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!


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