Is there an Old Money Diet?

I wish there was. I’d write the book on it and reap the (financial) rewards.

This post on nutrition is in response to Expat Yank and Katherine, who both inquired on the subject. I touch a little on this aspect of Old Money life in the Second Edition of The Old Money Book, but I think some helpful fundamentals can be articulated here as well.

First, let me say that I don’t think being overweight is a character flaw. Furthermore, I know plenty of stocky people who are in great shape. They just aren’t slender or even ‘regular’ in their build. So it’s more about ‘health’ than it is about being slender or being more sturdy in your physique.

Second, I’m slender. I come from fence-post ancestors on my mother’s side and much the same on my father’s side. So DNA definitely plays a role in my physical appearance. It also plays a role in everyone else’s. So I acknowledge that and accept the reality of differences.

So let’s focus on health, which, after genetics, is often the result of daily diet and regular exercise.

For exercise, my routine is (almost) daily yoga, light weights, and walking the streets of Paris to the tune of about 3 to 6 miles a day (to the office and back 5 times a week, errands like farmers markets and the post office, and then long walks just for ‘exercise’ on weekends). I also get on a mini trampoline and bounce for about 45 minutes 2 or 3 times a week, more when the weather’s bad.

The exercise routine I recommend for you is the exercise routine you will do consistently, if not daily. It’s that simple. Regular cardio, respiratory, muscle tone, stretching, and breaking a sweat is my very non-scientific approach to staying healthy and sane.

On the nutrition side, I follow a fairly Old Money tradition of eating fresh foods and not eating a lot of processed foods. To be clear, a processed food is something that’s been altered or manufactured from other foods or ingredients. It’s something you don’t find in nature, like potato chips and hamburgers.

What you find in nature are fruits, vegetables, grains, beans and legumes, as well as eggs, chickens, fish, cows, sheep, and pigs. I don’t eat animals, so that leaves me with fruits, vegetables, grains like rice, pasta (I guess this is technically a processed food), beans and legumes, and eggs.  Living in France, I also eat cheese, but in small quantities, and fresh bread.

Most of the Old Money Guys and Gals I know are not vegetarians. They do, however, almost religiously consume fresh fruits and vegetables as well as lean meats in small portions. Most do not drink soft drinks, except the Coke in their Jack Daniel’s. Most do not have ‘iced’ drinks with their meals. (Cold beverages can contribute to inflammation and inhibit digestion.)

Most limit their sugar intake to sweetening coffee or hot tea. (Most processed foods contain sugar, so those are avoided.) They drink lots of filtered or bottled water. They are not on particular ‘diets’ per se, but they all watch what they eat and exercise daily.

Many lean toward an alkaline diet as opposed to an acidic diet. (You can research the difference online.) This choice has been shown to reduce the possibilities of health problems over the long haul and make you feel better physically in the short term.

A relative of mine in Palm Beach simply looks at the ingredients listed on a food’s packaging. If it has more than five ingredients, she puts it back on the shelf. I’ve never tried this, since my wife and I shop at the farmers markets and tend to buy only olive oil, wine, pasta, and the occasional vegetable from the grocery store. But let me know if you try it, and how it works.

In the kitchen, simpler is better. We cook fresh vegetables in a pan with olive oil and boil rice in a pot. It’s all very Asian/Mediterranean. My wife is the Spice Queen, but I have no idea where she finds these ingredients. They are delicious. We don’t use much salt, even when we share an occasional bowl of popcorn.

So that’s an overview of how my friends and my family cook, exercise, and live.

As far as ‘losing weight’ goes, I have only a few insights. These have worked for other people, time and time again, so they are things to consider.

“30 minutes a day on a stationary bike will change your life.” This is a quote from a neighbor of mine here in Paris who’s been around since Moses was in short pants. He’s still strolling the streets of the city with aplomb, healthy as can be, getting in his 30 minutes a day on the bike.

Adopting a meat free diet over time might help you lose weight. The first reason for this is that you’ll be required to become more aware of what you eat, which is a huge first step. You’ll be more inclined to cut out the junk.

The second reason for this is that you’ll eat more fruits and vegetables, which will be easier to digest than most animal products. You won’t feel like you need to take a nap after every meal.

The third reason for this is that eating food that’s easier to digest might give you more energy, which in turn could make it easier for you to exercise, burn calories, and, yes, lose weight. (Vegans and vegetarians have very low rates of obesity.)

Finally, adopting a meat free diet (or something very close to it) is going to give your body a chance to get rid of the toxins that are almost always present in meat products, especially meat products produced and sold in the United States.

You’ll be less at risk for food-related illnesses (statistics on these will shock you, both in the frequency and severity of the events, especially in the US.)

I’m not a fanatic about being a vegetarian or a vegan. I have perfectly civilized meals with meat eaters. I doubt they are going to hell for eating a pork chop. But if you want to be healthier, lose weight, and do the planet a huge favor, it’s an option to consider.

You might adopt a meat free or super healthy diet for Monday through Friday, and then eat whatever you want on Saturday and Sunday. Of course, this is a trick strategy on my part, as you will, over time, feel so much better during the week that you won’t want to eat bad food on the weekends because it will make you feel so bad. Oh well, tipped my hand there. But think about this option just the same.

Not watching network television at night will help, as you won’t have food ads in your face for an extended period of time.

Fast food is for once or twice a week, max.

Finally, finding a yoga routine that you can do and enjoy almost daily will also change your life. If you’re so inclined, find a class. If you don’t play well with others, like me, then you can find a video online and follow along, or pick up a book and read up on the practice, its history, and its benefits.

Know this: yoga practice will require that you eat well and sleep. It will demand it. It will also squeeze tobacco products, excessive alcohol consumption, and junk food out of your diet like a boa constrictor working on its prey. Slowly but surely, after a period of time, you will simply lose interest in things that are bad for you.

If you only start with one exercise, do the plank. 30 seconds up to 2 minutes of this exercise daily will strengthen your torso and arms. It’s a great start if you have busy mornings.

Of course, check with your doctor before beginning any new exercise or diet regimen.

And, prior to starting any new habit, it’s important to understand why you’re doing it. Personally, I’m selfish and afraid of death: I want to live to be a healthy 100. I want to accomplish a lot, but my work takes time. So I need more time. So I eat right, exercise, meditate, and hope for the best.

Your reasons will be your own, but it’s helpful if you know what they are.

  • BGT


15 thoughts on “Is there an Old Money Diet?

  1. Fascinating, Byron! As a registered dietitian, I am a close observer of the class/socioeconomic-health connection. You’re right to mention that this isn’t a direct correlation, nor is it accurate all the time, but along with genetics and habits our financial health often goes hand in hand with the health of our body systems. A great deal of this has to do with detail-oriented awareness and long-term thinking – both mental frameworks needed for success in any realm, not just that of health.

    On another note, this topic reminds me of the daily habits of Her Majesty The Queen. There’s a charming book called “Long Live the Queen” by Bryan Kazlowski on the subject. Not surprisingly, he details many of the old money habits that you recommend!

    1. Hi Erin,
      I read that book and loved it. I agree that it has a lot in common with what is advised here. I emailed Bryan Kazlowski and he was delightful. Very refreshing. -H

    2. The Duchess of Cambridge also comes to mind. Although she herself is not OM, she has a lot of the values. In terms of health, she makes homecooked meals, eats lots of fruits and vegetables and exercises religiously. One thought I have about OM is that they seek a basic level of fitness, but they don’t try to be “jacked” or “ripped” or “swole.” Nothing extreme.

  2. Thank you for the book recommendation, Erin.

    As I always say: ‘ If it is good enough for Her Majesty, it is good enough for me ‘.

  3. An omnivore real food diet. Three meals a day and no snacking, keeps my family heathy. Pack you’re lunch neatly for work. Don’t forget the thermos of black coffee. Once you train yourself to enjoy black coffee you will never drink it any other way. In my office everybody has their own coffee cup and saucer that is washed nightly. There is nothing like a nice refreshing piece of fruit or nice cold water to enjoy, but given the current inflation in the US It is understandable that people would have to resort to calorie dense fast food. To that end for a weekend splurge I always frequent Mom and Pop places for Pizza and Chinese take-out. If you know how to cook from scratch then you really are saving money. Consider a food jar for hot food for work or picnics, I don’t like the way Microwaves “deform” food. Also in terms of gadget a burr coffer grinder is a great investment.

  4. Three non-scientific, anecdotal observations. . .

    1) Something that amazed me in my first job as a supermarket stock boy back in the mid-1980s (outside of Allentown, Pennsylvania with a reasonably affluent clientele) was sheer amount of generic soft drinks and snack foods people bought during the weekly trip for groceries. I suspect the issue is more pronounced now 35+ years later since, as a nation, we are more obese than ever.

    We were often called up front to bag groceries when things became busy on Saturday mornings and early afternoons. It was not unusual for families to have two shopping carts full. One of more normal foods, and another filled to the top with two-liter bottles of sugary soda, bags of pretzels, potato chips, corn chips, cheese doodles, ice-ream, and similar. Markedly different from how my maternal grandmother and mother shopped and what they brought home each week.

    Conversely, there was never much in the way of fresh fruit or salad ingredients in most carts when I bagged groceries all those years ago. It was unusual, and you could not help but notice, when a shopper had a grocery order of mostly healthy items.

    2) Even in safe areas and with destinations in walking distance, many people in the U.S. will take the car rather than walk five minutes across the street and/or around the corner to reach their destination. My wife and I used to chuckle about our students who took their cars (in good weather) two blocks across two streets and small municipal park to reach small liberal arts university where we once taught in Central Illinois. This is in stark contrast to a country like Norway, where I have lived and studied at a number of different points in the past. There, average people of all ages get out and walk simply for the sake of being outside during evenings, weekends, and holidays. Any time of year. And that’s not even factoring in those who have a vested interest in skiing, hunting, fishing, boating, soccer, or other sports. When I was a university student in Trondheim, it was not unusual to see students ski to and from the Humanities campus outside of town where we had our courses for example.

    3) Our former next door neighbor dropped over 20 pounds a few years back simply by ceasing his consumption of soft drinks. He has kept it off and lost more through regular bicycling since then. Positively skinny the last time I saw him in August before the family moved.

    Purchasing and eating habits along with lack of routine physical exercise seem to be the culprits.

    Kind Regards.


  5. Thanks Byron, great article.

    There’s something to be said about critically evaluating our portion sizes as well, I believe.

    When eating with folks in the US who were raised in a “higher social class” than myself — maybe or maybe not OMGs — they simply seem to have less on their plates less than I may have thought was necessary for sustenance.

    Further, in the country I live in now, what is considered a “normal” body size in the US is here considered to be morbidly obese. People here also pile far less on their plates than we Americans may think is normal. Locals here also laugh about US portion sizes after either watching Hollywood movies or visiting… leaving me more than a bit embarrassed about my country.

    Lastly, during extended work in the Netherlands our team was staying at the same hotel as our Dutch and French colleagues. I was amazed how little the Europeans would eat for breakfast — as I recall, maybe a slice of bread with a tiny scrape of butter and a thin slice of ham. Maybe some fruit and coffee — and that was it until lunch which was only slightly larger. Little wonder then why they were all far thinner than My Fellow Americans and me!

  6. Erin, thank you so much for the book recommendation! I started reading it last night and love it. Byron, you’ve created such a wonderful community here.

  7. Few adults I know over 40 are interested in learning about modern nutrition science. Most of the people I see at vegan and vegetarian restaurants are less than forty. Come to think of it, my wife and I are usually the oldest people at the vegan and vegetarian restaurants that we frequent.

    I recommend and Dr. Gregor’s “How Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease.”

  8. Maurice, my observation is somewhat different. If we’re talking specifically about old money people, interest in health and nutrition seems to span all age groups.

  9. It looks as though the data support your observation, Maurice. I thought maybe we were talking about people who come from old money as a distinct subcategory of the population. In general though, I think you’re right. Younger people are usually more up on the latest trends.

  10. Byron,

    Great article. I’ve been a vegetarian since 2001 and a vegan since 2018 and have never looked back. It started out mainly as compassion for animals, but over the years I have enjoyed the health benefits, as well.

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