10 Things You Should Try Right Now (In 50 Words or Less)

Photo by Britt Selvitelle (Flickr: https://flic.kr/p/6uHz7S)

I first published this on my personal blog two years ago today. Most good advice is eternal and these ten things you can do certainly all still apply.

1. Listen to a podcast
Everybody has quiet times during the day when you might listen to music. Do yourself a favour and have a look through the catalogues at podbay.fm. There are so many great podcasts to enjoy, and they don’t have to take you away from driving, cooking, or your favourite online activities.

2. Drink a glass of water
Honestly, no beverage holds a candle to simple, clean water. In addition to keeping your joints and blood vessels properly hydrated, drinking water regularly reduces feelings of hunger, goes a long way towards preventing kidney stones, and even though it doesn’t have sugar or caffeine, it tastes amazing!

3. Get and use Twitter
Listen, I know you’ve heard Twitter‘s elevator pitch. But what I’m trying to tell you now is that even if you think you won’t use it, you should make an account and at least see what it’s like. You can follow celebrities, sports icons, news outlets, friends, acquaintances, there is never any shortage of reasons to try it.

4. Go for a walk
Seriously, walks are the easiest physical activity you can do, and they’ve been scientifically proven to increase creativity, reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, and give you the chance to get some much needed Vitamin D. You’ll thank me.

5. Share something
Humans are very community oriented by nature, something that we tend to forget when we are online a lot of the time. Take some time during your day to share something you’ve enjoyed online. It’s also been shown that giving somebody something makes you feel better than getting something you want from them, or for yourself.

6. Allow people to follow you on Facebook
I don’t think I’ve ever written about something as much as I’ve written about allowing people to follow your public updates on Facebook. Going to this link and letting “Everybody” follow you won’t make anything you do on Facebook more public, it just gives you more social clout. And that’s all anybody wants…

7. Have sex
You seriously want me to explain this one? Sex has been shown to boost your immune system, floods your body with painkilling endorphins, and has been Earth’s most popular leisure activity for billions of years. Go have sex right now and then come back and tell me it wasn’t awesome…I rest my case.

8. Talk to somebody
I spend a lot of my day working at a computer alone, speaking to nobody. Humans are social creatures who were not made to do that, so go and strike up a conversation with that friendly looking fellow/lady you see every day, you probably have something in common and didn’t even realize it.

9. Cry it out
There is very little that can make me feel better when I’m down than having a good cry. Aside from the fact that it’s not seen as the manliest of activities, it’s a great way to let out a lot of stress we all build up in our increasingly complicated lives. You did your best, now go have a cry.

10. Dance
I don’t care if you dance like nobody is watching, or if you are very conservative and shy about it. Dancing is great exercise and it’s so easy to find good music these days, it’s usually only a click or button press away. The best thing you can do on any given day is sing and/or dance!

There is no “one weird trick” to weight loss

On July 1st, 2015, I weighed in at 248.5 lbs. Today, I average just under 195 lbs, and I feel better than I have in my entire life.

This isn’t a diet guide to compel you to buy something, hell, I’m not actually trying to sell or promote any product. What I do have for you is a set of principles, and things to keep in mind if you’re thinking about trying to lose weight.

When I set out to lose weight, I was over 250 pounds. I owned a WiFi-connected scale, I was already fairly active, and I had a deep-seated love of food. I was hoping that if I could stick to a diet, and exercise regularly, I might be able to get down to 210-220 lbs. I knew that would be a challenge, and that gaining the weight back would loom over my head.

I had been recording my weight with a scale that sent my measurements to a spreadsheet online since February of 2014, but those numbers alone didn’t help much for about 18 months. Then, in the summer of 2015, I started doing a few things that have fundamentally changed my life and made me WAY healthier.

First, I read this piece about how keeping a moving average of the last 10 days of weigh-ins could prove really helpful (and I made my own super-powered version of the spreadsheet; ask me about it!). Next, I started riding my bicycle to work. Third, and finally, I started taking Soylent to work and having that as my lunch.

By mid-September, after 2 months, I’d lost about 10 pounds, and found my appetite was starting to shrink. By the middle of October, 3 months in, I’d lost another 10 pounds, and was already more than halfway to my goal. This happened for a number of reasons, but the most important ones can be summarized like this:

  1. I was drinking more water (hunger can be a symptom of thirst).
  2. I was being very conscious to only eat when hungry (hunger is often a symptom of boredom).
  3. I chose my foods carefully, because many foods I ate simply weren’t worth it (like bread, and ice cream).
  4. I didn’t let 1-2 bad days get me totally down (because my spreadsheet was reinforcing my progress).

Over the course of the last 13 months, I have been keeping meticulous records of what I weigh every day (vacations aside). I know that I’m not going to lose weight every single day, but I’m always surprised when I look at the stats of how the weight came off.

In the 407 days I’ve been tracking my weight, I lost weight on 242 of those days, which means I gained weight on 165 days. On the days I lost weight, I’ve lost a total of 241 pounds, and I gained back a total of 184 pounds on the other days. If you told me that the road to losing almost 60 pounds would include gaining over 180 pounds in a little over a year, I’d say you were crazy.

Such is the nature of weight loss. You won’t lose weight every day. When I started this little ‘experiment’, I was eating burgers and fries, and loving every minute of it, but I didn’t realize that I felt like garbage most of the time. Now, I feel vital and healthy almost all the time, and I’m much more likely to enjoy a delicious soup and salad at a restaurant.

My final piece of advice that I think is entirely common sense, but is hard to actually fully embrace, is that eating and food are rigged against you. Restaurants offer massive portions, and peer pressure and social situations can make it easy to eat way more than you want to do, or realize you are. Getting a salad isn’t “manly”, but I actually don’t enjoy more than a few french fries anymore, and I don’t miss them.

Making good choices feels weird, and sometimes, the ‘good’ choice is actually to just get something you’re really craving at a restaurant. That’s OK. Like I said, I gained 183 pounds in 165 days over the past year. That is a lot of indulgence.

It’s hard to ‘cheat’ at losing weight, because you have to actually eat healthier and form good habits if you want to make it a sustainable lifestyle. There’s no set of instructions anyone can write you to get you to a health or weight goal, and now, I don’t have one. I’m doing what feels good.

Moderation, and making changes you can enact permanently, are the best way to meet your health goals.

A critical look at Canada’s Food Guide (and ways to eat better)

Today, we’re going to learn a little bit about food, and its relationship to eating healthy (and reaching, then maintaining a normal weight).

To start, consider skimming through Brazil’s new Dietary Guidelines document from 2014. It’s a pretty incredible (if aspirational, for North American cultures) basis for a healthy diet, and a huge majority of the population would be much healthier if we all adhered to its recommendations. It might not be perfect, but the document uses sound principles and advocates adaptability and sustainability in food sources.

Among the most important recommendations these dietary guidelines make is to avoid highly processed foods, sticking to natural or minimally processed foods. The document highlights the importance of fats and oils in cooking, while suggesting avoidance of prepackaged foods that contain larger amounts of these unhealthy lipids.

Comparing these new Brazilian guidelines (available as a 150 page PDF) to Canada’s Food Guide (summarized in a 1-2 page pamphlet) isn’t really a fair comparison. That being said, with some nuance and self-awareness, it’s possible to keep Canada’s simpler, existing food principles in mind to stay healthy.

Canada’s Food Guide

Below is a critical evaluation of Canada’s Food Guide, and tips on how to reap the most benefits from it while avoiding potential pitfalls. If you haven’t done so already, go and take a look at Brazil’s dietary guidelines when you’re done. They’ll be waiting for you here, here, and here.

Growing up in Canada gives you a strange relationship with food. Once you are old enough to understand that candy and chocolate is bad for you, and vegetables are good for you, things start to get really confusing. Something I never considered when I was in adolescence is that nutrition guidelines are written by people. People can have biases, and make decisions based on pressure and money. The Dairy Farmers of Canada are the only reason dairy shows up in the Food Guide at all, for example.

Canada’s Food Guide seems relatively easy-going when it comes to food that isn’t mostly sugar, suggesting the consumption of some of each of four food groups:

  1. 5-10 servings of vegetables (for vitamins and minerals & natural sugars; includes fruit and fresh or frozen vegetables)
  2. 2-3 servings of meat/alternatives (this basically means protein; includes beans, eggs, and nut products)
  3. 6-8 servings of grain products (this is for fast energy and some nutrients; includes cereal, pasta, and rice)
  4. 2-4 servings of milk/dairy (effectively “fat” and maybe calcium; includes cheeses, yoghurt and soy)

As a child, we learned about these guidelines, which have been tweaked and changed over the years, but the main food groups have remained consistent overall. This food guide, from adolescence until early 20s for young Canadians, is often seen as the gold standard for nutrition. However, there are a few reasons to take a closer look at this Guide, and perhaps think critically about choices made based on its guidance.

5-10 Servings of Vegetables

This one is a no-brainer. The most egregious part of this section of the Guide comes when you consider that the serving range for vegetables is “capped” at 10 servings. In fact, fresh or packaged vegetables should generally be the largest portion of the food anybody eats in a day, and with so much of the food that makes up this group consisting in large part of water, it will usually be the healthiest part of a day’s food intake. Don’t limit yourself to ten servings of vegetables if you’re hungry, the only reason recommended servings aren’t higher is because for most people, ten servings a day is already unattainable.

Eat as many servings of fruit and veggies as you can, even at the expense of any other food.

2-3 Servings of Meat & Alternatives

Meat is an interesting food type. For many people, it’s the main way to get protein and other very important nutrients. However, in modern times, with no shortage of readily available meat, we’re almost certainly eating too much. A serving of meat, according to the Canada Food Guide, should be the size of a deck of cards. If you go eat a steak, you’re probably eating at least 2-3 servings of meat. Much more commonly than that, though, is the fact that with chicken breasts growing quickly in the last few decades, having just one is way too much for a meal.

Be aware of large servings sizes of meat in burgers, chicken breasts, and other meals. Get some meat in your diet, but it’s easy to overdo it.

6-8 Servings of Grains

This is a tough one. In the early-mid 2000s, this food group stood at 5-12 servings. Today, that recommendation is almost cut in half. This is because there are many tasty, but ultimately unhealthy, foods that fit into this category. Many grain-based foods are chock-full of sugar, and serving sizes are not very large. It’s incredibly easy to blow past the recommended amount of grains in a day, even with the intention of eating healthy meals. Combine that with the fact that white bread is basically candy (without even getting to many cereals), and with growing plate & serving sizes at home and in restaurants, and it’s easy to see how obesity is a growing public health concern.

If you can, avoid grains except in small amounts, or if you’re in dire need of some quick energy (which often isn’t the case in a modern world full of convenience stores and supermarkets).

2-4 Servings of Milk/Dairy

The last entry on the Canada Food Guide is also the least deserving to be there. Milk and dairy products are effectively candy for the purposes of an adult diet. While milk and related foods do contain calcium, which is important for bone health, once you’re through childhood, there are many better ways to ingest plenty of calcium (like dark, leafy veggies). Milk can actually function pretty well as a sports drink (if you keep it cold) since it contains lots of easy to digest sugar, fat, and some protein. But for everyday use, if you’re not having any dairy, don’t sweat it.

If you’re going to have some milk, cheese, or yogurt, don’t worry too much about it. But if you don’t have any, REALLY don’t worry about it. The Dairy Farmers of Canada played a big part in getting milk featured so prominently in the Food Guide, and they’re a little biased.

Conclusions

To summarize, don’t worry so much about what you’re eating on a given day (as long as you have some veggies). If you’re going to worry, consider how much you’re eating, and if you can reduce the amount (serving sizes) of meat, dairy, or grains that you’re having, that goes a long way towards keeping extra weight from sticking.

The Canada Food Guide is an outdated set of recommendations based on old nutrition science, and if it were re-written today following modern scientific principles, and without advocacy group pressure, it would likely look a lot different. Being aware of the limitations of the Food Guide, along with a little bit of food science, it’s not too complicated to determine what foods can be part of a healthy diet.