For the last four years, I have been on a quest to heal my mind, body, and spirit. At only 20 years of age, I found myself mentally and physically exhausted and in a state of deep despair. I had ravaged my body with heavy drugs and alcohol abuse, backbreaking manual labor, and doing a bunch of extreme sports with total disregard for long-term repercussions of injury. My mind suffered terribly from addiction and perhaps even more from sleep deprivation and inconsistency. And what I did not recognize, until I was well into my travels because it was too ‘woo-woo’, was how the damaged relationships, degradation of my values and beliefs, and general attitude had caused my spirit to suffer immensely.
It’s always a matter of Balance
My journey to find balance and health in my life has taken me through 12 countries, on 25+ diet trends, all sorts of exercise fads, a slew of different kinds of self-experimentation and on a ton of adventures. I now feel as though I am reaching a point of vitality, clarity, and tenacity and that sharing my experience and what I’ve discovered can bring value to anyone who is trying to achieve total human optimization. To reach the pinnacle we have to build a solid foundation and that foundation, in my opinion, starts with diet.
I have been keto, vegan, paleo, near carnivore, low-carb, high-carb, no carb, veggie, pescatarian, experimenting with fasting, eating windows, all sorts of supplementation protocols and done a mountain of research on all of it.
I have finally begun to reach a point of deep understanding as to what exactly the human body needs to function to a level that allows us to confront all the other obstacles in life, weight, addiction, strength, success in business, healthy relationships, general contentment, happiness and a state of well being. The renaissance in my outlook on my own potential began in a small mountain town of Wanaka, nestled on the edge of a lake, surrounded by the snow-capped Southern Alps on the South Island of New Zealand. Read Alex’s article about our hike and night on Mt Alpha then to Roys Peak just right here.
It was here in this picturesque little town that a few friends and myself adopted a totally whole-food based vegan diet. Let me tell you what, it worked. My energy levels, mental clarity, stamina, sex-drive, and well-being all went through the roof. My digestive system worked like clockwork for the first time in my life, as I’d had a traumatic stomach injury that left my large and small intestines lacerated at 6. As well as having had a stereotypical American diet for most of my life. I ran an off-road marathon through the mountains and spent my days working hard landscaping, biking, hiking and rock climbing. I was at the peak of my physical and mental performance. I was fit, motivated and happy to be alive. I may well have stuck with that diet for a very long time had I not decided to undertake a bicycle tour in the deserts and jungles of Africa. After 6 months of living it up on an almost entirely vegan diet, I caught a flight from New Zealand to Cape Town, South Africa.
My bike tour took me through South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe and as I’m sure anyone who has spent time in the southern portion of Africa can attest to, meat is on the menu. Almost immediately upon arrival, with little to no transition, I begin eating copious amounts of biltong (jerky but way better), boerewors (sausage), droewors (dried sausages), steaks, hamburgers, things roughly translated as pit vipers which is kidney and liver stuffed intestines, sardines, coffee, rusks, pap (cornmeal), chicken and every now and again a bit of veggies usually in the form of iceberg lettuce and tomatoes. All the meat was a wild game, (Kudu, Eland, Oryx, Springbok, Zebra and other undulate species I’m sure) or it was farm-raised grass fed, no-antibiotic, no hormone, beef, lamb, goat, and chicken.
What I experienced completely changed my perspective on veganism. I had an unprecedented surge wave of newfound energy, muscle-growth, memory, motivation, and again in total well-being. And unlike the vegan diet, I wasn’t spending 4-5+ hours a day preparing food and breaking the bank just to eat. I will say however that I did relapse a bit in the world of digestion on the African farmer diet but still was worlds better than it had ever been in other points in my travels.
There were a lot of other lifestyle attributes that led to a sense of health and well-being during both diets. In Africa I was cycling 100 kilometers nearly every day, sleeping in the wilderness, adventuring in unknown and exciting places, meeting incredible people, experiencing tons of languages, reading and writing everyday, sleeping whenever I pleased, and drinking almost exclusively unfiltered spring, well and river water.
I feel as though a lot of what allowed me to optimize all those other aspects of my life during my journey and while I was in New Zealand living and working was the revolution in the way I ate.
Well, after 7 months, a few thousand miles of pedaling, what feels like a literal ton of meat consumed, my then girlfriend, now wife, Jade and I hopped on a plane and found ourselves living in her hometown of Brighton, England. Here I gradually allowed processed foods to make their way back into my diet and didn’t really feel the effects, because they were so gradual. I ate by most standards a very healthy diet but had those cheats consistently, potato chips, popcorn, candy, a dessert every now and then, some take out, some pizza, some crap processed sausage at a BBQ, etc. After 6 months I had gained weight, had brain-fog, wasn’t sleeping well, was less happy, more moody and I didn’t even really recognize this until I moved to Spain for a couple of months to help a family friend of Jade’s build a yoga retreat in the mountains. I lived in a camper in an isolated mountain valley in Southern Spain and gorged on olives, olive oil, almonds, avocados, sardines, tomatoes, pasta, TONS of fresh baked bread, salads, and did I mention olives and olive oil? As well as plenty of great wine, beer, cigarettes and marijuana, all apparently staples in the diet of many in the south of Spain. But I felt amazing again! Energy, clarity, mood, sex-drive, happiness, all through the roof again!
So I begin getting a pretty well-rounded picture on how diet really doesn’t have to be rigid at all to still give you what you need to live the life and lifestyle you aspire to. The first and maybe even the last step you’ll ever need to take is to just eliminate the bad.
The real bad being:
- Deep-fried foods, refined and processed vegetable oils, or anything that involves low grade or overheated oils
- High-fructose corn syrup, refined sugar, and artificial sweeteners
- Processed Meats
- Dairy, unless it is consumed raw and/or fermented
- White flour and most other grains produced in large-scale commercial operations
- Also, beyond just processed meats any grain-fed, antibiotic ridden, hormone filled, factory farmed beef, poultry, lamb, fish etc.
If someone just starts by eliminating those things, which still leaves a neverending plethora of amazing food to enjoy they will be well on their way to much better living.
Already have a pretty healthy diet but just want to sharpen that edge in whatever your pursuit is?
Well to take it a step further I think all one has to do, is start looking for a couple of words, “wild’ and ‘organic’ being the main two. Now there is a mountain of advice in this sphere.
It is not said often enough that the optimum diet for you is completely unique to you.
But I’ll share where I’m at now and what I’ve discovered works best. I live in the American Rockies at five thousand feet of elevation in another picturesque mountain town called McCall, Idaho and taking what I learned in New Zealand, Spain and Africa, I am focusing on food I can obtain locally, either by people who love what they produce or getting as much of it straight out of the wild as I can. I eat tons of wild elk meat from an elk I shot this year, wild venison meat, and hopefully soon will be adding wild bear meat to the menu in a month when bear season opens up. Eat wild berries, mushrooms, and leaves in as copious of quantities as supply allows. I drink wine made of wild fruits that my grandfather harvests in a valley south of us, eat wild duck, quail, pheasant, dove, geese and turkey during there season.
Then for the vast majority of my diet in which I consume foods from the grocery store, I buy organic, local, free-range, wild-caught, etc. I eat pretty low carb diet and get all my carbohydrates from veggies, sweet potatoes, and occasionally rice and sourdough bread. I also eat an assortment of home-made fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, beet kvass, fermented ketchup, pickled veggies, kefir, and kombucha all made right at home and totally doable by anyone.
I spend extra money at the grocery store and it’s painful to walk by all the cookies, crackers, chips, fried foods, and stuff that I grew up loving, but avoiding them allows me a baseline from which I can pursue everything I love in all other aspects of my life and honestly to just be myself.
The wrong foods damage mitochondria, impair brain function, dampen mood, and physically reek havoc on virtually every system in our body. The right ones heal us and build us into the ideal person that we all aspire to be.
But diet isn’t where lifestyle optimization ends, it’s where it begins. This article is Phase 1 of a series dedicated to total human optimization and so stay tuned for more on fasting, meditation, training, outdoor living, fermenting foods, sleep optimization, supplementation regimens and a whole lot more. Thanks so much for reading, I hope you enjoyed and look forward to your feedback!