Can Monotony Help Me Lose Weight? The Gray T-Shirt Approach to Healthy Eating

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Beautiful Monotony

Gray t-shirt and jeans.
Gray t-shirt and jeans.
Gray t-shirt and jeans.
Gray t-shirt and jeans.
Gray t-shirt and jeans.

Imagine if you opened your closet every morning and these were the options for your work attire. You’d see the repeated choices, grab a set, and be on your way. Rather than spending time and energy debating outfits, coordinating colors, and finding shoes to match, you’d already be dressed and ready to focus on other issues. You’d have that extra time and mental energy to make more impactful choices throughout the day.

The Move for Monotony

This is Mark Zuckerberg’s approach to work attire. The CEO of Facebook makes a moving argument for monotony. As he explained in November of 2014, “I really want to clear my life so that I have to make as few decisions as possible about anything except how to best serve this community”

Take this same decision-making approach and apply it to your diet.

On a typical day, the decisions on what to eat are even more numerous. Instead of one choice in the morning about one outfit, our eating habits force us to make multiple decisions throughout the day: breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, dessert, pre-workout, post-work, late-night treat, early-morning detox… We have an endless closet of food choices that include take-out, frozen meals, delivery, social media, a barrage of online recipe sites, and endless television shows and magazine articles.  It can be overwhelming deciding what to eat. Add to that the omnipresent messages on nutrition.   Companies try to persuade you on both ends of the spectrum – promising you “how to lose weight fast” while also challenging you to  “taste the best burger ever” and “buy more and save”. No wonder we feel exhausted by the time dinner comes.

Enter the Gray T-Shirt approach to eating:

Embrace monotony with simple “uniform” meals.

I have long-embraced this minimalist approach, often eating the same things for months.

It grew out of my work as a chef.

As I cook, I taste everything I make at least once. A typical day in the kitchen might mean tasting 50 different foods. At the end of that, my mind and taste buds need a rest.

I have a steady rotation of about five dishes – a hearty soup, a salad, an Asian stir-fry, something Mexican, and a potato bowl. I can eat the same Vegetable Bean Soup and Stuffed Sweet Potato for months. Going grocery shopping is quick and easy – I might get three or four fun new things to try, like a salsa, golden kiwis, fingerling potatoes, or a loaf of sprouted bread – but the bulk of my shopping is the routine list I get each week.

Monotony covers the basics: Flavor and Fuel.

As a chef, I get to spend my creative food energy on creating new flavors for my clients and for this website. As a fitness instructor, I can reliably fuel myself with enough energy to get me through tough workouts and help rebuild to recover. My mind is free from debating what to put in my smoothie and able to focus on how to perfect a vegan Shepherds Pie.

Variety on the Weekends

I stick with this routine for most of my week. Then, when the weekend comes, I am eager and ready to taste new flavors. Often this is involves trying a new restaurant or experimenting with a new recipe. There is heightened appreciation of breaking free of my uniform, of having a “free dress” day where I can discover some new inspirations. After five days of my standard gray t-shirt, colors pop out vividly. After five days of my monotonous, healthy meals, these new smells, textures, and flavors jump out more strongly.

Repetition Improves Cooking Skills

This routine also will give you the opportunity to become a better cook. Rather than monotony, think of this as a chance to train your cooking personality. The first week of culinary school consists of monotonous days spent peeling and dicing potatoes, onions, carrots, and celery. In a few weeks you move on to omelets, hollandaise, and beef consume, but the repetition never leaves. The key to becoming better in the kitchen is like becoming better anywhere else – repeat the basic skills until they are perfect.

Now, no one’s expecting you to master your brunoise until you have a perfect 1/8” dice, but you can master your favorite recipes. Chef Thomas Keller, renowned for his role in developing the New American approach of pairing classic French techniques with local California ingredients, advises cooking the same recipe for weeks.

In his quintessential cookbook for home cooks, Ad Hoc at Home he says, “Do things over and over, every time just a little bit better than the last. Repetition improves the quality of your craft and broadens your capabilities as a cook. The first time you make gnocchi, if it comes out right, you probably got lucky. But if you continue to make it again and again and it comes out right, it’s because you’ve picked up the nuances of the process”.

He later adds to this advice: “Start with your all-time favorite recipe from your favorite cookbook. Cook it by the numbers, following every instruction…Over the next few weeks, cook the dish entirely from memory at least several times”. He further suggests “make a small change each time (swap out a spice, change a vegetable), so that the recipe becomes a rough template, not a fixed set of rules.”

Cooking Tip: Focus on One Recipe for One Month

My own advice on the subject: Choose one or two recipes that you want in your repertoire.

For one month, cook these recipes at least once a week, say, every Sunday night. Play with variations, but stick with the basic routine. After just one month, you’ll inherently know all of the ingredients, how long it takes to make, and what’s the most efficient way to make it. Your Gray T-Shirt Approach has now made you a more intuitive cook.

I’m not suggesting you rid your closet of color. Please, keep little black dress, that purple tie, and that pair of fishnets for when the mood calls for fun and flair. Please still host dinners with exotic spices, heirloom ingredients, and impressive cooking techniques. But allow yourself to find comfort in monotony. Savor the simplicity of good pair of jeans and a plain t-shirt.

What do you Think?

Some Monotonous Recipes to Get you Started:

Gluten-Free Banana Raisin Baked Oatmeal – Healthy, Easy, Plant-Based, Oil-Free, Kid-Friendly, Vegan Breakfast Recipe no Refined Sugar or Syrup
Instapot Hearty Vegetable Bean Soup – Healthy, Plant-Based, Gluten-Free, Oil-Free, Easy Vegan Recipe
7 Minute Southwestern Stuffed Sweet Potato – Healthy, Gluten-Free Paleo, Oil-Free, Easy, Microwave, Dinner for One Quick, Vegan Recipe
10 Minute Asian Power Bowl – Healthy, Plant-Based, Oil-Free, Gluten-Free, Grain-Free Vegan Dinner Recipe

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