We moved into a tiny house to optimize, not to minimize.
Tiny homes offer the opportunity to streamline the way you live. You can remove unwanted build up from your lifestyle and (hopefully) lower housing costs or turn most them into investments. Done right, you’ll improve your finances and add to your daily joy.
But living in a tiny house creates a challenge: either you live well or you live terribly. And part of living well involves taking an honest look at what’s working for you and where things can be improvements.
We've always kept a pretty good diet — mostly whole foods, lots of vegetables, limited amounts of sugar and so on. It worked well for us in our twenties, before having kids, but now we’re beginning to age. We can feel the downward trajectory instead of the blissful ignorance of steady improvements.
I don’t want my mind or my body to decline faster than they have to, I’d rather continue improving indefinitely. Over the past few months, we've been testing out new dietary strategies that fit within small space living and center on cognitive, physical, and longevity optimization. We’re excited to share some of what we’ve learned!
So, this is a diet and food post, but it’s a lifestyle post above all. This is the diet that we landed on for the same reason that we landed on a tiny home: it allowed us to live our life to the fullest. We were living well before we moved into a tiny house, we were eating well before we started fasting, but both of these things have been game changers on how well we live, and this blog is all about sharing those things.
A small caveat: I know there's a ton of dietary advice out there. I worked as a chef for almost a decade and always resisted writing about food because there’s already plenty of food writing out there. I also more or less agree with Michael Pollan—“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” I didn’t think too much about there being a “best diet.”
I’m not interested in persuading you that our diet is the best in just the same way that I don’t think living in a tiny house is the best form of housing—it all comes down to your goals. If your goals (when it comes to housing) are financial freedom, freedom of design, minimizing your footprint, and a creative or challenging opportunity, then a tiny home might be the best house for you. And if you’re looking for a diet that’s really simple and incorporates tons of veggies, saves you money, gives you energy, removes sugar and crap but is somehow still delicious, and might help you extend your health and lifespan, then we may have stumbled on to the best one.
Here’s a day-in-the-life of feeding ourselves in our tiny house. Our diet follows more or less a cyclical ketogenic diet combined with intermittent fasting. In other words, we eat mostly fats (80% of our calories), very low carbs (>50g) and we mostly only eat once a day (within a 3-4 hour window). We do this 6-7 days of the week, sometimes increasing carbohydrates to 150g once a week or so to restore glycogen stores.
Lots of electrolyte-enhanced water (it’s important to supplement electrolytes on a ketogenic diet, especially in the beginning when you’ll be metabolizing glycogen, which releases a lot of water for you to pee out! We use these and also zinc and iodine and magnesium)
One or two really big helpings of roasted, low-inflammatory, low-starch vegetables (asparagus, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, delicata squash, etc.)
One serving of protein (low-mercury fish, grass-fed beef, etc.)
**occasionally add some more carbs in the form of sweet potato or the like**
Raw cacao nibs
High-quality vanilla extract or flavoring
Tiger Milk (turmeric, adaptogens, coconut cream, C8 oil, grass-fed butter, more fun stuff if desired)
You might think this sort of regimented eating would be difficult but it’s actually really easy. Instead of having less energy, we have more. Instead of feeling worse, we feel better. Instead of feeling weaker, we feel stronger. Our skin is brighter and tighter, we’ve both toned up more than we ever have with exercise, and we don’t really feel hunger anymore. It’s crazy, but there’s a very real explanation for why it all works so well and with so little ease.
Suppose for a moment you stopped eating for 5 days. Without planning for your fast, your chances of succeeding aren’t great, but it won’t kill you—but why not? And what does this have to do with your diet?
On a typical moderate-to-high carb diet, the first stage of a fast is metabolizing glycogen. This is a slow and somewhat uncomfortable process because your hunger hormone levels haven't adjusted to your fasting state. Your body will still be telling you to eat, eat, eat. But after about 3 days, your glycogen stores begin to run out and your body starts to metabolize a different energy source—body fat (and/or dietary fat). It begins to oxidize that fat and produce ketone bodies to feed (primarily) the heart and brain. Once that happens, hunger hormone levels drop and you actually feel calm and normal, maybe even clearer than before.
Interestingly, you can simulate this fasted state through a ketogenic (very high-fat) diet. When you reduce dietary carbohydrates, after about three days, your body will upregulate the production of ketone bodies. At the same time, your hunger hormones drop and you start feeling clear headed.
Sticking to ketogenic diet makes it very easy to fast on a regular basis—we typically prefer doing daily fasts of 18 hours or so instead of fasting for days—especially if you supplement with pure fats, which won’t disturb your gut metabolism and will contribute to the production of ketones.
So how does all of this make us feel? Lean, strong, and focused—and bloating is a thing of the past.
Making three meals a day is a gigantic pain. Almost inevitably, we’d frequently fall back on take-out or just eating crap. But when we only have to plan for one meal a day, it’s a breeze, it’s a joy. There’s so much incentive to knock that single meal out of the park—we feast every night! And no amount of take-out or crap can come close to the quality of the food we can make at home.
It might sound strange, but we feel energetic and in control of our bodies like never before. Since we’re not digesting anything most of the time, it’s easy to notice when we eat something that doesn’t sit well for us. Keeping a clean diet can feel basically impossible if you’re eating all the time, which means you never get a real gauge on how different foods affect you. But if you start only eating during a small window, it's trivially easy to figure out what caused the trouble.
This diet has also made traveling is so much easier! It’s perfect for nomads and minimalists. You don’t have to find three meals each day and when there isn’t good food around, it’s really easy to just go without. And when you find a meal truly worth having, you can easily gorge to your heart out.
The other unexpected benefit? We get an extra 1-2 hours each day to focus on whatever we want (instead of focusing on making or finding our next meal). In the morning, we can focus on getting ourselves ready for the day and making sure that Escher's eating a wholesome breakfast (more on her food soon). Instead of eating lunch while she naps, we have a wide-open window for ourselves. And it’s time for dinner, I’m ready to put in the work for our food and make an amazing meal because I haven’t exhausted myself thinking about all the meals that came before.
Some tips, if you’d like to try this out:
Ramping up: it may take anywhere from a few days to a week to get “fat-adapted” (aka more efficient ketone uptake on a cellular level) and you might not feel so great during that time. Your body has to run down your stores of glycogen (which releases water when metabolized—hence the need for extra electrolytes) before producing ketones. Even after producing ketones, you’ll underutilize them until your body up regulates your cellular receptors for ketones. Stick with it. You’ll likely start feeling better by the third day and you’ll start seeing steady improvements afterwards.
Ramping up C8 (caprylic acid) tolerance: start slowly with MCTs and/or caprylic acid—1 tsp at a time for the first day, increasing steadily to 1-2 tbs. If you go too quickly, you may accidentally get a colon cleansing...
1pm-3pm: When you start eating only one meal day, you’ll start noticing your daytime circadian rhythm (you’re just not as distracted by gut metabolism or glycemic variability). For me, 1pm-3pm is a unique part of the day. If I’m not careful I can become very grouchy and impatient—but a mood is only bad when it’s in the wrong environment, which means that 1pm-3pm isn’t a great time for me to socialize, though it’s a great time to write, meditate, shower, prep for dinner, or exercise. I suggest drinking lots of water leading up to the afternoon and if possible, use that time for self-care or deep thinking or work.
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