What my diet taught me about learning

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by John Bunyi

Back in early 2016, I decided to experiment with what was still an up-and-coming diet called the Ketogenic Diet. A friend of mine convinced me to try it out by showing me that it was possible to lose weight on this diet while eating chicken wings, for which I have a weakness. For those who are unfamiliar, the Ketogenic, or “keto” diet, is a diet where dieters eat high fat foods with little to no carbs. This is the simplest way for me to describe the diet without going into the nitty gritty. (For more info on the keto diet, this is a great resource to start.

But I’m not here to preach about the keto diet and what it can do for you. I’m here to write about what it taught me about learning and keeping my motivation strong.

When I first started the diet, I was working in a public school as a therapist trainee. My work started early in the morning, so I would swing by McDonald’s for a couple of Egg and Sausage McMuffins sans the muffins for breakfast. I also really had no way of making myself a lunch because I had to wake up so early for an hour-long commute to work. Thus, my lunches often consisted of simpler snacks like beef jerky, cheese, and nuts (Smokehouse almonds from Costco were my staple). Then, to top things off, I often had to go to night classes right after work, driving another 30 to 40 minutes to spend the last 4 or 5 hours of my daily energy in classes. This was my routine for what was the last half of my school year. It was taxing, yes, but my goal was in sight: to lose a few of the pounds that I had put on over the past 5 years and live a healthier life.

In order to find time to eat and not get tired of eating more nuts and cheese than a family of squirrels, I would research different ways I could get a fast food fix that stayed within the bounds of keto. I slowly upped my intake of WingStop (Yes! And extra bleu cheese please!) and In-N-Out (protein style with everything on it, and no fries). I even found out that McDonald’s will gladly lettuce wrap their burgers. But it wasn’t long before I got tired of burgers, wings, and Chipotle salads--and my wallet got tired of it, too!

Then, the summer of that year, and after I had graduated, my girlfriend decided to join me in the diet and lifestyle change of keto. It was great timing, because I felt myself wearing thin when it came to eating nothing but high fat foods. My pantry was full of almonds, peanuts, and cashews, and my fridge was stocked with bacon. But now that I had someone else being challenged alongside me, someone to teach the diet to, and someone who was looking to me for guidance on the diet and keeping me accountable for sticking with it, I realized I had that much more reason to stick with my behaviors and really be mindful of what I ate.

Just like I had researched fast-food restaurants to try and hack the diet for my convenience, we researched, learned recipes, and cooked delicious low-carb meals together. We even learned how to accommodate something which I didn’t realize I was missing; sweets. These were especially tricky, given how much we had to substitute from our regular diet with things that were no-carb. We thrived together, and we began to lose weight and hit our goals.

That’s when I realized something that I can now attribute as a big part of learning: the social component and having someone there to walk alongside you. Having someone else there to bounce thoughts off of, to discuss your take on a subject or idea with, to challenge your views on something, to encourage you to keep going, is crucial to activating critical parts of the brain which allow you to develop your own thoughts and ideas. Think back to history class where you might have learned about Socrates and Plato, and other Greek philosophers. They often congregated in plazas and squares and had discussions with other people in order to refine their own thinking. That is in fact the concept on which many colleges are traditionally based; the idea that academics and scholars can come together and have a discussion on subjects to further draw out their own knowledge.

So, my challenge to those who read this is to go out and make learning a social experience. Start by putting aside the notion that learning is taboo, that learning is for “nerds.” Go and talk to your friends and family or start to seek out people who share the passion to learn more about your interests. Even if you already study diligently on your own, experiment with talking to others, or discuss the material you learn with a coach or tutor. Even better, challenge yourself to teach others about what you’ve learned. I started my diet strong--having my own goals and making strides towards them. But it wasn’t long before I started to stumble and fall. Without someone with me, I might very well have left my diet and stayed down after falling. Because I have someone to keep me accountable, I’m able to stay strong and continue even to this day. Think about how you can make learning a social thing, and you’ll find yourself more and more curious about the world around you, and that much closer to becoming a lifelong learner.

Robert Jamal Fedalizo