I eat pretty well and take pretty good care of myself. But it's taken quite a while to get here - before 2006, I had a pretty standard American diet. Lots of pizza, junk food, fast food, liquor, soda, sweets, etc. I smoked cigarettes, cigars, sheesha, and other kinds of tobacco.
Since then I've refined my diet and I eat pretty well. I have more energy, feel better, look better, and God willing, I'll live a lot longer as a result. It's a gradual process though, and I'm still improving. There's a few things I use to do it:
First, I'm all about incremental improvement - I think trying to crash change your diet is unlikely to work unless you have immense amounts of willpower and self-discipline. If you do have these Herculean amounts of will and discipline, you know who you are and don't need my advice. If you're more mortal, then you'll want to pick one or two things to be refining in your diet at a time.
Second, there's two ways I quit food or habits I don't like - "hard quitting" (cold turkey) and "soft quitting" (gradually reduce my consumption and eventually eliminate it). I pick which of these routes to go based on how convenient it is to quit something outright and if there's any detox process. If there's detox (like there was with nicotine), I think it's better to just get it over with once instead of constantly feeling deprived as your body re-adjusts to its new biochemical levels. The most successful method for quitting smoking is cold turkey, isn't it? Something like 80% of successful attempts to quit smoking are cold turkey? I don't have the statistics onhand, but that's the general idea. Quitting something like sugar, bad oils, or excess salt might be easier to do incrementally, since you need to replace the consumption with something else.
Which brings us to third point - I actively introduce new good behaviors before and during the time I quit something. Now, I don't know if the following is a good strategy, but it's what I did - when I started cutting down the sweets I ate, I increased my consumption of the kinds of salty foods I already ate: Chips, french fries, nuts, etc. Later I cut the salt content back. I don't know if that's a good habit, but it's worked okay for me. I also try to actively introduce fruits and vegetables before I quit something - it's hard to go from no fiber food that's highly processed to stimulate you immediately to fruits and vegetables. Fruit tastes bland compared to ice cream. So I introduce fruits and vegetables first, get comfortable with them, then increase my consumption of them as I decrease or eliminate bad consumption.
Fourth: I learn along but am very skeptical of new scientific findings until cross-tested and largely verified. I've spent a lot of time learning about nutrition and biochemistry, and I'm starting to get a feel for what's right and what's wrong. Take alcohol, for instance - bad science studies conclude that drinking a glass of wine a day is good for your health. Nonsense. Liquor wrecks havoc on your body, really really bad. Any small heart gains are offset by the hell liquor wrecks on your kidneys, liver, and blood. Besides, there's lots of ways to make your heart work, like just doing 15 minutes of quick exercise. So why is this "wine is good for you" utter nonsense spread? Because wine is drunk by successful people, in prosperous countries, and by people who also appreciate life and relax. But that doesn't mean the wine itself is good for you - the health gains from being successful, living somewhere prosperous, and taking time to relax and enjoy life. If you did a study taking two groups of very similar people who don't drink and introduced wine to half of them, they'd almost certainly be less healthy and have lower longevity as a result. Studies that survey consumption and health miss the point - wine correlates with long life, but it almost certainly doesn't make you live longer.
Refining my diet:
In late 2005/early 2006, I started actively introducing good foods into my diet: Plain oatmeal, tuna, and eggs were the big three.
2006 I made the big push - I "hard quit" (cold turkey, never consume again) alcohol, soda, all recreational drugs, cigarettes, caffeine, and pork.
My diet was pretty stable at that point for a while. I made gradual refinements around the edges - introducing more beans, eggs, chicken, and good protein. I started eating oatmeal almost every single morning, and quit eating sugary breakfast cereal.
In 2008 I'd done some research, and it seems like caffeine is good for metabolism. I re-introduced caffeine to my diet, primarily coffee, tea, and energy drinks. Eventually I became kind of skeptical of what they put in energy drinks and dropped those. I quit cigars in 2008, making sheesha the last kind of tobacco I smoked (and rarely, at that).
In 2009 I stopped eating mammals - I think eating lower on the food chain is smarter. Honestly, it's not for ethical reasons - I'd go deer hunting or bear hunting, I'd just sell or donate the meat afterwards. As much as I loved steak, I figure there's no health reason to ever eat steak instead of chicken or fish. Lower caloric density, more protein, easier on digestion. Some people point out the joy/taste aspect - for me, I don't care so much about that. If as a result of no tobacco, liquor, drugs, pork, beef, sugar I get less short term pleasure, but I live 2-5 years of good quality life, that's such an incredibly easy trade. Two years is 700+ days of seeing sunrises and sunsets, reading books, writing, doing science, following the new technology (I think some marvelously amazing technology is coming out going forwards), giving advice to my kids, playing with my grandkids, playing with my great-grandkids, making new friends, staying in touch with old friends... who would trade those experiences for some consumption? And I mean, c'mon, a good piece of chicken is pretty delicious. We're not talking about suffering here, we're talking about replacing a good steak with a good piece of chicken. There's so many ways to prepare chicken, turkey, tuna, salmon, swordfish, crab - I eat pretty well.
I quit sheesha in 2009 as well, meaning no tobacco at all. This is following a couple conversations with friends - sure, it's cleaner and probably the best way to smoke tobacco, but it's still not so great.
In 2010 I've been making incremental improvements. I've been soft quitting sweets and sugary drinks. This is harder than it sounds, people offer you cookies to be kind, or I order an iced tea in a foreign country and they serve one with sugar. It's tricky. I'm comfortable drinking 100% fruit and vegetable juice, which has some of the bad effects of a sugar rush followed by crash, but at least offers some nutrients in return. So that's an option.
I've been trying to find the best way to eat good quick food quickly. One of the defining things of good food to put in your body is that it has reasonably high fiber, but high fiber foods usually take a while to prepare which is a hassle. I prefer tuna on brown rice, but that's not always readily available when traveling. I'm okay with tuna on brown bread, but I'll always prefer rice to bread if it's an option.
Have any personal favorite sites, articles, books, or essays on eating well while traveling? I'm always looking for something along those lines, so please feel invited to comment or shoot me an email if you have a recommendation.
Let's start with some quick hitting, practical points for you, in case you're in a hurry -
1. I think sugar takes a while to quit for most people, and some preparation.
2. Start slowly learning foods you like and trying new healthy foods to find a mix you like. When you go to the store, try one new healthy food to see if it suits you each time.
3. You're going to need to replace all the sugary and junk food you eat. Quitting isn't enough - you need something else to take its place.
4. Consider tracking your energy levels throughout the day for a few weeks and what you eat. It takes a bit of effort, but it's massively worthwhile effort. You'll learn what you respond to and have a massively higher quality of life.
Everything you eat is primarily made up of three macronutrients, or building blocks: carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.
Today I'm going to focus on what I've learned about carbohydrates, because they make up the bulk of most people's diets and they offer the biggest opportunity for diet improvement.