Sunday, August 25

Kai Zen: A Day in the Life of a Moderate Extremist

Today's post is written by a guest-blogger named Aaron Patel. I met Aaron a few years ago through group triathlon training. He actually conducted my first-ever 'performance test,' where they put me on a treadmill, had me run at different efforts over time and pricked my finger to measure blood lactate levels. (This is an effective method of determining your proper training 'zones'; I briefly touched on this in my first Whole30 post but will expand in the future.) Since then, I’ve come to know Aaron as an amazing coach, but an even better friend. He is unrelenting at wanting to learn; consistently researching and always trying new ideas. He’s also a freak-athlete. Read a more in-depth bio on him here.

Kai Zen: A Day in the Life of a Moderate Extremist
by Aaron Patel

About a year ago I introduced Brian to the Whole30 program.  After falling short of qualifying for Boston a 2nd time, I could look at what he was doing and see that the issues he was having were not a matter of how hard he was training or how much natural talent he had.  It was his nutrition where he needed the most help.  The concept of the Whole30 program was solid and their mission is fantastic.  A program that is designed to educate and motivate people to make changes to their lives that will have dramatic effects on their health, their well-being and becoming examples to those around them.

That said, I've never done the Whole30 program and generally speaking I think it's a bad idea.

Okay, hear me out.  I have an addictive personality.  I tend to be an extremist in that when I find something I'm interested in, I get all the way in.  To a fault.  I've gone through periods where I measured and weighed every gram of nutrition, or I go off the rails and pay no attention to anything I eat.  I've followed my training plan to a T, at the cost of ignoring what was important in my personal and work life.  I've worked so many hours in a week that I put myself into extreme adrenal fatigue which took months to recover from.

As good as the idea of doing everything strictly "correct" is: it's dangerous.  Every time I've gone to one extreme, I've hit a breaking point of unsustainability and gone completely off the rails in the other direction.  Dropping into a 30-day program where you make your nutrition as clean as possible is fantastic, but what do you do after?  If the system is so good, why would you ever stop at 30?  When you don't have the structure and accountability, how do you "cheat" but not go too far?

This is a lesson that's taken me some time to learn.  It's something I have tattooed on my arm because the concept is so meaningful to me.  The Japanese philosophy is that of Kai Zen: change good.  To continually improve.  Not going from 0 to 100 instantly.  Taking small steps.  Integrating changes into your life slowly.  Adjusting and adapting as you go.  Learning what works for you and what doesn't.  And if you do take a step backwards, that's okay too.

I will never claim that my nutrition is perfect.  I intentionally do things that I know aren't.  But they also make me happy.  I've found that being so strict that you're not allowed the things you love will work against you in a big way after a while.  What I've begun doing is slowly introducing my friends/clients/family to these concepts.  I might start someone off by saying, "Why don't you try cutting the dairy out of your diet and see how you feel?"  "Have you considered cutting down on grains and pasta to see if it helps you lose those vanity pounds?"  Suggesting little things they can slowly change, and as they become habit, adding the next step.  Slowly over time this turns into something big.  Something that looks a lot like the Whole30 program.

Here's an example of a typical weekday for me.

Woken up in pitch black room by dogs who need to be let out. Walk downstairs and let them out the back door. Go to fridge and take 1 tablespoon of cod liver oil and bring 1 liter bottle of mineral water back upstairs. Take morning vitamin pack (Total Primate Care from Onnit). Weigh myself (183.8 today) and brush teeth.

Morning workout: 30min bike intervals and 30min tempo brick run. Shower.

Cook breakfast to be eaten later. Prep leftovers for lunch. Blend kale shake for dinner.
Write grocery list for the evening.

Strength workout with friends at the gym. Benchmark day! 
"If the bar ain't bending, you're just pretending."
Build up to 1 rep max front squat (205lb).
Build up to 2 rep max mixed-grip deadlift (295lb).
Max pull-ups (36).

Eat breakfast: grass-fed beef/heart/tongue sausage, 6 pastured eggs, 4tbsp of Kerrygold butter. Head to work.

Eat leftovers for lunch: butternut squash lasagna w/ grass-fed beef, onions, garlic, homemade tomato sauce, mushrooms.

Snack: CocomoJoe bar (shredded coconut w/ a little dried fruit)

Coach group weights class. Rock out to my favorite Rdio playlist.  (Think of it as Pandora and Spotify having an illegitimate love child.)

Drink kale shake on the drive home: coconut milk, coconut water, coconut oil, kale, cucumber, pineapple, blueberries, garlic, ginger, Green Vibrance, Brazil nuts, chia seeds, hemp seeds. Pick up groceries.

Snack: 4 pieces of Stone Ground dark chocolate (80%). Walk the dogs. Laundry, dishes, chores. TV, video games, reading, chill out.

Evening vitamin pack. 1 teaspoon of Natural Calm

Lights out.

This is something that fits nicely into the Whole30 program, but it's by coincidence.  Smart nutrition is smart nutrition.  Studies are backing up what I and lots of other have found out experimenting on themselves.  I do this without any pressure on myself.  It's what I want to do.  I also know that when I sit down to dinner with Brian to talk about this blog post, I'll have a beer with my venison steak and I won't bat an eye.  If at the end of the day I'm craving something sweet, there's a pint of Ben & Jerry's Strawberry Cheesecake ice cream in my freezer and I'll have a few tablespoons and not feel guilty.  I'll have a burger for lunch and there's no need to throw a tantrum that I'm eating grains with that one meal of the day.

Extremism, in moderation.

The biggest thing you'll notice if you read through my day, is the timing of when I get all my calories in. More on that in my next post.

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