Methodology: Dietary Phasing

Regardless of whether I choose a 1, 2 or more month duration for each of my diet trials I do intend to phase into the diets in a methodical way.  Each diet poses it’s own challenges and cycling between diets that can be diametrically opposed will be even more challenging.  I likewise need to get back in the habit of being on a constrained diet.  While I have been judiciously tracking and budgeting food and exercise, I haven’t been on a specific diet, per se.  So nothing prevents me from having a night of hearty eating and drinking on crap foods and then make up for it the rest of the week.  In fact my entire methodology to date is based on the notion of saving up for these “binge” days throughout the week and over time.  Think of it like saving up for a vacation rather than going on the vacation and then paying down the credit card you charged up to go on it.

Cleaning up my standard diet a bit followed by the diet phasing will be key to making this long term experiment work.  The principle is simple: start with the diet that has the lowest transition cost from where I am and then incrementally work my way through.  This is actually a good concept for anyone trying to start eating in a new way.  Some people can do the cold turkey plunge method.  For most of us it isn’t realistic.  Triggers will cause relapses, and when you are in that black and white mode of thinking a relapse causes a full on collapse of the trend and a back to old habits.  Just ask any of the millions who have failed diet and exercise plans, assuming you are one of the few that has never encountered this yourself.  Start simple, like one day a week of eating the new way or phasing out just one food and then build up from there.  Unfortunately I’ll have to be a bit more aggressive but the principle is the same.

With my current diet selection, the phasing for now will therefore look like:

  • Base Building (Phase 1): I need practice getting out of my not so great habits like: heavy diet soda consumption, eating a ton on the weekend, having more than a couple drinks if going out to a party.  None of these, with the exception of the heavy diet soda consumption, are anything that I would consider to be “a problem” (in the 12 steps sense of the word) but since I won’t be able to do it for at least a year and a half, the time to stumble is before the whole thing begins
  • Mediterranean Diet (Phase 2): This is pretty close to my current diet, just cleaned up a bit.  There are a lot fewer sweets and grains, but much of what I eat will be the same.  It therefore makes a perfect transition into a “diet” experiment.
  • Paleo Diet (Phase 3): The Paleo diet is probably the next phase in diet transformation.  Depending on which form of the diet I choose, I could be without all grains, dairy, legumes and so on.  This is sort of like, but not exactly, the meat and vegetables part of the Mediterranean diet.  This therefore makes a very natural transition from the former phase.
  • Pescatarian Diet (Phase 4):  At this point I will need to start ramping up into the vegetarian diet.  A great transition for this is the pescatarian diet. Cut out some of the meats of Paleo and add back in the dairy, legumes and some of the “healthier” grains and you get this diet.  I can start playing around with not enjoying a big thick juicy steak or other meat products without having to go “cold turkey” (no pun intended).
  • Vegetarian Diet (Phase 5): With good practice eliminating all meats minus fish I should now be ready to take the leap and go to a purely vegetarian diet.  This will be a very important stage.  A lot of my life is spent eating out with friends and coworkers.  I need to get in the practice of looking at substantial percentages of the menus and figuring out which options conform to this diet choice.  Likewise most of the meals I traditionally cook have meat products in them, or sometimes subbed fish for meat.  I need to get a good repertoire of vegetarian recipes under my belt for long periods of time.
  • Vegan Diet (Phase 6): This is diet diverges the most from my current eating habits and how society eats. Therefore the last in the series.  At this point I should be highly practiced in the preparation of vegetarian foods at home, probably along with a good sample of vegan recipes from the preceding months.  I should also be used to staring at massive menus and selecting options that confirm to my dietary restrictions.  Hopefully by this phase the transition will be mostly seamless, given all the preparation.
  • SAD (Optional Phase 7): The diet that started it all and where many of us live: the Standard American Diet.  Since I’m measuring vitals, biomarkers and fitness markers throughout this process I think it could be interesting to see how my system reacts to going back to a SAD diet.  The idea behind this is not to do a three month version of Super Size Me or the like. Just as with the above diets I’m not going to go to an extreme version of the specific diet to sabotage my results.  Instead this would look like the type of diet I’m eating now.  I call this phase optional because depending on how I feel and what my metrics look like, I may be too scared to go back and try to eat like this again.  Assuming nothing of the sort happens though, specifically ramping back into SAD at the end before drawing final conclusions, especially if there are no quantum jumps in anything, will be advantageous.