Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Because I'm worth it.

Up till a couple of months ago, my diet was what I'd guess is a pretty typical mix of fairly healthy and fairly not.

I'd cut down on red meat and increased fruit and veg in the home cooked meals over the last few years, but was still prone to the odd dirty chicken takeaway (with the chips smothered in salt, chilli and garlic sauces), and often had crisps and chocolate as my afternoon snack at work.

Whilst my cupboards certainly weren't full of convenience foods, I was still no stranger to the odd oven ready pizza, and a pasta sauce was more likely to come from a jar than be made from scratch.

At a doctors visit for a sore throat, I was told I had high blood pressure. This was later to be diagnosed as "white coat hypertension", i.e. blood pressure going up because it's being measured, but not before a series of tests had been ordered. The upshot of those was being informed I had high cholesterol - and this one was an actual problem, not a phantom.

Given I stopped smoking a good few years ago, don't drink much these days, and get plenty of exercise, the only lifestyle change to make before considering medication was diet. So I was asked to eat healthily for three months, and come back for another lipids test.

I decided to download a diet diary application for my phone - initially so I'd have a record of whether or not I'd stuck to my intentions, but I quickly realised I could use it to pressure myself into making the right choices.

The plan was quite simple - the diary had a function to create a pdf report for the doctor, so I'd e-mail that to my siblings once a week. Every time I went to buy food, I'd stop and think "if you buy shit, everyone's going to know about it". Everything I ate and drank was to go in it.

No exceptions.

The plan worked well. I went practically pescatarian, stopped drinking milk, substituted butter with margarine, cut out cheese, and banned myself from all manufacured cakes, biscuits, chocolates, crisps and any sort of ready meal or takeaway.

I stopped buying jars of sauces and got back into making them myself.

I switched exclusively to wholemeal bread, reduced my intake of pasta, and bought a chupati maker to replace the white rice - turns out sorghum flour is pretty nutritious, the one protein it's missing being lysene, but that's found in lentils so tarka daal with chupaties was right on the staple meals menu.

For snacks I bought fruit (both fresh and dried), nuts, seeds and vegetables (carrots in particular). The nuts and seeds also went on salads and anything else that seemed ripe for a sprinkling - a favourite breakfast became a fresh fruit salad with yoghurt, crushed wallnuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and a drizzle of honey.

In the work canteen, I began picking exclusively from their "Let's Energise" range - a bunch of salads with exotic ingredients like quinoa and wild rice, and for desert such creations as a strawberry, cucumber, oatmeal and low fat yoghurt smoothie. All promising to fill me up with buckets of nutritional goodness and practically no saturated fats.

I began reading the nutitional information on anything that came in a packet. Some of it made for astonishing reading. I resolved never to return to eating processed shit.

After about four or five weeks, I began to relax the rules a little. The diet didn't quite feel like it would be sustainable for good, and I didn't want to just knock my cholesterol into shape then return to old ways - I wanted to reprogram myself into a healthy diet for life.

I figured re-introducing a little red meat (stereotypically, I was really missing the occasional bacon buttie) and dairy would make things a bit more balanced. I've never been a fan of margarine anyway - it's not natural - so I decided to go back to butter; with the amount of saturated fats I'd cut out, I could surely cope with a natural spread on my (wholemeal) toast.

My diet began to feel not only sustainable, but pretty bloody desirable.

Ten weeks into it, and I no longer really had to make the healthy choice - if I let my appetite guide me, I was picking good stuff. Cakes, biscuits, "chocolate" bars and crisps no longer appeal to me - I want whole foods.

I dropped 4kg in the three months, and it wasn't muscle disappearing - I can see the difference when I pinch my waist. It's not like I was carrying much excess fat, but getting rid of what there is can only help my climbing.

But there's more.

I feel fucking fantastic.

I can't remember the last time I had that wobbly low blood sugar feeling in a mid afternoon slump or during training... it just doesn't happen any more.

Before a session at the wall, I don't have to worry about loading up enough energy to see me through. If I'm hungry I'll eat, and if not I won't - it seems to make no difference to how hard or how long I can pull on those holds.

Unfortunately, I slipped a disc subsequently, and couldn't climb for two months, so I haven't really had a chance yet to see what the weight loss will do for my climbing, but after only a couple of weeks back in training I'm already onsighting 7a in the gym so I think I'll be in pretty good shape by the end of the winter.

In a sport where little edges add up to big differences, the training and recovery gains I'm convinced will keep coming from this would be worth sacrificing a lot for... but in this case I don't feel like I'm sacrificing anything. 
The only downside is having to be a little bit more prepared than before; convenience foods are after all quite aptly named - but for that I get so much... it's way more than worth it.

So, if you're putting in the hours in the gym and on the rock - pulling on beastmakers and campus boards, working technique, building core strength - and wondering if there's anything you've missed, try Doc's Diet Diary. It worked for me!

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