I met Jason on one of his regular trips to New York City before eventually moving to the city. Jason is from the Netherlands, and he visited NYC often for work. He is a champion Thai boxer, a fashion and fitness model, and a fitness trainer. On his visits, he would stay at the apartment of one of my private yoga clients, and he would join in the sessions. I instantly became aware that Jason is a very intelligent and conscientious man. He is highly perceptive, attentive to detail in everything he does, but also capable of maintaining a sense of ´the larger picture´. His approach to eating is, naturally, integrative.
Jason and I share a similar painful and eye-opening experience: our mothers passed awayafter long battles with cancer. That experience made us change the way that we perceive life, wellbeing, and self-care.
Here Jason shares some of what he has learned both through research and experimentation with eating for health, and for extreme performance. He also talks about his view on the food industry at large.
BD&H- How did you get started with boxing? Tell us about your background?
JVO- I have been training since I was 6 years old. I wanted to play soccer but my mom said ¨you can do judo first, you have to learn how to fall, and learn self-defense.¨ I did that for 6 years, then I started karate, then thai boxing...When I first started competing, I was 18 years old.
BD&H- Can you share about your dietary habits early in your career?
JVO- What I did back then for diet, was eating mostly potatoes, vegetables, meat, and a lot of bread, but the sources of our food in Holland have always been more honest. People´s metabolisms are different in Holland because they have a very different food industry from the food industry in America. I think the food industry here in America is all corn-based. Even if you are not eating corn, if you eat meat, chances are that the meat you are eating is corn-fed, so the source comes down to corn.
Back then I was following a very low fat diet, mostly focused on cutting all the fat out. Later on when I moved to NY, I started looking for different diets to try out. For the past year I have settled for basically the exact opposite. I follow a really high fat diet, a lot of fat and basically no sugar, so I changed the sensitivity of my insulin. With my previous diet, I would be eating all the time: 3 meals and 3 snacks. It was all healthy food, but I was constantly giving my blood sugar a little boost to not crash. Later on, I learned that that is one way of maintaining your blood sugar levels, but its not good for your body. Your body needs fat and fat is a much more efficient fuel. One gram of fat contains much more energy than sugar, and it´s much more sustainable. The main thing I do now is that I only have 3 meals. My meals are very high in quality fat, natural fat like butter, full fat yogurt, and well-raised meats. I used to take the leanest meats, now I take the more fatty cuts.
The food industry is run by sugar industries, even in schools. That really bothers me. All of these big companies are programming kids to buy their products. What they do is that they sell everyone on the idea of calories and calories are a very misunderstood principle. They made everything low fat, and sold us on the idea that that is good for us, putting sugar in everything to replace the lack of flavor, because fat makes food flavorful. Now everyone eats sugar, sugar, sugar, and everyone is diabetic and their insulin production is so insensitive that they constantly have to snack.
These days if I skip a meal, I don´t feel too hungry, I don´t crash. If I were to take sugar now, I would not take it before a workout. If I have sugar, I would only have it later at night because if I have it before working out, I am training my body to use the sugar as my fuel.
BD&H- Just to clarify, when you say sugar, you mean all carbohydrate? Sometimes when we say sugar, for many people the image of powedered cane sugar, or candy, first comes to mind. To clarify, when you say sugar, you´re talking about all forms of carbohydrate?
Anything that affects your insulin levels, even fruit. I barely eat fruit. Sometimes I do, when I finish a workout, or in moderation. I don´t eat root vegetables either. For vegetables, I eat everything that grows above the ground, like leafy greens. If I finish a workout and feel really weak, I will eat a couple of strawberries, but together with a source of protein and a source of fat, to balance out my macronutrients.
If I train twice a day, for 6 days in a row, my usual protein intake is not enough. On those times, I take a protein shake, which is not natural, and not what I like to do. A food that I recently discovered, is sheep´s milk yogurt. Sheep milk is very close to human milk, and its very anti-inflammatory. It also absorbs very quickly in the body´, as opposed to cows milk. It is high in fat, so it´s a great option.
BD&H- Can you walk us through a typical day, in your diet, and your workouts?
When I wake up I drink a glass of warm water with apple cider vinegar, lemon and half a bottle of kombucha. I like to consume a lot of fermented foods. For breakfast I have pickles, sauerkraut, bacon, some eggs usually sunny side up, leafy greens, avocado and that’s´ it. Avocado does have carbs, but it takes a lot for your body to break it down into sugars, because it has a lot of healthy fat as well. I love coffee, so I have one espresso, but when I have my espresso, I put coconut cream in it.
Lunch is often difficult for me because I´m usually out away from home. I try to go somewhere where the food is made with attention to good quality ingredients, but places like are not easy to find. Honestly, sometimes I skip lunch or I just have some yogurt and some macadamia nuts or other fatty nuts.
For dinner, I have a rib-eye steak, broccoli, and cauliflower. I eat a lot of red meat, I eat fish, but not too much chicken. Occasionally, if I do eat chicken, I favor the parts that most people avoid: I eat the dark meat and the skin.
Also, another different thing I do now is that I eat organ meats every week.
As far as workouts, when I´m not preparing for a fight, and I´m training just for maintenance, I don´ t focus so much on when I´m training. When I´m preparing for a fight, I prefer to do my weight bearing workout later in the day,. In that way, I can have some sugar for recovery afterwards, without using it for energy later on. It´s best to do cardio in the morning on an emply stomach to target fat burning. I take BCAA´s, especially lucine (BCAA = amino acid powder), to really target the fat burning process.
All of this requires a lot of time and effort on your part. You must spend a lot of time on your own preparing food?
JVO- I've always cooked my own meals, and I cook for my dog, too. I think that I´m a pretty fast and simple cook. I sometimes go to Foragers because they have good locally sourced prepared foods.
BD&H- Traveling and trying to maintain your diet must be challenging, too?
You can always go as healthy as possible. You cant always find organic, of course. You can usually always find a steak. I was in Curacao recently, and I saw that the kitchen at the hotel was preparing my eggs in oil, so I walked in and took some butter from the bread department, and asked them to fry my egg in the butter!
What I worry about most, is that you can make the healthiest choices, but you never know about the oils and salts they use. Most places cut costs by using canola or cheaper oils.
The trick is not to eat out too much, and to chose the restaurants that you know are well aware of what real food is. One of the ways to know if a restaurant values real foods, is if they make their own stocks. If they do, you know they care enough, they make an effort.
BD&H- Recently, we have spoken with athletes who have shared similar approaches to food and eating. It seems that all this information on low carbohydrate and high fat and protein diets has been quickly picked-up by those interested in optimal physical performance. However these ideas are starting to show up more and more in mainstream media. I´m interested in knowing where you source your information?
Well, obviously on the internet. Mark´s Daily Apple has an article about how to become fat adaptive. Same with the Ketosis Diet, or the South Beach Diet. It takes about 2 weeks for the body to adjust to not take sugar as your fuel. For that time, you are not going to have a lot of energy.
There are also 2 books written by Dr. Cate Shanahan: Deep Nutrition and Food Rules that teach how to repair your metabolism.
A friend of mine is a reporter for sports and was a bit overweight. She told me “man, I´m eating all these delicious fatty foods and losing weight.¨ She knew Dr. Shanahan very well and so I had a couple of phone calls with her. When I started doing this, and training really hard, I was getting really tired. I called Dr. Shanahan again, and she told me that she also consults with the Lakers, who had a similar experience. She advised me to have low-glycemic fruit like strawberries after my workouts.
She also told me that other acceptable sugary post-workout snacks are canolis. This is because they are fatty, and high in protein so they have slow and fast carbs. If you know that they are prepared with good quality ingredients, its perfect! I certainly started enjoying my workouts a little more then. I started gaining more muscle though, when I introduced some sugars back into my diet, which is not what I need, so I stopped.
BD&H-How do you feel about supplements?
JVO- I think supplements are quite good, as well. There are just a few that I find essential: one is fish oil, the other probiotics, and also resveratrol. For someone who trains a lot, a multivitamin, and maybe extra Vitamin D would be good.
BD&H- Can you share about what happens when you are preparing for a big fight?
JVO- My weight hovers usually around 190-200lbs. For my next fight, for example, I have to be at 175lbs in two months. I have to loose about 25lbs, but I can´ t lose strength. This requires dieting smart, and of course training smart. Before, I used to focus on slow carbs, but a constant intake of carbs, and keeping my metabolism going that way. Now, on very few occasions, when I do a very heavy workout, I have a sweet potato. That´s more following in the guidelines of a Paleo Diet.
The other thing that I try to do, is to increase salt intake. Sugars hold a lot of water, so if I´m not eating any sugars, I have to increase my salt intake. Salt is also good for proper hormonal balance, for your thyroid, and for proper hydration.
When I weigh-in for fights, I´m basically dehydrated. For a week before I weigh-in, I take too much water. Then I stop drinking water for the last few days, but I´m still peeing, so I´m loosing weight. For that week, I don't eat sugar or salt and I go down in muscle and body fat. If I have more weight to lose, I go in the sauna. When I´m in there, I can barely speak, I´m so dehydrated, it´s terrible! That´s harder than the fight itself. Then, after I weigh in, the race to gaining as much weight as possible in 24 hours begins. It takes me 3 months to drop 25 lbs and then I have to put that weight back in, in 24 hours.
BD&H- How do you feel after doing that?
Incredible! I feel so great because I had been so dehydrated and deprived, and all of a sudden I can eat whatever I want. What I do every hour that I´m awake, I drink a liter of water. Then I mix that with a very high carb diet and protein.
BD&H- How has your body sustained this over time, especially after having taken it to those extremes many times around?
JVO- Well, I've had one time when I got really, really sick. I did it the wrong way. I started too early doing workouts in sweat suits. I got too dehydrated and drained myself with physical exercise, and actually came into the weigh-in too heavy. They said I had an hour to lose the weight, that I should jump rope. That time I said okay, I´m not fighting.
BD&H- How about psychologically, how do you deal while you´re in the middle of that process? How do you stay focus to give up?
I guess that everything I make up my mind to do, I do. I am very strong minded, strong-willed, and I won't give in. Also, I know I have to go on that scale, so if I give in, I have to lose the weight again, and that´s not fun! Especially if I already have no water in my body, I don´t want to make that process longer!
BD&H- You´ve done this many times already. What differences do you notice as you age?
JVO- I don´ t think this has to do with age, but I´m different now because I didn´t do any strength training in the past. My weight before I did strength training was about 185, now it is about 195, so its 10lbs more of muscle.
What I have noticed now is that I take longer to recover from injuries. I am 31. I also notice that I don´ t need as much food anymore. I can eat less now, but that´s also because of my diet. The thing is, though, once you stop this diet and start eating sugars again, you will gain weight, especially if you are eating it with the wrong kind of fat.
BD&H- How has this diet impacted other rhythms that the body has, like sleep and digestion?
JVO- I am sleeping much better than before, really. I don´ t know if it´s because of the diet, but I sleep very good now!
Whenever I go back to Holland, I go to the doctor and do a full blood check. When I visited before I went on this diet, doctors told me that my cholesterol was ok, but my liver was over-functioning. They said there were all these little things, not a big problem, but my liver wasn´t functioning optimally. When I went back after I started eating differently, adding more and more fat, my doctors were shocked! All of my numbers were 100% good and they couldn't believe i wasn't taking any medicine.
My dad was diagnosed with Type II diabetes about 5 years ago. In a way, it was the best thing that happened to him. He made a complete turn around - changed his diet, started eating very low glycemic foods. He lost a lof of weight, but more interestingly, his whole disposition shifted. He looks younger, he’s much calmer. After years of eating minimal carbohydrates, he has added some slow-assimilated carbohydrates back to his diet without any adverse effects.
JVO- And he should! You should eat some carbs, because you don´ t want to mess up your ketones, but there are many carbs, for instance avocado, that is 30g of carbohydrate, but completely different than eating a sugar cube.
BD&H- Your diet is also very strategically designed for top physical performance in your sport, what do you think about how it would work for a regular person who does not exert themselves as much?
JVO- Well, even for people in a profession where they just use their brain more than the rest of their body, fat is better for the brain. More importantly, this diet is low in foods that cause inflammation, which is the root of disease including cancer. When I first started looking into different types of diets, my mom was sick. We started looking into ways to reduce inflammation. I was impressed to see how at the hospital, they used sugar infused water with a bright color to locate the cancer, so they could see it because the cancer latches on to the sugar. Right then I thought that if we kept the inflammation down in the body, without feeding it sugar, we could prevent getting sicker.
Inflammation can also result from eating the wrong types of fat. I have one client who has an imbalanced stomach acid problem. He is Pakistani, and he tells me that in his culture, they use vegetable oils in everything.
BD&H- Do you eat only organic foods?
I try. People complain that eating organic is too expensive. It´s true but I once read about a doctor saying ¨ Dont count the $ amount you are buying, but count the nutritional value, ´it will actually be cheaper.¨ Its a good selling point!
BD&H- Lastly, you mentioned that you drink coffee, kombucha, and water. Do you drink alcohol?
I like tequila. Usually, after I fight, I get drunk for a week and then I´m done with drinking alcohol.
Thank you Jason!