Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Why I Eat The Way I Do

Diet is an emotionally fueled issue. Quite often training for strength or training for sports is performance based. Put up or shut up. However for one reason or another, "belief" and therefore "faith" enters into eating habits. I was certainly one of those people years ago. I did things and said things that made sense then, but are fundamentally wrong based on evidence. Remember that word, evidence. 

I grew up in Pittsburgh eating real food like most people. It's amazing I made maturity. According to so many current faddists, I should be dead. Cereal and milk for breakfast. Occasionally eggs, sausage, toast. Sandwiches for lunch with fruit. Good home cooked foods which included both canned and frozen foods. No health food stores around and vegetables were seasonal and more expensive in the winter. By eating this diet, my male relatives worked in mills and coal mines and fought wars. I know, that's shocking. I was able to train 7 to 9 times a week and still grow to 6' 1" and 178 lbs. In fact my friend, Fred Schwendel played football and threw a shot put based on a daily lunch of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a carton of Jungle Juice. Try taking hits from opposing linemen when your own muscles and bones are built on Jungle Juice. 

When I moved away from home with 200 dollars and a sleeping bag, it was five for a dollar yogurts from Winn Dixie (five breakfast for a dollar!), I skipped lunch, then ate chicken with rice. That's what my roommates and I could afford. I was still training 5 to 6 days per week and sleeping 6 hours per night the first year in Fort Lauderdale. [1979]. My weight was 175 lbs, about three pounds thinner than high school under my Mom's great cooking. 

So in the years that followed, I adopted the Eat to Win regimen of "Dr" Robert Haas. He had neatly organized eating plan which appeared to backed up by research and athlete testimony. Remember, "appeared" is the operative word. 

I ate lots of "complex" carbs and had a vigorous job in addition to running and some strength training. My body weight plummeted and I viewed this as an adaptation to a scientific diet. My muscular endurance also dropped. I didn't have the brains or experience to put two and two together however. 

I read the Zone and took it back to the book store. Then about a year later I re-read it and loosely applied the concepts, namely, more protein and healthy fats. My physical endurance improved, I gained lean body mass and also got leaner. Magic? Hell no. Of course I'll explain this in a bit. 

The last influence was Dan Duchaine's Body Opus. That led to finding Lyle McDonald on the internet years ago and also to Alan Aragon. I actually started to think. I bounced into the area of Paleo since the higher protein and lower carb thing was similar. I posted a study where low carbs were showing great gains in lean body mass versus a higher carb diet. Supposedly the superiority of low carb. Lyle McDonald wrote me a note saying, "..match the protein and calories. The results will be the same. Stop believing bullshit,.." or something to that effect. This is what I needed. To think of things in terms of physics, chemistry and evidence. 

You see, it's pretty simple actually. In art, there are 3 primary colors. In nutrition, there are 4 macronutrients, water - carbs - fat - protein. [alcohol could be the fifth and oddly comes in fifths]. That's it. All those thousands of diet books and only FOUR macronutrients. One thing we are really good at is making simple things complex. Why do we do this? Same three reasons we have wars. Money, money and money. 

Let me take a pit stop and tell you I have spent a FORTUNE on worthless food supplement. I'll admit to being that stupid. Not quite as stupid as many,.. but sometimes slow to learn. You realize of course that food supplements were developed to increase passive income for fitness companies. You can sell someone a barbell and it's good for 100 years. No return customers. So they had to tell you that buying food supplements would be the only path to improve your training. That's how they make money. Other than a multivitamin, fish oil, creatine, vitamin D and powdered protein to add to other foods,.. they are not only worthless, they may reduce performance. The only thing they make healthier are the bank accounts of the supplement companies which are bigger crooks than pharmaceutical companies. 

But I digress,.. back to FOUR macronutrients. With some reading, it's pretty easy to figure out. Determine your protein requirements and you are taking one giant leap in the right directions. Alan Aragon has a GENERAL rule to figure out protein consumption. Find your target weight, and eat that many grams of protein. I'm sure he has refinements on this process, but it's a decent general rule. Then he lays out eating half that number in grams of fat. The rest of your caloric intake is carbohydrates. Rather than spell out the exact numbers, I will list websites for both Lyle and Alan amongst others at the end of the article. 

To determine body weight, it's most important to determine your percentage of body fat. There are hormonal differences [thank God] between men and women. Once again, I will give resources at the end of the article that will help you find the appropriate leanness level for your goals. Most people are not just over fat, but under muscled. Particularly women and older people. As we age, we are less active and we lose our taste for protein. Some simple advice is to eat more dead animals and pick up heavy stuff. Your bones and muscles will thank you. 

I see the biggest problem is that we moralize food. We don't live in an either/or world. There is context and the answers will be specific. Stop using 'good' and 'bad' in terms of food. 

Here are my opinions [just my opinions] on some nutritional topics and statements. 

"My cousin's a doctor and he said,.." -- That's called "Appeal to Authority" It's also anecdote. 

"Natural is best." - Strychnine and botulism are natural. 

"Carbs are the source of all evil." -- No, they just taste good. Don't moralize. 

"Supplement X burns fat." -- Then why are there any fat people? Most all of these fat burners can be bought at gas stations and Walmart. Ever been to Walmart? This crap does not require a prescription and is relatively cheap, yet obesity is increasing. Why? If you know of supplement companies who sell this stuff, call their 800 number now and please tell them how bad they suck. 

"We need to eat like Paleo Man." -- Well, brontosaurus is tasty, but savages ate what they could get their hands on. Including each other. 

"Insulin is bad." - Try going without it. 

"Italians eat garlic and have low blood pressure, therefore eat garlic." - Correlation is not causation. Epidemiological studies are crap. However, like anecdote, they sound sensational.   

"Nightshades are poison." -- Yes, aircraft hangars full of bodies from eating tomatoes. 

"Gluten is the cornerstone of evil. Today's wheat is genetically modified!" - Wonderful. I suppose the world's population can go to Whole Foods with the other elitist pricks and buy overpriced junk. Less than 10% of the population has a measurable reaction to gluten. A smaller portion of that has issues with Celiac's disease. Yet, we as a society can't eat gluten. Amazing. Do the f*ckin' math. The problem isn't gluten. The problem is you are stupid. 

"GMO's and Monsanto are destroying the earth." - Yes and they are creating Third World Debt, AIDS and making us write bad checks. Trust me on this. You will DIE from something else. Probably from being too goddamn fat. Not using your seatbelt. Not flossing. Falling in the shower. Rather than focus on the big things, you amplify meaningless crap like GMO products, Splenda and Equal. 

"Aspartame breaks down to wood alcohol in the body." - So does tomato juice. Do you advertise THAT fact? Seriously.. this is an agenda pushed by that douche, Mercola and his lemmings. How else are chiropractors going to make money than preach voodoo nutrition? Ask your chiro if you should go to your registered dietician to get you neck cracked.

"High Fructose Corn Syrup is making us fat!" - No, you eating buckets of donuts is making you fat. 

OK, back to the article. [I'm having too much fun!]. 
What does Tom eat?, Here goes. 

Breakfast- Same thing every morning and I love it. 

Oatmeal, with dried cranberries, 1/2 apple and almonds. I add 50 grams of whey to this.
I also drink 4 or 5 cups of black coffee. 

No lunch. Ever. Maybe a handful of almonds. 

Dinner is 3/4 to 1 pound of animal protein. Cheese, salad and wine. Maybe some bread dipped in olive oil and spice and topped with parmesan. 

So daily.... I have gluten, nightshades, dairy, grains. Most all the food is bought in the 'hood. Walmart, etc. I go to Whole Foods for cheap wine and dark chocolate. 

Supplements. Fish oil, vitamin D. I use whey on my oatmeal. When I train I like drinking Emergen C. At night I take 5mg of melatonin. [thanks to Dr. John Crisler for advice]. 

I will be 56 in February. No HRT,.. YET. I'm about 10 to 11% body fat and regaining lean body mass that I lost during a 30 month divorce. [around 20 pounds, from 178 to 158 lbs.]
Last words. Understand evidence. If I say it, then it's BS. [anecdote]. If some population has some habit amidst thousand of others,.. epidemiology/ correlation does not equal causation. If it's done to RATS,.. it's not likely it will work in humans. [most of the supplement industry uses this garbage]. The same goes for fruit flies. 

Survey evidence is weak. Seriously, ".. a questionnaire was filled out by Norwegian housewives,..." Give me a break. The gold standard is a double blind, peer reviewed study. It's expensive and not always practical. The key of all keys is to have peers debate outcomes and hold them to a high standard. [Like Alan Aragon's Research Review]. 

For everyone who thinks this cost money,.. Lyle's page, has massive, massive, amounts of FREE information. Alan Aragon's Research Review is CHEAP. No physician should be without it. 
Last thoughts. People are stupid. For one reason or another, clinging to a trend or tribe is easier than actually thinking. So we have our high carb or low carb, we have our paleo and we have our gluten free. All of those groups are unwilling to actually stand out and think. This is called stupid. Once a comedian, whose name escapes me was told about 9/11 conspirators. He said, "They are stupid." The reporter said, "Well up to 40 percent of the American public thinks it may have been an inside job.". The comedian said,."Yes. 40% are stupid." He's right. The inability to THINK is the problem. Monsanto won't kill us. Nor high fructose corn syrup, gluten, aspartame, Splenda, nightshades or genetically modified foods. We will kill ourselves through preventable accidents, overeating or plain stupidity. 

Good luck. 



Anonymous said...

I like your article, Tom!

Tom Furman said...


Chris said...

That is a great piece Tom. It replays some of my changes in thinking too. I am no longer looking for the magic, the secret knowledge. Just sticking to basic sensible stuff

Darin said...

What convinced you taking Fish Oil and Vitamin D are worthwhile?

Jono said...

My wife told me to stop calling people stupid in front of the kids. I've opted for "suffering from malaise of rationality" or what I read yesterday, "complexity blindness." But those are just PC ways of saying we live in a world of Stupids, as Eric Von Zipper would've said. Good post.

Steve said...

Good article! Do you mix your whey into the oatmeal or have a shake?

FeelGoodEating said...


And I agree whole heartily.


Aileen said...

Can I state the obvious - you are a male. I'd like to see some real recommendations on the basis of real evidence for older women (I am 54). Fit women with muscle, not diabetic, PCOS, skinny fat or anything else. I can't find anything that hasn't been done on obese unfit insulin resistant women. I run as well as do weights (yes i enjoy running) and need to keep my carbs up or I get into great trouble.

Tom Furman said...

@Darin,.. Evidence via Martin Berkhan's Lean Gains he posted on fish oil. As per Vitamin D,.. look at for a great resource.

@Steve,.. I cook the oats with the dried cranberries and apples. Then I add chopped almonds and 50 grams of whey.

Aileen, yes. Enjoy carbs. Eat your target weight in grams of protein. You can simply measure leanness by measuring your waist and hips. Then check the bodyweight. You will find if you are adding lean or fat. You make a good point. :-)

Aileen said...

My waist is certainly my best indicator of "fatness".

Unknown said...

I think I love you. Too bad I'm already married.

Thank you for the awesome read. :)

Tom Furman said...


Anonymous said...

This blog is really good and contains useful information.There is a better way to get fast results.

Anonymous said...

Good post, when it all seems so complicated.
You can live a healthy lifestyle, and still be unhealthy, be unhappy.
I think guidelines are great, just make sure they do not turn into boundaries... ever.

Shaf said...

This was a good one Tom.

Unknown said...

I'm glad you state this is just your opinion! Lol, though you articulate things very well, some of your facts that you actually put out there are wrong! I know personally hundreds of people, who partake in the Paleo style of eating. Now, calling these people pricks, arrogant or whatever you said, when you don't know these people is at the very least ignorant. I won't even begin to dive in to some of the other ridiculous comments you made. It would take a novel to address everything you put in this article that is so far off the mark! Now, one of the humorous things you mentioned in regard to our paleolithic ancestors eating whatever they got their hands on is true! But, they didn't have all the genetically modified, processed crap, and grains we have today. But, the trade off was they were 120% healthier than the average person today, with almost no occurance of disease stemming from inflammatory response based on what they ate. They were lean, strong, smarter and if a natural disaster, rival tribes, predators, or a pathogen didn't wipe them out they lived longer than us, with no cavities!

By saying you have to be rich to eat healthy and clean, and can only do those things by shopping at Whole Food, is just stupid. I shop at a normal grocery store avoiding the middle isles, fresh veggies and fruit, wild caught fish, grass fed beef, free range chicken and eggs are all there. I bet my grocery bill on average is no more than the average person. Just no Junk!

There is power in words, and by you putting an article out there like this that is saying its ok to eat garbage and live a strong healthy life is shocking! Read work by, Dr. Loren Cordain, Robb Wolf, Arthur De Vany (just to name a few). They have all the facts backed up and point you in the direction to be viewed. This article looks as though you wanted to write something to appeal to the masses, that just so happen to be obese, and sickly.

It is simple...Eat clean (whether Paleo, vegetarian, or some other style) at the very least, workout or do something physical everyday (run, lift, jump, climb, sprint), rest & de-stress, love & laugh.

Tom, come on man, your a good guy, think about what your saying and who is really gonna read and believe your post!

Tom Furman said...

Garrin, I don't have the time nor energy to reply. Truthfully I'd expect your next comment to be on a flat earth, another 9/11 conspiracy or something of that nature.
Look up the word, evidence.
Good day.

Amanda said...

One of my FB friends posted the link to this blog post. I started reading it expecting to get some solid knowledge out of it. Much to my surprise, the info you shared is so far off! I have no desire to try and change your opinion on the matter. I can see from your response to Garrin that you are set in your beliefs as you have all the "evidence" you need to be convicted. However, I feel the need to respond in case there is a chance you might influence people that are trying to educate themselves and resolve current health issues they might be facing.

My evidence and conviction on this topic come only from my personal experience, my husband's experience and friends/family. Of course we got the initial guidance from people that have written books about how to live a healthy lifestyle. Each of which, provide in-depth, scientific reasoning for why we should/shouldn't eat certain things. To brush off gluten, GMOs, aspartame, etc. is absolutely irresponsible.

Good for you that your body can tolerate gluten. There was one time that I could as well. In fact, I actually tried paleo "just because". I wasn't looking to cure any issues. I considered myself to be rather healthy. I was actually skeptical and didn't believe gluten was bad. I did have minor digestive issues occasionally, but they were far less than everyone else, so I just assumed it was a normal part of life. Anyways, after eating strict paleo for 30 days, I felt great: no bloating, gas, etc. But, it wasn't until I consumed gluten after the 30 days that I was convinced there was something to it. I felt HORRIBLE! And I didn't binge on gluten. I had a normal, small piece of bread with my dinner.

I can go on and on about the people that I personally know that have had a similar experience. I am happy that they have made the choice to get healthy. One of the best examples was of a girl (late 20s) that ate a very "clean" diet, however she suffered from horrible allergies and asthma. Within DAYS of eliminating dairy/gluten her symptoms were practically gone! Thank goodness she didn't stumble across your post before she had the opportunity to find out what was the cause of her issues.

Health isn't graded on a bell curve! Just because you seem healthier compared to the masses , does not mean you are a prime example of health. Your fat % is not the ultimate evidence of your health either.

So, with my personal "evidence" and the evidence of people that have dramatically improved their health with these changes, I call BS on your post. Just because you say YOUR body can tolerate gluten and YOU don't notice the symptoms of it harming you, doesn't make it healthy for you or anyone else. Similarly, an alcoholic has a high tolerance of alcohol, but that doesn’t make it healthy for them either.

If you are seeking advice on how to get healthy and feel great: go strict paleo for 30 days. Then, one at a time, add in some of the foods eliminated by this "protocol". If you can tolerate the foods without any adverse symptoms, then by all means, tailor your diet according to your personal results. But make sure to be honest with yourself and listen to your body. But, if you feel amazing and healthy eating gluten, GMOs and aspartame (I have met ZERO people that can say this)...then keep on keep'in on. I'm only talking to the individuals who are seeking to improve their health and well-being.

I do not shop at Whole Foods. I am a 31yr old female that lives a "primal" life style. I genuinely care about my health and the health of my family and friends without any monetary gains influencing my thoughts or opinions. The only thing I can imagine that would motivate you to write this post is to try and appeal to the masses like, Garrin stated. Perhaps if you go easy on them and save them money by encouraging them to shop at Walmart, they will have more money to buy what you are selling.

Unknown said...

As a health and fitness professional, it is irresponsible of you to put an article like this out there. People are looking to you for diet and nutrition advice and the information that you are providing has absolutely no scientific basis. Of course to be fair, you did make it very clear that you don't believe in evidence.

I am a registered nurse, a health coach, and a personal trainer (and I'm also currently enrolled in a holistic nutrition program). I base my own practice on scientific evidence. This does require sorting through the research and determining which research is solid versus poorly designed or biased. Science isn't perfect, but it is still much better than practicing from a perspective of personal opinion. When you are dealing with individual's health, practicing based on opinion only has the potential to convey information that harms others, whether unintentional or not.

I also grew up near Pittsburgh. My family was always health conscious and I would say that we ate healthier than the standard American diet. Still though, we had no reason to follow any special sort of diet and we ate our bread, pasta, and occasional ice cream. In my early 20s, despite leading what I considered a very healthy lifestyle at that point, I started having some health issues. I went for several years until I was diagnosed with Crohn's disease and inflammatory arthritis, both of which are autoimmune conditions. Since the conventional medications weren't working for me, I did some research (yes, research!) on treating autoimmune disease through diet and other natural methods and I discovered the Paleo diet. After 6 weeks of strict Paleo, my GI symptoms resolved and so did other health issues that I had struggled with- migraine headaches, adult acne, painful periods, depression and anxiety. After about 3 months, joint pain from the arthritis had also resolved. As long as I follow strict version of Paleo, I have no need for medications and I can live a normal, healthy life. Part of the strict version of Paleo involves eliminating nightshades--it is well documented that people with autoimmune disease react to certain components that are in nightshade vegetables.

My story is not unique. I've personally helped many people adopt a Paleo diet and resolve their health issues. Some people can tolerate gluten and grains better than others, but no one thrives on them.

I am not an elitist prick that shops at Whole Foods and neither are the majority of my clients. Like the others above have stated, I can't imagine what your motivation for writing this post is other than to appeal to the average, unhealthy American. It is almost unthinkable that a health and fitness professional would put such garbage out there.

Mike Howard said...

OUTSTANDING article, Tom! I'm new to your stuff but rest assured I'll be reading more of it.

The Paleo butthurt is predictable. The over/under was at 7 comments.

Mike Howard said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Paleo beaters coming out. Warm fuzzy stories are always a good sell.

Paleo is like anti-biotics... once you fixed your shit with it, stop doing it. More isn't better.

Tom, save your money and ditch the fish oil.