The design of food 🍔

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A few months ago, I blogged about how I have intestinal dysbiosis.

TL;DR: I got a parasite infection & the antibiotics wiped out my entire gut micro-biome. I recovered shortly thereafter. This April, I had another bout of food poisoning. I receive yet another round of antibiotics. This time, there was no recovery. My gut bacteria had been altered one too many times.

Well, I’ve now had dysbiosis for 5 months. It’s led to countless doctor’s visits, lab tests and breakdowns. After months of denial, anger and depression, I’ve finally accepted that my diet will need to change for the long term. No more gluten, lactose or sugar.

That means every single place that is convenient to eat out is no longer an option: cafes, sandwich shops, burger joints, the bread before the meal, the 3-min ravioli at Safeway, the breakfast table near the conference room filled with an assortment of muffins, croissants and danishes.

At first I was devastated. I thought, how could this be? I resigned myself to never eating out to stop thinking about macaroni and cheese and cookie dough ice cream. Slowly, I’ve come to the realization that I didn’t grow up craving these foods. My mother didn’t and doesn’t bake. I hardly ever ate sugar except on vacation. We actually never really ate out. There weren’t actually that many restaurants in our small town.

So I started thinking about why I liked these foods. It wasn’t until college that I start eating sweets. The college cafeteria didn’t have many vegetables, but they had tons and tons of desserts every single day. I switched over into eating these foods, because they were often better than the vegetables they served, which were undercooked, over-steamed and bland. I gained 15 lbs during college. I joined that club.

When I graduated, I found a job in Boston and slowly went back to the diet that I grew up on – rice, vegetables and seafood. As a result, I lost my college weight almost immediately. However, I also ate out more often, as my friends opted for restaurants as the main arena of socialization.

Later, when I moved to San Francisco I started traveling for work, which entailed eating out as much as every single day for a whole week, something I found unnerving. I ate a lot of foods that were deep fried, heavily sweetened and chock-full of salt.

Perhaps, the worst part of this, is that I got used to it. So naturally, when I put myself on a more restricted diet, I started craving these carbs and sugars. I would look for excuses. I would seek out cookies that were gluten-free, instead of cutting out cookies altogether. I would look for cereals and snacks made of brown rice instead of wheat.

But when my symptoms got worse, I realized that I was only fooling myself. I decided to stop eating these processed foods altogether. It was a real turning point for me.

I had to do undo about 6-10 years worth of social influencing, marketing, and lifestyle habits. I had to look at the places we often cling to as forums for conversation – cafes and ice cream shops – differently than I once did and ask myself: why do these places mostly sell sweets and carbs? Because they’re cheap to stock and profitable.

Sugars and grains can last for a very long time and often don’t need refrigeration. Salmon and bell peppers have finite shelf lives and need to be kept cold. So businesses look for cheap options that can be transported and stored easily. 

Dr. William Davis describes in Wheat Belly that we used to only eat seeds of grass in periods when it was hard to find vegetables and meat, because they could be stored during times of famine. We’re not even supposed to be eating them. 

Many food businesses will add extra sugar and salt to their products so that you’ll buy them again and again. They don’t promise a healthy meal. They promise a good time (think about Coca Cola ads). They’re not looking out for me, so I need to look for me. I want to know exactly what I’m eating. 

I wasn’t planning on making a lifestyle change when I became sick, but it’s taught me so much about how we can take care of ourselves. It turns out that the restricted diet I’m on for my dysbiosis might be the one I should be on forever. (I’m on the Whole30 program and paleo diet by default, so I reckon it’s not a bad way to go.)

It’s been 3 months, since I’ve had any processed foods or added sugars. While, I still crave carbs and sugars from time to time, I no longer feel sad about not being about to have them. I feel more okay about sticking to my choices, which are exactly that. I can have all the sugars and grains in the world if I want, but I know that they’ll worsen my dysbiosis.

Even if I recover 100% from dysbiosis, I would still refrain from my former way of eating. This isn’t about getting back to the way I used to be, this is about living better. So it you’ll excuse me, I’m off to make my plate of shrimp, tomatoes and zucchini. 

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“Focus”

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Meaghan Nolan, the founder of UX Lab, said to me this week during a General Assembly event something to the effect of: “For my parents’ generation, the mantra in life was to work hard. You got to where you wanted to be by working hard. In our generation, working hard just ensures that you’ll be overwhelmed. We can’t just work hard, we need to focus.”

We all have many opportunities in life. The hard part is knowing which ones to pick. If we work hard and pick them all, how do we fit sleep in our lives? We can’t. We can only pick the opportunities that we feel most strongly about and focus on those.

Her words really resonated with me, because I work hard on all the things I do – whether it’s design related or not. That hard work brings me many interesting opportunities that appear shiny and wonderful. I always want to jump in and be a part of them.

It’s so easy to become distracted. There’s so much noise around us with people telling us how to best grow our careers, what our next moves should be and where we should go. Many people want to do it all. But doing it all comes with a price. It means that you’re getting pulled in more directions and that you won’t be moving as fast as you want in any one particular direction.

If you have somewhere you want to go, you can’t just hustle. You need to make it your focus to get there.

The way we are.

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A lot of people ask me “why did you decide to become a vegetarian?” Being vegetarian makes eating out a little more complicated, especially when friends opt for the BBQ Burger place or KFC. Your daily protein intake decreases, and you have to look for other alternatives. So why do I do it?

The way we eat has changed more in the past few decades than in all of human history. Corporations like to place an image of a pictureque farm on a lot of our food packaging, but the truth is that our food doesn’t come from a place anywhere close to that image.

Today, our meat is created in huge factories with assembly lines and conditions that you would probably work hard to get away from. Food, Inc. shows us up close and personal what we don’t want to see (the documentary is actually pretty objectivetrust me, I’ve seen the bad ones). Who wants to eat animals that have been placed in inhumane conditions? No one.

But a lot of us do it anyway. We do it for a lot of reasons. Some people really don’t know what goes on behind the scenes. Some people don’t care. And some people can’t align their lifestyles to their beliefs.

For me, it’s a matter of integrity. I have to do what I believe. And the result of that has been two years of vegetarianism. Changing my lifestyle has never been difficult for me. That’s just who I am.

But how can other people change their lifestyle to match their beliefs? It doesn’t even have to be about food. It can be about exercise, about the way they get to work in the morning, or the time they spend in front of the TV. If we all did what we thought in our head was the right thing to do, a lot of things would change for the better. So why don’t we do it?