In retrospect, my diet in college was absolutely horrendous. It got better as my college years came to a close, but there were a couple years where I lived on fast food — especially Chick Fil A and Zaxby’s. Fries and fried chicken were some of my favorite entrees and running around between class, student organizations, etc.
It wasn’t until Nicole and I travelled to Oxford to study abroad that I started to develop a deep curiosity toward good food and cooking. I’d like to say that I magically became cultured and curious, but really it was due to the taste (or lack thereof) of the food in the dining hall at our Oxford college. Let’s just say we decided to cook at the UGA @ Oxford house more than we ate in the dining hall.
My deep dive into the world of food and nutrition came when I faced a bout of depression and debilitating anxiety a few months after starting Living for Monday. Day to day I had near panic attacks, experienced pain all over my body, and suffered from being an extreme hypochondriac. At various times I convinced myself that I had cancer, multiple sclerosis, and a number of other diseases. I became obsessed with researching diseases on the internet and experienced as “Medical Students’ Disease” by many going through the difficult process of med school. Medical students who suffer from the disease report symptoms consistent with the diseases they are studying at a given time.
As a result of my mostly self-induced anxiety and depression, I found myself unable to sleep and consuming large amounts of coffee to compensate. This created a terrible cycle of insomnia, leading to compensation via caffeine, to more insomnia, to terrible headaches and body pains, and on and on.
The whole process was one that ultimately made me stronger, but one that at the time was all too real. It was mentally taxing on me and everyone around me and made it nearly impossible to focus on creating a successful company out of Living for Monday. I am a strong believer in neglecting a victim mentality in favor of seeking proactive solutions to challenges we face. I knew that the challenges I was facing were the result of some combination of a lifelong fear of being sick, the uncertainty of starting a company, and the fear of dying without having accomplished something of lasting value for the world in my lifetime.
So I fought back, and one of the primary ways I fought back was through refocusing my medical deep dives on the power of food to create a healthy lifestyle.
Come to find out, diet affects nearly everything we do, which in retrospect makes a whole lot of sense. We have relatively few things that affect our physical health, and we have control over many of them. What we put in our body is a major factor in how we feel and how we live over time. (Other factors that impact our physical health are our genes, environment, exercise, and sleep.)
Through my search, I found a few incredible resources that have significantly impacted my understanding of food, our food system, and how it affects our bodies and health. Here are a few resources I highly recommend:
- The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf
- It Starts with Food by Melissa and Dallas Hartwig
- The Four Hour Chef by Tim Ferriss
- Cooking Light Way to Cook
- Robb Wolf’s Blog
- Whole 9 Life
- Chris Kresser’s Blog
You could go down the rabbit hole forever on resources to help you take control of the way you eat and how it affects your health. But let me sum it up for you in a sentence: If you have never eaten exclusively whole foods for 30 days in a row, you don’t know what it feels like to feel great. I say this because it was true for me, and I have talked to countless others who have said the same thing.
The most powerful breakthrough I have made in my life, as far as my health is concerned, happened when I made the decision to spend a month cooking nothing but whole foods to see how it made me feel. On top of that, I cut out grains, dairy, and legumes to give Paleo a shot. I don’t want to get into a debate about cult diets and whatever else people will say, so whether you think Paleo, vegetarianism, or vegan is the right path for you is not important. That is a personal choice.
My point is simple: learning how to shop for, prep, and cook whole foods — as in the foods that exist around the outside of a grocery store (fresh fruits, vegetables, meat, and fish) — has changed my life.
As I’ve learned about the food system, I’ve learned about the value of eating organic because it removes pesticides not only from my food but also from the environment, leading to healthier communities. I’ve learned about GMOs and the companies who fiddle with our food, leading to challenges in the way we process food within our bodies. I’ve learned about the way gluten affects my body and how to avoid it. I’ve learned that focusing on core principles that limit my food choices actually makes me more empowered and creative with the way I eat. I’ve learned about purchasing power and that every dollar is a vote for a company that is either making our food system better for the world, or contributing to a culture of poor health habits and chronic illness.
Eating well will significantly impact your energy levels and empower you to take control of your health. It will give you more energy in the morning to get to work fired up. It will give you more energy to get in the gym and exercise (not to mention giving you the fuel you need to make the most of a workout). Eating well and working out will help you go to sleep at night and have more restful sleep. Even if you did not change a thing about the way you exercise (including if you don’t exercise at all), changing your diet to a whole foods-based diet would help you to lose weight and/or look more healthy overall.
On top of everything else, eating well will help you increase your creativity, productivity, and energy at work.
I’m not perfect. I never will be. I have a terrible sweet tooth and I’m prone to take way too much advantage of “cheat days” when I eat things I don’t normally eat. But I’ve formed a core set of principles for my eating that I never stray from — I have not eaten gluten (intentionally) for over a year; I rarely, if ever, buy processed foods that come in a box or bag; when we eat out, we look first for local, craft restaurants that serve real food.
The point is not to be perfect, but rather to develop a belief system and corresponding habits about what you eat and how you approach your physical health through food. I truly believe that if you were to make this an area of focus in your life, you would feel better than ever, look better than ever, and become a better employee/entrepreneur/leader at work.
My goal with this post is and was not to make you feel bad about the way you eat. It’s also not my goal to make you want to eat like me — I think food and diet are very personal choices that we make. I simply want to make the point that learning about food is a way to become more empowered and take control of our health. I hope this post will inspire you to learn something new today about the food you put in your body.
What do you think? How have your food choices affected your life? How have your food choices affected your work? Does food make you feel empowered or helpless?