It’s Friday, everyone! And that means another Primal Blueprint Real Life Story from a Mark’s Daily Apple reader. If you have your own success story and would like to share it with me and the Mark’s Daily Apple community please contact me here. I’ll continue to publish these each Friday as long as they keep coming in. Thank you for reading!
Note: Andrew experiments with Intermittent Fasting. While IFing is an effective tool for many people, it is not a required component of the Primal Blueprint. As Andrew says, YMMV (your mileage may vary).
I’m nearly 56 years old and about four years from retirement. I have been training for retirement by building skills and habits for things I want to do when I retire, and at the same time I’m training for my eighties. Health care is on a path to crisis for people my age, and I figure the only way to survive the health-care crisis is to not need it. I came up with the 100-days idea because I figure it takes about three months to make a real change in oneself, and I had several real changes I needed to make. I choose to think in days, because change-making is a daily commitment.
My first 100-day objective was simply to get more active and build strength. I was 230 pounds, it was late July 2011, and I began a weight-lifting/cardio routine coupled with low-carb/Primal Blueprint diet. After 100 days I was much healthier and 220 pounds. I wasn’t strict enough with the calorie restriction, so despite eating more Primally I didn’t lose all that much weight. I did lose fat, but gained muscle.
The second 100 days began in November 2011, and my objective was to become a better Nordic skier. I skied 108 days between mid-November and the end of March. I went from being a floundering spastic to being able to ski with most of the better skiers in my age range, but I never had their speed or endurance uphill. My weight didn’t change much, but again I had not embraced the caloric restriction idea. Low-carb is important, but I think that at some point you have to eat less if you’re going to lose weight.
The third 100-day objective was to get myself to a healthy weight and be prepared for intense XC ski training at the beginning of the next ski season. At that time I wanted to be firmly under 200 pounds. I set my sights on losing another 25 pounds and starting trail running and mountain biking to help with my conditioning.
Running has never been my thing because of lower back trouble. Running made it so painful I figured I just wouldn’t be able to do it. I was wrong about that of course (more on the back pain later). Trail running turns out to be a lot easier on my back than road or treadmill running.
I began alternate-day eating in April this year at 220 pounds. I took a real interest in Nordic skiing (both classic and skate) last winter and I happen to live near an excellent Nordic ski facility, which transforms into an amazing XC running and single-track biking facility when the snow leaves. This is my playground.
My program for the summer was to eat only within a 4-hour window every second day, and run or ride 4 to 10 km 4 or 5 times per week. For 10 weeks I followed the ADE program without faltering and then began to relax a little, going to one meal a day for a week, then back to alternate days for a while. I was still eating a lot less, but as I approach a healthy weight it becomes less important, and sometimes it seems to work better eating a smaller amount once every day.
I took the word fasting out of the alternate-day program because I think fasting is more than skipping a meal, or even several meals. Not being a scientist or nutritionist, all I have is my own body for a lab and my own experimentation for evidence. Some things I have proven sufficiently to guide me, other stuff I’m still testing. As such, you should consider this anecdotal and your mileage may vary!
I believe there are three phases of hunger as follows:
- Psychological demand to eat. You can ignore this. All you’re doing is messing with your mind.
- Physiological demand to eat. You can ignore this too. Now you’re messing with your digestive system and it tells you about it.
- Physiological need to eat. Don’t panic, but pay attention. This is the zone where real changes take place in your body. This is what I consider fasting to be.
Physiological need is quite a different matter from the demand phases. It kicks in late on day 3 or maybe day 4 of a fast. In my opinion, before that time all you did was skip a meal or two or three. I’m not suggesting that phases 1 and 2 are easy; in fact they are the most difficult.
Eating carbohydrates means you have to address phase 2 regularly. As such you get into phase 1 and 2 urges regularly. I think that to make caloric restriction work more easily you need to get over the carb addiction. That might take two weeks, but I consider it essential to a positive caloric-restriction program.
I have tried this both ways and it is one of the things I consider fact. YMMV.
Food as a reward, particularly desserts, baffles me. You work hard at keeping your cravings under control for a week or two and then reward yourself with the very things you know to be the cause of all your troubles. It doesn’t make any sense! Say you painted your house and worked very hard for a couple of weeks to make it the pride of the neighborhood. Would you graffiti bomb the place as a reward? No, you think that would be stupid.
I want to mention my experiments with artificial sweeteners. I have proven to my own satisfaction that they sabotage a diet. I have done this in a couple of ways. I have been eating low-carb (about 50-100 grams/week) for many months. My hunger urges are totally under control.
As a test I rinsed my mouth out with sugary-sweet iced tea and spit out the drink without swallowing any. Within 20 minutes I was craving food in the worst way I’d felt in months! Then a few days later I mixed up some artificial sweetener in water and repeated the mouth rinse. Same reaction! I was suddenly craving food like I hadn’t felt since the last test. I did this test a couple of times, which is not sufficient for any real scientific research, but I found it compelling enough. My hypothesis is that the taste buds catch a hint of sweet and trigger an insulin reaction. I figure the artificial sweetener fools the system and you get a shot of insulin in anticipation of a sugary ingestion coming in.
So, if I’m right, you need to stay away from sweet-tasting things. Anything that causes insulin to be secreted from the pancreas will lower your blood sugar and make you feel hungry. That’s my theory, and again YMMV.
I seem to work out best when I’m hungry. I have the most energy just before my meal. If it has been 40+ hours since my last food, I have power to burn. I ride up the hills without stalling, I make quicker decisions and reflex actions, and I often want to go longer than I have time for. For the last few months my most sluggish rides and runs have been right after a meal, even a small one.
I would like to summarize the concepts and ideas that helped me through the last three 100-day programs, and will help me through the next one.
- Marry Smart. A supportive wife makes this kind of thing so much easier!
- Get off of and away from carbohydrates and sweet-tasting foods. This makes missing meals a lot easier.
- Don’t drink calories. Stick to water and tea or coffee. Juice, milk, beer, booze – all poison. If you can’t live without your beer, realize that it is going to make this whole thing very difficult.
- Plan some physical activities for non-food days. You will have at least a couple of hours to kill while you’re not shopping, cooking, eating, and cleaning up.
- Reschedule your life without mealtimes. This may be the biggest benefit of alternate-day eating – free time!
- When you get hungry on a non-food day, exercise or, if it’s late, go to bed. It will pass.
- Don’t reward yourself with foods that don’t fit the plan. Cheesecake and ice cream are always bad choices while you’re working on your weight-loss goals.
My next 100 days are about fixing my back troubles. I realized at some point that I can have a sore back whether I sit around or get out and do things. In choosing to be as active as my back will allow I’m now running into a bit of a problem going as far and as hard as the rest of my body and mind are anxious to. I’ve decided to take on the main thing that has been holding me back for all these years. Now I know that 100 days is not all that long, and I can fix things if I keep my attention on them. I’ve been to a sports physiotherapist and I have a course of stretching and strengthening exercises to do. I do them eight times per day. I’ll check in with physio regularly and do exactly as prescribed. I don’t expect any program to succeed unless I do the work and follow the plan. At the end of this 100-day period I’ll be into a new ski season, and a different 100-day objective.
So far I’ve stayed with the programs I laid out for myself. After just finishing the hardest 100 days yet I look back at the beginning and remember how I felt, how hard it was getting my butt up those hills on my bike, and how slowly and painfully I ran. I weigh somewhere south of 195 puonds now and I have reset my target weight to 185. At my height and frame size I don’t think I could be considered overweight at that point.
I could be saying “I wish I’d done that” but instead I’m saying “I’m glad I did that.”