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 diet success story is different than most. I didn’t start overweight or out of shape. I was merely bloated and exhausted. The Paleo diet improved every aspect of my health.
Working out was the religion of my youth starting at 14. Everyday I ran and lifted weights for an hour plus. It was a routine I would continue into my 40’s. I was convinced that intense exercise would keep me young forever.
Middle-age jumped me and took my lunch money. It came late, but it came. Around my 50th birthday, a stubborn rim of chub settled at my mid-section. I was a dozen pounds heavier than in my prime, and was in thirty-five waist jeans for the first time in my life. My blood pressure started flirting with higher numbers too: 140/85.
I thought I was eating healthy. I had studied the Zone Diet, and ate precisely calculated meals—always balancing my blocks of fats, carbs and proteins. If I ate out at a fast food place, I always made sure that I doubled the meat on sandwiches (to get adequate protein) and passed on the soft drink and fries. But I was ignorant of real nutrition. I loved Chinese food, and ate rice several times a week along with tons of protein bars. As for alcohol, I reasoned that my intense workouts, coupled with a stressful job, entitled me to two beers every night before bed.
In 2011, at 51, I reached my highest weight… 184 pounds (on a 5 foot, 9 inch frame). At that time I was working out about an hour a day, (doing P90x and training for a half marathon). I was tired all the time, and frankly, looking quite bloated.
In 2012, I read The Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson. I liked the premise; eat like a caveman and fuel your body with lots of healthy, natural foods like vegetables, fruits, lean meats and nuts. Coconut oil and olive oil replaced vegetable oil for cooking. The diet recommended a carbohydrate load of 100-150 grams a day. According to Sisson, if we ate like our ancestors, our modern bodies would revert to our earlier, more robust models (like a computer rebooting). I decided to try a thirty day experiment. I tracked my results on Facebook.
I loaded up the fridge with fresh foods and went off of all processed foods for a month.
The result of the experiment convinced me that Mark Sisson was right. I dropped 15 pounds and felt more energetic. I have continued the diet since 2012. I also changed two other components of my life: exercise and rest. I exercised less. I slept more. The end results surprised me. My weight leveled out at 169 and I shrank to a 31” waist pants size for the first time since college. I also got stronger and faster. I can now match the speed of my 23 year old son in a fifty yard dash (he’s been faster than me since he was 14). My blood pressure dropped to 110/75.
Here is a typical example of a day on Paleo:
Breakfast: 3 boiled eggs, fruit Snack: one half avocado Lunch: giant salad with chicken Snack: almonds Dinner: bag of veggies stir fried in coconut oil with grilled meat
My typical grocery list:
Egg s- hormone free
Chicken breast – hormone free
Canned tuna – in water
Frozen veggies in microwaveable bags
Indian cooking sauce
From that list I can build many combinations of meal. My favorite recipe – Pressure Cooker Paleo Stew:
2 pounds of chopped chicken breast
1/2 chopped onion
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 tablespoons of coconut oil (solid)
1 large tomato, chopped
1 bag of Foodline frozen mixed peppers and onions 16 oz
1 14 oz jar of Sherwood’s Indian cooking sauce (I like their Butter Chicken)
Salt, pepper and spice to taste (I like lots of red pepper)
1 cup of water
Fast and easy.
Heat cooker on medium high, stir in coconut oil, chopped onions, and garlic. After onions are translucent, add the chicken and stir for about a minute. Season with salt, pepper and spices. Add bag of frozen peppers and onions, add jar of Indian cooking sauce, add 1 cup of water. Turn up the heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat once pressure lid is on and let simmer for 25 minutes. Makes 5 big servings of low carb, high protein Paleo stew.
It’s easier to list the things I don’t eat on the Paleo Diet. Here is a list of what I don’t consume: wheat, potatoes, rice, corn, sugar, alcohol, beans, peanuts or vegetable oil, or any kind of processed, pre-packaged food. I also don’t eat protein/meal bars, even if they call themselves “Paleo.”
Here is a list of the things I consume in moderation: dairy, cheese, and butter.
I eat when I’m hungry. No set schedule. I don’t measure portions. It’s hard to over eat fresh veggies like carrots, celery and spinach. The hardest food to give up was bread. After going a few days without bread, my taste buds became super sensitive, and when I ate bread again, it tasted like a candy bar! I found the best way to kill carb cravings is a handful of walnuts and/or almonds. (I try to eat more vegetables than fruit to keep my carbohydrates at about 100 a day.)
Packing for Paleo: Preparation is the key to success. I spend 15 minutes every night packing my food for the next day. The modern world is an alien wasteland of non-food. Every night, I sliced up tons of fruits and veggies and put them into sandwich baggies. I also pack bags of sliced, grilled meat, and nut mixes (macadamia and walnut is my favorite combo). For dinner, I keep bags of frozen veggies in the fridge (Pictsweet Steam’ables Spring Vegetables is one of my favorites). I eat a whole bag with a healthy sized chunk of meat that I’ve grilled over the weekend. Getting caught without a plan or prepared food is a recipe for failure. You will succumb to hunger and find yourself gulping down junk food.
The exercise component: I cut down my strength workouts to just 3 times a week. I also shortened the duration of the workout to 30 minutes. Intensity became the key. At least one workout would be a max effort. Pull ups, push ups, and sit ups until failure. The evolutionary theory behind the Paleo diet states that you should occasionally push yourself with short, extreme blast of maximum effort to replicate the harsh lifestyle of our ancient ancestors. A brief, life or death struggle stimulates the body to grow stronger, so that it can handle the challenge if it happens again.
I cut my aerobic training down to three times a week. I spiced runs up with at least 6 sprints and stations where I do push ups. I no longer run for times, and I never go more than 5 miles. On bad weather days, I hit the heavy bag for 30 minutes and watch episodes of my favorite sci-fi series, Smallville. The secret, for me, is to make the workouts fun. I checked my top speed for a single fast mile a few weeks ago: 6 ½ minutes. That’s fast for me; I haven’t been able to anything like that for decades. I can also do 20+ pull ups and 50+ push ups. That exceeds anything I could do when I was twenty.
Rest, in my opinion, is one of the least understood and underutilized fitness tools. I increased my sleep time to 7 ½ hours a day (up from 6), I’d like to get it to 8. I also added a 15 minute meditation session to my afternoon break. I found that drinking just two beers a night was ruining the quality of my sleep, so I switched to Sleepy Time Herbal Tea with valerian root. If you must consume beer (or wine, etc.), I suggest saving it for your free day.
Taking a day off from Paleo: In his book, The Primal Blueprint, Mark Sisson states that dieters should shoot for a 80% compliance rate, and not worry about an occasional indulgence…hence a free day. Saturday is my free day on the Paleo diet. It’s OK, have a bite of your Kryptonite. If I want apple pie, pizza, beer or whatever, Saturday is my day to go wild. Funny thing is, I seldom indulge that option anymore: the pizza tastes incredible, but after just a couple of slices, I can feel the sugar rush in my face, and my mind gets foggy. I really do prefer the potent mental alertness that the Paleo diet provides. That being said, a couple of Girl Scout cookies are not going to kill you.
I work at medium-sized daily newspaper in Virginia as an advertising account representative. My friends in the newsroom followed my primal lifestyle musings on Facebook and became intrigued. In June of this year I was invited to tell my story in the newspaper’s Healthy Living section. (Here is a link to that story.)
“Paleo it Forward” is my Facebook page where I share more personal experiments, and my philosophy: Sharing is the best way to spread the secret of a healthy body. Share information, share your stories, and when you can, cook somebody a delicious Paleo meal.
The primal lifestyle and workout protocol as presented in The Primal Blueprint, has worked for me: my body has reverted to a younger, more vital version, I am never hungry, nor am I frustrated by long, boring workouts. I eat as much real, healthy food as I wish and maintain a decent weight… and can do more pull ups at 56 then I could at 17! What more could a middle-aged caveman want?