I love food; I love to eat. I enjoy exploring new culinary experiences and, within a few parameters, there is virtually nothing I won’t eat. I don’t feel deprived of any foods, but I do temper my consumption of some foods. So, in this era of dogmatic dieting, what are some common sense, scientifically valid and delicious eating patterns which support an active lifestyle from mid life and beyond? Allow me, if you will, to relay to you how I’ve come to a truly enjoyable and sound diet for myself and my clients.
There was a time when I believed that I could eat whatever I wanted and in almost any amount, as long as I sustained an activity level sufficient to maintain a healthy weight/body composition. Indeed, for about thirty years I maintained a body weight which I felt was quite healthy, but frankly when I considered it a little more closely, was always a little more than my ideal.
A little background. I am about 5’11”, played college football, and have been an active athlete/fitness professional my entire adult life. Shortly after completing university and at the end of my football career (weighing 188lbs or so), I began to put on a few pounds and, as the years went by, a few more. I stayed active through work, martial arts, and personal training, and my weight fluctuated a bit. Finally, my weight settled between 195lbs and 205lbs (although I’ve weighed as much as 212lbs) while maintaining well above average strength and fitness for my demographic. However, I found that when I worked out a bit more regularly and was mindful about what I ate, I could drop my weight to 193-195lbs. Inevitably this would be followed by a slow but steady creep up to the higher end of my ‘normal range.’
As I approached the end of my teaching career, I began to worry a little bit about the physical health implications of what could become a less active lifestyle; I was going to lose the daily imperative of activity with my students. I decided that I wanted to take the steps required to retire from teaching with ‘my best body.’ I use this phrase with caution as I wanted to create this ‘best body’ under my own parameters: minimal gym/training time, activity I enjoy or at least am neutral to, great tasting food options, noticeable improvements within a short period of time, and most importantly, a sustainable program of exercise and nutrition which support my long term goals. By enacting the principles of 45 & Thrive, as discussed in my two previous columns (Part 1 is available here, and Part 2 is available here), I have dropped my body weight to a range between 180lbs and 185lbs. I’ve kept it off for more than two years, and any time it slides up past 185 or so, then a day or two of discipline (but not deprivation) pulls it right back to where I want it. I can also very specifically account for these modest upswings by reflecting upon what I’ve eaten in the previous day or so, and what activity I’ve done or haven’t done. Oh, and by following the strength training principles of 45 & Thrive, I’ve maintained a strength level above the 75th percentile.
With these caveats in mind, I began looking for improvements to my diet, and focussing in on best practices in training for myself. I realized that my activity level and commitment to training was only part of the puzzle; eating habits and dietary choices are the ‘special sauce’ which promotes vibrant health and physical capacity for an active lifestyle. This is the synergy which provides the energy to support my goal towards robust longevity. I found a great starting point towards dietary adjustments in some of the fitness and lifestyle advice curated by ‘life hacker’ Tim Ferriss. As I’ve noted in earlier columns, Tim is a great proponent of the concept of MED – Minimal Effective Dose – which appeals to me on so many levels. Although Tim advocates and has experimented with several complementary fitness, dietary, and lifestyle routines, each with independent and distinct goals and outcomes, the ‘hack’ which caught my eye was on the nutrition/diet side of things. His Slow Carb Diet, highlighted in The 4-Hour Body (2010) is, in my opinion, a sensible launching pad for a revised, mindful dietary shift which for many may yield immediate, tangible results (available here: https://tim.blog/2012/07/12/how-to-lose-100-pounds/). Having said this, when I tried Tim’s program for a few weeks, I was not dogmatic in adopting all of his suggestions, and would never recommend blind adherence to any such program. Furthermore, I have to reinforce the necessity of seeking advice from a Registered Dietician or other such qualified health care professional prior to beginning any new dietary regime.
After conducting my own, personal due diligence, the Slow Carb Diet jump started some positive changes for me, and then segued beautifully into the next phase of my own diet revision – Into what I think of as a Paleo-Centric diet, gleaned from the research and recommendations of experts such as Dr. Dominic D’Agastino, Dr. Tim Noakes, Gary Taubes and Art DeVany. This approach to nutrition emphasizes minimizing carbohydrates such as flour, rice and potatoes, avoiding processed foods, eating healthy animal based proteins/fats as our evolutionary predecessors did, enjoying fresh, seasonal produce, and considering meal times to include controlled, monitored, intermittent fasting. It reflects many of the best practices found in the ‘Blue Zones’ – pockets of centenarians found throughout the globe. I’ve found that a Paleo-Centric diet, transitioned from Ferriss’ Slow Carb Diet, can be a gradual, reasonable pathway for mature adults interested in dietary changes in support of robust longevity. To get there, I am a proponent of ‘baby steps,’ which help move us towards seemingly more difficult and perhaps more daunting goals. The Paleo-Centric diet may well be a ‘bridge too far’ for just starting out on a path toward long term dietary revision, so I believe that a measured transition from current eating patterns, through a transitionary diet such as Slow Carb, may the best route to follow.
In future columns, I will take a closer look at the following topics related to diet and nutrition: a) The basics of the Slow Carb Diet and it’s effectiveness as a starting point towards reaching your goals; b) The Paleo-Centric Diet based on many of the recommendations of longevity experts; c) An overview of Intermittent Fasting as a key element of diet/lifestyle; and finally, d) Optimizing meal times, exercise and lifestyle routines.
Cheers, for now…
Michael Patterson, M.Ed.
Lift long and Prosper
Michael Patterson M.Ed, has spent 30+ years as a fitness and health professional. He holds degrees in Physical and Health Education, Psychology, and Education. Find out more about Michael and follow him on his website at www.45andthrive.com, and on Instagram @45andthrive. Questions and comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.