A few years ago, I came up with the acronym DEER. I even wrote a short pdf about it. It stands for “Drink more water, eat more protein, eat more vegetables, and replace crap.” See, when I’m coaching nutrition, I generally start by asking somebody to drink more water. It’s fairly simple and a relatively “win-able” task that helps set somebody up on the right path.
Protein always came next. Protein assists in recovery from workouts, requires more energy to digest, and usually keeps us satiated longer. The third thing was always vegetables. Vegetables are usually the hardest thing to add to a diet. Our Western diet doesn’t include many vegetables (save for the lettuce, tomato, and red onion on our cheeseburgers) and it can be tough to find a “spot” for them in our meals and snacks. So this is where people usually get hung up.
The fourth and final letter stands for “replace crap.” Crap frequently includes processed foods, especially carbohydrates (i.e. sugar), and alcohol, but it can also include dairy, gluten, or trans fats. It really depends on the person.
But the truth of the matter is that if we rearrange this acronym in order of impact, we get REED. But REED is a weird word so let’s call it RED.
RED: Replace the crap, eat more vegetables, eat more protein, and drink more water.
When it comes to getting healthier, losing fat, preserving and gaining muscle, and just feeling better overall, I accidentally reversed the protocol. We need to start by replacing the crap in our diet and eating more vegetables.
Let’s start with “replace the crap.” This can mean simple things like drinking soda water with lime instead of beer when you’re out for dinner with clients on weeknight. Maybe it means getting a salad at McDonald’s instead of a Big Mac. I use the word replace of remove because this isn’t about starving yourself or pretending that any food is “bad” or “off-limits,” this is about substitution.
Look, we know that strict diets that eliminate entire food types are unsustainable. They work for a period of 6-12 weeks and then we unravel when the diet “ends.” Structured cheating isn’t much better – five weekdays of moderately improved food intake can be ruined by a weekend of day-drinking, grilled meats, and late-night tacos.
Let’s substitute instead:
- Eat hummus with vegetables instead of chips and dip.
- Make your own potato things (e.g. fries, chips, etc) at home in the oven.
- Grill or bake real chicken instead of heating up frozen, breaded chicken.
- Try bananas or apples with peanut butter for a snack instead of chips or candy.
- Alternate your wine with something else, like water. Or replace the alcohol entirely. Or at least save your alcohol consumption for actual occasions instead of everyday after work.
- Make your own oatmeal.
- Cook your own rice.
- Mix your greek yogurt with real fruit. It’ll save you money, too.
Whatever you do, start small. And remember that you won’t be able to change your entire diet in one week.
As a college student, it took me about four years to switch from pizza, cheeseburgers, and ice cream to omelettes, chicken, salad, and rice.
Even now, almost four years removed from Northeastern’s dining halls, I still find myself improving my diet by consistently making small, but meaningful substitutions, in my diet.
The E in RED stands for two things: Eat more vegetables and eat more protein. These are both important, but let’s focus on the first one for now. First off, let’s clear the air by changing the word vegetables to plants. Things like legumes, fruits, grains, seeds, and nuts also grow on plants, though they aren’t classified as vegetables.
Plant-based foods, specifically vegetables, are important for many reasons, but there may be one that eclipses them all: vegetables pack a ton of nutrients into a relatively low-density food. This means you can get more of what your body needs without stuffing yourself full of calories. And when it comes to overall health, longevity, losing fat, and looking great without your clothes on, these two things are vital.
But, as I mentioned, it can be tough to find “spots” for these vegetables in our Western diets. Here are a few ideas:
- Add vegetables to your eggs.
- When it comes to fajitas, tacos, burritos, or anything else where you might use fajita veggies, load up on peppers and onions.
- Wrap things like burgers and tacos in lettuce.
- Eat your hummus (seriously, Mom, it’s good!) with vegetables instead of chips or pretzels.
- Add vegetables, especially green leafy ones, to your protein shakes. (Yes, it will turn your shake green. No, don’t add mixed berries because that will make it brown.)
- Eat a salad.
- Make sure you’re eating vegetables where it’s “easy.” That means at dinner and especially at restaurants. (Substitute vegetables for your french fries. Yes, I understand they don’t taste as good, but people don’t build spare tires around their abdomen by eating too much cauliflower.)
The point of the matter is this: you’ll feel and look better if you can focus on adding more plants to your diet in place of the highly processed “food” that we’re eating now.
When you were a kid in health class, the teacher would show you the food pyramid and the fruit and vegetable boxes resembled the shadowy place in The Lion King – you just didn’t go there. Those things were for “adults.”
But then somewhere along the line, you grew up and got a job and a car and a house and an IRA and maybe even some kids of your own and we forgot what it means to eat like an adult.