A New Day, A New Diet

(Reed’s Playlist for the occasion: Take Me Out by Franz Ferdinand, Reptilia by the Strokes)

Never in my life would I have expected someone to tell me I was eating too little.

I’m a big guy – 6’4″, 6’5″, I don’t really keep track anymore. (To anyone who’s not a pigheaded American, that’s about 1.93 meters tall.) And at my prime when I was doing track in high school, I was probably getting 3 to 4,000 calories on the daily and burning it all away.

But hey, things change, right? About 8 months ago, I went vegetarian. Why? I’ll answer that in another post (I don’t want this one to get too long), but I knew I was making a change for the better in my life. My wonderful girlfriend has been vegan for almost as long as I’ve known her, and she’s a great example of the numerous health benefits of the choice.

Me, I just can’t seem to part with my dairy products yet. Maybe someday (says the magic conch shell).

I’m off-track again. So as part of the unemployment phase, I’ve been trying to make sure I exercise every day. Traditionally, Lindsay and I will either run together or practice Tae Kwon Do together – mostly cardio, not a lot of strength. And so last Wednesday, in the absence of a workout partner, I decided to do a basic strength workout at home – the basic stuff, like pushups and situps and leg-lifts.

10 minutes into an intended hour of working out, I collapsed and couldn’t get back up.

I was shaky, sweaty, and completely exhausted – to the point that my abdomen and shoulders ached for days after 10 minutes of strength training. And, like that stereotypical “moment of realization”, I suddenly considered how tired and low-energy I had been feeling the past few weeks.

So I started doing some research. I will be the first to admit that I am very stingy with money. In fact, I have to give myself a monthly minimum budget per month to spend on things like eating out and entertainment, or I just won’t spend anything at all. So you can imagine what I might be purchasing for food.

Cans. Lots and lots and lots of cans of beans and vegetables and many other things. I was so infatuated by my low grocery bill – usually less than $150 per month – that I didn’t realize what I was doing to my body.

Well, until that strength training day.

I did some quick calculations based on my height, weight, and exercise level, and determined I should be eating about 3,000 calories and 80 grams of protein a day. Turns out I was getting closer to 1,300 and 22, respectively.

Lindsay was sweet enough to be caring first and save the chastising for later – she helped me draft a plan to maximize the number of calories and protein I got daily by making smoothies, eating great protein-dense foods like oatmeal instead of cereal, and other things like that.

It just cracked me up because I used to be a vacuum for food – I assumed if I ever dieted, it would be decreasing my intake, not increasing. But seriously, I had been malnourished for several months and was starting to feel it all the time. It was so easy to just slip into that minimalistic eating mindset – especially when I didn’t have any income and was living off of savings – that I didn’t even consider the health effects of eating the same five meals, week in, week out.

So now I’m forcing my stomach to re-expand (I’m way too full all the time) and making sure I chart how much protein and calories are in everything I eat. It may take me a while to get all the way up to 80 grams of protein, but at the very least I won’t feel tired all the time.

Here’s to hoping I don’t swing the other way and eat everything under the sun. Knowing me, it’s a distinct possibility.

Yours, struggling to finish a bowl of oatmeal,

-R.R. Buck

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