Thoughts on Diet, Dieting and Menu Planning

When I was a lad, back in the 70’s of last century, I was told that my grandfather had a lifestyle crisis when he was 40. Almost blind, alcoholic, and a size 44 belt (…that’s a 44″ long belt.) After “Studying” Pritikin, and Davis, (she was his pinup poster girl of diet), he then took control of  his diet and changed his eating habits and doubled his life expectancy. He lost the weight, became less blind, more active, and famous for swimming in the Daylesford Lake during Winter, even when it snowed. He eventually died of prostate cancer at age 86.

These days, my wife, like many women has her ups and downs with personal self image, and seek assistance through various current, all the rage, “it works…” – sorta kinda fad diets like Dukan, and other high protein, low carb diets. Because of this, and being a stay at home dad, I am confronted, and somewhat conflicted with the various recommendations and the implications of them on the household kitchen, menu planning, cooking, and meals in general. Especially given that I harbour polar opposite views to those of such diets and their guru champions.

Growing up, I was told, by various nutritional experts, that ideally I should eat 4-6 times a day and my food intake should consist of somewhere around 80% Fruit ‘n Veg (including nuts, legumes, seeds and whole grains), and 20% of the other stuff (meat, fats, refined sugars, etc.) My problem however, was that I couldn’t envisage how such an implementation looked on the plate, in actually mentally approaching food in such a way as to be easy-peasy, so la la. Instead I hung on, fiercely, to the Meat-atarian mantra, “My ancestors did not fight their way to the top of the food chain, just for me to be a vegetarian!” And took delight in provoking, otherwise nice people, friends, classmates, etc. who consciously made the choice to be, “Vegos.”

Since then I’ve spent 8 years in China, 4 years in Vietnam, and 4 years in Germany. Both me and my wife felt better, looked better in Asia. so, to some extent I understand those who advocate for diets based on the China Study, or less extreme versions of Walter Kempner’s, “The Rice Diet” (pdf), but with a caveat. It wasn’t all good for me in Asia, and extensive “hot” chili ingestion has left me with a highly sensitive gastric system. One that responds better to less aggressively spices foods. The “Western” diet, as experienced by me in Germany, also disagrees with me. High reliance on bread, cheese, meat, dairy, twice a day, interspersed with a main, cooked meal in the middle of the day, also leaves me with a sensitive gut, and gasping for air due to too much gas.

At age 50 now, I guess I’m starting to mellow out a bit, but still I have the problem, I know what is right, but not how to implement it. I wish there was a book that did away with all this Diet crap and just showed me what it all looks like in simple easy to identify building blocks that I can learn and teach to my son, and wife. I’m still no advocate of Starchivore diets, Rice Diets, Mediteranean/Cretan Diets or Atkins/Paleo variants, I believe we as humans are omnivores, using starches, fruits and veg (gathered, foraged foods) to place-mark daily energy needs, supported with  meats, eggs, fish, etc. (hunted foods) as supplemental energy highlights. As such, a “China Study” (pdf) type diet informed by the Cretan Diet (pdf), with a reduced emphasis on red meats, saturated fasts, and refined sugars, is moving in the right direction, i.e. the 80/20 diet recommended to me so long ago, and practically also followed by my grandfather.

Its interesting to note, that the “Vegan” Diet is defined as 75% Carbohydrates, 15% Protein, & 10% Fats according to Neal Barnard, MD. When you look at that, on the surface, considering what I know from the past, that’s not too unusual or strange. where it gets squirrelly is in the moral/ethical/ego arguments over where those fats and proteins should & shouldn’t come from. For me? I simply just don’t care about any vego/vegan claim to some fatuous moral high ground about protein sources, or about, “saving the world, one mouthful at a time.” I’m still trying to come to grips with how this all looks and works in MY kitchen, on a day to day basis, for me and my family. If you ask me there are too many, “gurus” and guru-wannabes that are doing more ill than good by muddying the waters, so to speak, rather than getting down to the absolute basics of, this is what all this means, here, see, its gets no more difficult than this. Do this, exactly like this, and you’re more ore less good to go. no calorie counting, no protein overloading, no out of balance too far to the left or right extremist, foodist, dietry bullshit.

I have to plan meals for myself, maintain average weight, my wife, lose weight, my 10 y.o. super active, sporty son – a growing boy and ensure we all eat well, eat healthy enough for us, eat economically, and eat enough of what is right for us and protect my family from the dangers of, radical foodism. So where to form here? I’ve searched out a variety of texts, one of interest is the 400 Calorie Fix book, which appears to come close, really close to what I’m looking for

(guess I’ll have to buy it to try it) but its just so – urrrggh! frustrating! no look-in-the-book and it appears to have the same problems as all the other Diet fad books. Like wading through the sewer system, groping around with your hands, trying to find a lost ring or two. What I NEED is a seasonal, 365 1/4 days of the year, menu plan for 4-6 meals per day, for adults and school going kids, and honestly even this doesn’t come close, especially at that price for an ebook!

When I, my brother, and sister went to school, we had:

  • Breakfast
  • Morning Recess
  • Lunch
  • Afternoon Recess
  • After school snack
  • Dinner
  • occasionally Supper

that’s 6-7 meals a day for growing kids. Plus mum had regular meals planned, every week such that, Wednesday was hamburg night, Friday was fish, and Sunday we had a roast chook, every other main meal was basically meat, three veg, and starch. And, eggs were eaten once or twice a week, if we were lucky, but always with some bread.

When I started working it changed to:

  • Breakfast
  • Morning Tea
  • Lunch
  • Afternoon Tea
  • Dinner
  • occasional Supper

that’s 5-6 meals per day. Morning and afternoon tea, more often than not, was just something to drink. nowadays I might drink a bucket load of tea and eat once or twice a day, and my wife and son eat at separate times. We don’t eat together and all the routine has been lost. We each have a different diet requirement, none of it wrks particularly well and so I wrestle, again day after day with, why I just don’t get it, why can I not make it work? Why can I not find, “good,” basic information about all of this so that I can get a better handle on things? Why must I go wading through extensive, rabid, polarized, foodist literature (pdf) to find the answers I seek?

Its enough to make one sick!

Maybe that’s the point…