I first wrote this article in June, 2016, so it’s time for an update.
(You can read the old version at the end.)
Right now, my diet reflects what I’ve learned over time about meeting my own nutritional needs, as well as three goals that are important to me right now:
- Saving time and controlling my schedule to block out time for analytical and creative work remains my top priority. I get most of my food delivered partly because it saves time but mostly because it reduces interruptions in my schedule. I like shopping, but I only go out shopping because I want to and never because I need to. This allows me to focus on work projects without interrupting my “flow.” Since not all foods are equally available with the delivery methods I use, this priority influences not only how I get my food but what I eat as well.
- I’m currently recovering from illness related to indoor mold toxicity from my old apartment. For reasons I don’t completely understand yet, I have an ongoing tendency toward acidity and require a small amount of supplemental bicarbonate and a large amount of dietary potassium to neutralize some of the symptoms. I’ll write much more about this in a future post, but suffice it to say here that my current diet is largely constructed around obtaining large amounts of potassium.
- The mold-related illness led me to spend months out of the gym, during which I lost quite a bit of muscle mass. I’ve started to work out again over the last two months but only in the last week have I optimized my nutrition to allow me to thrive while working out several times a week. Beginning this week, a top priority of mine is to put on muscle mass. For this, I’m eating a lot of calories and protein.
Why I Switched From Instacart to Amazon Fresh
- The yearly membership fee was about half the price.
- Instacart could often deliver within 2 hours of ordering, whereas Amazon would typically require ordering a full day ahead of delivery.
The indoor mold issue led me to move neighborhoods, and Instacart suddenly became less attractive. I no longer had access to Whole Foods, so my selection became more limited. There are also fewer Instacart shoppers in my new neighborhood, so there are fewer delivery options. I began testing Amazon Fresh against Instacart and have now overwhelmingly settled on using Amazon Fresh for three reasons:
- Better selection.
- Fresher food.
- Bringing customer service from “good” to “great.”
The first is unique to my circumstances: without access to Whole Foods via Instacart, my selection is better on Amazon. The second is an intrinsic property of Amazon’s delivery model:
Amazon “Fresh” lives up to its name.
Instacart is like Uber for grocery shopping. The app hooks the customer up with shoppers and drivers who work as independent contractors. They shop from the store the same way anyone else does, and they drive your groceries to you just like you would drive them home if you bought them yourself. The only difference is they are shopping for many people, so the goods are in transit longer.
Amazon keeps everything in a central warehouse. One of the deliverymen told me the warehouse is ridiculously cold, 50F even in the dry food section. If you buy something refrigerated, it comes loaded with ice packs. If you buy something frozen, it comes on dry ice. Not to worry, though, the deliverer will take the bags, ice packs, and dry ice from away on the spot.
The big test is triple-washed greens. When I buy they from Instacart, they start going bad within two days. When I buy them from Amazon Fresh, they last almost a week.
The third reason I’ve landed on Amazon Fresh is that Amazon has ridiculously great customer service and can afford to appease me endlessly. Amazon has given me refunds on food I ordered by accident when I admitted it was completely my fault without asking for the food back and refunded my order in full when the driver was an hour late, again without asking for any of the food back.
If saving time and preventing interruptions is important to you, I still recommend checking out Instacart. It served me well for a full year. The deliverers are pleasant and the company has good customer service. Still, check out Amazon Fresh too. It’s serving me far better in my current situation, and the same could be true for you.
Other Delivery Methods I Use
I’ve been getting my coffee through Stay Roasted, a coffee delivery service. If you use coffee regularly, it’s really cool. You log in to the web site, tell the system your coffee preferences and how much you’d like delivered per week, and then pick from a lineup of roasters. They pick out beans that suit your preferences from your roaster lineup and mail them to you. It’s a mix of automating your coffee supply and getting pleasantly surprised by the specific beans that come in each week. The only downside is if you’re picky you risk getting surprised by a coffee you don’t like.
I also order the following foods directly from the companies that sell them (these companies sponsor my podcast, I’m an advisor to Ample, and I offer discounts on their products):
- US Wellness Meats liverwurst, which remains my go-to source of organ meats.
- PaleoValley beef sticks are one of my snack foods.
- Ample Meal, which I use when I’m crunched for time.
Finally, I continue to use Thrive Market. I use them less than I used to because Amazon gets me my goods much faster and the price savings are not always that steep. I tend to place a Thrive order because of their selection more often than their price these days. Still, I love what they do, recommend them, and encourage you to look at their prices and see how much money you can save by using them.
Making Food in Batches
In addition to having food delivered, much of which requires very little preparation, I make food in large batches during my downtime. This allows me to consolidate my food prep time so I can consolidate my work time more effectively.
The major batched food I make is my starches. I combine one bag of sprouted lentils, one bag of sprouted brown rice, five peeled and diced potatoes, and two cartons of Kettle and Fire bone broth. I cook this for 20 minutes in my Instant Pot, then cool it and refrigerate it in two half-gallon Ball jars.
I also cook whole chickens in the Insta-Pot. I put a cup of water at the bottom and put the chicken in for 45 minutes, then take it out and separate the meat from the bones and refrigerate the meat. Depending on how pressed I am for time, I sometimes cook the bones for 2-4 hours in the Insta-Pot to make stock.
To round out my strategy for staying productive, I try to maintain a constant supply of quick calories. This helps me stay ahead of the game rather than slipping behind and can actually help me find more time for cooking. Here are my current go-to’s:
- Ample Meal. Ample is a meal-in-a-bottle that takes a total of two minutes to prepare, consume, and clean up. It’s made from whole-food ingredients and is designed to be nutritionally replete. Ample sponsors my podcast and I’m an advisor. I use this to replace whole meals when I’m extremely crammed for time.
- Food for Life Organic 7 Sprouted Grain English Muffins. These are fairly nutritious for a calorie-filler and easy to eat a couple of. I don’t use these to replace meals and I try not to use them as a default food, but I keep them on hand as calorie fillers when it would be otherwise hard to meet my goals.
- Anthony’s Organic Unsweetened Shredded Coconut. A whole food full of good fat and fiber, this really packs in the calories. I’ll eat 30-40 grams, whatever I need to meet my calorie goals, add 10 grams of maple syrup and one or two grams of Simply Organic Cinnamon, mix it together, and eat it up with a spoon.
- Fat can be an easy way to adjust my calories upward when needed, provided it goes well wi th something else in my meal. When I was in the height of the mold crisis I was often using Jarrow MCT Oil for its anti-fungal properties, though now I’m mostly adding Organic Valley European-Style Cultured Butter, Pure Indian Foods Organic, Grass-Fed, Cultured Ghee, and Pure Indian Foods Primal Oil.
My Potassium Strategy
During the height of my mold-induced illness, shortly after starting an antifungal medication, I developed severe twitching problems that I 80% resolved by eating large amounts of potassium. The other 20% fell into place by avoiding grains and carbonated water, and eventually supplementing with a small amount of bicarbonate. Currently, I use 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda at least 20 minutes before breakfast and dinner on rest days. On workout days, I use 1/2 teaspoon before breakfast, and then I work out in the late morning with an additional 1/2 teaspoon in my workout water. I track my potassium in the Cronometer iPhone app and aim to eat 6-8 grams per day.
Here are the basic strategies I use to get my potassium up:
- I use potatoes and lentils as my main starches and eat a diet low in grains.
- I add tomatoes to everything.
- I eat a lot of pumpkin, a diversity of plant foods in general, and a lot of spices.
- I eat less fat, which dilutes potassium.
Calories, Meals, and Macronutrients
I’m finding that I currently need about 3200 kcal/d on rest days and 3600 kcal/d or more on workout days to feel satiated and sleep through the night. I will be testing higher calorie amounts soon to see what allows me to gain the most muscle without gaining much fat.
I aim to hit at least 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight, which would be about 150 g/d for me right now, but Cronometer tells me I’m hitting closer to 250 g/d, with about 100 grams of fat and 3-400 grams of carbs. The high carb-to-fat ratio is driven mainly by my potassium strategy. I’m probably hitting higher protein because I’m eating plant foods like lentils that are fairly high in protein and ignoring them, but I’m fine with that because I think it will help me build more muscle.
I always eat breakfast. I used to practice intermittent fasting twice a week, but I lost my ability after the cumulative sleep deprivation of graduate school got the better of me. I find that eating breakfast proactively helps me jump start my morning, gives me smoother energy levels through the day, and helps ensure I’ve eaten enough when it’s time for bed.
I generally eat four meals a day, sometimes five. I could eat three, but I don’t like cramming 11-1200 kcal into a meal.
I really enjoy the taste of coffee and I find that caffeine greatly improves my mood. I’m a slow metabolizer of adenosine, which caffeine opposes, and I think that’s a big part of why I feel much better when I’m caffeinated. I love the taste of cream in my coffee, but right now I’m drinking it black with a teaspoon of honey from the Madhava honey bear. I am a fast metabolizer of caffeine, so I tend to consume coffee once in the morning and once in the afternoon, occasionally a third cup but rarely after 4:00 PM.
I bought my Chemex from the coffee shop across the street from me when I lived in my old apartment, and the owner told me to weigh the coffee and water and to make sure I got a kettle made for pourovers. I already had a food scale so I weighed my coffee and water from the beginning, but I waited over a year before getting the kettle and spent that year using a small saucepan.
Getting the kettle was life-changing. I realized this after I bought my mom this kettle for Christmas. The saucepan was heavy, unpleasant to pour from, and made it difficult to spread the water evenly. The kettle was light, easy to pour from, and made it incredibly easy to spread the water consistently.
I then bought this more sophisticated kettle for myself. It has a built-in thermometer with a green zone that tells you exactly when the water is the perfect temperature to pour. Although I like that feature, it requires a lid that is difficult to press shut, and the nut that holds the thermometer to the lid is constantly coming loose. If I were to buy another kettle I’d get the simpler one I had gotten my mom.
My goal for breakfast is to get at least 30 grams of protein, about 800 kcal, and for it to require zero thinking or planning and very little time to prepare. I also prefer it to be modestly palatable and easy to eat.
My most common breakfast right now is this:
- 2 containers Siggis 0% fat plain yogurt
- 100-150 g Wyman’s Triple Berry Blend mixed into the yogurt
- One of my calorie fillers, such as English muffins or coconut, to bring this up to 800 kcal. I may also use my batched starches to bring my calories up here.
The yogurt, berries, 2 muffins, a 25 g coconut/10 g maple syrup/1 cinnamon dish provides about 800 kcal and 1.4 grams of potassium.
About once a week, my breakfast is Ample.
Many of the other meals listed below may make their way into my breakfast on occasion as well.
On the average day, I’m eating for myself in a largely utilitarian manner, and I’m eating four meals rather than three, so I see my other meals as largely interchangeable unless I’m spending time with friends and family.
Here are some example meals.
- 350 grams (cooked weight) of my blended starches.
- 100 grams of roasted chicken.
- 1 tomato.
- 2 grams each of Simply Organic garlic powder, onion powder, and Italian seasoning.
- Salted to taste while eating.
This smells like pizza, provides 1.5 grams of potassium, and still allows 200 kcal of a calorie filler before reaching my 800 kcal target.
- 3 ounces US Wellness liverwurst.
- 4 Vital Farms eggs cooked over-easy in about 8 grams of butter or ghee.
- 200 grams of potato, simmered in water until soft, eaten with salt.
This provides about 750 kcal and 1.5 grams potassium.
- 6 ounces of grass-fed hamburger, purchased locally (I buy it every once in a while when craving it).
- 1 box of Farmers Market Organic Pumpkin.
- Mixed into the pumpkin, 30 grams coconut, 10 grams maple syrup, 1 gram cinnamon.
This provides a little over 750 kcal and 1.5 grams potassium.
Salads and Fruits
I try to eat lots of fruits and vegetables, but when cooking for myself I find this means lots of fruits that require little more than peeling, lots of salads, and veggies thrown into my starches when they cook in the Insta-Pot. I’ll often throw some broccoli, kale, or other dark greens into the starches. I’ll generally rotate through certain fruits, like apples or oranges, till I get sick of them and want something else (except the berries that always go into my yogurt).
I generally eat 2-3 large salads per day. I rotate through many different types of triple-washed greens to get a diversity of vegetables. I pile them onto a large plate, which generally fits about 60 or 70 grams worth. Then I throw in a diced tomato and something crunchy like Go Raw Sprouted Pumpkin Seeds or diced Now Organic Brazil Nuts.
Depending on time and my mood, I might get all gourmet on the salad and add bacon and strawberries, but that’s a rare treat. I’ve been avoiding cheese and fermented foods while recovering from mold (though I’m not sure that helped anything), but I’m starting to add them back in now. Depending on my calorie needs, I may eat the salad with no dressing, or with Primal Oil.
I generally get plenty of protein from my food, but I keep Jarrow whey protein on hand to add protein to a meal if it’s otherwise difficult to pull something with protein together.
Snacks and Dessert
For a savory snack, I love PaleoValley beef sticks. Honestly, these are nutritious enough to be considered more as a meal replacement.
When I’m feeling naughty, or just in desperate need of calories, I eat some Jackson’s Honest chips. Hey, potatoes are high in potassium even as chips!
My coconut calorie filler also doubles as a desert.
I spent most of this year completely abstaining from alcohol during the mold crisis, but now I have one to three glasses of wine once or twice a week.
Last year I ate fresh ginger root with every meal as a digestive aid. This year my digestion has been in much better shape and my priorities have shifted, so I cycled off the ginger. Currently I’m using less for my digestion, though I still use ginger occasionally and will probably cycle back onto it as I start putting way more food into my digestive system. I’ll be adding fermented vegetables back into my diet soon as well.
I hope this inspires you with some practical examples of how to make a nutrient-dense and balanced diet that works with some basic principles of saving time and money. But your diet is for you. So take what you like from this, leave what you don’t, and add your own.
People often ask me what I eat. In this article, I describe what I eat, how I get it, and how I prepare it in order to meet my goals of good nutrition, good body composition, and saving time and money to maximize my productivity.
Please note that this is the general pattern of how I usually eat and not a rigid system of rules.
How I Get My Food
In order to save money, save time, and boost my productivity, I buy most of my non-perishable food through Thrive Market and most of my perishable food through Whole Foods via Instacart.
Using Thrive allows me to save an average of more than 30% off the retail price without spending time price-shopping or coupon-clipping. Using Thrive and Instacart together frees me from the need to interrupt productive projects by going grocery shopping. I still go shopping at my local food coop and farmers market, but it never interrupts my productive time because I need to do it – I just do it in my leisure time when I want to do it. If you share these goals, I recommend signing up for a 30-day free trial of Thrive and looking to see whether Instacart or Amazon Fresh will be able to deliver perishables from your favorite local grocers.
The one product that I consistently get elsewhere is US Wellness Meats liverwurst, which I order directly from the company.
Although I buy most of the linked-to food in this post from Thrive, I’ve also provided Amazon links for those who do not have a Thrive membership. Check out the price differences, though, and you’ll see how much you can save with Thrive.
Prior to each meal, I consume about a half-inch cross-section of peeled, raw ginger root. I do not expect most other people to do this, and most people would find it unpleasant. But I have found that it is an unparalleled – and incredibly inexpensive – stimulus to my digestive system.
I also include a fermented food. I put these on rotation. They include a shot glass of kombucha, a lacto-fermented pickle, or a tablespoon of any other lacto-fermented vegetable.
I aim to eat 130-150 grams of protein per day. I have been focusing on improving my lean muscle mass at the expense of body fat, and if this were not a specific goal I would aim for about 80 grams of protein per day.
I do not pay much attention to my total carbs or my total fat. I had been eating ~2150 kcal per day and lost 30 pounds over the course of a few months. I now eat ~2600 kcal per day, which keeps me at a consistent body weight. In the fall, I plan to increase this by several hundred calories a day to put on muscle more rapidly.
At breakfast before I work out, I try to hit 100 grams of carbs. If I experience any symptoms I associate with insufficient carbohydrate, such as difficulty falling or staying asleep, peeing too much at night, or rapidly losing weight overnight, I increase my carbs. Otherwise, I ignore the balance of fat and carbs. During my period of rapid fat loss, I tended to eat 17-36% calories as fat. Right now I am eating at the upper end of that range and often a little higher than that range.
To be clear, I did not restrict fat during my period of weight loss because I think that restricting fat is superior for weight loss than restricting other calories. I focused on restricting fat during that period because I found that my CrossFit workouts were causing me to need an amount of carbohydrate that I would not be able to get while restricting calories unless I biased my restriction of calories towards restricting fat.
Food Made in Batches
My go-to batch food is a combination of TruRoots sprouted lentils (Thrive|Amazon), sprouted brown rice (Thrive|Amazon), peeled and diced potatoes (I rotate the variety), Kettle and Fire bone broth (Thrive|Amazon) and a dark green vegetable (I rotate a different dark green veggie each week).
I combine one package of lentils, one package of rice, about 500 grams of peeled and diced potatoes, two packages of bone broth, and four to five handfuls (measured raw) of dark green veggies. I may also randomly put in diced garlic, carrots, or whatever veggies I happen to have at hand. I top it off with water if needed and cook it in my Instant Pot for 20 minutes. I then cool it and store it in the refrigerator.
Each time I use it, I reheat it with whatever amount of water gives it the best texture and whatever spices I feel like tasting. I currently use Simply Organic spices from Thrive. Common ones include small amounts of black pepper (Thrive|Amazon), turmeric (Thrive,|Amazon) and ginger (Thrive|Amazon); and large amounts of garlic powder (Thrive|Amazon) and Italian seasoning (Thrive|Amazon) I may also add meat and/or cheese for variety.
My protein includes a diverse rotation of meats, with beef, chicken, and fish being most common. I eat beef because I enjoy it, but I am currently biasing my diet toward other meats because I have a genetic tendency to accumulate too much iron.
When I eat chicken, I cook a roast chicken in my Instant Pot for 45 minutes with zero preparation except putting a cup of water and the meat rack in the bottom. I separate the meat from the bones and cartilage. I store the meat for the week in the refrigerator. I take the meat rack out of the Instant Pot but leave in the water used to cook the chicken. I put the bones and cartilage in, and top it off with water. I cook this for two hours, and it produces a very well gelled stock. Whenever this stock is available, I use it to cook my starches instead of Kettle and Fire’s stock. Kettle and Fire’s is far more delicious and crafted; mine is easy, practical, and comes free with my roast chicken.
I really enjoy the taste of coffee and cream, and I find that caffeine greatly improves my mood. I am a fast metabolizer of caffeine, so I tend to consume it once in the morning and once in the afternoon.
I alternate between using a Chemex to make hot-brew and a simple kit to make cold brew. I was inspired to try making cold brew by this Thrive Market article. Since cold brew goes for $4/cup in my neighborhood, making it at home saves incredible amounts of money. I also love that I can make 13 servings of coffee in a batch. Although I think cold brew tastes much better than iced coffee, I think Chemex-brewed hot coffee tastes much better than reheated cold brew. So I use both, depending on whether I want my coffee cold or hot.
I sweeten my coffee with a teaspoon of this specific honey (Thrive|Amazon) (I find that different honeys taste radically different and some can ruin the taste of coffee) and add two tablespoons of Organic Valley lactose-free half and half.
I find that I zip into an alert, productive mode most quickly if I get at least 30 grams of protein for breakfast. More often than not, I get this from US Wellness Meats liverwurst, which provides me the incredibly nutrient-dense and balanced combination of liver, kidney, heart, and muscle meat. This is a new addition to my diet but I expect it to stay for a long while.
I find that I need some carbohydrate to best put me into an alert state, but if I have no plans to work out, this could be as low as 20 grams. If I am working out that morning, particularly if I have a strength goal to meet, I make sure to get 80-100 grams of carbs. Otherwise, I just aim for 500-800 kcal and let the balance of macronutrients fall wherever it falls.
By breakfast carbs usually involve fruit and the batched lentils/rice/potatoes combination I described above, but some days also include bread or bagels (generally made from sprouted or soured whole grains).
I find that I best ride through an afternoon slump in mental energy if I eat a meal that is relatively small, low in carbohydrate, and high in protein. Since I aim to eat at least 30 grams of non-collagenous protein at every meal to reap the anabolic stimulus provided by the leucine content, lunch is not that much higher in protein than my other meals (breakfast and lunch are both in the 30-50 range; dinner more consistently close to 30). Compared to my other meals, my lunch is typically distinguished by being lowest in carbohydrate and highest in fat.
Here is an example:
Four pastured eggs cooked over-easy with a sliced tomato and 50 grams of chicken folded into the middle. I use a half tablespoon of butter or ghee to coat the pan. A giant salad with enough raw salad greens (I rotate different versions each week) to make a huge pile filling a large dinner plate, topped with two raw, chopped Brazil nuts, a tablespoon of sauerkraut, a tablespoon of fermented ginger-carrots, and a half ounce of shredded raw, aged, cheddar cheese. I don’t use dressing (though I would if I were serving guests). An orange.
I would usually add some carbs to this if it were coming after an intense workout.
Dinner tends to be whatever meat is in my rotation plus my batched starch. I will often substitute Eden 100% buckwheat soba noodles (Thrive|Amazon) as the starch. Typically, I add an additional huge salad as described for lunch.
Dinner is where I check my caloric intake and make sure I’m close to my protein and calorie goals. If I’m not, I look in my fridge and eat whatever food seems to provide the easiest path to getting there.
Since I am usually done working when I eat dinner, it’s where I put anything labor-intensive and it’s the most subject to spontaneous change. However, spontaneity and amateur chef night are much more common when I’m eating with friends or guests, in which case most of my rules go out the window.
One of my go-to desserts is raw cheese (anything aged 60 days or more will do, but most commonly this is cheddar from grass-fed cows) topped with Really Raw raw honey (Thrive|Amazon). Typically this is 2.5-3 ounces of cheese and 20-30 grams of honey.
I may add something packaged. Most commonly this is coconut milk ice cream, but occasionally it’s a different snack.
For the sake of stress-free productivity and enjoyment of life, it’s important for me to be able to deviate from my daily norm and to have a stash of food that can be eaten in a snap.
If I’m rushing out the door in the morning or I’m deep in a project and cannot afford to interrupt my train of thought to spend 20 minutes with a meal, my go-to foods are whey protein and Exo bars. I would consider one scoop of whey protein and two Exo bars a sufficient replacement for a meal when I need something quick.
Currently I buy Jarrow whey protein (Thrive|Amazon) and the apple cinnamon Exo bars (Thrive|Amazon). I like the quality of Jarrow but the main reason I use it from among a broader selection of whey proteins I like is the cost.
My favorite drinks are red wine and pale ales. I usually limit my alcohol consumption to 1-3 drinks when I am out with friends who are also drinking. Occasionally, after several months of working hard on something or being strict with my diet, I will relax this rule and consume 1-2 drinks per night for a week even if I am alone. However, I find that I feel the best when I have the least alcohol.
I hope this inspires you with some practical examples of how to make a nutrient-dense and balanced diet that works with some basic principles of saving time and money. But your diet is for you. So take what you like from this, leave what you don’t, and add your own.
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