What rock have I been hiding under?

The one that nobody would come looking for me, I suppose. But to be brutally honest I’ve been somewhat incapacitated by miserably cold and gray weather that’s been sticking around this rock for way too long and by a persistent shoulder injury. The rock I live on has a tendency to “gift us” with a prolonged winter that for people like me means depression galore. That paired with the fact that back in October of last year I injured my shoulder and it hasn’t healed since made for quite a miserable human being, who literally did not want to lift a finger. But I’m working on recovering my shoulder’s health and (knock on wood) sun has finally decided to show its face around here. So, with baby steps I’m edging out from underneath the heavy rock I’ve been living under.

All this hiding did not go to waste, though. Even though, I have not felt inspired to make any blog worthy meals, I have continued to cook to nourish myself. But I also took a long and hard look at my eating habits and I have re-evaluated my nutritional approach. Let me explain:

At around this time last year I have fully immersed myself in what’s known as the ketogenic diet whose approach is to switch the body’s energy source to fat instead of carbohydrates.  I’ve read all there is to read about this dietary approach and I plunged into it (slowly at first) believing in the premise – made famous by Steve Phinney – that in the beginning, a portion of the 70% of fat should come from body fat that we are trying to burn and not necessarily from dietary fat as shown in the diagram below:

So, when I started the ketogenic diet my dietary fat only came to about 50g, which coupled with the very low carb requirement made for a rough start. All of a sudden, all my starches were gone (sweet potatoes, other root vegetables, oats, gone were the indulgent pastries, I even modified my grocery list to remove permanently the high carb options, I no longer bought fruit and instead have been seen explaining to the Bulk Barn employee why pork rinds are a better option than conventional chips) to be replaced with fat.

So, eating 50g of dietary fat and deriving the rest of the 70% from my body fat, keeping my carb intake from all sources at a maximum of 50g and making sure my protein remained moderate as well (because if you know anything about the keto diet you will know excess protein is a no-no) I found that results came quick. I quickly moved on to the second phase, where fats were increased ever so gently and on to the 3rd and 4th phase. But what ended up happening was, that even though the macronutrient ratio increased on paper, the volume of food on my plate did not change significantly and I like volume. This was a problem – I like to eat.

There was another problem that I was frantically trying to hide from myself – I’ve been addicted to the free-foods of the fitness industry. Ever since I’ve set up my IG account I’ve been the victim of the knowledge of the masses (aka pseudo-knowledge), falling prey of all the “latest and greatest” devoid of nutrition food-stuffs that spammed my IG feed. Yes, you can rest assured that I’ve tried most of those artificially sweetened food-stuffs. And while they are promoted as calorie-free, guilt-free alternatives I no longer believe that eating them is without cost to our health. I do believe that they leave us craving more of the wrong stuff, they mess with our hormones, our perception of taste and our food inhibitions. This constant bombardment of fake food-stuff along with a high fat diet made me uncomfortable in my own body.

But it’s not just my own faulty experience that made me rethink my approach, I have also been observing other keto fellows, just to discover that there are only a few of them who are fully thriving on this WOE and achieving body compositions worth a mention. Without naming anybody, I will say that most of the ketoers (people who follow a ketogenic lifestyle) tend to become very plump, if not overweight. Is a keto diet meant for weight loss? According to Phinney and Volek yes, it is, but some claim that it is not meant for weight loss and rather for health gain. Whatever the case and whatever dietary approach one chooses to follow one thing is for sure in my books – as long as we keep fooling our our bodies by feeding it fake stuff we will continue to be fat and sick.

While under my gloomy rock I kept going back to my food journals from the pre-IG era and I couldn’t help but notice the absence of fake stuffs and the overwhelming presence of real food in my diet. I ate starchy vegetables, oats and fruits galore and I felt and looked good all while keeping my fats in a healthy range of 50-60g a day – all coming from real food. So, I kept thinking: “How is it that all of a sudden I am afraid of a piece of fruit or a plateful of veggies and feeling so under the weather and deprived?”  

I started looking around, reading, searching youtube for a whiff of fresh air – inspiration if you wish, finding similarities among the most unlikely channels, all centered around best fuel for physical performance. I revisited and scrolled through Geraldine Morgan’s – a bodybuilder vegan – IG account that seems to disappear from time to time, but if you are interested you can check her out on her FB page. And then it hit me with a force of an avalanche : I’ve been always preaching real food and we all know where Popeye’s strength and big muscle come from – spinach!

So my focus shifted to researching vegan/vegetarian bodybuilding and I stumbled upon a youtube channel unlike any others by a fellow Canadian – Derek Simnett of Simnett Nutrition  – and his easy going approach to performance fuel immediately grabbed my attention and made me put my sweet potato and oats back on my grocery list. Heck, I even bought dates and bananas! However, I haven’t eaten meat in the past 2 weeks and I feel great and haven’t lost all my muscles.

Am I a vegan or a vegetarian now? No. If I have to label myself as anything I prefer to call myself the real food monster. I still eat fat, only it’s plant-derived fat, I no longer believe we have this extreme need for dietary fat, we only need enough for vitamin absorption, hormone production and brain function. Excess fat will be stored like any other macronutrient that we over-consume. I have been forgoing consumption of meat, only because I find preparation of it very energy consuming. I haven’t become an animal activist by any means, but I do find meal preparation so much easier when it does not involve meat as the protein source. I’ve learned that plants have a lot of protein that’s easy and quick to prepare – in fact it would have never occurred to me that a fully plant based meal can deliver just as much protein as a meal centered around a piece of meat! Have a look at my typical breakfast and lunch:

Who would have thought that in 2 plant based meals one can get 53g of protein? Not me! I’ve been pre-programmed to believe that the only viable source of protein is meat and that we need a lot of it. What’s more, the volume of those 2 meals had me chewing for a solid hour 🙂  

I leave you with a video by Derek in which he explains what he eats in a typical day. Note that his protein intake is not high by bodybuilding standards, even though he points out he finds it high for that day of eating. If you look at any of his other videos you will see he has built quite a bit of muscle eating this way, which goes to prove that protein over-consumption is not necessary for ideal body composition. Have a look for yourselves: