THE MEAT, LEAVES & BERRIES DIET
A Journey from Fat to Fit!
By Dan John
Several years ago I went into the men's room at the Catholic High School I taught at and found on the wall a penciled graffiti: "Mr. John is a fat a--hole." I could live with the "a--hole part. Students often call teachers "a--holes." It was being called "fat" that wrankled. I was an athlete.
As an adolescent, I was quite skinny and the girls would comment on my lack of "muscles." They would point out while I lifted that doing so would make me "more mussely." Along with zits and other adolescent nightmares, my teen years were as peachy as anyone's. Twenty plus years of weightlifting had led me to the pinnacle of my game. I weighed 262 pounds and could out-lift most normal gorillas. Abnormal gorillas, no.
When I looked at a picture of myself at my friends' 20th wedding anniversary party, I noticed that I had three chins. Then I looked down and saw my "ab muscles" frowning over my belt. I had a 42-inch waistline but I also had big legs, a thick back and no neck. But man's room graffiti writer was right: I was fat. After three decades of lifting I was strong enough to push heavy weights but not the chair from the dinner table.
Fortunately, Tiffini agreed to take pictures in the beginning...Almost overnight we both needed new wardrobes.
In order to do something about the situation, my wife Tiffini and I began following the instructions of Ellington Darden. Super slow training, Slim Fast® for breakfast, lots of water, 60 per cent of the diet carbohydrates and microwave meals. Within two tough weeks we lost a little bit off the various measurements. Let me tell you, they were tough weeks: hungry all day, usually grumpy. But the research said it would work. So why then, a few weeks later, were all the losses gains?
Tiffini began talking to friends about her struggles; even a doctor kicked in with his opinion. Unfortunately all her friends as well as the doctor all recommended "high protein diets." Everything I read and everything I heard said not to do this.
The popular opinion said that it would give you stones, raise your bad blood levels, and -- the kicker --all you really lost was water.
While I did the research, Tiffini did the right thing: she didn't listen. As she pointed out, since the starvation diet didn't work, what did we have to lose? We decided to go ahead and try this insanity. We changed directions; we cut out carbs and ate meat.
Once Tiff and I committed to eating like "cave men (and women)," life became very simple.
Fortunately Tiff agreed to take pictures in the beginning, leaving a photographic record worth considering! Almost overnight we both needed new wardrobes. I had to purchase new belts four times in a year. Tiff has gone through two wardrobes. She started in a size 12; now she can almost fit in 6's. And she looks healthy. She is not an emaciated cover model. She looks like a healthy woman. But, of course, it was all water, or at least that's what people kept telling us.
The ironic part of this discovery is the fact that I used to eat this way. Back in the 1970's I ate a high protein diet to get bigger and stronger. As a senior at Utah State, I weighed 218 pounds with 8 percent body fat and threw the discus over 190 feet.
Then I got some advice from the people at the Olympic Training Center. I needed carbs, they advised -- lots of them. They pointed to the studies they had done on their American distance runners. I should have followed the logic: when is the last time an American distance runner dominated the world scene? Placed in a big meet? Broke a world record? Take a moment to look at the high school men's running records: should it bother me that some of these records are older than the coaches in high school? So, being an idiot, I took the advice to eat like emaciated, overtrained sub-performers. Good thinking, Ace!
It took years of high carbohydrate "grazing" to learn the evils of this advice. But once Tiff and I committed to eating like "cave men (and women)," life became very simple. The hardest thing to get used to, besides buying new clothes and only having one chin, was how simple eating had become. Meals were done in minutes; in fact we often forgot to eat because we were still full from the last meal. Soon we simplified things even more: we eat "meat, leaves and berries."
If it can sit on your shelf for years, it probably will sit on your hips and belly that long, too.
BREAKFAST is the easiest: meat and eggs. Sometimes bacon, sometimes steak, and sometimes we just eat eggs. I have yet to meet a person who really has variety at breakfast. I ate cereal for years, usually Cheerios®. So simply eating eggs with a generous addition of coffee (Yes I know cave people didn't have coffee; but if they had, they would have enjoyed it.), is a wonderful way to kick off the day. Add meat to this and you may forget lunch.
Over the past year, after reading a lot on the Internet, I discovered the joys of "single item" meals. I seem to digest a single food at a meal far better than a mixed meal. I've seen a number of popular books written recently with a 1970's television star on the cover giving the same advice, so I hope this isn't just a fad. Whatever, I have noted that just eating eggs for breakfast, a handful of almonds as a snack, followed a few hours later with a couple pieces of the same fruit (often off my own vines in the backyard) seems to really agree with me and my athletic career.
LUNCH? I keep tuna at work and mix up a little mayonnaise and tuna in a bowl. This really keeps the edge off. If I go out, it's steak and salad. At work I drink ice water out of a 52-ounce mug. Use a straw so you can drink more volume. My goal is four of these a day. I always get three. Drinking the water has wonderful health benefits. You can find out what they are on page90.htm, or just think it through. Water is good for you.
Lunch is the easiest meal to get in your "berries" or in-season fruits. In-season? Sure, berries, peaches and the summer fruits in summer. Apples in the fall. Citrus in the winter. Spring has an interesting variety. Eat the fruits that nature is growing at the time. It is a lot cheaper way to eat and seems to fit with the body's needs during the seasons. If you have extra money to spend you can take advantage of modern transportation and purchase in-season fruits from the Southern Hemisphere (or Northern, depending on where you live).
DINNER is very important. We try to eat breakfast each day as a family but it is not usually a leisurely meal. Dinner gives us a time to talk and enjoy each other's company so we plan dinner from a weekly perspective.
We hit the warehouse superstore once a week, buying in bulk the meat we will need for two weeks. The packages are huge so we divide them into freezer bags the moment we get home. Another way to think of eating on this plan is to focus on foods that spoil. If it can sit on your shelf for years, it probably will sit on your hips and belly that long, too. Proper food care is important but it only takes about ten minutes to repackage and put into proper storage.
One thing that helps us with our busy schedule is to plan dinner.
Monday: Steak, Salad, Champagne. No, cavemen didn't drink champagne either, but there are a few things about modern life I refuse to give up. Indoor plumbing is one of them.
Tuesday: Chicken with Salad, or Steak Fajitas. Use leftover steak from the night before. In our system, if you have to cook a vegetable, don't eat it; that means no corn, no potatoes (hey, I'm Irish), no beans/legumes.
Wednesday: Roast, or hamburgers with guacamole. What's really delicious is a pile of burgers with red onions, condiments and tons of cream cheese, avocados, and whatever Tiff puts into the mix. Use your imagination.
Thursday: Pork Chops, vegetables.
Friday: Go out and party, or have what you'd eat for breakfast for dinner.
Saturday: Go out, party, or eat light. We tend to have a huge lunch on Saturday. Sometimes, it is just "wings."
[Editor's Note: In the U.S., a very popular dish is baked chicken wings in a barbeque sauce.]
* Sunday: Warehouse special. That means whatever looked good during the shopping trip. It might be jambalaya, shrimp, meat, salmon, whatever.
THE SHOPPING LIST
Take this with you so you don't forget anything.
* Shellfish, if you're not allergic to it
* Canned Tuna
* Salmon (in the can or fresh: the king of grilled foods!)
* Eggs (buy them in the five dozen containers)
* Heavy Cream, for coffee, if you use it
* Real butter, if you use it
* Cheese, (okay for some people, not for others)
* Salad Greens: everything you can eat raw!
* Lemons and limes to sweeten drinks and squeeze on fish and salads
* Olive Oil
* The best "in-season" fruit
The above diet contains no dairy because Paleoliths didn't drink milk once they were weaned. Heavy cream for coffee drinkers who must have it; besides, it's mostly fat anyway.
A minute of planning can save hours of work. We leave a set of steaks in the refrigerator as we put the rest of the meat in the freezer so we'll have them readily for Monday's dinner. Chicken is an easy meal and we put the roast in the slow cooker Tuesday night so it's ready to go on Wednesday.
I would recommend drinking huge amounts of water, especially iced water. A priest friend of mine, who studied "thermo-something-or-other" before theology, explained that the body will burn calories to heat up and eliminate the ice water. It's like working out without working out at all.
WHAT ABOUT SUPPLEMENTS?
I would advise going to a retail chain and buying the cheapest 99 mg potassium they sell. Take one with each meal. Some people cramp up when they start dropping the carbs. I think it has to do with the amount of sodium in the awful U.S. diet.
[Editor: Statistics show that Yanks aren't the only ones with poor diets.]
Eliminating grain and fast foods also leaves the body in a lurch. I was told once that potassium is the mineral of muscle. The more muscle you have, the faster you burn fat. Whatever. Potassium supplementation seems to help.
Since first writing this manifesto, I decided that two additional supplements are well worth the money. The Eades' recommendation to take Magnesium seems to help me.[See Protein Power LifePlan by Michael R. and Mary Dan Eades.] I have also noted that including inexpensive fish oil capsules has been beneficial overall. The belches can end a friendship but you will look good!
WHERE DOES EXERCISE FIT IN?
How important was exercise on our path to leanness? Unfortunately for my lifelong beliefs about the need for exercise, exercise did not make a difference! Yes we did our ab rollers and worked our arms a little and walked but this was nothing compared to what I used to do. Yes, definitely exercise but toss the grains, legumes, potatoes and pasta first.
People still can't believe my simple "fat loss" exercise program, but here it is/was:
1. Find a weak body part and train it several times a week.
2. Take it easy overall.
3. Try to add a "little" muscle while trying to burn FAT.
4. Stay as fresh, hydrated, and rested as you can while you burn FAT.
Why? The body can only be asked to handle so many demands at once. Yet all too often athletes ask for programs to get bigger, more ripped, improve their pick-up basketball games, improve their sports, add 50 pounds to their bench and get taller -- all at the same time.
Added to this problem is that many athletes also want to work full time, party all weekend and engage in a full banquet of leisure sports. With this great number of goals/demands, even the best flounder trying to balance an unbalanced approach to improvement. No wonder most people end up falling back to the standard workout seen in most gyms since 1970: bench presses and curls. No wonder most people fail.
Overall, the trickiest combination of exercise and long term goals relates to FAT loss. Why is FAT in all capital letters? Simply because most people mistake FAT loss with WEIGHT loss. True, there are sports and careers that demand weight loss. Perhaps the best example would be the height-weight charts for flight attendants which still demand strict weight goals.
WHAT DOES "WEIGHT LOSS" REALLY MEAN?
Well, if you lose a toe to a lawn mower, you lose weight. Cut off enough hair, you lose weight. Sweat enough, you lose weight. Weight loss has little to do with FAT loss. To be honest, the worst measurement of body makeup is the scale. If someone loses "10 pounds" in a few days, one has to ask "10 pounds of what?" Most world travelers have contracted some kind of local disease that allows one to lose weight in a most disgusting manner. Is this the goal of FAT loss?
FAT LOSS IS VERY DEMANDING ON THE BODY. I recommend doing a FAT loss program apart from any other training or sports. The best FAT burner the body has is muscle thus everything must be done during a FAT loss program to spare muscle tissue. Aerobic training, marathon workouts, sports training, and/or excessive revelry will all lead to the body cannibalizing muscle for energy. Less muscle equals less FAT loss. This is "contrarian" thinking, the opposite of what most people believe. Exercise programs during FAT loss must focus on adding muscle without taxing the system. This is a difficult balance to maintain.
YOU MUST DIET, however starvation dieting leads to loss of muscle (yes, the scale will report weight loss, but this is not FAT loss). Dieting must be cyclical in nature, too. Vince Gironda always recommended three strict days of basically meats and water followed by a "carb up" on the fourth day. His bodybuilders could maintain this for long periods of time. Recently, "cyclical" diets have emerged based on five low carbohydrate days followed by two "carb fests." For a clearer explanation -- truly more information that most people would ever need -- visit this website.
Another popular approach is the 12-days-on-2-days-off method, known as the "Air Force Diet" among other names. The "days off" are very important to FAT loss because they allow the body to "check out" of starvation mode. I find it also helps for people to still think of you as being "normal."
The Paleolithic Pyramid
NOT FOR EVERYONE. Although I would recommend the "Paleolithic" diet of "meats, leaves and berries," many people need their breads and pastas. During FAT loss, one small recommendation is to avoid mixing fats and carbs as much as possible. Doughnuts would be an obvious disaster as well as any other form of sweets and junk food. An approach from Pavlov (the guy with the drooling dogs) may be wise: eat protein rich meals separate from carbohydrate rich meals. Thus broiled fish and salad would be fine for dinner, just avoid the breads and pastas. The classic FAT loss diets are higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates.
DON'T GO TO EXTREMES DURING FAT LOSS. Yes, cold water immersion seems to help burn FAT but look at seals, walruses, and whales. So sprinkle in a cold rinse with your showers but don't go overboard. Sure there are some supplements that work (Yohimbe seem to be popular), but if you get the nervous jitters and lose all your friends because you are acting maniacal, it isn't worth it. Yes, sleep with one less blanket, add a cold spray now and again, and try more coffee, but don't go overboard.
EXERCISE FOR WEIGHT LOSS
An honest evaluation of a person's past training has to be made. In my case, I had been Olympic lifting and involved in Highland Games competitively for years. I had big legs, back, and shoulders but I had neglected my arm development. So I decided that during my FAT loss program I would focus on some arm training.
My first recommendation would be to "Work on Your Weaknesses." How does one make an honest evaluation? The best is with a camera. I recommend standing in a doorway and having your full figure photograph taken in a number of positions; front, back, sideways with arms at sides and above the head.
My second recommendation would be to keep the workouts short and sweet. Again, we want to save muscle and burn FAT. Overtraining will lead to muscle loss not FAT loss. Here is the actual workout I used to reduce myself from 262 to 206 pounds in less than a year.
Arm Curls: 3 sets of 8 reps
Triceps Extensions: 3 Sets of 8 reps
Leg Workout consisting of either
* Overhead Squats, 3 sets of 8 reps, with one minute rest
* Front Squats, 3 sets of 8 with a one-minute rest OR
* Tabata Workout: Front Squats with a very light weight performed for 20 seconds of lifting (as many reps as one can do) followed by a ten second rest. Repeat for 4 minutes, or 8 cycles. It looks easy on paper, but give it a try. Add weight when you can do the last set for 8 reps.
Arm Curls, 3 sets for 8 reps
Triceps Extension, 3 sets for 8 reps
Clean and Press. I just kept adding weight, doing one clean and as many presses as I could do. As the bodyweight came off, this lift just kept going up.
One day a week, play some kind of game. My choices were flag football or a similar team game or a long rollerblade or bike trip. Total time was just over one hour in duration with intensity being more important than the actual time.
The longest workout took about 20 minutes with the Tabata Front Squats being a four-minute workout. I strived for fun the rest of my days and nights.
When people ask me about craving carbs, my answer is that I only crave carbs when I break my rules. Here are a few hints:
Get that sleep that everyone knows you need. Stop watching the fifth edition of "Friends" and go to bed. Sleeping curbs carbs cravings. Memorize that.
Eat a solid meat and eggs breakfast and monitor hunger.
I like meat and salad for lunch, or just a few strips of chicken in a salad. Every fast food place has this now.
4. Eat an appropriate dinner. If you drink alcohol, avoid carbed ones, like beer (often known as "liquid bread"). I know, I know -- you shouldn't, but if you do, look to the Martini family.
Since Tiffini and I began this diet, a number of great Internet sites have disappeared including a site I used to love called the "100 Pound Club." They had a three part diet mantra that was
* The answer to all questions:
* Eat Meat
* Sip Oil
* Drink Water
Later, these women added "Lift weights."
An archive of helpful advice compiled by IGer's.
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