Thursday, April 15, 2021

Healthy Eating on the Road and in the Streets

Because life is too short to eat shit and die young, I present you with my best effort at good dietary advice, for people who travel a lot or otherwise live out of a vehicle, and want to eat well at the same time.

I've been living out of a vehicle for much of my life, on the road as a traveling musician.  I've learned a lot of tricks to making life on the road better than it might otherwise be.  How to eat well is probably the best trick I've learned.

By how to eat well, I mean how to eat on the road in such a way that you have lots of energy, and you stay fit, without jogging or any of that sort of thing.  Or, if you're like me and you start following the dietary advice herein late in life, and you have weight you want or need to lose, you'll lose it, and then you'll maintain a steady, healthier weight.

I used to believe that in order to eat well on the road, I had to go out to healthy sorts of restaurants every day and spend a lot of money.  The alternative always seemed to be something more along the lines of fast food and snacks, which were often not healthy snacks, even if they sometimes appeared to be (I'll get to that).

Three years ago I read a book (The Plant Paradox by Steven Gundry) and implemented the dietary recommendations within.  I then started experimenting with them a little, as recommended in the book.

In the book, the author makes the case that with no daily cardiovascular exercise beyond walking and such, without exercising any kind of major self-control or willpower after the first couple weeks, it's possible to eat in such a way that you'll effortlessly lose excess weight if you have any, and you'll have more energy throughout the day, and be generally fit and healthy.

As someone who had been struggling with sugar addiction my whole life, and struggling with weight gain for much of the adult part of said life, with the weight gain starting to speed up as my middle-aged metabolism slowed, I knew something had to be done, and I also felt hopeless about actually doing anything that would work long-term.  My daughter, Leila, told me I should read this book, and that's probably the only reason I followed through with the advice and actually did so.

So now it's been three years since then.  Three years ago, like the average American, I was carrying around the equivalent of a small child above the weight a healthy 6' tall person.  According to a 2018 Lancet report, for a 6' tall person, a healthy BMI is usually (not always) going to be someone between 150-180 pounds.  According to the study, for most people, the more your BMI goes up above 25, or in my case over 180 pounds, the more likely you are to live a somewhat shortened life.  I was over 200, and growing.  Being over 50 years old and with small children, mortality seemed more real than ever, and I was ready to make a change.  

The thing was, it was so easy to do, which seems so contradicted by most of the reports you'll hear on the news about the obesity epidemic, and testimonies from the many, many people who tried a diet and then gained weight back again, which is apparently the normal arc.  

And of course you'll hear many people say that regardless of whether one knows how to eat well, it's too hard to do that when you don't have your own kitchen, when you're not living somewhere, where you can stock your fridge with goods from the nearby supermarket.

Within two months of starting the diet three years ago, I had lost over 20 pounds and had gotten back to the healthy BMI I hadn't had since I was a young adult.  I've stayed in that range ever since, whether home or on the road, with no particular effort or thought to it anymore, except for intentionally breaking the rules on a daily basis, experimenting with how far I can stray from the general program without losing the plot.  I've discovered that once you get the hang of it, there's lots of room for flexibility.  In fact, I make a habit of eating a bowl of ice cream every night, and I never jog or work out, but I still maintain a healthy BMI.

Whether you're living in a house with a kitchen and lots of appliances, or living in a van or out of a backpack, the basic rules of the diet involve mostly eliminating grains and legumes (including peanuts), and eating very little fruit, and very little of anything from the nightshade family (which most notably includes potatoes).  What remains, you ask?  Glory.

I'm going to entirely skip over the part where I explain the reasoning behind this diet.  I'm not a scientist or a doctor or anything like that, and I don't really know what a lectin is.  I just know I don't eat them, and now, when I do, I can often feel the unpleasant physical result, because I'm so much more in tune with my body than I was three years ago, as a result of this diet.  If you want to read all about science -- or, according to the author's many detractors, pseudo-science -- behind his dietary advice, the book is out there.  You can get it in audiobook form, too.  But from my experience, it works.  And it's a little trickier to do on the road.  (Thus this post.)

One thing that might give you pause when considering whether it's healthy to eat grain, is that most of the cheapest foods are made of it, whether whole grain, or bleached and enriched.  Grain -- mainly wheat, corn, and rice -- is everywhere, in everything, it seems.  This is especially true of packaged foods.  They won't generally advertise the fact that the food item in the box is mainly made of a particular grain.  They'll advertise the presence of other, more interesting aspects of the thing, like the trace elements of a vegetable or nut that might be present.

Even if you don't have toast with your breakfast, a sandwich for lunch, and a pile of potatoes or rice with dinner, grain and other carbs are everywhere, in most of the boxes and bags as well as the bulk bins.

One of the particularly interesting things I've learned about this diet is it virtually doesn't matter what you do eat, as long as you avoid the things you shouldn't eat.  Even though the things you shouldn't eat include the most basic staple foods for most people around the world (grains of one kind or another), there's a lot left over that's very yummy, nutritious, etc.

So basically, knowing that you are not going to start your day with a donut, a croissant, toast, a breakfast roll, or anything else like that, what will you eat for breakfast?  

If I'm traveling in a vehicle and I can carry around a big bag of food with me on the road, I'll stock up on certain items when I'm at a supermarket that has them.  Especially if there's a Natural Grocers nearby (a chain based in Texas that also has stores in Oregon).  For me, what has basically replaced bread or toast, for the most part, are Simple Mills almond flour crackers.  There is no grain involved with these crackers, they're mostly made of almonds and cassava, so they're twice as expensive as flour crackers would normally be, but they're also really healthy for you, and they're great for whatever you might normally do with a cracker, or as something of a bread substitute.

In terms of practical real-life application, for me, as one traveling in a vehicle without a stove or a fridge, this means getting Egg Bites from Starbucks, and then combining them with the crackers that I travel with, to make a meal.

If this doesn't sound like a big breakfast, it isn't.  If you eat healthy food, you end up eating a lot less, because you're less hungry.  It requires zero discipline after the first two weeks, I promise.  And you don't have to watch how much you eat.  If you're still hungry, eat more.  Just avoid eating things that are on the "no" list, especially grains, legumes, and potatoes.

Another great breakfast option is granola.  I'm not talking about normal granola, in which the "gran" stands for "grain."  You can of course make your own grain-free granola, or you can get Paleokrunch Original brand granola, from Steve's Paleogoods.  There are other brands, but they're not as good.  Paleokrunch granola is made entirely of nuts and fruit, no added sugar, and it goes great with Greek yoghurt.

This granola is, as with the crackers, twice as expensive as normal granola.  But again, it's really good for you and it contains no grain, which is why it's so expensive.  While you can't travel with a lot of yoghurt or other dairy products, if you have a whole bunch of granola and crackers and other long-lasting packaged foods like that, you can make regular stops at supermarkets where you can get a couple things for the day, such as a small container of yoghurt to go along with the granola you're traveling with.  

This way you don't need to find the nearest organic type of place on a daily basis, because in much of the country and the world, there isn't one anywhere nearby, but there's always somewhere to get things like milk or yoghurt.  Ideally you want full fat yoghurt, not skim.  Skimmed products do not help you with being healthy or losing weight, and in fact can have the opposite effect over time.  (This is incidentally also true, for different reasons, for Aspartame, the main non-sugar sweetener used in sodas these days.  It causes weight gain much faster than actual sugar does, oddly enough.)

Sometimes when I'm traveling and I have no granola and no crackers with me, I'll have Egg Bites (or something like that from some other cafe) with some almonds or other (non-peanut) nuts.  When you're accustomed to a big glob of gluten (croissant, toast) to go along with your eggs, this idea of a few almonds as a replacement may sound absolutely draconian, but once you stop eating bread altogether, it will no longer feel that way, after a few weeks.

Another breakfast staple for me are Perfect Bars, specifically the Chocolate Almond ones.  What you'll discover if you stick to this diet is even if there's a brand like Perfect Bars that makes great stuff, they also make stuff that's really unhealthy, such as Peanut Butter Perfect Bars.  Avoid them.  Just get the ones that have the right ingredients, which basically means either the Chocolate Almond ones, or the Almond Butter ones (which are too sweet, in my opinion).  After you've been on this diet for a few months, if you do eat peanut butter in any form, you'll feel sick.  This is because peanut butter makes people feel sick, but they don't notice it, because they're so out of touch with their bodies, as a rule.  Peanut butter is bad for you, as are peanuts.  Almonds, and almond butter, and nuts like pistachios, are very good for you.

Perfect Bars are something many people first encountered at Starbucks, but they're available at lots of different supermarkets.  Cheapest place to get them is Trader Joe's.  At Starbucks they usually don't stock the varieties of the bars that I'm recommending.  You have to go to the supermarkets to get them, where they're also less expensive, anyway.  They require refrigeration, but really they're fine without refrigeration for a week or so, if you don't leave them in the sun.  (This basic principle applies to a lot of other food that requires refrigeration.)

If you drink coffee or tea, no problem. have all you want.  I drink lots of espresso, with milk, in the form of a flat white (or cappuccino or latte, depending on who's defining these things).  I don't drink alcohol and can't tell you from personal experience anything about it, but as far as the caloric intake involved with things like beer, I don't think that should be too much of a problem in terms of staying at a healthy weight, if you stick to the diet and don't eat a bowl of ice cream every night like I do.  It is probably necessary to choose between beer or ice cream, if you like to drink several beers each day, as many of my friends do.  You probably can't do both, and still stay fit.  (I also don't know if you'd want to.)

Lunch.  In the US and many other countries, different versions of the paleo or grain-free diet are becoming more popular, and cafes, restaurants, and supermarkets that cater to people who want to eat this way are more common than ever.  Which is not to say that they are actually common.  In Oregon they are.  In Wyoming they're not.  But in terms of the kinds of places you can find in both Oregon and Wyoming, commonly-found chains like Chipotle now have bowls where you have the option of greens instead of rice and beans, as the base, upon which you pile whatever else, such as meat and vegetables.

Note:  I know I'm mentioning a bunch of corporate chains here.  I make no apologies for shopping at such places regularly.  I think it's elitist to criticize people for doing so.  It's totally impractical to travel in this country without interacting with gigantic corporations on a daily basis.  You get your gas from those companies, which is also where you got your car and your jeans.  Try buying a coffee or a bag of nuts or a t-shirt in your average town in this country without interacting with a large corporation, and you can't.  So get over it.  It's nice if you can live somewhere where you can insulate yourself from the rest of society, but most of us aren't in a position to do that, nor do we want to be.  It sucks, and it's the way it is.  Let's change it.  But not by being elitist hipsters isolated in some progressive villa on the west coast.

Dinner.  I mean I don't know what's the difference between lunch and dinner, but another one of those commonly-found corporate chains that has inexpensive eating options that are friendly to the diet is Panda Express.  It could of course be a similar local option.  But at Panda Express, as with similar types of chains and local places, it's now normal to get a dish (meat and/or vegetables of one form or another) on a base of steamed broccoli (or steamed kale or cauliflower or yam), rather than the usual base of rice.  And voila, a nice paleo meal for $5.

It should be noted that it's ideal to eat organic whenever possible, but that's not realistic when you're living on the road.  There are no organic options at Chipotle or Panda Express.  But if the choice is between steamed broccoli and chicken at Panda Express, or an organic loaf of bread from anywhere, there is no contest.  The bowl of veggies and meat will make you feel good, while the loaf of bread may sustain your ability to live, but it will make you sick.

Snacking in between meals is no problem -- snack all you want.  Over time, you'll snack less.  The main thing is, only eat snacks that are on the list.  My go-to snacks once again tend to involve those Simple Mills crackers, together with things like avocadoes (the closest I usually get to cooking on the road is cutting an avocado), guacamole, and beef sticks (I stock up on good organic ones when I'm at the right kind of supermarket).  If you eat a little bit of a healthy snack like that, you'll tend to feel satisfied quickly, and then you can just stop eating until you actually feel hungry again.  

Never "finish your plate" unless you're really hungry!  What a terrible thing to do to your children, or anyone else.  Listen to your body -- once you start eating well, and can begin to hear what it's telling you.  If you can consistently keep it up for a couple weeks, you'll notice the difference, and you'll be happy you got started.  Life is too short to eat shit and die young.