The 30-Day Primal Health Challenge to act “as if” has come to a close. From the updates I have received – from the few that were kind enough to send in weekly results to the dozens of emails I have been sent over the course of the last month from other challenge participants – I can pretty confidently say that on the whole participants are fitter, leaner and (dare I say?) happier. Don’t get me wrong. There were hurdles. Making the transition to a lower carb lifestyle can be tricky for some. Some people experienced lower energy levels early on. But for those that pushed through and stayed the course there seemed to be light at the end of the tunnel in almost every case.
From what I gather, one lesson that was learned by a large number of participants was that eating according to the Primal Blueprint isn’t all that hard. This is something I say all the time. People are used to restrictive quick fix diets that could never be maintained over the course of a lifetime. With the Primal Blueprint it isn’t about what you can’t eat, but about all the healthy foods you get to eat. Who else is going to tell you to enjoy in quantity the myriad of vegetables this world has to offer, savory meats at virtually every meal, and copious amounts of healthy fat? It comes as an epiphany to many and is empowering to all when one makes the transition in mindset that it’s not that I can’t have Krispy Kreme and fast food, but instead that I don’t want it because of what it does to my body; conversely that I do want to fill my body with the cornucopia of foods that Mother Nature intended – to feel and look better, be stronger and live longer.
I want to encourage everyone that made it through the challenge to stick with it. Don’t fall back into unhealthy habits simply because the challenge has ended. The longer you stick with it the less it will feel like a challenge and the more it will just become your life. As I said from the outset, the 30-Day Challenge should be used as an experiment. An experiment to find what works for you and to learn something not only about the Primal Blueprint, but more importantly, about yourself. I also want to encourage anyone that didn’t take the challenge to give it a shot now. Just read a few of the testimonials below and tell me you aren’t inspired to live Primally.
Enough from me. It is the words of challenge participants that matter most. Here are a few quotes from below for you to savor before diving into all the juicy details:
“I’m amazed I’ve been able to do this for an entire month. I went into this expecting the same old thing – a good week, a not so good week, an awful week, and back to my old tricks of being frustrated and feeling awful. I didn’t really expect a life changing experience.”
“I absolutely love the paleo diet and I have no plans to stray from it, ever.”
“I lost 23 pounds in one month.”
“Wow!! I must say that I have not felt this good about my appearance and my long term health prospects for a very long time. My energy is up. My confidence is at an all time high as well. I went from about 230lbs to 205lbs in one month!”
“If only I had known grains had been kicking my butt so much, years ago.”
“Also, my wife has been following along this past month and ended up losing 10lbs and is the lightest she has been for the last 15 years. She is quite ecstatic and is far more positive she can keep it off and lose even more weight. Woohoo to my baby! :)”
And it probably couldn’t have been put much better than the way participant Kara put it:
What I have taken away from the primal challenge:
– Eating Primal isn’t difficult. It sometimes requires planning, and sensible vices, but it doesn’t mean being hungry or feeling deprived, like a diet would.
- Exercising Primal sometimes feels like cheating, because it doesn’t take very long. If you devote half an hour most days to being active, as long as you are eating clean you will not end up being “skinny fat”.
- Eating crap makes me feel like crap.
- Lindt’s 99% Cocoa Chocolate Bar is a little too bitter for my tastes. The 85% Cocoa Bar dipped in nut butter is just right.
- Fat doesn’t make you fat, grains and sugar do. If everyone knew that, maybe we wouldn’t be having an obesity epidemic. Unfortunately nutrition is so political, no one would believe me.
Participant 1: Alexandra
Primal Final Thoughts
Thanks for listening these few weeks!
I’m amazed I’ve been able to do this for an entire month. I went into this expecting the same old thing – a good week, a not so good week, an awful week, and back to my old tricks of being frustrated and feeling awful. I didn’t really expect a life changing experience. But, for whatever reason, this time, this way, it has changed me. I cannot believe what I was doing before. I know this is something I’m set to continue for a lifetime.
I feel great. I *think* I look great (even if I’m deluded, that’s all that matters, right?). I am loving my vegetables and fruit more than ever. I even re-started a local, organic delivery of fruits and veggies to my door because I know I’ll use them now. I eat meat and eggs and butter and olive oil and coconut oil and lard and it is great! My new good habits are taking over. I even, just by the nature of feeling so good, unintentionally cut back on dairy. It just FEELS better to not eat all that junk that for so many years I have been taught were “okay.” I cannot imagine eating a donut or a fritter (okay, I didn’t really eat donuts or fritters before) or a pretzel or a cracker anymore – just because of the thought of the sugar spike I inevitably will have -or, more accurately, that my body will have to endure.
I even skipped the wedding cake at a wedding this weekend because the reviews were that it was just okay. Put straight sugar into my system for a spectacular cake on a special occasion? Maybe. For a so-so cake? Not anymore.
This experience has truly changed my relationship with food, exercise, my body, and myself in general. I cannot even explain how I feel. I don’t have to worry about whether I’ll feel okay or be able to take that hike or go to the gym because maybe I haven’t eaten in a while. My body feels “light.” I thank you for putting the opportunity out there and getting us to challenge ourselves.
My last week included some 30-60 minute walks, some bodyweight training days (pull-ups, pushups, squats, planks, playing with my new agility ladder!). About 4 days of exercise for the week. And yesterday I set another personal record on the push press.
My start and end stats:
Weight 113.6 111.6
Waist 27.125 26.875
Hips 32.5 32.5
Chest 28.625 27.625
Bust 32.125 31.75 (uh-oh, hubby won’t like that)
Thigh 17.625 17.75 (hmmm)
Anyone who is interested in following my ups and downs while trying to keep it up can follow on my blog: Journey 2 Health.
You can see some of my workouts there, too.
I’m not an every day poster, but I’m inspired, so we’ll see how it goes. And I am seriously considering (again) trying to make a go of it in the fitness industry in some way. I’ve been doing, reading, living fitness my whole life (a brief stint in dietetics work and worked in a gym for several years). I’ve invited my brother – a lifelong athlete and certified yoga instructor – to join me on a soon to come website. It is my passion; my day job is just a job. And again, I’m inspired.
Participant 2: Kyle
Starting weight: 168
Current weight: 157
Week 4: I was unable to lose anymore weight at the end of the Primal Challenge due to an already fairly low body fat percentage, and one crazy week. I spent two days climbing Mt. San Gorgonio (elev. 11,499) and managed to stay primal the whole time, eating a homemade trail mix of raw nuts and dried currants and cranberries. I think I actually overate for my exertion during those days, if that’s possible, because I sure didn’t lose any weight. At the end of the week I had my first set-back in my diet since the end of June.
We had just come off the mountain and I could barely walk from the grueling second day of summiting from High Creek Camp then trucking it all the way down with all the gear. My brother and I stumbled into the only restaurant in the town by the trailhead, a great little Mexican place. I had Machaca, which is shredded beef, eggs, onions, tomatoes, and peppers, but it was wrapped in two flour tortillas. I have not eaten ANY grains in a long time, but I was so hungry I devoured the tortillas along with the side dishes of Mexican rice and refried beans.
The next day I was right back on the wagon and haven’t cheated since.
Workouts: Five days later, my legs are still sore from the mountain, mainly in the calves, so I haven’t done HIIT all week since burpees seem impossible to me right now. In fact, I’ve done no lower body work at all since the mountain. However, I’ve been doing core circuits and I started a program to do 100 push-ups in 6 weeks. For the hell of it, I’m using the same program for pull-ups, hoping to achieve a much more modest 30 in 6 weeks.
Overview of the past month: I absolutely love the paleo diet and I have no plans to stray from it, ever. I find it way easier to follow than most people, having no trouble keeping my carbs under 100g a day. I have had only two “cheats” during the past two months, each spaced about a month apart. One was gumbo, one was tortillas with a side of rice and beans. Both happened while traveling under special circumstances. Otherwise I haven’t even been tempted to cheat. I love inventing recipes and the things I eat are delicious. I feel in no way deprived. I’ve even switched to an all-natural multivitamin and cut out whey powder, and cut down on my beer. I still adore a great craft brew, but I limit myself to no more than 1 or 2 12oz servings in a 24 hour period when I do partake. I’ve been tracking it on FitDay, and even with a beer I don’t go over 100g carbs per day.
I’ve been very pleased with my results and I hope to eventually get down to about 8% body fat, which should put my weight in the low 150’s.
Participant 3: Bradford
Starting Weight: 258 lbs
Meals: Discovered the frozen chicken section of my grocery store, loaded up on frozen hot wings, both cheap and easy. I also had Carl’s Jr. this week, my first fast food experience since going Primal. I had the low carb “six dollar burger.” In Los Angeles the “six dollar burger” actually costs six dollars; I don’t know if that’s ironic or just sad. Anyway, it was a good deal of messy, but the burger actually isn’t too far away from Primal as far as calories/protein/carbs/fat goes. The processed aspect of Carl’s Jr. is a different matter, but one step at a time, folks.
Tuesday: 25 minutes core exercises and weights
Wednesday: 40 minutes elliptical
Thursday: 192-step staircase 3.5 times
Friday: 10 minutes upper body weights, 10 minutes elliptical
Saturday: 4 hour hike. Reached one of the highest points in the Los Angeles area.
Monday: 45 minutes elliptical.
Avg Calories for the final week: 1000
Avg Carbs: 13g
Calorie Breakdown: 66% Fat. 5% Carbs. 29% Protein.
Ending Weight: 252 lbs (6 pounds lost this week)
Ups and Downs:
Ran into some timing issues with eating/exercise, by the time I’d finish my workout it would be 10:30pm, too late to start dinner before bed. Consequentially, I ended up going a couple days this week without dinner, which I guess is good calorie-wise, but eventually I’m aiming for the balanced three-meal-a-day thing.
I lost 23 pounds in one month. Almost a pound a day. I won’t tell you I was never hungry or that I didn’t have cravings. Even today, when I sit down in front of the TV, I still feel a little naked without a plate on my lap. But I can’t tell you how good it feels to stand up after watching TV without running out of breath (275 pounds will do that to you). I’ve got a long way to go, but I don’t see any reason why I can’t ride this Primal wave all the way to a healthy body. Possibly my favorite thing about the Primal Blueprint is I actually enjoy food now. I’ve been on other diets. I’ve tried to lose weight before (you know, like one weekend a month for the last four years), and my attitude was simply to make as little of food as possible. Don’t think about it, don’t eat much of it, grab a Slim Fast shake and be done with it. But on the challenge, I actually focused on food even more than when I was simply eating Taco Bell. I think about it more often, I look up recipes, I plan meals, and I actually feel a sense of pride in line at the grocery store, me with my meats and veggies standing next to the man with the ice cream sandwiches and vodka. I used to be that man. Never again.
Participant 4: Jeremy
Week 4 Results:
The nutrition side of my diet started like this:
I did well with my primal diet during the week but again my weakness has been the weekend I did have some bread and more refined sugar than I would have liked, but overall I did manage a very decent week of steady weight loss.
This is my 4th week at the gym.
• Day 1) Out sick
• Day 2) Walk and run varied for 25 min. Incline abs machine 2×20 90lbs. Back pull down 3×10 75 lbs. Curls 3×10 20lbs each arm. And pull ups 3×10 using weight assistance at 140lbs.
• Day 3) Off day
• Day 4) Anaerobic workout day. 4 stairs 3 times, 1/2 run, 1/2 walk. Last lap was all walk. This took about 45 minutes to complete, a very demanding workout, a very good burn.
• Day 5) Off day
• Day 6) Off day
• Day 7) 45 minute walk
I lost five founds down from 212lbs to 207lbs range. Week 4 proved to be a very demanding and I found myself suffering from a little fatigue. I had a few off days and I was sick on Monday which may have carried over throughout the week. I did however find that the soreness when doing the stairs was very minimal as compared to the first time I did stairs.
Summation of the week:
Not a bad week of diet. I was feeling a little fatigued after having been sick and that kept me off of my feet a little this week. I did again indulge in some bad foods over the weekend but have maintained weight loss and overall energy is far better than when I started. Being out of commission for a few days because of illness did slow me down some, but I came away feeling better and again losing a little weight.
1 month Primal Blueprint Wrap up:
Wow!! I must say that I have not felt this good about my appearance and my long term health prospects for a very long time. My energy is up. My confidence is at an all time high as well. I went from about 230lbs to 205lbs in one month! The diet side of it was a major departure from my usual routine of Pizza, beer on the weekends and twice during the week, hamburgers, bread, pasta and so forth, to salad after yummy salad, along with a nice breakfast of bacon and eggs with a small glass of milk or orange juice. Most of all eating till I was satisfied not until everything on my plate was gone. This challenge was absolutely what the doctor ordered for me because, I was on the verge of letting myself get to a physical and mental point of no return, and further depression about my weight, appearance and my future. Watching this unnecessary weight, and more importantly feeling the weight come off really invigorated my spirits and truly got me going again, as the saying goes. I think the overall lesson that I will take away from this going forward is that I do not have to feel bad about myself anymore! I can proactively make changes, and in a relatively short amount of time, too. I will truly never look at what I put into my body the same way again, and this is the best lesson/ attitude I could ever possibly learn and practice daily. Not to sound hyperbolic but I feel like I have had an oil change and my body and mind are running more efficiently and with a needed additional boost of confidence. The even better part of this whole undertaking is that I still have a little ways to go to my targeted weight of 180 pounds but I am so much closer because of the primal diet. I think by October 1st I will get there, and with a renewed sense of confidence, I will stay there.
Participant 5: Brian
Bummed to see the end of the month, but excited to keep on the paleo track in the future. After last weeks pasta and grain binge (and resultant brain fog and general all around craptacular feeling), I made sure this week was all down and dirty paleo. The result was a solid 4 lb weight loss and feeling much better in general. As much as the bad week set me back it very much cemented how much better I feel when I am eating right. If only I had known grains had been kicking my butt so much, years ago.
Next I plan on improving my workouts and doing a better job tracking my eating. There were many days I think that would have helped. I get so lost in work that I forget what I have eaten and later when I look back, I realize how far I had slid. I doubt I will ever get my carbs under 100g a day on a regular basis, but who knows. I think the 100-150 range is more then doable, far different then the 400+ I have consumed the last umpteen years.
Also, my wife has been following along this past month and ended up losing 10lbs and is the lightest she has been for the last 15 years. She is quite ecstatic and is far more positive she can keep it off and lose even more weight. Woohoo to my baby!
Thanks again for doing this and for all the great posts on your site. It is now a must read for me every day. Hope I look half as good when I get your age, “old” man! LOL
Participant 6: Kara
The post on weekend backsliding is very timely, because that is exactly what happened to me. When I get to choose my own meals, I make healthy choices, but this weekend I had a staff lunch, a wedding, and a visit with my parents, all occasions which I had little control over the food options. This doesn’t all happen at once very often, but it took me a few days of healthy eating to recover.
I have been doing okay on the fitness front, strength training, some sprinting, some yoga and walking, hiking.
My daily eating consists of lots of salad, lots of almond and sunflower seed butter, nuts, some fruit, chicken, beef, fish, more salad, and tacos wrapped in lettuce instead of tortillas.
My weight is holding at 138 pounds. I need to stop weighing myself every day now, because I am at a healthy weight and there is no use obsessing about it. I think its hard for women to see and assess what they really look like, but I came to the conclusion this weekend that everyone thinks I’m slim except me. My next challenge is appreciating and accepting my body.
What I have taken away from the primal challenge:
– Eating Primal isn’t difficult. It sometimes requires planning, and sensible vices, but it doesn’t mean being hungry or feeling deprived, like a diet would.
– Exercising Primal sometimes feels like cheating, because it doesn’t take very long. If you devote half an hour most days to being active, as long as you are eating clean you will not end up being “skinny fat”.
– Eating crap makes me feel like crap.
– Lindt’s 99% Cocoa Chocolate Bar is a little too bitter for my tastes. The 85% Cocoa Bar dipped in nut butter is just right.
– Fat doesn’t make you fat, grains and sugar do. If everyone knew that, maybe we wouldn’t be having an obesity epidemic. Unfortunately nutrition is so political, no one would believe me.
Sorry if this update is a little late. I would like to thank everyone at MDA, Mark, Aaron and anyone else behind the scenes. I have learned so much from your site and will continue to visit daily.
Participant 7: Branden
Wow! The month seems to have flown on by without me realizing. The main reason I hadn’t noticed was because nothing has really changed since the challenge finished up. I have continued along eating what I have been eating while following the primal challenge and even though I have given myself the freedom to choose to eat whatever I wish I still choose more primal options. I can’t seem to bring myself to eat the usual processed sugars, pasta, rice, bread etc that was a big part of my diet prior to the 30 day challenge.
My diet prior to the challenge was the typical of the endurance athlete diet consisting of cereal and toast for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, pasta and rice based dinners and throw in the several snacks spaced throughout the day that I consumed when feeling hungry or prior to or after a run. Snacks of course were of the processed variety and included sports bars, muesli bars, meal replacement snacks, pretzels, chips, cookies, chocolate etc.
With the challenge my diet drastically changed to include more fruit and vegetables but the biggest change was in the amount of protein and fats that I consumed at every meal.
While losing 10 pounds was an added result of the challenge, what I really discovered (almost day one) was that my energy levels where high throughout the day and replacing the fluctuations of low energy periods following my usual high carbohydrate feeds. I also noticed a reduction in post-run muscle soreness and enhanced day-to-day recovery. My legs almost felt like they were buzzing.
The last week:
Starting weight: 172 pounds
End weight: 163 pounds
Exercise total: 49 miles (including race 26.2 miles)
Marathon finishing time: 2:57:10
I followed the old school carb depletion-loading scheme which was popular amongst marathon runners a few years back. It made following the primal challenge easier during the depletion stage but I had to make some small departures in the form of added oatmeal, sweet potato and additional fruit (mainly bananas and dried fruit) in the days leading up to the marathon. I viewed oatmeal and sweet potato as being a good compromise.
Of course during the depletion stage the main challenge was getting in my runs and resting up for the race on Sunday. Actually stopping myself from going on long runs on the trails was my biggest challenge.
I stopped focusing on weight goals this week with my whole focus on being ready to go on race day. My weight probably dipped a little during the first four days when I eliminated nearly all carbohydrates but during the 24 hours leading up to the race I tried to top up my glycogen stores by adding in enough carbohydrates. The day before this ended up being around 600-700g of total carbohydrates.
Race day came and I woke 4 hours early for a good feed of oatmeal w/ honey, a banana and some apple juice (usually I eat two English muffins with jam and PB before a race). Two hours before I started drinking some sports drink (for the electrolytes) and just before the race I consumed the first of five gels. On the race I either drank water or sports drink.
I felt great at the start. Well rested and ready to run fast but by about 9 miles in I was thinking that I tapered a little short and was still carrying some leg fatigue. It didn’t get any worse and I was able to embrace the pain and fatigue over the final 6 miles to bring home a sub 3 hour marathon.
One mistake I did make was that I probably didn’t eat enough carbohydrates during the post-run window to help speed up my recovery in the days after and I suffered a little more than usual. Will rectify next time around.
As an endurance athlete it makes me aware that I still have a lot more to learn. While much of my learning will come from sites like this one and from books like the Paleo Diet for Athletes (although haven’t read it yet I plan on buying it) as an example I think much of the learning will take place while experimenting and finding what works best for me. So looking beyond this challenge I am going to continue on and for those that are interested I will continue to post my results and discoveries on my blog. It will be an interesting journey as I get back into running what I hope will be 100+ mile weeks with my end goal of running a 2:40 marathon.
Thanks everyone for sharing your results during this challenge. It has been great that to read how others are going and knowing that other people are reading with interest or even taking part in their own personal challenges makes sticking to my challenge easier. The changes I have made to my diet have been taken up by friends and they are all experiencing good results also.
Good luck everyone.
Ask participants questions, share your own stories of success or set back, or just comment on the 30-Day Primal Health Challenge results above – all in the comment boards.
A Must Read for All Participants: Making the Switch to Primal Living in 6 Easy Steps