Over the years I have more or less eaten the same breakfast every single day. That may sound a bit strange to some people, but I believe when it comes to gaining control over something difficult, simplifying it as much as possible will make it easier. Nutrition is difficult, so simplifying it can make it a lot easier.
My breakfast has gone through evolutions as my knowledge around nutrition has increased over those years. Here is the timeline of my breakfasts since I started eating with purpose. There were times when I strayed from this because of living with billets, or living in a dorm in college, but for the most part this is how it went.
-2 Bananas, 4 raw eggs, 1/2-1 cup oatmeal (uncooked), 2 tablespoons peanut butter.
Knowledge gain leading to change: Learning about Paleo and human sensitivity to gluten.
-2 Bananas, 1 apple, 6 raw eggs, 1-2 tablespoons of almond butter, or peanut butter.
Knowledge gain leading to change: My coach Marcus Filly told me it was much better to eat my food rather than drink it (more on that below).
-2 Bananas, 4-6 cooked eggs, 1 tablespoon almond butter.
Knowledge gain leading to change: I became more aware of the glycemic index, as well as the importance of anti-oxidants and the benefits of a high-fat and limited carbohydrate approach to eating.
1 Cups of Blueberries, 6 cooked eggs, 2 slices of thick-cut natural bacon (or 2 more eggs).
Over the years I like to think I have moved from a lower level of awareness to a higher level of awareness in terms of what I am putting into my body. What is interesting, is that at each point on this timeline, I was “eating more healthy than ever before”. For example before the age of 18 breakfast consisted of 4 Eggo Waffles with honey and peanut-butter and for a healthier breakfast Vector cereal. Both of these were carb-city. Let’s breakdown the two most important changes that were made: Cutting out indigestible uncooked grain, and killing the smoothie game.
Change #1 (No more raw oatmeal)
Not surprisingly, when I was ingesting 1/2-1 cup of virtually indigestible grain I had irritable bowel syndrome. I’d have my smoothie and then within an hour or so I would need to be near a toilet. This should have let me (or my doctor) know something was wrong with my nutrition, but it didn't. A lot of the nutritional information for grain, and what the Canada Food Guide is based on is grain in its uncooked form. What they don’t tell you is that grain that has not been broken down to some degree by being heated is largely indigestible for humans and that this process greatly reduces the macro-micronutrients passed on to your body. To make things worse, this smoothie was admittedly quite gross. I took pride/pleasure in doing something difficult that other people weren’t willing to do to “get jacked”. But since it was gross, I would usually chug this shake in less than :30 (more on this later).
By cutting out the raw grain, I lost body-fat significantly, and also my irritable bowel syndrome disappeared.
Change #2 (Death of the smoothie)
Even after the quality of my smoothies improved, there was still room to make things better. When I was ingesting the smoothies I would always chug them. I was perpetually in a hurry and not thinking about eating as anything other than getting fuel in my body so I could perform my next task. After my morning smoothie I would have a brief kick of energy but within an hour or so I’d be ready for a nap or feeling really sluggish. Despite this, I continued on for about 5 years with the smoothie game.
The word smoothie has almost become synonymous with health in the past decade or so. It is assumed that because the ingredients of a smoothie are good (mostly fruit, greens, etc.) that it is super healthy. Unfortunately things are not that simple. By my estimation, the average person’s smoothie, even a well designed one, contains something like 50g of carbs (sugar in fruit), maybe 15g of protein (if they add yogourt), and virtually no fat. This is of course better than eating 4 Eggos with honey and peanut-butter don't get me wrong, but it can still result in someone retaining unwanted body-fat. Despite the high food quality in terms of nutrient density, this is enough of a sugar kick to make you pre-diabetic and want to store fat. The body doesn’t differentiate between sugar ingested from a Pepsi or 2 bananas. Sugar is sugar. The only difference is that with a banana you are getting nutrients, fibre, etc. The Glycemix Index players a role here as well, but that’s another topic.
You are still going to get a massive spike in insulin from ingesting a high amount of sugar even if it is from good foods if it is not ingested with much protein or fat. This leads to your body wanting to store the energy as fat. The high sugar content of a smoothie is made even more detrimental because of the speed of which it is consumed and the fact it spends very little time in your mouth where the digestion process begins.
Consider this, throughout the bulk of human history it was impossible to ingest 50g of sugar so fast. If you found berries, you chewed and ate them. There were no paleo-lithic magic bullet around to make our food into chug-able mush. Digestion starts in the mouth. It is wear food begins to be broken down, and the chewing process also readies the body for digestion. If you slam a smoothie you are skipping an important part of the digestion process (mastication), and also truly shocking your body. Your gut will be thinking, “where the heck did this 50g of sugar come from out of nowhere, what should we do with it. I don’t know, I'm scared, let’s store it.”
Proper eating should involve foreplay. By cooking and preparing food you will smell it, which will get your mind and body thinking about eating, which will start readying the digestive system to get ready to do its job By chewing, we ready the digestive system by giving it fair warning of what is coming. We also begin to break down the food not only by chewing but by exposing the food to the digestive enzymes in our saliva. If instead you just slam a smoothie you are skipping these important pieces of the digestive puzzle and you will not absorb the goodness from the food you ingest to nearly the same degree as if you eat it properly and worse you can shock the body into fat-storing mode.
I first made the switch from chugging smoothies to cooking and eating my food on the advice given to me by my coach at the time. I experienced significant changes so much so that I have not had a smoothie for breakfast since. After starting to cook and chew my food I found that the highs and lows of my energy levels throughout the first half of the day were eliminated. I felt a more constant state of energy without the spikes and crashes. But more importantly for me I felt less hungry and satiated for longer. I was actually absorbing the food I was eating, and it felt like I was getting twice the energy from the exact same amount of food.
As with almost all nutrition hang ups the reason for people to chose a smoothie over cooking and chewing is going to be convenience, time, and effort. So, you have to want to put the effort in and hopefully by outlining the benefits of eating over chugging, it will give some people the incentive to try it.
What you eat is important. In all cases higher quality food in terms of nutrient density is going to be healthier for you. It is also important that what you are eating is digestible and that you do not react adversely to it like I did with my raw oatmeal. If you think you have irritable bowel syndrome you may actually just be eating something you are sensitive to.
Kill the smoothies. You will get much more bang for your buck if you eat the food you are ingesting. Don’t skip the nutritional foreplay of preparing, cooking, and chewing. Find enjoyment in the process of eating.
How to Smoothie Properly
Chew Your Smoothie
Depending where you are currently in your nutritional journey, smoothies might be what you need to start eating higher quality foods and your current best choice. At one point for me moving from Eggos to Smoothies was an improvement. If this is the case there is a way to make smoothies work better for you. Chew your smoothie. Take a sip, swish it around in your mouth, think about tasting it. This goes for your post work-out shake as well. Spend 10-15:00 consuming your shake or smoothie and you will notice it is more satiating and your energy levels are more stable.
Chew Your Food 37 Times Before Swallowing
If you decide to commit to sitting and eating your food, you can still go wrong here. If you black out and eat a meal in less than 5:00 you are going to get similar results to as if you had a smoothie. I have to make a concerted effort to eat slowly. Not chewing is the same as chugging a smoothie. It is important to sit down, think about eating, and chew your damn food. A funny rule is to chew your food 37 times before swallowing. If you chew 36 times you will stay over-weight, if you chew 38 times, you’ll never gain the muscle you want. Kidding. 37 is an arbitrary and weird number that will just get you to think about slowing down, tasting, and chewing your food. Oprah was way ahead of the game and woke on the influence of thinking about your food and chewing years ago. If you don’t want to listen to me, then maybe you’ll listen to Oprah.
Eat With Chopsticks
It is important to slow things down with each individual bite, but also beneficial to take your time eating the entire meal. Try setting down your fork in between each bite. Have an engaging conversation while eating so you take pause to speak. Another thing I have been forced to do while travelling is eat with chop-sticks. Unless you are rather skilled at the chop-stick game, eating with those buggers will slow you down. It takes awhile for the body to signal to the mind that it is full, so if you eat super fast, you can get more food in than you need. The slower you eat, the more full you will feel.
I hope this post gives you some less typical insight into ways to improve your nutrition. When it comes to health and fitness there are many ways we can make small changes to improve our health and fitness. If you feel that you would benefit from having a coach who has the knowledge, education, and experience to put all the pieces of the puzzle together for you, then send me an e-mail, or fill out the contact form on my website. I look forward to hearing from you.
Grit Human Performance