#44: Black Belt Diet Tips [Podcast]

Welcome to Episode #44 of the Fight for a Happy Life podcast, “Black Belt Diet Tips.”

Food can be our best friend… or our worst enemy! It took me years to figure out how to maintain a diet that would help me, not hurt me.

So, if you’re interested in my journey to become a master eater, here are three diet tips to help you earn your black belt at the dining room dojo!

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Black Belt Diet Tips poster

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Black Belt Diet Tips


Today on Fight for a Happy Life, how to become a master eater.

Hey! How’s it going? This is Episode #44 of Fight for a Happy Life, the show that believes a little martial arts makes life a whole lot better.

 My name is Ando and in case you didn’t know, I love martial arts. But you know what I love almost as much? Food.

Martial arts and food–these are my two great loves. Oops—and my wife. Oh, boy… maybe I should start over. Nope. Here we go. Don’t overthink it.

My favorite duck.

My guilty pleasure… duck.

The point is I love to eat. I’m also pretty good at it. Now, that might sound like a stupid thing to brag about. I mean, is eating really a skill? Yeah, I think it is! Because the fact is that millions of people struggle every day with what to eat, when to eat, and how much to eat. Food brings them joy, but it also brings them discomfort and disease.

That’s no way to live! No. Not if you’re a student of self-defense. A student of self-defense, to me, in the broadest sense of the term, should follow a diet that keeps them strong and healthy. But that’s not always easy to figure out.

It actually took me years and years to figure out how to eat in a way that helps me and doesn’t hurt me. But at this point in my life, well, I’d say I’ve earned my black belt in the dining room dojo. And today, I want to share a few tips with you.

Yes, even though I know talking about diet is almost as controversial as talking about religion, I’m going to do it anyway. That’s because no matter what your dietary beliefs may be, I think we can all agree that food should strengthen and protect us from harm and not make us weaker and sicker.

So, if you agree with that, tuck in your napkin and let’s dig into what it takes to become a master eater.

[02:26] I am not a nutritionist. Let me be very clear about that. But I’ve been eating for 46 years now, so I feel qualified to at least talk about my experiences with food. Now, over those 46 years, for the last 30 for sure, I’ve been a student of peak performance. I have constantly tweaked and experimented with what, when, and how I eat in order to improve my abilities to think clearly, move freely, recover from injuries, and just generally live an energetic, healthy lifestyle.

And I’m not kidding. I’ve tried a million different diets. High carb, low-carb. High fat, low fat. High protein, moderate protein. I’ve taken vitamins and supplements. I’ve tried to gain weight, I’ve tried to lose weight. I’ve given up red meat. I’ve given up dairy products. I dabbled in being a vegetarian. I replaced solid meals with juices and shakes.

Small meals, big meals. Early meals, late meals. I’ve even tried waking up in the middle of the night—I know that sounds crazy—to swallow down an extra meal. Now, in case you’re wondering, no, I’ve never tried steroids. I’m not into drugs, pills, or needles. I’m just a normal guy experimenting with natural foods.

Okay. So, after all those years of experimenting, the results are in. I figured out, finally, how to achieve my peak performance. But heads up—my advice is going to disappoint a large number of people. I know that already.

That’s because a large number of people put their faith into shortcuts and hacks. They want “10 easy steps” to get the body of their dreams. But it doesn’t work like that.

Yes, we all love a good list, so I am going to give you three simple diet tips to become a master eater, but they’re not shortcuts. They’re merely guidelines for people who are willing to look inward for wisdom instead of outward. People capable of trusting their own judgment and making their own decisions. You know, someone like you.

So, here we go… three tips to earn your black belt in the dining room dojo.

Black Belt Diet Tip #1: Don’t stuff yourself.

[04:51] When I was a kid, I actually took pride in how much I could eat. My brother, JD, who you heard interviewed in Episode #26, was bigger than I was, but when Thanksgiving dinner came, I would always out-eat him.

I also remember one time going to dinner with my brother and his buddy. We found this Italian place and they had a platter of food that was really supposed to be shared by a family—something like two pounds of pasta, meatballs, sausage, salad, bread, the works. Well, we each ordered one platter. One each. They couldn’t finish it… but I did.

Even in my late 20’s—this is kind of embarrassing—I would still challenge my friends to eating contests. Now, I don’t know why I associated eating gross amounts of food with manhood, but for some reason I did. And there was a big downside. As you probably know, when you gorge yourself, you crash. I would eat and then want to die. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t think. I definitely learned a lesson..

When you stuff yourself, you stop yourself.

So, if you’re looking for the secrets to peak performance, start by limiting how much you eat. It doesn’t matter if you’re a vegan or a carnivore, if you’re into paleo or pasta, always leave a little room in your belly. Don’t stuff yourself.

[I forgot to mention in the podcast that you should also never STARVE YOURSELF! If you allow your hunger to get out of control, then you’ll be out of control at your next meal. When you’re “starving”, you end up eating anything you can get your hands on… and way too much of it.

That’s why I travel with snacks and drinks at all times. Just remember—

You should control your hunger, your hunger shouldn’t control you!

Now back to the show!]

Now, one of the most effective tricks to help you avoid popping your pants is to s-l-o-w d-o-w-n. According to my research, it takes the brain time to register that the stomach is full. There’s a time lag there.

Beef on weck. It's a Buffalo thing.

Beef on weck. It’s a Buffalo thing.

So, by slowing down, you give your brain time to catch up with your body. So, as you’re eating, put your fork down… sip some water… take a breath. Grow up—it’s not a competition and it’s not a race.

Here’s a mathematical way to think about it…

Let’s say I just bought a pie—a warm strawberry-rhubarb pie. I break the crust with my fork and I take that first bite. Now I go back for a second bite.

Tell me—what’s the difference between the first bite and the second bite? Or the third bite? Nothing. It’s the same pie—same flavor, same texture, same pleasure. It’s not like the pie just keeps getting better and better with every bite, right?

So, what’s the difference really between eating 10 bites of pie or 20? The only difference is duration—the amount of time I’m going to spend eating pie.

So, let’s say it takes me 10 minutes to eat 20 bites of pie. That means it takes five minutes to eat 10 bites of pie. All right. Well, if I slow down and I savor the pie in my mouth just a little bit longer, then I can take 10 minutes to eat 10 bites of pie. The experience will be exactly the same. I’ll be eating pie for 10 minutes. Same amount of pleasure, BUT half the amount of pie.

So, if you’re looking for a way to cut calories or not eat more than you should, you’re not going to find an easier or more effective diet tip than simply slowing down.

If you think about it, it’s really kind of strange how we take pleasure in swallowing food as opposed to simply tasting it, don’t you think? I mean, you can’t taste food in your stomach. The pleasure is all in the mouth. So, what’s the hurry? Take your time and really be aware of what you’re eating.

Ideally, meal time should be meditation time.

That’s why another good trick is to cut out distractions when you eat. Watching TV, or scrolling through Facebook, or even reading can make you forget that you’re eating. You just keep shoveling food down your throat like a machine.

So, treat your food with a little more respect. Find a quiet spot and give it your full attention.

Black Belt Diet Tip #2: Listen to your body.

[09:02] This is where things get a little tricky because when it comes to listening to advice, it’s human nature to favor the opinion of experts, and teachers, and best-selling authors, and even celebrities over our own intuition. But listen—nobody is you. Nobody else lives in your body.

So, no matter how trusted the source, every piece of advice you hear must agree with your mind and your body.

Yeah, we all share similarities and, for sure, there are patterns in behavior and biology that make it valuable to listen to each other’s experiences, but ultimately, your journey is your own.

So, whether you’re choosing a martial art, a car, a career, you have to figure out what makes you happier, what makes you healthier and what doesn’t. You have to learn to trust your own intuition and your own judgment. You must become your own “sensei”.

This is why I’m not a big fan of diet plans. Or workout plans. Or any plans for that matter. Sure, designing specific meals and counting calories, that’s all great when you’re experimenting with your diet, but no plan could possibly fit your life forever. It’s like this…

Imagine you bump into an old friend at a coffee shop. You sit down, you start talking. Now, during that conversation, are you reading a script? Of course not. You trust yourself to choose words as you go.

Same with martial arts. If I’m going to spar tomorrow, I don’t waste time today planning exactly what I’m going to do. Why not? Because I know that I can’t predict or control everything that’s going to happen. I can’t even predict how I’m going to feel. Or if I have a pulled muscle. Or if my stomach is upset. Instead, I trust myself to make decisions in the moment.

That’s true preparation—learning to trust yourself.

And it’s the same with food. When I feel hungry, if I listen to my body, it will tell me exactly what I should be eating. Some days I crave a strawberry. I don’t know why, but the idea of a strawberry is just locked into my head. Other days I might want a glass of milk. Or a piece of steak.

Now I don’t want to get into a whole thing about the right or wrong of any of those food choices, the point is that your body will tell you what it needs if you’re willing to listen to it.

Clam cakes!

Clam cakes!

As martial artists, we’re already working on that connection between our mind and our body, right? We should be aware of our breathing, our posture, our emotions… so, being aware of our nutritional needs? Well, that should just follow along naturally with the rest of our training.

The deeper the connection you make between your brain and your body, the better you’re going to be at making decisions about what to eat, when to eat, and how much to eat. Some days I eat more, some days I eat less. Some days I eat early, some days I eat late. Some days I eat a lot of protein, some days I don’t.

So, the point is, as you walk through a supermarket or scan a menu, take a second and ask your body what it wants. Take a second look at your food, smell your food, and maybe even talk to your food. Give your body a chance to react, to talk back.

Your body is wise. Your mind just has to be wise enough to listen to it.

Here’s something interesting. When I was a kid, I was confused by carrot cake. Cream cheese frosting, cinnamon, walnuts… all that made sense. But carrots?

Who’s the maniac who decided that it was good idea to put pieces of shredded carrot into a cake? And if that was such a great idea, then why isn’t there celery cake? Or cucumber cake? Carrot cake made no sense to me. But a funny thing happened…

Years later, after I had started cleaning up my diet, after I cut back on chocolate and candy and junk food, I went to the refrigerator—I was probably 20 at the time, which is actually kind of embarrassing to admit, that it took so long—anyway, I went to the refrigerator and the only food I could find, down in the bottom drawer, was a bag of carrots.

Blech. It’s not that I hated carrots, but you know, when you’re hungry and you open up the fridge, that’s usually not what you’re looking for. Whatever. I grabbed a carrot… I peeled it… I bit into it…

Whoa! I stopped. Literally, I just stopped moving. I just stood there. It was like this was the first carrot I had ever eaten. And it was sweet! Never in my life had I associated the word “sweet” with a carrot, but there I was eating a carrot like it was a candy bar.

Suddenly, it all made sense. I understood why someone put carrots in a cake. The way I see it, before processed food, junk food, and ice cream became part of our mainstream diets, a carrot was relatively sweet compared to other natural foods. To a pre-Industrial Age palette, that carrot was like a dessert! But once we started adding more and more salt, and sugar, and fat, and whatever the hell Sour Patch Kids and Warheads are made of, our tongues got burned out.

Heads up, my friend, your palette is under constant attack. Food makers are trying to get your attention by boosting flavors to ridiculous, unnatural levels. And as a result, your tongue stops working. It stops giving you accurate information. You don’t really know what sweet or salty or sour taste like anymore.

Here’s how you know for sure that your tongue isn’t working—if you’re bored by a fruit cup. Or what about if you feel the need to jazz up every salad with bacon, and cheese, and friend wontons? Or how about vanilla ice cream?

Look, ice cream is already over the top with fat and sugar, yet people still feel the need to add fudge, and peanut butter, whipped cream, and—oh, my favorite—candy bars. I mean, come on!

How insane is breaking up a candy bar and putting it on top of ice cream? Listen to me—a healthy body is never ever going to ask you to put a candy bar on top of ice cream. No way!

food ice cream coneIf your tongue is working correctly, one scoop of plain vanilla ice cream will amaze you. One scoop of plain vanilla ice cream will be more than enough to satisfy your sweet tooth.

Believe it or not, your body wants you to perform at your best. It wants you to be healthy. It will tell you exactly what to eat, when to eat, and how much to eat. But when you give it junk food, you screw up the system.

So, help your tongue help you. Give your palette a chance to re-calibrate and redefine what it means to be sweet, salty, and sour. When you do that, foods you used to love will suddenly repulse you. Foods that used to bore you will suddenly thrill you. I’m not kidding—thrill you!

That’s how you know you’ve won the battle–when you put a carrot or a strawberry in your mouth and it completely commands your attention. That’s a beautiful moment. Once that happens, I don’t think you’ll ever go back.

You’re going to take a sip of soda and spit it out because it’s just too sweet. You’ll open up a can of soup and spit it out because it’s just too salty. Someone will offer you a bag of chips and you’ll say, “No, thanks.” Not because you’re so disciplined, but simply because the thought of all that fat and salt in your body really does make you feel a little sick.

The more you clean up your diet, the more your diet will clean up you.

Black Belt Diet Tip #3: Fuel first, fun second.

[17:42] Look, as much as we talk about exercise and conditioning in the martial arts, the fact is that food is the foundation of your health. Your strength, your speed, your flexibility, your memory, your reaction time… it’s all tied to the support you give yourself nutritionally.

Let’s say you train three times a week in a martial arts class or at the gym. Okay, now let’s say you eat three meals a day. Add that up. In one week, you’ve worked your body three times and sat down to eat 21 times.

So, which one of those two factors—3 workouts or 21 meals—do you think is going to have a greater affect on your health and your performance? I mean, even if you work out seven days a week, you’re still eating three times as many meals, and that’s not including snacks or protein shakes.

Imagine if you flipped that. What if you worked out 21 times a week and you only ate three times? How important would those feeding sessions suddenly become? What would you eat?

My point is that I’ve come to approach each meal as if it’s as important as a workout. Each meal is a chance to connect and communicate with my body. My body tells me what it wants from me and I tell my body what I want from it. Ask yourself, what messages are you delivering to your body when you eat? What messages are you telling your body three or more times a day, every day, for as long as you live?

Are you telling your body that you want to be healthy or sick? Strong or weak? Firm or flabby? Flexible or stiff? Clear-headed or clouded? My advice is to treat each meal as a chance to get ahead on the next challenge in your life, not a reward for how you performed on the last challenge.

Food is fuel for the future, not a treat for your past.

Once you view food as fuel, or even medicine, then it’s simply a matter of experimentation to figure out what you need to perform at your best. Now, there are so many variables when it comes to diet, I don’t want you to lock yourself into just a couple of options.

Try big meals and small meals. Late meals, early meals. Big breakfast, little breakfast. More meat, less meat. More fruit, less fruit. More snacks, no snacks. More fat, less fat.

Your body is a laboratory—a beautiful laboratory–pure and simple.

Pay attention to how you perform after eating certain amounts of certain foods at certain times. Your body doesn’t keep secrets. You will know very quickly whether your energy, attention, and strength are getting better or worse.

But be careful! The minute you think you’ve got it all figured out and you start designing a diet plan that’s going to last the rest of your life, you’re doomed to fail.

Think about it–if you are constantly evolving and changing as a human being, well, then your nutritional needs are also constantly evolving and changing. What works for you today will probably not work two years from now. Or even tomorrow. So, keep experimenting. Don’t lock yourself into anything.

Now, I know when I talk about food as fuel, you might be thinking, “Hey, man—life is short. Lighten up. It’s okay to eat food just for the joy of it. I don’t always want to be stressed out about perfect health or peak performance.”

I choose… both!

Yeah, I get it. If you know me at all, you know I love pie, so there’s your answer to that. Sure, you can make a little room for fun in your diet. The trick, though, is balance.

For example, I would never order a cheeseburger, fries, and a milkshake. For me, that’s too much fun, not enough fuel. If I order a cheeseburger, then I’ll skip the milkshake and have an iced tea. If I have a milkshake, then I’ll have a salad. If I had a healthy breakfast and a healthy lunch, then maybe I’ll have fun and eat chicken and waffles for dinner.

The bottom line is, at this point in my life, I would never insult my body by giving it a load of crap to break down and process. That’s an insult. I’m not going to give it crap that doesn’t even give it the nutrients it needs to keep me punching, kicking, and thinking my best.

That would be like your boss dropping off a stack of somebody else’s paperwork on your desk late on a Friday and telling to have it all done by Monday. That’s just not fair.

So, be a good boss—keep the workload fair and manageable. After all, your body is working for you.

Now, I know that’s easier said than done. It’s not always easy to say no to fun foods. That’s why I have one more trick for you. Here it is…

Before you eat anything, picture it sitting in your stomach.

Visualize it inside your body. Have you ever done that? It’s so simple, but I tell you, it definitely helps me keep my food priorities straight.

The first time I did this—visualizing—I don’t know why I did it. I was making a Fluffernutter. You know, peanut butter and marshmallow sauce on white bread. Mmm. I slapped one of those together and I put it on a paper plate, and for some reason, I just looked at it… really looked at it.

Hey--I only ate ONE hot dog!

Hey–I only ate ONE hot dog!

It occurred to me in that one short minute that the sandwich that I was looking at would move from the plate into my stomach. What if I could just pull up my shirt and shove the Fluffernutter right into my stomach? What if I could just bypass my mouth altogether, no chewing, and just insert food directly into my body?

The thought of swallowing that sandwich suddenly disgusted me. I suddenly realized that I was a jerk! I realized that for years, I didn’t respect my body as a living organism that was working 24/7 to keep me healthy and strong.

I was treating my stomach as a dumping ground for whatever tasted good. I was giving it garbage, I was making it work way harder than it should. I mean, really—a Fluffernutter? Why would I put this sticky, sugary, artificial mess into my stomach?

So, the next time you sit down to eat something, the next time you’re at the frozen yogurt shop choosing between gummy bears and blueberries, hold it up right next to your belly. Picture it jumping through your shirt and into your stomach. Then ask yourself, “Is this going to help my body or hurt it? Is this fuel or is this fun?” I bet you’ll hear the answer loud and clear.

[24:49] So, there are your three Black Belt diet tips: don’t stuff yourself, listen to your body, and treat food as fuel, not a source of entertainment. One last tip…

Don’t let anyone bully you about your diet.

Is that all you’re going to eat? You eat like a rabbit!

Don’t you think you’ve had enough? You eat like a horse!

Don’t you care about your body?

Don’t you care about the planet?

Like I said, nutrition is like religion. People get intense trying to convert you to their way of thinking and eating. What’s crazy is that many of those people just started that new diet that they can’t shut up about. And they usually give up that diet and start a new one a few weeks later! That’s so annoying.

Look—ignore those people. I’m not saying their claims aren’t true, or their science isn’t proven, or their causes aren’t noble. No. I’m just saying that ultimately, you have to do what’s best for your own health.

Just like any other self-defense situation, if someone is crossing your boundaries, becoming offensive, insulting, rude, you have the right to state your beliefs, share your feelings, and defend your choices.

Now, of course, you’re a nice person and you’d rather keep the peace—me, too—but that should never be an option if it means doing harm to ourselves.

To be fair, it’s possible that our friends and family are just trying to help us in their own misguided way. But it’s also possible that they’re repeating their beliefs over and over again so that they feel more confident in their own choices. If that’s the case, you should tell them to do what I did—start a podcast!

Either way, don’t let anyone bully you on the mats, on the streets, in the home, or at the dinner table. Just listen to your body.

Let your body be your sensei. That’s how you become a master eater.

All right. I don’t know about you, but all that food talk made me hungry, so, I’m going to get something to eat. If you liked today’s show, don’t forget to visit FightforaHappyLife.com and sign up for my free email updates. Then you won’t miss a thing.

Until next time, smiles up, my friend. Let that smile be your shield and your sword. Keep fighting for a happy life!