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The power of routine

Blog Forums Dieting Sucks! The power of routine

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    I know that many people who read these forums are against calorie counting, and I can understand that. Obsessing about food is no way to live one’s life. It can be tiresome and guilt-inducing to input every little morsel into a spreadsheet, and all that record keeping can take precious time away from productive activities.

    I used to think about calorie control the entirely wrong way. I would enter my meals into a spreadsheet after I had eaten them–either by memory or by constant updates. It was totally disorganized, inconsistent, and a waste of time. I’d give up after a few days because I hated thinking about it constantly, and I would forget things.

    Now I control my calorie intake through routine. I planned out some reasonable meals that I really like, and I eat them regularly. I know almost exactly what I’m going to eat at the beginning of the week, which means I never have to think about it. Breakfast and lunch are always exactly the same, and for dinner, my wife and I warm up meals we cooked on Sunday. These dinners are all based on the four food groups and have about the same number of calories.

    I only eat foods that I love, and so I’m enjoying my meals more than I have in years.

    I break my routine sometimes, like if I want to go out to eat for a special occasion, and sometimes I have a snack or extra cup of coffee if I need it, but basically I know my entire week before it starts.

    This might sound monotonous, but it’s how people have lived for thousands of years. In many countries, both historically and today, people eat almost the same thing every day their entire lives. It’s a great way to live because you never have to think about food except when you’re cooking or eating, and you don’t have to worry about eating too much–or too little. If you want to gain weight, you simply add a bit to the daily meal. If you want to lose weight, you take a bit out. Then once that change is in place, you don’t have to give it a second thought until you’ve reached your goal.

    Most of my adult life, I’ve lived without routines except for requirements such as school and work. I realize now that a basic diet and exercise routine makes life much simpler, makes it far easier to achieve goals, and keeps away obsessive thinking. It can take a while to get started, but once you’ve found the groove, it takes no effort at all.


    David, at some point after people have overcome their orthorexia, they may begin to realize that whereas obsessing over calories and micronutrients was definitely a bad thing, there is still need to give some attention to these.

    Now you propose an interesting solution to one side of the equation: the calories. However, what about nutrients? Your solution MIGHT not address that issue. And what about nutrients? Which ones do we need? How much? Etc. Etc. Well, there is no definitive answer to that question. It is frequent enough that some new nutrient is discovered, followed by someone making it into a supplement and touting it as a super food. Then often it doesn’t live up to the hype and/or it is found that when taken in excess without some other ‘synergistic’ vitamins, it can actually cause problems. So round and round we go looking for the right nutrients.

    How to get around this problem? Simple. You eat a wide variety of foods. As wide a variety as possible. I think this is my only issue with your calorie solution. I don’t have a vast knowledge of the eating habits of the world population, so I won’t claim authority on the subject, however, my experience is that other cultures do eat a wide variety of foods, barring famine, drought or some economic calamity that prevents such.

    This is a major point of contention that I have with Ray Peat, Rick Roddy and their merry crew of OrangeJuiceAholics. You drink your OJ, you drink your milk and coffee, you eat your gummy bears, you eat your salt, you eat those three fruits found only on the Yucatan Peninsula. Don’t forget the weekly dose of liver. Throw in a little Mexican cytomel and, basta, you’re good to go. OK, I am exaggerating there…but not by much.

    While I am on the subject I don’t know where Ray Peat gets this wild idea that greens are only eaten traditionally when people are starving. I grew up in the South (of the U.S.) and my grandmother used to serve us all kinds of greens (mustard, turnip, kale, etc, etc) usually cooked in hamhock. The Chinese eat a huge variety of greens. Are greens anti-thyroid as Peat suggests? I don’t know, but they certainly have been eaten traditionally by people who are not in starvation mode.

    • This reply was modified 10 years, 4 months ago by ThomasSeay.
    • This reply was modified 10 years, 4 months ago by ThomasSeay.

    If I remember my recent reading correctly, RAW greens eaten in excess can cause thyroid imbalances. Cooked is much easier to digest and easier on your systems.

    The traditional high longevity Mediterranean cultures also eat TONS of local greens (from what I remember in my reading). I think those are normally cooked, too…

    Seems Grandma knew what she was doing, huh? :)


    I take your point about our micronutrient requirements, but I don’t think it’s all that difficult to meet them (unless a diet is really weird). You’re right a little variety is useful, and that’s why I like the traditional “four food groups” philosophy. Whenever I put together a meal with meat, dairy, a veggie, and a starch, it ends up looking excellent on a nutrition calculator.

    Of course, there’s nothing wrong with eating a variety of meats, or a variety of veggies, or whatever. I just don’t think it’s necessary if you prefer simplicity.

    In fact, my usual lunch, which is basically just potato chips and cottage cheese, provides almost everything by itself. A hundred years ago, the Irish lived on dairy and potatoes, and the diet was fine nutritionally until the potato blight (and then the lack of diversity became a problem). That kind of narrow diet wasn’t so uncommon in traditional societies. Even today, I’ve know plenty of people who grew up healthy on chicken nuggets and hamburgers. There are a few crazy people who live on nothing but meat, and there are people who have fasted for long periods with just bread and water. Eventually that bread-and-water group will have problems, but (in my opinion) it’s pretty difficult to develop a micronutrient deficiency eating a modern diet, especially with white flour products being fortified.

    I think the main concern with a junk food diet is a low protein intake relative to calories. But if you eat junk food moderately for half the day, and have a big cheeseburger for dinner, then I doubt you’d develop any deficiencies. Meat and dairy are both loaded with protein and minerals.

    I agree with you that much of Ray Peat’s dietary philosophy is silly, but not because of deficiencies. It’s just unnecessarily restrictive and encourages obsessiveness. And you’re absolutely right that people will eat greens when they’re available. Their mineral content is especially useful for cultures (like the Chinese) that don’t have as much access to meat and dairy.


    @Tina- I don’t really worry about my thyroid, but I know that raw greens aren’t particularly appetizing by themselves. Not to mention, all that produce (which I used to eat) gets so expensive. Tomato sauce is probably my most commonly eaten veggie now, though I also like celery, peppers, and peas–and a few others.

    I don’t think either of my grandmothers ate much in the way of veggies. On visits at one of their houses, I remember mainly sugary cereal, hot dogs, and french fries!


    My grandmother, as I mentioned before, cooked a lot of greens. It is true that she “cooked them to death”, to use Ray Peat’s expression. On the other hand, the Chinese eat them lightly cooked…but cooked nonetheless. I believe eating huge amounts of raw salad is a relatively recent phenomenon. It was a small side growing up. In Europe, it’s served at the end of the meal, in small quantities to “clean the palate”.

    , you say that you feel that such a simple diet covers all the micronutrients, but who knows what all of the micronutrients are?….It seems that what constitutes the essential or optimal micronutrients is not yet determined.


    That’s true. There might be all kinds of nutrients we don’t know about. But if we’re basing our diets on nutritional needs that we have no evidence for, then there’s no reason to suppose any one diet is better than another. A diverse diet, whole foods could be deficient too, if we don’t know what those optimal micronutrients are.

    There’s plenty of history that supports the viability of simple diets. And as I said above, there are people who live decades on monodiets such as just meat. And of course, there are the millions of people living here in the United States that don’t bother to eat much but boxed foods from the supermarket and fast food joints. If there were nutritional deficiencies, I imagine we would have noticed.


    Well, my point is just that. You INCREASE your chances of getting all the nutrients you need by eating a wide variety.

    Have you ever noticed those people who ONLY eat boxed foods and fast food? Not too healthy. As I said before, there is a middle ground to be found between Junk Food Junkies and so-called Health fanatics. People may think it’s just important to eat a lot….that boosting the metabolism will take care of everything else. That may be therapeutic in the short-term, but I just don’t think it’s a good strategy in the long run. You might get away with it when you’re young (the demographic of most people on this board, I suppose), but it will come back to bite you in the ass as you age.


    If choosing a diet were roulette, your strategy would be to spread your bets across the table, right? It’s true that you’d have a better chance of winning each individual spin than if you bet everything on one number, but in the long run, neither strategy has better odds.

    I don’t like to gamble unless I have more information about outcomes. Sure, there are probably undiscovered vitamins, but if we don’t know what they are, our decisions are purely speculative. It’s even possible that a diverse diet could make us deficient in an unknown vitamin, because all choices entail trade-offs. For example, maybe eating a dozen different vegetables makes us eat less corn, and corn just happens to be rich in that vitamin. How could we know? My point is, I don’t think we can make sound decisions based on an absence of information.

    I’m actually much more convinced by the fact that your grandmother used to eat greens, and that greens have commonly been eaten in cultures throughout the world. I know many people get by just fine without eating vegetables, but I would feel a little uncomfortable eliminating them entirely, just like I would feel uncomfortable eliminating animal foods or starches.

    I guess I’m curious how you define variety, because we probably don’t disagree all that much. To me, adequate variety means eating a representative from each major type of food, but not several instances of each type. If you eat beef, you’re fine without other meats. If you eat rice, you’re fine without other grains. Etc. How much variety do you think is necessary?

    Despite our minor disagreements (which seem largely academic), I do agree with your middle ground approach.


    By the way, I did a google search last night about whether dead lifts and squats were sufficient for developing abs, or if you needed specialized ab exercises. I saw your avatar in one of the threads, on a post from a few years back.

    I still haven’t added any ab exercises to my routine.


    well, i certainly wish i had stuck with boosting my metabolism when i was young; i doubt it would have ever come back to bite me as hard as yo-yo dieting has. but i was also not sedentary then, and i definitely didn’t eat just boxed foods. i am eating more like i ate back then now, only healthier (we used to cook the life out of green vegetables, which i don’t do anymore).

    i don’t count calories. but i am a geek. and after a lifetime of too damn much dieting, and wanting to shift my way of eating away from highly processed things, i needed a handle on what exactly i was eating beyond macro nutrients — whether i was getting all required minerals and vitamins from my food. so i tracked that for most of a year while i built my new recipe repertoire. it wasn’t all that annoying — i didn’t use a spreadsheet but a software program that contained the USDA food database, and which let me add my own foods and recipes, and then would spit out nice reports with graphs. i did the data entry during or right after i made the meal, so i wouldn’t forget. it became a habit pretty quickly. i can see how this might be very destructive for people with certain types of eating disorders, but for me it was freeing because i had already decided that i was never going to go on another diet, and i wasn’t going to undercut myself by counting calories either.

    that was very instructive. i don’t need it anymore now, but it helped me gauge what sorts of things i needed to be eating, and in what amounts. and yeah, to be sure — lots of leafy green vegetables (slightly cooked, just to take the raw edge off) is the big ticket for me. i don’t even bother with a multi-vitamin anymore. i also eat several types of grains, and different starches.

    habit-wise i am kinda between @David and “a wide variety of foods” — i definitely believe that the latter is the way to go. but i am busy, not a very inspired cook, and i don’t mind eating the same things over and over again, so i have built a number of meals that i rotate (i cook in large batches and freeze, and then only add fresh veggies at mealtime). fortunately for the “wide variety is good” idea i am always curious about new foods, especially fruits and veggies, and can add those easily — they go in a salad, or in the “curried tofu with random vegetables” meal, and if i like something i’ll find a good recipe featuring that item and it goes in the rotation.

    from everything i’ve seen watching people doing serious lifting, deadlifts and squats are all you need to build useful abs. to actually look like the guys on fitness magazine covers, you have to have the right genetics, a diet that keeps your bodyfat very low, work out as your primary job, and good lighting. fitness magazines have a lot to answer for.

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