How Primal and Capoeira Helped Me Reclaim My Six-Pack

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!

My name is Hilton. I’m Brazilian and was born in 1976 to a family of heavy drinkers, heavy smokers, and heavy carb eaters (they were heavy meat eaters too, a point I can’t deny). Many of them were obese and loaded with diabetes and hypertension.

As a kid, one could say I had the body type of a frog: skinny arms and legs with a big belly—and my diet was probably the source of the problem. Brazilians’ main meal is lunch, and classic Brazilian lunch is rice, beans, meat, french fries and tomatoes, always sided by soft drinks or very sweet juices.

At 15, noticing how little success I had with the girls (oh, I stuttered a little too, and had glasses), I decided to gain some muscle by doing bodyweight exercises (pull-ups, pushups and abs exercises topped with some running). Although the diet was the same, it worked—I still had the skinny arms and legs, but damn they were strong. As for the belly, it vanished. Hello, six-pack!

I only learned to eat veggies in my late teens, as a matter of money. As a college student, short of cash, I had to stick to the meals offered by the university restaurant. They were much cheaper than regular restaurants and were much easier than cooking at home, which I didn’t know how to do at the time anyway. Plus, it was really good for me—so no hard feelings!

Hilton Before PrimalBut besides the new feeding habits, there came beer, parties and junk food—loads of each. So I said “buh-bye” to the six-pack and put on 27 pounds in a single year (this was in 1995).

1996 came, and I decided to drop that load again. I became a vegetarian and joined a capoeira (Brazilian martial art) school. It worked like a charm. By the end of that year, I had my six-pack back. I reintroduced meat to my diet in the beginning of 1997, and kept training capoeira (6 times a week), running (3 times a week) and swimming (3 times a week).

By the middle of 1999, I got a knee pain. After some x-rays and MRIs, no lesions were detected, so I was sent to physiotherapy. I had dozens of sessions, and the pain was still there. I quit capoeira and running, and stuck to swimming (most of the time, using only my arms to avoid hurting my knee). Then the pain “spread” to the other knee, and then to my upper back. The dark times had arrived.

After hundreds of physiotherapy, acupuncture and reiki sessions (plus a truckload of homeopathy) later, I had pain on my shoulders, elbows, upper and lower back, and knees (luckily money was not an issue after I graduated, since I had no kids). On average it was not incapacitating, but it prevented me from exercising hard since I would pay the price of having some three or four days of excruciating pain afterward. Sleeping became somewhat of an issue, too. I kept swimming VERY slowly, just to maintain my stress under control. Weight started to build up again…

In 2001, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. The rheumatologist told me that I had a mild case (given the amount of pain I had at the time, I can only gape at how people with severe cases live on one day after the other) and prescribed cyclobenzaprine (which made me thirsty and somewhat groggy). But more importantly, he suggested that since I had a mild case, I should accept pain as a constant in my life, and focus on being fit. According to some studies, fibromyalgia pain seems to decrease when you are strong and stretched.

So I came back to my beloved capoeira, stuck to medication, avoided too much sugar or fat, and ate lots of veggies. It hurt like hell in the beginning, but it paid. By mid-2002, I was back to exercising and had a strong body again—still skinny, but strong with a six-pack again. Everything was fine…until December 31st, 2007.

While bodysurfing, a wave threw me on the shallows, and I hurt my right shoulder badly. I had two surgeries to fix it, wherein I lost some cartilage and part of my joint movement (fortunately, people who hardly know me can’t tell how much amplitude I have lost. Since I had above-average stretching thanks to capoeira, even though I’m limited, my right arm looks normal. But handstands and cartwheels became very hard to perform. The same difficulty applied to raising heavy weights with my arms fully extended.)

After the accident, I steadily gained 5.5 pounds per year. I still practiced capoeira, but without using my arms since I was always afraid of being taken down and hurting the shoulder again. I kept it to a minimum (15 minutes each 15 days). Lots of ice cream, pizza, snacks and chocolate found their way into my cabinets and fridge—and I ate them all. My six-pack ran away again, and left constant heartburn in its place.

A friend mentioned the paleo diet in July, 2010, and I thought it was worth a read. But I didn’t decide to try it until March, 2013. I did some research on the internet and found MDA. I read anything I could for a few days, and decided to change my way of eating on March 1st, 2013.

In exactly four days, I dropped 3.3 pounds and was hooked.

From the beginning, the heartburn was gone. After some time my feet and nails ceased to crack. My fibromyalgia pains lessened a lot, but were still there. My wife was sure I would “die with clogged arteries from that much animal fat,” so I stuck to a routine of having my blood checked every 60 days. All my biomarkers got better, or didn’t change. My meals got more expensive (unlike my college days, money was an issue since I now had one daughter and a bigger house to keep up), healthier, slower and tastier. I craved bread from time to time, but never cheated—until the cravings completely disappeared.

After six months, I had dropped almost 35 pounds and got back to the same weight I had before the accident; the same weight I was at 18 years old when I practiced intense activities 6 times a week. The difference was that I wasn’t practicing anything at all…just eating real food!

Only then, after losing those 35 pounds, did I start working out. Pushups, pull-ups, squats, planks, and a 10 pound medicine ball—combined with occasional sprints and the daily walk to work (2.2 miles, covered each day in 40 minutes)—got me in the best shape of my life. I was still a lean guy (no bulging muscles) but I was strong.

Hilton After PrimalAs the weight dropped and I said “Hello again, six-pack,” I noticed another BIG change: people around me stopped mocking my new lifestyle and started asking about what the heck I was doing. So I started preaching whenever I could, and got some “followers.” We were “the cult.” But we were also getting leaner and stronger by the day, so more and more people came. I managed to stage some talks, and, as of now, I have turned some 40 or 50 people onto the paleo way of life. This included family members, coworkers and people I had never even seen—they were “converted” by my faithful. Together, we have dropped more than a ton of weight between us, as well as blood pressure, statins and diabetes medication.

A lot of people thank me for changing their lives, and I refer them to you and the strong paleo/LCHF gurus out there (Robb Wolf, Chris Kresser, Andreas Eenfeldt, Michael Eades, Paul Jaminet and all the gang). There’s also José Souto, MD: the Brazilian paleo/LCHF guru who started his own blog in 2011 and is the greatest reference in the country.

I also decided to get a degree in nutrition (I already have a bachelor of science in computer science), and have three more years to go. It’s weird and sad to see how the “common wisdom” is spread inside college. People in their first year already “know that all that matters is the caloric balance.” But there have been a lot of heated discussions in my class, to say the least.

Anyway, I’d like to thank you a lot! I have almost 1.5 years on the path to health, and feel that every day has something new to show me!

Cheers from Brazil!

Hilton

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55 thoughts on “How Primal and Capoeira Helped Me Reclaim My Six-Pack”

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  1. Let’s have a game sometime. 🙂

    Paleo Capoeiristas ftw

    1. Salve, Resmungo!

      Paleo and capoeira seem to be a perfect match. Some friends mix crossfit to make things funnier yet 🙂

      I talked a lot to people from Mandinga LA back in 2000-2001, through http://www.capoeira.com – used the nickname “Teimosia” on the forum.

      Axé,
      T.

  2. Hilton,

    Awesome. We can curse the darkness or become a shining light. Great job on shining a light all around you.

    I just heard Sam Feltham’s interview with José Souto. He sounds like a great guy.

    Congrats for you and your family and friends.

    Grok On! I love Fridays.

    1. Dr. Souto is a great guy. I had the chance to bring him to talk to some 80 people last month (he lives 850 miles from my place), and his knowledge in medicine and low-carb is incredible.

  3. You look great! I love that you’re going into the nutrition courses and starting those heated debates. People need to start thinking more critically about why they believe what they do about nutrition and whether it’s really true. Especially those entering the profession. Keep up the good work!

    1. There are some funny stories:

      Biochemistry teacher told us that we live solely on glucose, I said “but what about ketone bodies ?” She said “they’re toxic”, and I said “you’re mixing ketosis and ketoacidosis. I know of only 1 case where a non-diabetic person got ketoacidosis by nutrition only”. The next class I showed her the metabolic pathway which consumes ketone bodies to produce ATP, and she said “oh, you’re right”. Case closed.

      Physiology teacher told us we NEEDED to eat carbohydrates, and I said “but there are entire populations which live on meat and fat most of the year, and are alive and well. Just look at the inuit”. He said “ok”, and changed subject. Some months later, he was explaining how the liver synthesizes glucose from non-carbohydrate molecules, and I said “see ? You don’t need carbohydrates for glucose, since you eat enough protein, fat, micronutrients and water”. And he said “I had never thought about that”. He went paleo the next week 😀

      It’s amazing how people DO HAVE the knowledge, and simply don’t connect the dots – probably because of many years hearing that something doesn’t work the way it’s described on the same book they studied…

      1. That is awesome- I can’t believe your teacher switched to paleo the next week. Way to bring the convincing arguments 🙂

        1. I don’t know if hes still practicing – but at that time (around may-june) he lost 8lb on a month, and was astonished 🙂

  4. That’s an awesome story! Well done defying CW and spreading the cult!

    1. this place is starting to scare me. lets not turn this into crossfit

  5. I have fibromyalgia. It is a cortisol dysregulation issue, I think. Carbohydrates stress that system. Indigestion is a signal. The longer it goes on, the harder it is to sort (especially due to life pressures such as children and work). Exercising can make fibromyalgia worse, not better, if it is really bad, you need to get stronger first. I’m not diagnosed, but I have years of pain and misery under my belt – beat that.

    1. I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia six months after my third child was born. The doctor wanted to put me on some sort of drug (can’t remember which, it’s been 19 years) that would “prove” I had it, if it worked. I was breastfeeding and said no. Fortunately I remembered the night before my worst attack I had eaten two plates of pesto and two bowls of ice cream. I cut out dairy and the pain vanished within a week. Since then I have found out I also have a problem with wheat. As a result for anyone with fibromyalgia I highly recommend cutting dairy out.I still find it difficult, as cheese is like crack to me, but if I sneak some more than once a week I wake up with painful feet and fingers.

      1. Glad to hear you have isolated a trigger or two. Think though, that as a cortisol dysregulation issue, if it is, it will affect all parts of the body. Digestion, immune system, etc. It is stress related. If you rebalance your hormones, you may be able to eat foods you like. I am gluten free though, all the family currently is, but not for the same reasons. Not that I am sorted, but slightly less incapacitated. Hard ask to sort out hormones. Such a complex world. Cue for pharmecutical companies to provide a non-answer. I must say though, that fibromyalgia is underdiagnosed because some people use it to get off work etc. when they don’t have it as it is hard to pinpoint and affects each person differently (genetic makeup of cortisol distribution). Majority of sufferers are mid-aged women, probably because children are extremely emotionally and physically draining and women tend to be more ’emotional’; although that could be debated ad infiitum. Migranes may be a form of fibromyalgia. We live in a wicked world. Some of us are extremely useful and intelligent, but destined to die out in the modern paradigm!

  6. Congrats on the six-pack and on what if I remember correctly is a large South American rodent with an affinity for the water.

        1. Parabens, Hilton! To muito feliz em ver um capoeirista aqui. Vc ainda ta jogando capoeira agora? Eu sei que meu amigos do capoeira sempre comendo o arroz, arroz, arroz, os feijoes, feijao, feijao, o pao, o pao! You look great, very lean, and how is the shoulder?

  7. Wow- well done! And congrats on deciding to get that nutrition degree- I bet those classroom debates are interesting 🙂

    1. I got some teachers to at least try primal… It’s much easier explain to biochemists and biologists than to nutritionists 🙂

      8 months ago, when the classes began, every classmate looked at me as if I were the devil in flesh and horns.

      Slowly they’ve been assimilated too (resistance is futile! :-), and this semester every student will be presenting a paper about some aspect of low-carb diets. Hopefully Brazil will get 30 brand new primal-nutritionists by 2018 😉

  8. Fantastic that you can do heavy lifting and work out again. I have (had) similar symptoms in the form of AS (inflammatory arthritis), and diet controls all my symptoms now. Slowly working on ramping up the exercising, but heavy lifting is still a no-go, even after 4 yrs of the autoimmune protocol + no starch. A story like yours certainly makes for good, and further, inspiration!

    1. In fact, I can’t lift as heavy as I wanted to, because of the shoulder surgeries.

      But it has become easier to throw some chin-ups/pull-ups, dips and push-ups. I started really slowly, just holding the push-up positiion for some seconds, 3 times a week.

      Probably the medicine ball was the medicine that helped me the most 🙂 Just used to toss it around, until got a little strength back to the shoulders.

      Stick to your protocol and go slowly. Enjoy the road!

  9. Recently I have heard good things about the supplement SAM-E for fibromyalgia and arthritis, it also seems to function as an antidepressant, a lot of people swear by it. I just started sampling it about a week ago so it’s too early to tell but it’s worth a shot.

    1. wanted to chime in on this supplement – because some nutritionists believe that one of the key things in this works is the sulpher – or the methylsulfonylmethane, an organic form of sulfur, that cleans out microbes and parasites in your body. If you want to be really healthy = clean out your intestines and colon – which could take a year or two to fully do – but clean out the gunk and you’ll be amazed at what ailments are eliminated!

  10. Do you still have fibromyalgia? If so, has it improved? What do you feel influences your symptoms the most? Thanks for sharing!! You have a great story.

    1. Hello, Jesse

      It improved a lot, but didn’t went away. I even tried 1 month without nightshades, dairy and nuts – but it’s still there. I am prone to lingering joint pain when I workout too hard, and feel a little sore, but it’s not incapacitating (ok, it never was even before primal).

      Another condition which has got much better is dyshidrosis. My hands still itch from time to time, and some small blisters appear, but nothing serious.

      1. I too think I have fibromyalgia but have never been formally diagnosed. I started using the book 8 Steps to a Pain Free Back, by Esther Gokhale. Mark recommended her in one of his posts. She is a (primal) posture expert. Her book has been amazing for me as far and my back and neck pain are concerned. And the improvement in my posture has been dramatic – making me feel so much better. However, I have continued to have knee pain in both knees despite everything – including primal eating (MRI’s fairly normal). Anyway, thanks for your response! It’s always great to hear what helps other people.

        1. +1 Esther Gokhale’s book
          Highly recommended, it fixed by back issues and give you awareness of the importance of posture

        2. fixing typos above

          +1 Esther Gokhale’s book
          Highly recommended, it fixed my back issues and it gives you awareness of the importance of posture.

  11. Hey congratulations well done!
    I have been watching some capoeira youtubes and now that I am doing zumba I think I am ready for the challenge, and with this post I am charged!
    muito obrigado for your story!

  12. Ever since I first saw Capoeira it has been one of the things that makes me wish I could just go back & start over again. Your story *almost* makes it seem possible… well, maybe not for me, but it’s still a beautiful tale. I hope someday you will be fully pain-free. I also wish you’d link to a video of your practice! I love to watch capoeira in action. It’s absolutely magical!

  13. Awesome! How much time passed between those two photos you posted?

    1. The first pic was taken on feb 28th, 2013. The second, march 29th, 2014.

  14. Hilton – great testimony – and congrats! also – how awesome to share and touch so many lives – what heart you have – and well, when something is this life changing and life saving – how could we not want to pass it on and share – so good for you! <3

    another thing I really liked was how you said "It’s weird and sad to see how the “common wisdom” is spread inside college" because it highlights the ignorance that permeates so many communities regarding nutrition and what the body needs. Anyhow, best wishes with your nutrition degree and thanks for sharing your inspiring story…
    "Elogios à vida saudável amigo"

  15. Excellent! A Brazilian testimony here!! I am also from Brazil and coincidentally, I was also diagnosed with fibromyalgia while constantly changing medical and drug treatment demand.
    The paleo diet has changed my life in so many ways it’s hard to explain to anyone who has difficulty hearing! Thanks to blog like the Hilton and Dr. Jose Souto (Brazilian blogs) it becomes easier to share information and spread the idea of what is the paleo diet to people around us!
    Thank you for writing your testimony !! I will share!
    Happiness and health to all! 🙂

  16. Hello man!
    Such an inspiration!
    I am Brazilian (I live in RS), and I totally agree that bread/pasta are buried VERY deep in our meals. I still couldn’t understand that I don’t need it in breakfast.
    I am trying to start being paleo, but is has been very hard until now. I did just a few steps so far 🙁
    I used to do many exercises when in high school, but I totally lost it because work hours, university hours, housekeeping hours… Last Saturday I did my first walking/running 30 minutes. I felt very tired, even sleepy when I returned. But I’ll try again.

    Thank you for sharing your case 🙂

    1. It’s an easy road, if you look at it with the right eyes. You’ll never be hungry again, and will always eat tasty food. You’ll save time (no more running endless miles on threadmills, no more stopping to eat each 3 houras). You’ll grow lean without effort. But you’ll need to stop eating garbage 😉

  17. Hilton, your story is very inspiring. Thank you for sharing! I admire your determination and persistence. I can imagine now much pain you must have went through. I have been training capoeira for the past ten years and it was become a great part of my life. However, three months ago I had to stop training (and also had to stop work and school) as I have developed a lot of pain in my body (muscles and joints of legs and arms, back pain etc) and I am constantly feeling very weak and tired. Like you described, even simple physical activity gives me a lot of very intense and long-lasting pain that leaves me barely functional. I also tend to feel very anxious and tense at times, and have been having problems with sleep and digestion. Regular doctors have not identified the cause of the problem. From my observations, it seems I may have something similar to fibromyalgia as well. I have turned to alternative medicine and have been going for acupuncture and I see some gradual improvement. Recently I also visited a homeopathic doctor, who gave me many supplements to take and told me to cut out gluten, lactose, processed sugars – I am excited to see what changes that will lead to. I have also been vegetarian for the past seven years. At times I feel devastated and depressed not knowing how long this will last and when, if ever, will I be pain-free and full of energy again, and weather I will be able to go back to training capoeira and other sports that I love. However, your story really inspires me and gives me a lot of hope to have my life under control again 🙂

    1. If you’re tired, weak and feeling anxious, you might want to check our your breathing habits.

      Besides food (thank you Mark!), people underestimate the importance of breathing correctly. Breathing influences all kind of things, including allergies but also blood sugar control!

      I can recommend everyone to check out the Buteyko method. A very good website is: http://www.normalbreathing.com

      Another option is to simply Google around. There’s plenty of material to find about the Buteyko method. It changed my life sooo much. No more migraines and my hay fever is gone! (3 years completely clean after 15 years of horrible summers 🙂 )