Spend less time at the gym and more time in the kitchen.
That’s one of the core philosophies here at LMVM.
We guys in particular tend to focus too much on working out and not enough on proper nutrition when it comes to health and fitness.
We’ll spend 4, 5, 6, or more hours at the gym every week, but when it comes to eating, we go about it the same way as everyone else, with perhaps some protein shakes thrown in for good measure.
Although some men will take the initiative to hit the kitchen, we tend to follow the standard bodybuilder-lite template: make a whole bunch of unsalted chicken breasts, unsweetened oatmeal, egg white omelettes, unseasoned sweet potatoes, and steamed broccoli with no added fat.
BLECH! It sends shivers up my spine remembering how I used to eat that awful, awful stuff.
The good news is this: by learning to cook a few good meals you will find it much easier to lose weight, build muscle, and simply enjoy life more.
And here are the five reasons why you NEED to do so. Starting today!
1. You Can Control What You Want (and Don’t Want) to Eat
Looking to bulk up? Make sure you eat plenty of meat, eggs, and dairy. Or perhaps you’re carb-sensitive? You’ll want to keep away from rice and potatoes if you want to lose weight. Trying to eat more veggies? It’s in your control, man.
Too often pre-packaged and restaurant food is simply chowed down with no thought to what is actually in the stuff. But when you look at the ingredients you see a snake’s den of unpronounceable gobbledygook that sounds more like a recipe for a pipe bomb than anything your grandmother would have found in her refrigerator.
Humans haven’t evolved to live on 99% of that crap, and it’s nearly unavoidable unless you start to prepare more of your food from scratch.
The evidence is slowly piling up that it is the products that the food industry has been cranking out for the past 100 years or so that are leading to obesity and illness–and not necessarily their calorie content.
Sugar, flour, and vegetable oil are all relatively new additions to the human diet, and it doesn’t appear that our bodies have found a way to deal with them accordingly yet.
By learning how to cook yourself, you can easily limit these ingredients from entering your body without having to pay attention to them one bit.
Instead, you can focus on the things you want to eat more of. We’re often chastised by the nutrition police for not eating enough fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Replace “whole grains” with “meat” and you’ve got a statement I can stand behind.
2. It Lowers Your Body Fat Setpoint
One of my favorite blogs on the ol’ interwebs is Stephan Guyenet’s Whole Health Source. Stephan has a Ph.D. in neurobiology and studies body fat regulation (y’know, no big deal). Unlike a lot of the emotional advice out there, he is utterly rational in his approach to health, fitness, and wellness, yet he is always an engaging read.
Anyways, two of the concepts that he has delved into deeply are the body fat setpoint and food reward.
The setpoint theory basically says that your body “tries” to maintain a certain composition of fat and muscle. Any attempt to change stores in the body via superficial methods (i.e. eating less and exercising more) will usually be blunted, if not cancelled out altogether, by shifts in gene expression and hormones such as insulin and leptin.
The food reward theory, in turn, states that foods high in both flavor and calories will raise this body fat setpoint to favor more fat storage. This sounds intuitive, but it realize that foods that are high in calories but low in flavor don’t appear to have this impact!
Modern industrial processed foods are made to be as tasty as possible. It’s a simple matter of economics: the food company that can get the most people “hooked” on their products wins, while those that might create more healthful (but less delicious) alternatives go out of business.
By cooking your own food, you effectively cut out the “high taste, high calorie” food that has been making so many people fat and sick.
3. It’s Easier to Eat Real Food Than Count Calories
After years of tweaking my diet, jumping from one to the next, keeping what works and discarding what doesn’t, I have come to the conclusion that you really have two options:
- Eat whatever you want, but strictly count calories or restrict serving sizes.
- Eat “real food” when hungry, stop when full, and avoid foods heavy with processed crap.
I mentioned above the importance of avoiding “high calorie high flavor” foods due to their ability to short circuit your body’s innate ability to be fit and healthy. But there’s one big problem: this kind of food is everywhere. It is super cheap. And it is damned tasty. Expecting anyone to give this stuff up 100% is like expecting James Bond to show up to a high stakes craps table in a tuxedo t-shirt.
The most common way of getting around this obstacle in our society is by trying to limit calorie intake while eating more or less the same food. This “anything goes” approach is destined to either:
- Make you feel hungry.
- Make you feel less energy to exercise.
- Or a little of both.
The human body isn’t stupid. It knows how much energy it needs. And when you deprive it of that energy, it isn’t happy. Sure, in the short term you’ll probably be able to lose weight, but in the long term? Can you say “yo-yo diet?”
After a long period of deprivation, your body goes into “starvation mode,” slowly dialing down your metabolism in an effort to survive what it perceives as a famine environment.
But trying to starve yourself in such a food-rich environment is like trying to hold your breath when you’re surrounded by fresh air. Yeah you can do it for a short time, but you can’t do it for long before you start gasping to replenish the oxygen stores in your body.
The best study of this kind of behavior can be found in the Minnesota Starvation Experiment, where 36 men were put on a food restricted diet for six months. They rapidly wasted away, became unable to concentrate on anything but food, and experienced sexual dysfunction, among other awful side effects… all while eating a diet of 1,800 Cal per day!
This is the amount of caloric restriction that most of us have been led to believe is optimal for weight loss, so how come we rarely see people lose the drastic amount of weight these men did? Easy. These guys were under strict supervision for this experiment. You aren’t.
Try to artificially impose a caloric deficit for a long enough time and you will burn out on willpower and fall off the wagon. It happens all the time.
In contrast, by changing what you eat to favor filling, nutrient-dense, natural foods such as meat and vegetables, you can go to the root and work on things directly at a metabolic level.
Changing what you eat can boost your metabolism, drop your appetite, elevate your energy levels, increase resistance to fat accumulation and support muscle growth. Yes, you will be eating less and exercising more… but it will be happening automatically!
Focusing on food quality is not without its difficulties as well. But I can guarantee its much easier to apply an “eat when hungry, stop when full” mentality to a more limited set of food than it is to try and restrict the kinds of food you are already eating.
4. It Will Save You Money
Okay, cooking your own food from scratch will not save you money if you compare it to eating a diet of cereal, frozen pizza, and microwave pasta. But haven’t I yet convinced you of the importance of changing the specific foods with my previous three points?
What if we were to compare everything on a 1:1 basis?
Sure, you can go to a three-star Michelin restaurant and drop an entire paycheck, but how about the types of places a guy like me can realistically go and get a decent meal?
Here’s a quickie example of how much money you can save by cooking food yourself. Applebee’s site currently says that a 12 oz. New York strip with seasonal vegetables (codename for carrots and broccoli) and garlic mashed potatoes for $12.99.
I just ran over to my local Ralph’s to see how much it would cost to make this particular meal from scratch…
That’s a savings of 38% if you cook it yourself, and that’s not even taking into account a 15% tip and any expenses for gas and parking.
When you go out to eat, you’re paying for the service and environment in addition to the food. Although restaurants can often get a good deal on the food they are preparing, 99 times out of a hundred you can cook the same meal for much cheaper at home.
5. Chicks Dig It
Dinner and a movie again? Booooooooo-ring!
Whether you are playing the field, in a decades-long marriage, or anywhere in between, there are few better ways to impress women than by making dinner for the two of you.
I’ve never been able to quite figure it out, but every woman I have ever asked has said it is unbelievably sexy when a guy knows how to cook.
Maybe it’s because food preparation is a dying art, once a necessity passed down from generation to generation and now as much of a niche product as Polish hip hop music.
Maybe it’s because you are playing the proverbial caveman, hauling home dinner after a long day of hunting.
Whatever it is, it works.
Don’t use this as a first date, but save inviting her over for dinner for the ones you’ve gotten to know a bit and have started to hit it off with. It’s way more fun, interesting, and thrifty than trying to impress her at a fancy restaurant.
Just follow this template for a quick, easy, and tasty date meal and you’re golden:
- Quick-cooking meat. Chicken breasts are the norm, but kinda boring and safe. You could also go for chicken legs, steak, pork chops, or fish fillets. Fry up in olive oil. Add salt, pepper, and whatever other spices you want.
- Fresh steamed veggies. This one will be dictated by what’s in season, but any fibrous veggie will do here. Asparagus, green beans, kale, broccoli, collards… Steam for five minutes and top with salt, pepper, and butter or coconut oil.
- Starch. Bake up potatoes or sweet potatoes. Alternatively, you could make some rice.
Get something from each category. You can make a dinner for two from these items in less than a half hour, no problem. Get a bottle of wine into the mix and I can almost guarantee it will be the best home-cooked meal she’s ever had.
Oh, yeah. When dinner’s done… make her help you with the dishes. Hilarious!
Taking Your First Steps
Have I convinced you that you need to learn how to cook a few good meals yet? Do you see how important it really is? Are you ready to start?
Or perhaps you’re still a bit intimidated. Maybe you’ve seen all those amateur chefs rock the casbah on MasterChef and think you need to be as good as them. Unless you really get into cooking, you don’t.
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to learn how to cook six meals from memory, one recipe at a time.
That’s it. No soufflé, no sous vide, no layer cakes. Just find some simple, basic meals. Cook them one at a time until you have them memorized, then move on to master another one.
Here’s some good ones to start:
- Pot roast and mashed potatoes
- Roast chicken with roots and tubers
- Grilled steak and vegetables
- Baked salmon and steamed vegetables
- Scrambled eggs and bacon
- Red beans and rice
- Salad with leftover meat and fresh veggies
Making Food Prep a Habit
Instead of using all your willpower to eat less and exercise more, the real power comes in learning powerful new habits that will automatically make you healthier and in better shape.
The key to getting into the best shape of your life lies not in conscious calorie restriction, but instead in:
- Transforming your surroundings to reduce harmful temptations.
- Building rituals that automatically promote and sustain your health and fitness.
- Making slow, steady progress every day.
Cooking is a “ritual,” or habit, that you want to build.
Try to make something you know you’ll like. Then make it again next week. Then the week after that. Before you know it, it’ll be as easy as tying your shoe, and it’ll require about the same amount of willpower as a result of it becoming a habit.
And habits, not willpower, are where the real power lies.