaling option, if you will. Joe Bag O’ Donuts may never have had any real experience in “clean eating”, so the chances of him washing out of a nutrition challenge are higher than they are for Debbie McKnowitall who has a firm grasp of the produce department. One doesn’t start CrossFit with a 250lb overhead walking lunge, so why would there be an expectation for one to go from eating a diet of beer and queso to sipping kombucha while shopping exclusively at a seasonally-varied, organic, and expensive farmer’s market? From my perspective, nutrition challenges are really mental muscle building challenges, and to build a truly strong muscle takes time, practice, work, and effort. If you want to see a nutrition challenge participant give up right before your very eyes start talking about the differences between grass fed beef versus grass finished beef. Or, try my other favorite about the horrifying dangers of bacon drippings from grain-fed production pig bacon compared to the peaceful safety of fats from pasture-raised organic pig bacon. They will straight up cut you with eyeball lasers.
What about changing the nutrition challenge paradigm? What if a nutrition challenge offered true education into the why and why nots of food, starting with simple concepts and moving up through the varied levels of complexity into elite levels. Just because a nutrition challenge can tell a person what to eat and why doesn’t truly educate that person on the HOW.
Level Zero: This is the person who has never considered the dangers of seed oils, considers gluten to probably be a craft supply, and, in general, doesn’t give a lot of thought about what they are eating. This person is not dumb. This person is uneducated. This person maybe has started working out and is beginning to warm up to the idea that you can’t out-train a bad diet and they want sustainable gainz more than they want a cookie. They’ve heard about the Paleo/Zone/Atkins/SouthBeach/Whole<insert number> diets so they’re gonna do that and they’re going start by joining a nutrition challenge. But, how do you take a person who has habitually shopped on the inside aisles of the grocery store and change their habits? (Yes, yes, I know only that person can change their own habits, but on a simpler level they can be facilitated along with a little compassion and a little education.) This person should not get immediately tossed into the organic, locally sourced, label-reading macro-counting shark tank. My experience with converting to the Paleo eating style was gradual, and over time it matured and refined, and is still a work in fine-tuning progress. Moving a person from the center of the grocery store to the outer edges will be the most difficult accomplishment for anyone who is changing the way they eat. This is a significant shift in thinking that also addresses the pitfall of trying to validate desserts, pancakes, and breads because they are, technically, paleo or gluten free. To truly change the way one eats one has to be willing to consider that replacing regular pancakes with a paleo pancake(which, honestly, is a CREPE for the sake of Cordain Almighty) doesn’t address the mental space of how to change the choice paradigm. This is where I learn to stop and ask myself the big question:
Do I eat PANCAKES or do I eat PROTEINS and VEGETABLES?
As far as my unscientific observation can tell, eating the same exact way during a nutrition challenge as prior to its onset, only churched up because now it’s “healthy”, is as uselessly destructive as quitting half way in because it’s “not working.” A Level Zero challenge would offer education into whys of adopting certain foods while eschewing others, even if only temporarily. It does not put stress and pressure on buying organic, instead it puts the focus on learning how to shop, cook, and eat the whole food. It would offer skill building in menu planning, prep planning, meal execution, and how to manage the change to or how to establish a grocery budget. Field trips to the grocery store would be a nice optional, um, option. Most of all, it would provide a judgment free village of supporters while the individual fights for their freedom from processed foods and sugar addiction.
Level One: This is a person who has successfully changed their eating. They are confident in their eating spaces of what works and what doesn’t work. They have a basic understanding of what food does to their bodies and how it affects their day-to-day performance. They’ve broken their inside-aisle habits, only darting in for simple things like coffee, cooking oils, and spices. This challenge is for shifting into a higher gear of nutritional enlightenment. Now we talk about things like probiotics and gut healing, organic coffee, bullet-proofing coffee, the Dirty Dozen, grass fed and pasture raised animals, and making more hoity-toity choices with oils and fats. Now might be a good time to integrate bone broth and introduce the most basic idea of nutritional macros. Hey, even here one could talk about the occasional Paleo dessert treat! This level also needs to continue to address the ongoing struggle and toils of budget and planning processes. As many of us have come to learn, if there is no plan there is no success. The goal of “eating right” will always be an un-hittable moving target without a plan. This nutrition challenge puts some gas on the fire, and theoretically builds additional confidence and momentum to continue making refinements and improvements. Here is where the biggest connection between fuel and performance is made.
Level Super Elite Shiny Gold Star: This is Olympus. This is the level where you give a whole lot of shits about pasture raised, organic, grass fed, humanely farmed, sustainable, GMO-free, pesticide free, and ethically harvested. This is where you may have a plate full of paleo pancakes (CREPES) and know exactly what you’re doing. This is the level where you learn how to integrate MCT oils, and balance macros for optimal athletic and life performance. This is where you know how to use protein powder supplementation CORRECTLY! This? This is nutrition nirvana – the state of highest enlightenment. It’s possible that you may develop dread locks and start lacto fermenting your own food for the coolest gut-bacteria farm on the block. By the end of this challenge you’ll have this nutrition gig nailed down better than Kiss playing their greatest hits.
Only a very rare sort of individual has a Bugati for their very first car. Most of us start with something closer to an impound reject and move up to nicer cars as opportunity and budget allow. Learning how to fuel the body isn’t any different. One has to change and adapt their thinking from the old, grooved patterns. I believe that success comes from building upon one small success at a time. Today, I chose to drink bone broth first thing in the morning because I know it will help stem sugar cravings for the rest of the day. Today I made a choice to focus on eliminating inflammation causing foods to help heal my back and psaos. I could not have made these choices if I didn’t have several flights of stairs built out of prior success, education, and elucidation.
This is by no means a screed against nutrition challenges, either. They serve a vitally useful purpose for people who seek motivation, accountability, and instructions. What I’m suggesting is to take the idea of a nutrition challenge and break into manageable, forgive the pun, bite-sized pieces.