20 Jul 2019

The College Diet I Wish I Had

Lessons learned while elimination dieting.

After starting each semester

I noticed that my health would start to rapidly decline. The cause was a mix of stress from an engineering curriculum, seasonal affective disorder from remaining indoors all the time, and being oversubscribed to extracurricular activities. This unhealthy lifestyle manifested itself in a number of visible ways, but what made the stress worse was an unhealthy diet. Constantly being busy meant I had to relegate myself to free/cheap meals, fast food, and copious snacking. It wasn’t until grad school that I found myself seriously reflecting on my diet because I had to relinquish the responsibilites of undergrad life and move far off-campus.

What I realized was the following:

  1. Eating sugar and alcohol messed with my gut health and digestion.
  2. Eating sugar caused me to lose focus and easily become sleepy when studying.
  3. Eating sugar caused me skin conditions including acne and psoriasis. My body would often produce more oil in response to consuming food/drink with sugar. I later learned that my body was responding to hormonal changes affected by unstable insulin levels. This is the case for most people, however I was particularly sensitive to this.
  4. My hunger levels would vary depending on the type of food I ate. I often found myself more hungry after eating fast-digesting carbohydrates.

I think you can see the common theme here, sugar. More generally, carbohydrates.

Since then I have made a drastic change to my diet.

My one rule: No processed carbohydrates.

This covers anything from candy to potato chips to bread, you name it. Anything that comes packaged with a food label and is not a meat, vegetable, or grain is a no-go.

Making this change has been incredibly beneficial for me. Aside from the health benefits, having a single rule for consuming food makes an easy filter if I ever need to make an eat or don’t-eat decision.

So I will prescribe this diet for my former self

I spent time using elimination dieting to figure out what works best for my body. Reading physiology studies on the body’s response to sugar consumption has also made me buckle down even more on this niche topic such that I will evangelize the removal of sugar from anyone’s diet. However, I will not shove this diet down anyone’s throat (pun intended). Take this post with a grain of salt (pun intended). This is mostly a letter to Justin back in college.

Letter to self: How to make a healthy diet on a college budget.

Rules:

  1. Food necessarily has to be “healthy”.
  2. Food has to be filling.
  3. Food has to fill your caloric needs.
  4. Food has to be cheap (<$5/meal).
  5. There must be sufficient variety so meals are not “boring”.

Yes Foods:

  1. Meat (esp fish and white meat).
  2. Eggs.
  3. Nuts.
  4. Slow-digesting starches (sweet potatoes/yams, etc.)
  5. Legumes (lentils, beans, etc.)
  6. Fibrous grains (quinoa, bulgur, farro, long-grain brown rice, oatmeal etc.)
  7. Vegetables (leafy greens, salads, etc.)
  8. Fresh fruits (read: not dried).

No Foods:

  1. Pizza
  2. Low-fat dairy
  3. Alcohol
  4. White bread
  5. Peanuts (affects skin for some reason)
  6. Cookies
  7. Spicy foods
  8. … This list can get fairly long.

Some diets to draw inspiration from:

  1. Paleo
  2. Keto (there’s a difference)
  3. Low glycemic (mostly used by diabetics)
  4. FODMAP (mostly used by people with leaky guy syndrome)
  5. Intermittent fasting

Some other tips:

  1. Fiber is king. It negates the effect of sugar.
  2. Keep net carbs low. Net Carbs = Carbs - Fiber.
  3. Unless you have high-cholesterol, fats are not unhealthy. Take fat over sugar any day.
  4. Protein is filling but high-protein foods tend to be more caloric.
  5. Red meat is less “healthy” and more caloric than white meat.
  6. How you cook it matters. For instance, Steaming > Frying with vegetables since you retain more fiber.
  7. When you eat matters. See Intermittent fasting.
  8. Fruits are fine, but not filling.
  9. The only drink you should consume is water.
  10. A lot of any food will spike your insulin levels.
  11. Feeling full means you ate too much.
  12. If you are going to eat healthier, you probably need to cook most meals for yourself.

Thanks for reading. If you find this useful, please let me know!

-Justin