Lift’s Quantified Diet Project: The Largest-Ever Measurement of Popular Diets

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Not a lot of people online know this about me, but I’m a numbers guy at heart.

The only time it really comes out nowadays is in posts like my randomized plan to quit coffee (before I embraced the habit of enjoying a single, delicious cup of the stuff each day) and in the mindset to create formulas instead of recipes.

But prior to starting No Meat Athlete, numbers were my life: I was in grad school working on a PhD in Applied Math (I decided to stop with a Masters after No Meat Athlete took off), and spent my free time — when I wasn’t running or cooking — building models for sports betting and poker-playing, or reading books about randomness, artificial intelligence, and game theory.

Not even three years removed from that life, I still have a soft spot for numbers, and that’s the reason for today’s post.

You may have heard of Lift; it’s a habit-change app that uses coaching, group accountability through check-ins and encouragement, reminders, and other tools to help people reach goals — but it gets especially interesting when you consider the information that so much activity creates. With all of this user-generated data about what works and what doesn’t, Lift is in a unique position to discover new things about how human beings change habits.

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My ‘Eat to Live’ Challenge

eattoliveFive years ago, a 10-day challenge led to my eventual decision to go vegetarian (and to start this blog).

A few years later a 30-day vegan challenge, which I completed successfully, actually taught me that I wasn’t ready to go vegan yet. But when I was ready six months later, that month-long experiment was probably to thank.

Why should we do uncomfortable challenges like these, with food or anything else? For me, the answer is clear: you might just discover something you love, when you learn that actually doing the thing is easier than worrying about how tough it surely must be.

But even if your experiment doesn’t lead you to change your life, a challenge around something so near-and-dear as food will almost certainly teach you something about yourself.

And so …

My Latest Challenge

For several years I’ve long been intrigued by the “don’t eat extracted oils” philosophy. Because if I’m honest, oil isn’t a whole food, and I’m fond of saying that I eat whole foods.

I also knew that I ate a lot of salt, woke up every day with an urge for a small, strong cup of coffee, and enjoyed a single (usually strong) beer almost every night.

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Vegan on the Road: How I’ve Eaten Healthier than Ever While Driving Across the Country

It took three weeks and 5500 miles, but yesterday, I hit the unofficial halfway point of my book tour — Seattle, Washington.

Fun place, by the way, with tons of vegan-friendly restaurants. And as I head down the west coast and back across the southern half of the country, I’m looking forward to more food options than I’ve had so far.

And believe me, when you’ve spent most of the past week driving long, barren stretches through states like Wyoming, Idaho, and Nebraska, you appreciate options.

To be honest, I’ve never found eating vegan while traveling all that difficult. But the constraints of the past three weeks — owing to the fact that I’m in a car — have made it more challenging. The three big ones:

  • I’m in a new hotel every single night, always without a kitchen and often with no fridge or microwave.
  • The car is packed so tightly that there’s no room for a cooler.
  • I’m without my beloved Blendtec — I left it for my wife and kids — or any blender, for that matter.

Finally, this is all on a budget — I’d go broke if I ate out at restaurants for all or even most of my meals. Selling books has helped to offset some costs of hotels, gas, and food, but this tour is a labor of love, not something that’s financially profitable by any means. So I’ve really got to keep an eye on my food cost.

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The Healthy (But Practical) Plant-Based Diet — A Typical Day

iStock 000003404781XSmallTwo and a half weeks into my book tour, things are finally becoming routine.

I’ve mastered the last-minute hotel search, figured out how to eat healthily while traveling, and gotten used to answering many of the same questions over and over in interviews and Q&A sessions.

One of the most common questions: What exactly do you eat during a typical day? 

Several people have expressed surprise that I didn’t include this in my book. The reason? Mainly, I didn’t include my typical day’s diet because the book is not about me. There are so many ways to “do” a plant-based diet; my way is just one of them. The book provides a framework and my favorite recipes, but there’s plenty of flexibility for the reader to swing towards raw or oil-free or even a vegetarian-but-non-vegan diet. I think of No Meat Athlete as a “gateway book” that gives people the tools to try out a healthy, practical plant-based diet, so that once they’re on board, they can take it in the direction that works for them.

But since people are curious, I’m happy to share here what I eat most days (when I’m at home, not on the road).

My Typical Day’s Diet

I eat according to a few simple guidelines (e.g., until I feel mostly full), and of course my meals and snacks vary, day to day. My focus is on practicality and health, and one of the amazing things I’ve found since going vegetarian and then vegan is that as I get further and further away from the processed-food world, my palate has adjusted so that those two aims coincide amazingly well with the goal we all have of eating food that tastes good.

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Vitamin B12 and the Case For (and Against) a Plant-Based Diet

The other day, Jeff D. asked some great questions in the comments section of my post 10 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Went Vegan:

What are your thoughts concerning the inability to get B12 naturally on a vegan diet? It’s necessary for the body but a vegan diet only seems to get B12 through fortified foods and supplements.

Also, what about grains? It seems that a vegan diet relies on a lot of grains (bread, pasta, cereal, etc.). Recent research and acknowledgement of our anthropological history point to the idea that our bodies were not meant to process grains (especially gluten-based ones).

Grains are a topic for another post (check out The Paleo Diet Debunked?, by my friend Steve — a Paleo proponent but whose view on grains is almost identical to mine).

Right now, let’s stick to the B12 question; it’s a common one. Often, it takes a more argumentative and challenging tone, like this:

If we were really meant to be vegan, then why would we need to supplement with B12?

There’s little doubt about the presupposition: a vegan diet, without supplementation or fortification, is deficient in vitamin B12. Some will argue that you can get B12 from chlorella or “dirty produce,” and that before modern agricultural practices there was more B12 in the soil, but that’s not the discussion I want to have here.

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Are You Getting the Nutrients You Need from Your Plant-Based Diet?

the 4 hour body 244x300I make no secret of the fact that I’m a huge fan of author and blogger Tim Ferriss. His personality and approach are (apparently) polarizing, but his experimentalist attitude of questioning long-accepted (but untested) assumptions, testing them, and valuing the results over theory makes total sense to me.

Tim’s work is fascinating. The 4-Hour Workweek is the most valuable business book I’ve ever read (well, it’s a tie between that and Seth Godin’s Tribes). The 4-Hour Body is perhaps even more interesting; it’s a “choose your own adventure”-style book, one that’s not meant to be read cover-to-cover. And Tim’s most recent book, The 4-Hour Chef, though far from vegan-friendly, is one I’ve learned a lot from — about cooking, sure, but even more about learning.

Tim is not a vegan or vegetarian. Anyone who has so much as flipped through The 4-Hour Chef, especially the section on hunting, knows this. But this isn’t to say he’s anti- plant-based diet. Indeed (from The 4-Hour Body):

I suggest a two-week PPBD (primarily plant-based diet) test after 3-4 months on the Slow-Carb Diet. No matter where you end up afterward, the awareness will lead to better decisions that benefit appearance, performance, and the planet as a whole.

And I especially love what he writes in regards to the all-or-nothing approach many people have towards diet:

It’s better for the environment if you locally source a 70% PPBD indefinitely, rather than eat 100% vegan for two months and quit because you find it unsustainable. Some vegans, lost in ideological warfare, also lose sight of the cumulative effects: getting 20% of the population to take a few steps in the right direction will have an infinitely greater positive impact on the world than having 2% of the population following a 100% plant-based diet. To both uninformed meat-eaters and vegetarians — stop ad hominem attacks and focus on the big picture.

(If you’ve read my post Why Vegans and Paleos Should Stop Hating Each Other, it shouldn’t surprise you that I wholeheartedly agree with this last line.)

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How to Eat Healthy When You Just Can’t Find the Time

iStock 000023148476XSmallAs you may know, two weeks ago we welcomed the fourth member of our family into the world. She is beautiful, mellow, and most importantly, healthy. And for that, we’re incredibly grateful.

We’re also not getting any sleep. Which doesn’t slow down our three-year old one bit, so the fun is compounded.

Every minute, morning and night, it seems, is occupied by a kid. Our house is a happy, lived-in, played-in wreck right now, and it’s all I can do to carve out an hour to run each day. (Mega-props to my wife, Erin, for holding down the fort while I got in 24 miles on Sunday in preparation for my 12-hour race, in just nine days.)

So you can bet the coffee is flowing. But although I’m a bit more caffeinated than usual (on my second cup, as I write this), I’m pretty proud of how well we’ve managed to keep eating well, during this time when I’m sure we need good nutrition more than ever.

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Why Vegans and Paleos Should Stop Hating Each Other

Last week after I wrote a post called 10 Foods Worth Eating Every Single Day, something interesting dawned on me:

Most of the foods that I eat — and those in a typical healthy vegan diet (as opposed to the junk-food variety) — are Paleo.

Sure, the seeds are iffy. And I probably eat beans three or four times a week, and even wheat once in a while, which Paleos wouldn’t do.

But beyond that, the foods on my list, by and large, could have been eaten by a caveman.

Guess what? The converse is true, too. Most (yes, most) of a Paleo dieter’s foods are vegan. They’re whole foods, including a ton of vegetables and nuts, a fair amount of fruits, and no dairy.

Though we focus on the differences in our diets, and fight like pissed-off hornets as a result, the healthy versions of both Paleo and vegan diets look an awful lot alike.

Here are just a few of the things we agree on:

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