Eat Real Food

AllFood

The worst day to start a new diet?  January 1.

Immediately, New Year’s Eve’s leftovers beg to be consumed. Four weeks later, the Super Bowl party offers an array of meats and cheeses and dips and beers. Then come the sweets. The Girl Scouts start Sugar Season with their aggressive sales tactics and fructose-gluten bombs. Add Valentine’s chocolates to the mix, and by mid-February I’ve given up on healthy eating for the year.

The Experiment:  Indulge in all the goodness of early-year treats, and then start a new health style mid-year. I stuck to Michael Pollan’s basics: “Eat real food. Mostly plants. Not too much.” I  eliminated added sugars and “white carbs” (bread, rice, potatoes), drastically reduced dairy and any caloric drinks, and stuck mostly to fruits, vegetables, eggs, and beans.

One more rule.  I took a photograph of EVERYTHING I ate, from a full meal to a single “lick the spoon off” bit of peanut butter.  Every single thing.

Day 1. I’ve always snuck a few bites while fixing breakfast or packing lunches for the kids, and then licked the knife of cream cheese or peanut butter or jelly or all of the above.  My new photo requirement (inconvenience of getting my phone out, and the potential embarrassment of 14 cream cheese pics) changed how I ate.

At 10:30 my internal “cereal alarm” went off. Instead, I poured another cup of coffee, and noted that I might need a bigger breakfast the next day. I literally ate four times today, compared to my “snack and graze” norm. Thanks, observation bias!

four

Day 2. This morning I was full before I finished my breakfast, so I wrapped it up and put it in the fridge.  Maybe, just maybe, I could ask myself questions in the midst of eating.

FoodFlow

Day 3. I visited the grocery store last night, which made today feel – dare I say – exciting. Apples and bananas, peanuts and almonds, broccoli and kale!  Yahoo!

Also, I scheduled a dinner with friends, so I know that’ll be a diversion from the ideal, but not necessarily a problem for the experiment.   Instead of grabbing bear claws two at a time, I’ll try just one.

Day 4. Oh boy – Our family had pizza tonight. I passed, instead warming up leftover chicken soup…again.

Day 5. It is well-known by family and friends that my two favorite food groups are raw dough and raw batter. Today was a triumph in will power:  I made brownies and did not lick the bowl. I repeat, I made brownies and did not lick the bowl. It was the worst day so far.

For primarily social purposes I indulged in pizza, beer, and ice cream tonight.  Weekends will be tough. I definitely could have passed on some of this, but it was fun and tasty to enjoy a meal with friends.

Day 6. In preparation for my son hosting a sleepover tonight, I purchased 27 food items that I will not eat.  I anticipate a rough Experiment Week 2 if there are leftover Doritos lying around the house.

Day 7. Another batter miracle. I made pancakes and once again I did not lick the bowl.   I don”t even know who I am anymore.  Lesson Learned:  Eating with healthy rigor on the weekends is not sustainable.

Day 8.  Huh, my belt has a third hole?  Who knew?

Day 9. Last night I dreamed I was at a celebration dinner. I enjoyed a feast of all my favorite foods, and then I was horrified to realize I had forgotten to take pictures!

Subsequently, back in real life I forgot to take a picture of my breakfast, and then a few hours later I forgot to take a photograph my lunch. Dreams are weird.

Day 10. I woke up bored for my upcoming breakfast and ready to stop this stupid game. I really wanted carbs. Bad. So I made a bowl of muesli. It was great.

I made chocolate chip cookies and did not lick the bo…

That’s not true. I totally licked the bowl and spatula and ate raw cookie dough with a spoon and it was amazing and I have zero regrets.

Day 11. Belt hole number two – good to see you again. It’s been too long.

Days 12-13-14. Weekends are hard, but I stuck pretty close to the plan. I ate a couple Oreos and loved every bite.  Another lesson: Purposeful treats in small quantities increased my enjoyment of them. I can remember every single “unhealthy food” I ate the last 2 weeks, and each was an event.

Epilogue. A couple months later I’m not photographing meals or strictly limiting carbs, but I do try to make eating fun food an experience.  I pour cheap beer into a chilled glass, professionally plate chips and salsa, and garnish apple pie with a careful dollop of trans-fat-full, not-even-real-food, worth-every-bite Cool Whip.

And then I lick the spoon.

Further Reading. I used a combination of strategies from Michael Pollan, Tim Ferriss, and Darya Pino Rose, each of whom address food from a different-but-complementary angle.  If you’re looking for a single book or approach, I recommend Foodist by Dr. Rose.

Also, I’ve conducted and written about a few other experiments here:

  1. Address Book Lottery
  2. Experience Tranquility
  3. Less, But Better
  4. 12 Minute Workout: It’s easy just kidding
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Experiment 3: Less, but Better

tree

This year I’m conducting a wide-ranging series of 2-week self-experiments. After the first 4 weeks, I learned that adding new activities to an already-busy life can make that life even busier. I’d like to carve out some space.

Enter Experiment 3.

I consider myself a minimalist when it comes to physical items, but not so much with tasks, activities, and inputs – especially related to news and social media. So, for this experiment, I attempted to slow down a bit, reduce noise, add silence and experience a little boredom. My hope is that “addition by subtraction” will bring time and energy to spend with the people I love and the activities I most enjoy.

Day 1: Phone Cleanup
I removed all social media apps from my phone: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn. I also reduced my podcast subscriptions from 20 to 10. If I did nothing else for 2 weeks, this made a huge difference in my daily experience.

Day 2: Disable Notifications
I unsubscribed from all the email newsletters and notifications I could find.  No more pocket-buzzing for LinkedIn requests or e-mails when people react to my witty tweets.

It was early 2017 as I began this experiment, so it was difficult to avoid the news of a controversial presidential administration. I did manage to stay away from the news until after work today, which elicited internal questions: Am I being irresponsible? Do I even care about the world, the vulnerable, the marginalized? What if the President tweets something ridiculous? What if Betty White dies?

Day 3: Quiet
More unsubscribes, both at work and home. I noticed a significant difference in my Inbox after two days. I also recycled 40 magazines I had “planned to read someday.”

I finished an audiobook and did not start another. I paused all podcasts, at least for a couple days (an experiment within the experiment), to find out what silence might sound like.

Answer – Silence is scary as hell.

Day 4: Irony
After 30 minutes of early morning “pacifier-sucking” via e-mail and social media online, I set three priority To Do tasks and knocked them out before noon. My wife and I shared a late lunch out, brought to us by essentialism.

I discovered an Evernote folder called Minimalism, chock full of notes, articles, and book recommendations. This seemed incongruent with the ideas of minimalism. I deleted the folder.

Day 5: More Quiet
I subscribed from seven more e-mail newsletters, including some I really like. I told myself I could add them back after the experiment (Two months later, I haven’t missed them). On a no-headphones walk with the dogs, I accidentally discovered an elegant, previously-elusive solution to a difficult problem at work.

I ran a quick errand tonight with no audio soundtrack. Driving alone in the old Camry, I was joined only by my thoughts, feelings, and the smell of takeout Thai.

Day 6: Unplugged Saturday
I attempted no internet today. It was weird. While waiting for my turn at the hair stylist I literally did nothing. No screens, no magazines. Nothing. I sat quietly, staring at discounted shampoo while others stared at phones. I was legitimately concerned that people might think I was crazy.

In the afternoon I read a story that was printed in a book. A book, made of paper, that had been crafted from a tree. A tree!

Day 7: I skipped the Super Bowl and lived to write about it
Full disclosure: I watched 15 minutes of the Super Bowl: the 10-minute halftime show and 5 minutes of overtime. Instead, my son and I fried homemade donuts.

Day 8: Snow Day!
Miracle of miracles – a Snow Day in Seattle! I reworked priorities to take advantage of extra time with my family. While fixing dinner, instead of listening to a podcast or book via headphones, I switched to music, filling the house with sound. It attracted attention. I enjoyed impromptu dancing with my wife and the requisite head shakes and eye rolls from the kids. It was awesome.

Day 9: Oops
Rookie mistake today – I answered the phone from a number I didn’t know. It was a sales call that wasted everyone’s time. Lesson re-learned.

Day 10, 11, 12 – Taking Essentialism on the Road
I usually cram a lot of inputs into business trips. I work on the plane until the laptop battery dies, listen to podcasts, and consume the latest business or self-help book. This time I changed the focus from input to output. bringing only a poetry book and journal.

In the mornings I kept the hotel room TV off, swapping local morning news for a 30-second scan of newspaper headlines. It turns out people love to share news when they find out you don’t know what happened, so I just listened.

On Friday I avoided work e-mail all day, downloaded it to my laptop at the airport, and processed it in an hour on the plane. I spent the next 5 hours with a Steve Jobs biography, Yo-Yo Ma on cello, and my journal. I got bored on the plane for the first time I could remember. It was uncomfortable and annoying and generated tons of great ideas. Boredom played a vital role.

Day 13, 14: Less is More
Another No Internet Saturday, which freed up time to bag up giveaway items for the Goodwill, spend some quality time watching movies my family, and read my tree-paper-book.

I wrapped up the experiment by skipping the Grammy Awards. I figured if something amazing happened I could watch the performance later online.

I never did.

 

If you want to dig deeper on this topic, I recommend choosing any one of these, and applying what you learn while reading it: The Power of Less, Everything That Remains, The 4-Hour Workweek, Essentialism, or Deep Work

Photo Credit: Ingrained Builders

Experiment 1: Address Book Lottery

rolodexI’m planning a series of experiments aimed at attempting new daily practices, learning new skills, and finishing uncompleted projects.

The first experiment of the year is simple: E-mail 50 randomly-selected people from my address book and see what happens.

Choosing an address book. I’ve been a professional for 18 years, and in that time I’ve worked a number of different jobs. I’ve done a good job transitioning my address book each time. More recently, though, my contact list has become fractured among Outlook, Gmail, social media apps, and my phone. For the sake of choosing something, I went with my Outlook Contacts – a list I started in 1999 and currently includes 1,181 people.

Selecting 50 people. The next step was identifying the random 50 people to email. For this task I used this random number generator: http://andrew.hedges.name/experiments/random/. A few interesting things came out of the randomized subset:

  • Three of my direct-reporting employees were part of the 50. To avoid “obligation to the boss” awkwardness, I removed them.
  • One selected contact was a name with no e-mail address, so I replaced it with the next contact on the list.
  • One was a deceased business contact. I remembered him fondly, and then added the next name.

The email. I chose my current business email address (instead of my personal Gmail) for this effort. First, that is how I met many of these people, and they may recognize it. Also, I think a corporate address is less likely to go straight to an automated spam folder.

At this stage I was nervous that this will come off as creepy or a sales call or both.

Hi,

I realize this email may seem a little weird.

As I begin 2017, instead of developing a year-long resolution, I’m trying a series of 2-week experiments. Some will be health-related (working out daily, eliminating sugar); others will be habits (meditating daily, reading fiction each night); and some just weird ideas (wear the same jeans for 2 weeks, learn the ukulele).

My first experiment is in the “weird idea” category: Contact a random subset of 50 people from my address book and track the results. I anticipate some emails will be undeliverable, recipients won’t remember me, and some will just choose not to respond. But I hope in some cases I’ll get to revisit old stories, revive a few connections, and maybe spark some interesting email discussion. (I also realize that, in some cases, we just talked last month or even yesterday – that’s part of the fun, too!)

Letting “the universe” or “God” or “mathematics” choose the initial recipients is part of the fun, and you have literally been randomly selected. If you’re up for it, I’d love to hear from you. Where are you living, what kind of activities are you enjoying, and – most importantly – what are you passionate about in 2017?

Thanks for considering, and I hope you have an amazing year!

Brian

At 6pm on January 3, 2017, I sent the email to the 50 randomly-selected contacts. And then I waited. Will anyone respond? Will some think I’m a moron? Was this a bad idea?

The numbers

  • 15 bounced back immediately as undeliverable. 30% of my randomly-selected contact list was effectively useless? Yikes.
  • 2 responded that evening.
  • 6 responded the next day.
  • 3 responded over the course of the next couple weeks, including the final response 15 days after receipt.

As of this writing, I received a total of 11 responses, which (after factoring in the undeliverables) is a 31% response rate of those who presumably received the email. Not bad for a random note with no real subject. Respondents included customers who I’d spoken with a few days before, a person I had met once at a conference 10 years ago, and my father – Hi, Dad. (I kept other identities confidential, and I’ll note here that I didn’t use any of my dad’s response in the content below.)

Responses. I was blown away by the information shared with me, given that in most cases our relationship could be considered past its “best by” date. Respondents, some of whom didn’t even really remember me, shared their life struggles, relationship problems, victories and defeats, and goals for the future. Many shared with me recent successes in health and business, and relayed to me their hopes and dreams for 2017 and beyond. Responses came from every region of the country. Here are a few sound bytes from the emails received:

  • From what I remember about you, you were skinny and recently married and young.
  • I’m going to be passionate about my family’s health and not just physical, but spiritual health.
  • I’m on sabbatical this year and enjoying seeing new things and travelling around the world.
  • Travel is in my weekly budget and chances are, if a friend asks me to visit, I’ll book it immediately.
  • Thanks I felt like I won the lottery.
  • Yes, weirdest email I have received in 2017.

In the end, it was a fun experiment that put me back in touch with people I hadn’t heard from in some time, and I’d recommend giving it a try.

Image Source: Flickr Creative Commons, flic.kr/p/4MLzSY

Is this heaven? No, it’s Gotcha

(I gotcha02ran across a Halloween essay I wrote in 2009 – seemed like a good day to dust it off and re-post).
My favorite part of Halloween in Columbia, Missouri, is trick-or-treating downtown. And the highlight of the evening is always a visit to Gotcha.
 
Gotcha is a costume shop in downtown Columbia, owned and operated by a gentleman I’ve only known as “Arrow,” along with his family. As one might imagine, the shop is extremely busy on October 31, as college students and others are completing their outfits for upcoming parties. Here’s the scene:
 
We walk into Gotcha, fighting the crowd a little to get in the door.
 
Arrow yells, “Make way for the important people!” in reference to Blake and Madilyn as he makes the 30 paying customers in line scoot back two steps to make room.
 
“Hey, it’s Bumblebee and Hermione!” (note: the kids were mis-identified as a Power Ranger and Harry Potter in most of the other stores) “Come get some candy! Happy Halloween!”
 
At this point it is important to define “candy” the way Gotcha defines “candy.” We are not talking about Tootsie Rolls or Smarties or half-bite-snack-size Snickers. The kids’ eyes opened wide as they giggled at a basket full of KING SIZE CANDY BARS. Blake grabbed M&Ms. Madilyn beamed at her choice: a 4-pack of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.
 
In a world where kids (particularly once they grow past the cute baby and toddler stages) are typically vilified, ignored, or – at best – tolerated, my children were celebrated as the IMPORTANT PEOPLE by a store owner who surely had much more important things to do on his most profitable day of the year. For 2 minutes they were the stars of the show.
 
This “let the children come to me” selflessness surprised and overwhelmed me. But why? Had I previously thought (and been taught) that love and acceptance were reserved for more “Christian” environments like home or church? Am I surprised that my kids are cared for in a downtown costume shop? Is the lavish generosity of chocolate somehow different than from God’s gift of grace?
 
I’m not sure about answers to any of those questions, but I do know this: My children were adored this Halloween, not at a church-sponsored, anti-ghoul Fall Festival, but among the plastic vomit, fake blood, and half-drunk-half-naked college students at Gotcha. It was unconditional love at its finest, and I’m grateful for it.

Google Trends Fun

“I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don’t let anybody tell you different.”

-Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country


I recently discovered a fun thing: make your own searches in Google Trends.

Google Trends provides a 10+ year graph of how often a word or phrase has been searched on google.com. One of my first attempts was my favorite baseball team, the Kansas City Royals, who – for many years – were mediocre before their recent resurgence and World Series championship.

kcr

But wait, there’s more! You can also compare multiple search terms to see which is more popular over time. The possibilities are endless! Enjoy my very first “social commentary via Google Trends.”

elbow

Elbow room is much more popular than elbow grease (lazy punk kids – what’s wrong with the world?). However, elbow room is trending downward (maybe as millennials and boomers move to the cities?), and elbow grease is gaining momentum (as they build DIY compost bins and make gluten-free bread from tree bark).

I’ve compared colors, celebrity couples, sports teams, modes of travel, hair styles, dog breeds, body parts, etc.  It’s fun. Go play with it.

Taco Dice

On a recent drive by Taco Bell I learned about their latest invention – the Quesalupa.  It got me thinking about what their marketing meetings  might be like.

  • Ok, there are 6 ingredients we use for every single menu item . We’re not adding more, so instead how do we rename what we have?
  • How can we randomly combine new food-sounding words for a new name?
  • How many prefixes, suffixes, letters, layers, and invented words can we add?  How about Stuft?  XXL?
  • Can we just throw these ideas on the wall and choose at random?

Assuming this is true, I figured I could so the same with a Mexican fast food dice-roll game. I bring you TACO DICE.  Here is one of my early throws:

taco-dice-photo

Beefy Chipotle 5-layer Chicken Quesarito Supreme Party Pack

For math nerds, you can roll 4,665,600 different meal options (many fictional, of course).

I had so much fun rolling multiple menu items, that I put together a printable version to share. Print the file linked at the end of this article, cut the dice to build your game, and roll!

Enjoy, and if you play, post your meals in the comments!

TacoDice