Has there ever been a more confusing topic out there to try and research and develop an opinion on, than diet? Over the years I’ve tried so many different regimens, idea’s and approaches to nutrition, that I was left, more than once, with my head spinning on what exactly the “right” approach is. I’ve been vegan, vegetarian, no carb, low carb, high fat, low fat, high protein……the list goes on and on. Which has taught me a lot about what a sustainable diet and budget have in common. Beyond the obvious of some serious self-discipline.
All of my experimenting was in search of the optimal diet. You know – the one where you sleep like a baby, keep your gut biome in good health, contribute to your overall longevity, reduce your chances of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, look good, oh and maybe I can still drink wine, eat cake, and order my daily latte.
You know. THAT diet.
The one that partners with the budget where you can save 98% of your income, feel amazing about your frugality, regularly update your wardrobe, eat out whenever you feel like it and travel on a whim.
After many years of reading endless literature, studies, and heavily experimenting with my own nutrition, and what “feels” best, I’ve become convinced that the optimal dietary approach is one that is simply well diversified in its nutritional sources, low on refined sugars and processed foods, and one where you are fueling your body only when you actually need fuel.
But most importantly, just like a budget, it has to be sustainable for each individual person.
So – What Is Sustainable?
Realistically, what is sustainable and meets each of our individual dietary needs is based on myriad factors. And it’s also going to change for each of us over our lifetimes. There is, unfortunately, no one “right way”. In spite of all the media hub bub every time some new fad diet comes along.
But learning to be intentional with our food, much like being intentional with our money, is the absolute best lesson I have learned.
When we become intentional with our money, it’s like we’ve awoken a part of ourself that was previously on auto-pilot. The part that couldn’t give you an accurate estimate how much money streams into, and out of, our wallets and bank accounts every month.
Let alone a precise answer, broken down by spending category.
That lack of intimacy with our money translates to us spending substantially more than any of us realize. Until we start looking closely.
The same is true with our food. A treat here, a grande mocha Frappuccino there, a couple fries off a friends plate, some popcorn at the movie. Not only do all of these have financial implications that can easily go unnoticed, they have massive dietary implications as well.
And much like money – you might think you’re eating well. Until you start writing down a comprehensive list of every single item that goes into your mouth. Then shit gets real.
That Sounds Awful!
I know – I know. Who wants to write down everything they eat. Like seriously, EVERYTHING.
Yes it sucks. It sucks about as much as it does to track your spending. By which I mean, it sucks at first.
Then when you get used to it, you build in little spaces in your day to keep up with your tracking, and before you know it, that pain in the butt thing turns into a habit. And the best part? You actually create a comprehensive picture of what you are consuming.
When you can glance at a whole month’s worth of consumption, it’s pretty easy to tell if you are primarily fueling your body with premium, or total garbage. Or if you are over/under-fueling.
Even better? You don’t have to do it forever. Just like tracking your spending, you’ll start to get really good at just paying attention to what you are eating. About once a year I start writing things down again for a week or two, just to keep things in check. But over all, like any habit, it becomes engrained.
Why Worry About A Sustainable Diet At All?
So why spend time worrying about food at all? Why not just enjoy food however you please?
Because like anything, not paying attention comes at a cost. And if we are all working so hard to achieve our own versions of Financial Freedom, we certainly want to have sufficient health and fitness to be able to actually enjoy it. Right?
And certainly, our diet is a major contributor in our overall longevity. Don’t you want to be able to enjoy your Financial Freedom for as long as you possibly can?
Me too. And now that my finances are squared away, my sights have fully turned to optimizing my longevity + health. Because frankly, one without the other kind of sucks.
What Does My Sustainable Diet Look Like?
Let me throw out this caveat one more time before I tell you what I’ve found to work best for me. When it comes to diet, just like personal finance, everyone is different. What works for one person, may be entirely unsustainable for another. The key is, to find your individual groove. A way of eating that compliments your lifestyle goals, health AND that you are happy with.
That’s the magical diet (and money) trifecta right there. And it’s going to be different for everyone.
For me, after so much experimenting, I’ve settled on a three pronged approach.
1 – I generally eat a vegetarian diet.
On the odd occasion I will consume a meal with meat, but personally, I much prefer to keep things plant based. I feel better when I’m eating a plant based diet, and there are very few meat products I actually enjoy.
I know this isn’t true for a lot of people, but even if you aren’t ready to give up meat, I would definitely encourage you to try and reduce it in your diet. Your budget, our environment, and I, will all thank you.
2 – I generally follow a 16/8 intermittent fasting diet, with the occasional longer fast thrown in.
Again, this goes back to feeling better. I sleep better, I am generally LESS hungry, not more. I experience fewer energy crashes. And when I am fasting, I have better work outs and increased concentration.
All things people don’t generally associate with fasting. Weird, hey?
I know there is huge debate out there when it comes to intermittent fasting. I myself used to be entirely opposed to the concept, believing that our bodies operate optimally when consistently fuelled.
Frankly, I had to try it in order to change my mind. Once I did, I was sold. For me, everything feels better when I give my body time to process food, draw from my stored fuel, and actually experience hunger. And, at this point, I barely even notice that I’m not eating for 16-18 hours.
Not to mention it’s really nice to only have to plan for one meal and one snack each day. Both from a money and time saved perspective.
3 – I generally follow a low carb diet
While I really enjoyed a number of aspects of the Keto diet, I found that as a vegetarian it was really friggin’ hard. I went into overdrive creating all sorts of ultra low carb vegetarian meals (and desserts). But it also turned out to be ultra time consuming. Cauliflower crust pizza, baked spaghetti squash rigatoni, zuchinni fettuccini Alfredo, Creme Brûlée, Coconut Cream Pie, while all delicious, take a lot more prep than your average meal.
I also found, my body just doesn’t jive well with the whole high fat diet thing. Through trial and error with Keto, I did however find that I really do enjoy a low(er) carb diet.
Continuing to reduce processed foods, and sugars in general, while having the flexibility to retain whole grains, legumes, and other higher carb items that I couldn’t have when doing a full blown keto diet, seems to be my ideal fit. Between 70-100 carbs a day is my sweet spot.
But Why All the “Generally’s”???
When it comes to diet, I have found that the abstainer approach of never, and the indulging approach of always is a no-win game.
I know that complete abstinence is what works for some people, and if you can truly sustain that approach, I say, have at it.
While I also find it easier in the short term to entirely cut something out of my diet, the reality is, when I do eventually allow myself to have that item again (IE: high carbs, meat, sugar etc) it feels an awful lot like a major failure. Like I’ve just restarted the clock, and “lost” X-number of days, months, years when I didn’t have it.
So rather than telling myself I can’t have certain food groups, I operate from a platform of “I choose not too”. Because the benefits of avoiding certain foods outweighs the benefits of having them.
This leaves me room to continue to choose. Because there will be times that I want to have some of my kid’s birthday cake. And there will be times when I want to have a pizza night with my boys.
The Bottom Line – So What Do A Sustainable Diet & Budget Have In Common?
While I don’t profess to be any kind of expert on diet or nutrition, I do think that taking an intentional perspective to how we fuel our bodies can have some pretty profound effects on our overall health and well being.
Just as approaching our finances with intentionality can have profound impacts on our overall financial security and freedom.
If nothing else, mere awareness of how we are conducting ourselves in any aspect of our lives, whether it’s finance, diet, sleep, fitness, etc, can assist us greatly in making choices that align with our overall goals and individual values.
And taking steps that can improve our overall longevity, save money along the way, and decrease excess consumption and waste, seems like exactly the kind of investment I like to make with my most valuable currency.
If you want to take a deep dive into how our diet contributes to every aspect of our physical health, mental wellness, longevity, and disease prevention here are a couple of my favourite podcasts on these topics.
These two hosts get into everything from the wide ranging benefits of various diet regimens, to the science behind intermittent fasting and autophagy, to the interplay of diet and disease. Without an all or nothing approach or one way to do diet. Both of their podcasts are riddled with star-studded experts in their respective fields of medicine and science.
Definitely check them out:
The Peter Attia Drive Podcast – Hosted by Dr. Peter Attia