Never in a Million Years Did I Think…

For anyone that’s had the thought, “Never in a million years could I…”, these stories are for you. For any athlete looking to go Primal and improve performance, these stories are for you. For anyone that thinks the Primal Blueprint is best suited for men, these stories are for you. These two female fighters are strong. Primal strong. Read on for your weekly dose of inspiration, and then get out there and break your own million year misconceptions.

And if you have your own Primal Blueprint success story you’d like to share with me and the Mark’s Daily Apple community please contact me here. I can only keep publishing these each Friday as long as they keep coming in and I know you’re out there, so shoot me a line and we’ll work out the details. Have a wonderful Friday, everyone, and thanks for reading!

Erica’s Success Story

I originally got into health and fitness in 2005 to fit into my wedding dress. My size 18 wedding dress.

Never in a million years did I think that sedentary, chubby, junk-food-loving ME would ever step into the ring as a featherweight boxer. Here is the story of my journey, and the role that Primal eating played.

* * *

I had made a daring choice: I picked out a beautiful wedding gown with a halter neckline. A beautiful BACKLESS wedding gown. I was not nearly as happy with my body as I would have liked, but I had plenty of time until the big day, and I figured that if I put my mind to it, I could shed the excess pounds. I decided to get serious about diet and exercise, once and for all.

I had read that 3500 calories equals roughly a pound of fat, so I sought to create a 500 calorie deficit per day in the hopes of losing a pound per week. The simplicity was a revelation for me. I found a caloric-needs calculator online, subtracted 500 from that, and signed up for a FitDay account immediately. I also joined a gym and started taking yoga and pilates classes, both of which were incredibly challenging to me at the time.

I enjoyed the wonderful honeymoon phase of diet and exercise, where you’re starting from zero and thus progress is nearly effortless. I consumed the typical dieter’s fare: rice cakes, sugar-free jello, baked-not-fried chips and crackers, frozen Lean Cuisine meals, and so forth, staying between 1300 and 1400 calories per day. Even though my exercise regimen was very light, since I was coming from a completely sedentary lifestyle, I started to see results. On my wedding day, while I was nowhere near my ideal body, I was very happy with the progress I had made and I felt good in my gown.

I still wanted to lose more weight, firm up, and improve my conditioning. I had experienced how good it feels to make a true lifestyle change: I had more confidence, more energy, and I just felt better. I started taking spinning classes and gradually swapped out the yoga and pilates for free weights. I scaled back a bit on the carbs and added in more protein. I could do physical activity like hiking and mountain biking without getting winded, and I started to see hints of muscle definition. My weight loss plateaued at a screeching halt, but I had expected this, as I heard this it inevitably happens as you become closer to your goal.

(From a funny retro photoshoot I did at the time)

My gym offered boxing-for-fitness classes, and I thought it would be fun to give it a try. I barely made it through the first class, because I was so exhausted, but I decided to stick with it and went on a weekly basis. There I ran suicides in a sea of pink, purple, and mauve Everlast gloves, and I pawed at the heavy bag without really knowing what I was doing. I was concerned about my lack of technique so I sought out a local trainer to improve my form. I figured I’d maybe do a lesson with him once a month; from the first time, I worked with him and his other adult clients three times per week. After improving my technique, I thought it would be fun to spar. After sparring, I wanted to compete. I guess that’s how it all happened; a gradual process in which I fell in love with the sport.

Just one problem: I was far too heavy for my height. At a diminutive five feet and four inches tall, I weighed 150 pounds. As I found in the corresponding weight class, I would be up against women who were much taller, stronger, and with a significant reach advantage. My coach and I agreed that I should compete in the 125 lb weight class, known as featherweight. It was a daunting task, but I wanted to compete so badly that I was willing to do whatever it took.

Well, I just could not lose the weight. I was training hard for 1-2 hours a day, four days a week. I did everything I knew to do. I scaled back on calories more and more. I logged every bite of food that went into my mouth. I weighed all of my portions on a gram scale. I ate whole foods and stuck to a 40/30/30 carb/protein/fat ratio. I chewed celery between meals in a futile effort to blunt the hunger that gnawed at my belly. My athletic performance suffered. I tried increasing calories but I still did not lose weight.

Simply cutting calories was enough to take me from overweight to “normal”. However, beyond that it was insufficient. My body simply did not want to let go of the extra fat that it would take to make me lean and athletic.

I recalled the height of the Atkins craze when my girlfriends and I had done a two-week experiment to see if you could really eat cream and bacon and lose weight. While I had done that in high school more as a joke than anything, the ease with which I had lost weight stuck with me and I kept wondering if it was perhaps the answer for me. I had read about Lyle McDonald’s targeted ketogenic diet (TKD), where athletes consume extra carbohydrates around training to fuel their performance but keep carbs low at other times. I decided to give it a go. I aimed for a high-fat, moderate-protein, low-carbohydrate diet.

All of a sudden, my body let go of the fat. Beyond the initial water weight drop, I was steadily losing 1-2 pounds per week. I desperately needed new clothes, but was afraid to buy more because I was still losing weight. Almost effortlessly, I lost the last 15-20 pounds. I still counted calories, but while I maintained a deficit, a very small one was sufficient to lose the weight. I was able to consume around 2000 calories per day and still lose. This was a very nice bonus in terms of satiety and fueling my athletic performance. I took up powerlifting in addition to boxing, as I wanted to be stronger than all the girls my size.

There was a part of me, though, that was somewhat disappointed that this was the answer to my problems. In making a lifestyle change, I had come to appreciate healthy foods and proper nutrition. I hated that ketogenic diets seemed to be all about hot dogs and mayonnaise. Community support had always been a huge help for me in any of my fitness endeavors and I couldn’t find like-minded people within the low-carb communities.

Enter Primal eating. A friend told me about The Primal Blueprint and I discovered MDA. I found forums, blogs, cookbooks, and websites comprised of people who didn’t want to subject their bodies to repeated insulin surges and blood sugar crashes — but they ATE VEGETABLES!! They appreciated a great broccoli recipe! As I am an avid cook, I appreciated finding recipes that I actually wanted to cook and felt good eating.

While I recognize that boxing (and the cardio that goes into training for boxing) isn’t exactly Primal-approved, I definitely think that if you have the will to fight and the drive to compete, this way of eating certainly fits in well. While I attribute my initial stages of weight loss to a reduction in calories, getting truly lean (at least for me personally) necessitated cutting carbs as well. Low-carbing helped me lose the weight, while Primal guidelines helped me maintain optimal health.

As a bonus, Primal eating makes weight maintenance a cinch by providing simple guidelines for food selection. Weight maintenance is typically much more difficult than weight loss — statistically, speaking, lots of people lose weight but few keep it off. I have maintained my weight loss from eating low-carb for almost two years. I rarely feel deprived. I acknowledge that some people “need” their bread and pasta and would be miserable without it. But personally, there are very few things that I truly miss. Generally, the starch is my least favorite part of a given dish. For example, if I want a pastrami sandwich, I’m really craving the meat and mustard, and I couldn’t care less about the bread. I’m just as happy to order it along with a side salad, discard the bread, and eat the filling with a fork and knife atop the salad. I like a lot of high-carb foods, but I also like a lot of low-carb foods, and as long as I’m eating something that I like I don’t feel deprived. For example, I like bagels and lox, but I also like lox, eggs and onions and if I’m eating the latter I don’t feel bad that I’m not eating the former. (Side note: can you tell that I’m Jewish from the pastrami and lox references?? 😉 ). I have an easy time eating at restaurants because I can always find a protein of some sort and a salad or veggies. I’m happy to eat a burger with no bun, French onion soup with no croutons, fajitas without tortillas, Eggs Benedict over grilled tomato slices instead of an English muffin, whitefish with celery sticks instead of bagel chips, and so on. I do have occasional “cheat” meals in terms of calories, but I still try to keep them low-carb. That being said, if I really want to eat something carby, I do. However, the times when I really yearn to have that pastry or pasta are few and far between.

People often ask how I have energy to box while eating very few carbohydrates. I keep my intake around 100 grams per day, with about half of that per workout and the rest of it from nutrient-dense foods such as vegetables. I usually get some glucose prior to my workouts in the form of Smarties candy or brown rice syrup; if I have time I might have some sweet potato. I have found that this is sufficient for fueling an intense workout. If necessary I may sip a sports drink during training. I make compromises in order to support athletic performance. I run, jump rope, box, lift weights, and do plyometric circuits on a weekly basis, and I train every day. I find that as long as I eat enough and get sufficient fat, I have plenty of energy.

I don’t know where boxing will take me, as I’m still working my way through the amateurs. But I believe strongly that I will eat this way for the rest of my life.

My blog: Stuff I Make My Husband
My site for women’s Olympic boxing: Get Them There

Sylvie’s Success Story

I’ve always been athletic. Growing up at the foothills of the Colorado mountains I lived an active and healthful lifestyle from the get-go and playing sports and spending time outdoors was the norm. In general I’ve always been healthy and have been at a steady and comfortable weight since high school. My story of success with going Primal is not one of losing weight and getting healthy, but rather one of being healthy and getting stronger.

Three years ago I began training in Muay Thai, a martial art and national sport of Thailand. I walk around at about 102 lbs and when I started training for my first fight, I dropped down to 99 lbs. This wasn’t desirable as the weight class that exists is a catch weight for “110 lbs and under.” For the majority of my fights I have been outweighed by my opponent by a good 5-10 lbs (weigh-in occurs the day before a fight, so someone dropping down to 110 lbs might be 115 lbs after rehydrating and eating the next day). I’ve been told innumerable times to “just gain weight,” but it’s not that easy for me. Gaining weight affects performance – I feel slower, like training in a weighted vest, even with only a few extra pounds.  Keep in mind that gaining 5 lbs is gaining 5% of my own weight! And it doesn’t keep; I would gain a pound or two only to see it disappear two days later.

About two months prior to my most recent fight I discovered the Primal Blueprint online, after finishing “Good Calories, Bad Calories” by Taubes. My brother had changed his diet through the Taubes book and I was intrigued by how uncomplicated the Primal Blueprint diet appeared to be. Initially, I was interested in gaining energy because my workouts are numerous and intense, spaced out by long periods in commute that left me drained. Within two weeks on the Primal Blueprint diet I was no longer falling asleep on the train to and from the gym and had plenty of energy for my workouts. I found that a low GI snack right before training (like half of a baked sweet potato, half an avocado and some red meat) made training even better. I took a fight at 106 lbs, which is mostly a gesture toward getting my opponent to drop weight, knowing pretty well that I wouldn’t have to worry about the weigh-in at all, but as I kept on the diet I noticed that my weight went up on the scale without me “feeling” that I’d gained weight. My husband was shocked that I’d gained and told me I looked the same, if not leaner and my trainer told me I was hitting harder than ever before.

I got sick a month before the fight and couldn’t shake it. It was just a cold and I trained through it, but my sinuses and chest were closed up and I wasn’t able to do as much cardio as I normally would have. This is, incidentally, Primal. My wind for the fight was great, nonetheless. I powered through all three rounds without gassing and I was able to stand my ground and stay within striking range because of how solid I felt in my body. I weighed in at 105.5 lbs, my highest ever, and though I was still outsized I have never felt better before, during, or after a fight. I lost on decision but ultimately I think it was my best fight yet!

My Muay Thai Facebook page: Sylvie von Duuglas-Ittu – Muay Thai

My blog: 8 Limbs

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