Three Months on the primal fringe – Part Two

30 days

handstands

Handstands in the National Park

I started immediately. No more hamburgers, pastas, or bread with dinner. No sandwiches or crackers. I made it my goal, and decided that it was going to be easy to do it for 30 days.

And it was.

I was amazed at how good I felt. Everything made sense. There are reasons humans like meat and fats (and some sweet things). Just like a goat or a cougar knows what it needs to survive and what kind of food that it needs to eat in order to live and thrive, so does the human animal. But we’ve gotten smart enough that we can turn it off, or altogether ignore it. And when you really start to think about it, that’s not such a smart thing, in the long run.

After a couple of days had rolled by, I talked my wife into doing it, too. It was just going to be easier, it was something that we had been talking about anyway (at least changing up our diet and eating better quality food was), and this seemed like something easy to try for 30 days. With her on board, things got even easier.

Breakfasts consisted eggs, meat, and veggies, all cooked in either bacon grease or coconut oil. Olive oil was regulated to salads, which were frequent lunchtime events. These weren’t just little salads, but rather epic excursions full of leafy greens, cucumbers, tomatoes, radishes, onion, mushrooms, and of course some sort of meat. Usually I would top them with a half or a quarter of an avocado, and round that all out with some balsamic vinegar and olive oil (with just a splash of Dijon mustard to hold the whole dressing together). These salads generally fit into the largest tupperware we owned, and usually it was enough.

Squash Fever

Dinners were varied but simple, consisting mainly of meat and vegetables, sometimes a salad as well. Since we were working ourselves fairly strenuously with CrossFit, we decided a bit of starchy carbohydrates were called for. We added sweet potatoes (already a family favorite), and various squashes to our meals. In addition to being good for us, they kept us stocked with the carbohydrate energy our bodies and minds needed to survive the new taxing situations they were being put into. It was a perfect fit.

Additionally, we still had a small indulgence of a small piece of dark chocolate daily. It was the one simple thing that we were able to do in order to keep my wife from going crazy. Plus, it was a delicious way to end a day. Our favorite is a dark mint chocolate we were able to find with minimal ingredients. It’s delicious, full of antioxidant goodness, and simple. Sometimes (usually) that’s all you really need.

Our diet contained no dairy, little fruit, and no legumes or grains of any kind for thirty days. During that time we experienced different reactions to the purification of our food intake. We ate until satisfied, and did not once count a calorie.

Benefits

There were several benefits, for me in particular. I had previously suffered from what had become chronic nasal allergies. The daily and nearly constant allergic discomfort had started nearly two years ago (although looking back now, I can see even as far back as ten years ago the telltale signs of the allergy – and I attributed it to milk… more on that later) and had progressed to the point where I was taking a maintenance dose of over the counter Costco variety Claritin. I had played with my diet earlier, removing dairy only from my diet, but it had really not had a significant effect. Ridding myself of grains and/or legumes, however, did seem to do the trick.

At first, I noticed that my allergies seemed less, but was still fearful of removing the lortadine completely. The sneezing and itchy, watery eyes could get unbearable. As time went on, I noticed I was still feeling better. I started to wean myself off of it, hopeful that I had unlocked the secret to what had been ailing me for a number of years. Within a week I was only taking it intermittently (two or three times a week, as opposed to seven). Within two weeks, I wasn’t really taking it at all. It appeared as though I had solved the riddle.

Another benefit was what equates to rapid weight loss. Yes, we were working out hard with Crossfit. However, our workouts were in general less than a half-hour in length (the WOD in particular – the warm up, strength, and agility training brought the total time to an hour) three times a week. There is no way to burn enough calories in three hours max per week to lose the amount of weight that I lost without the significant change in diet. If the workout was doing anything, it was actually inflating my numbers.

In fact, to look at my calculations I went from 19.19% bodyfat at the beginning of the year to a current body fat percentage of 12. Additionally, over the last month (March 8th to April 20th, it’s also calculated that I GAINED approximately 4.5 pounds of muscle while losing over three pounds total. So in terms of effectiveness, this has been a very effective weight loss tool, though my reasons for doing it were not at all weight driven. (Oddly enough, using BMI calculations, I am still overweight at 12% bodyfat, and what’s more, a ‘healthy’ range – again according to BMI for someone of my height would be 152# – 205#. At 152#, I would be a skeleton dancing around for all to see. No thank you. I’ll happily remain ‘overweight’, thankyouverymuch.)

We saw other benefits, including some you wouldn’t expect. Whiter teeth, clearer skin, and improved mood were all on the list of benefits. In short – it was good to be grain free.

Fast forward three months, and our diet has not really changed. Legumes do occasionally find their way into our meals (rarely and never at home), as does wheat (again never at home). We’ve thoroughly advertised and socialized through our families that this is the way we are choosing to eat, now, and that we have experienced many positive benefits from doing so and are not interested in regressing these benefits. We have reintroduced SOME dairy into our diets, but we’re mostly eating artisinal raw milk cheeses, which are high in flavor and fat and therefore don’t require a ton to introduce that wonderful cheesy flavor.

Additionally, when I eat some grains (wheat specifically, so far as I know. Corn doesn’t seem to be as much of an issue for me), I get stuffed up within an hour or so and have to take a claritin. Beer seems to have the same effect on me, as well, so in general I kind of make it a point to stay away from wheat – which is sad, because I love a good beer. But now I know the result and the cause, and can make a risk assessment before I drink a beer or eat a sandwich. Usually, it’s not worth the consequences and I choose to not have them (and I’ve never yet had it be worth it to have a sandwich, but there have been a few beers here and there:).

So as of today, I’m happy, healthy, and stronger than I’ve ever been before. I feel great and wouldn’t give it up for the standard American diet in any way, shape, or form. (Which is not to say I don’t every once in a while have a desire to have a thick smear of butter on top of a half a sourdough roll – but that’s really more for the sake of the butter than anything else.)

The other massive boon to our existence and well-being has been the gym. We made the choice to try it out, and we love it. We’re gaining strength, skill, and agility faster than we ever have before (in our adult lives). It’s truly been an amazing year.

So get out there, and try life on the fringe. It’s a lot of fun, you feel great, and you get to challenge yourself. If you can’t go 100%, then just push yourself as far as you can. Any time you have something you probably shouldn’t or do or don’t do something, it’s not the end of the world. It’s just part of life. Failure is an option, and it’s the only way we find our way to success.

What about your stories? Have you spent any time on the fringe? What are your experiences or thoughts? I would love to hear them.

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Robb Wolf’s Liberty Garden concept

Lettuce have some salad!

One of the most important things you do every day is make decisions on what kinds of things you will use to fuel your body. Beef or chicken? Grassfed or storebought? What kinds of veggies? You gonna throw some corn down, or perhaps a big-ass sandwich? Maybe that’s not such a great idea.

Regardless of the choices you ultimately end up making, the choice itself is an important one. Your body is – without a doubt – the most important thing you own. How you choose to fuel it should respect that level of importance, in my opinion. And herein lies a problem inherent in the system – you can make good choices that still end up being less good choices based on how that fuel was raised/grown/created. And while you may not be able to fully know how all your fuel was created, it’s important to take those baby steps to getting to where you would like to be. (If you’re happy guzzling Mountain Dew and Ritz crackers, you can pretty much disregard this. Realistically, you’re probably not reading this anyway.)

Enter the Liberty Garden concept as promoted by Robb Wolf. Here’s the concept in an even smaller nutshell than Robb’s site talks about it: You are what you eat; in order to know what you’re eating, you should grow some of it because factory farming is involved in practices that can be called questionable (not to mention non sustainable), and that a great way to start it is using your own yard/kitchen window/balcony/veranda/fire escape/WHATEVER to start growing some of your own stuff. Sounds easy, right? It is! Just throw some seeds in some healthy soil (dirt is such a dead sounding word), keep it watered as per the directions on the back of the package, make sure the plants have adequate sunlight, and voila! instant food.

The Liberty Garden – Robb Wolf

To start, I would recommend some herbs. They’re usually very resilient and do well. If you think you have a black thumb, go with these to start. They’re almost a sure thing.

So what are you waiting for? Get out there, and get growing!

Three months on the primal fringe-Part One

On Tuesday, April 5th, I will have three months under my belt in my transformation from a rather marshmallowy everyman into an old-is-new archetype. I have lost 18 pounds (230 -> 212) in that time, monitored changes in my body measurements and lost nearly 3 inches overall, while actually gaining inches in my legs and arms. I can do pullups, both dead-hang and kipping, and can run a mile at a respectable speed. I’ve learned the basics of the Olympic lifts, and my max weight on those has been steadily increasing. Overall, my strength has increased dramatically, and I just feel better.

In addition to all that, my allergies have let up to the point where I only intermittently take Claritin, and even then only on the bad days. I have not gotten sick despite working in an office building in a large city where it will hopefully someday stop raining. I rarely get acne or outbreaks, but even the acne I did have seems to be less. My skin in general is healthier – color, elasticity, the whole nine yards. The jury is still out, but it is starting to look like gray hair which had begun sprouting when I was 19, has begun to come in dark once more. My teeth are whiter. I’m sleeping better.

I have been toying with the idea of doing this stuff for years.

I have been aware of Crossfit as well as the paleo method of diet and had looked into it, but thought “Nah, there’s nothing in this for me.” I felt pretty healthy, was in better shape than most of my colleagues, and was in general doing well. Crossfit seemed ‘too hard’, or ‘too intense’. I stuck to spin classes and cycling. My back was weak, so I suffered through back pain from the cycling. I couldn’t quite hold my body rigid over the bicycle, and relied too much on my handlebars. In reality, what I had thought of as ‘doing pretty well’, was in fact kind of ‘being lackluster’. I effectively was lying to myself, justifying my fitness by comparing myself to other people around me. This was a mistake. I was surrounded by people that spend their time in offices and whom are not, in general, athletic. So while I talked myself into thinking that I was doing pretty good in the grand scheme of things, deep down I knew I was fooling myself.

Wherein I learn the truth

The new year was fast approaching, and I had been thinking about my health and wellness as well as my wife’s. We had a new little one that had just turned one, and was beginning to take his first steps. I knew where this was headed – running, jumping, playing, etc. Neither my wife nor I wanted to miss out on that because of our health. I began looking for solutions.

We had recently moved to a new city, so I began to look around for a gym. I wasn’t interested in a gym that was shiny and glittery, or a gym that was tiny and filled with machines. I wanted something real. I remembered Crossfit – indeed I had been watching the main site’s WOD’s (workout of the day) for a while now, but never doing any of them. I looked up crossfit gyms in the area. There were two nearby.

Call it providence, good timing, or just flat out good luck, but I found that one had an end of the year deal going on, and additionally offered an introduction program for new initiates. This intro program was designed to acclimate an individual untrained in the sport of fitness that is offered by crossfit, as well as train them in many of the movements and lifts which would be frequently used in the WOD’s offered at the gym. After asking a few questions of the gym owner, particularly surrounding the fact that my wife was traveling fairly far outside of her comfort range, we signed up. I had a good feeling about this place, despite never having been there. I was excited.

I get whipped

The first week was the sorest that I think I have ever been. We ran, lifted little or no weight, practiced ‘double unders’ (a method of jumping rope where the rope travels under your body twice for every jump you make), box jumps, pullups, pushups, situps, deadlifts, and a myriad of other movements. I was torched. I ached everywhere. I started taking fish oil to help lubricate my joints. Glucosamine chased that, as well as a nice morning dose of ibuprofen. I am not one to take to a something half assedly, and I was feeling it. I could tell this would be a long journey.

As the weeks wore on, the soreness and fatigue wore away, and successes began to mount. With the passing of time and the gaining of familiarity, I grew more comfortable and stronger, trading old non-fringe fat for new primal muscle. I traded slow, deliberate movements for speedy explosive ones. My cardiovascular system improved greatly, and I felt better than I had when I was cycling 60 miles or more per week.

An additional benefit of membership at the gym is the workshops and classes they offer. Our first week there, they were offering a class on the paleo method of eating. Sure, I thought, why not? It’ll at least be interesting. How true that statement would turn out to be.

The workshop was very interesting, and Jessica, the gym’s resident RD (registered dietician), was very frank and honest about the research she had done and about the benefits she personally had reaped from moving to this diet. I was intrigued, and – having had very little success in losing the weight I wanted to (and getting to a point where I had six pack abs), I did a little more research. Robb Wolf is one of the larger characters in this ‘paleo diet’ business, and was one of the first places Jessica referred the class to on the web (he offers free meal plans and shopping lists for the first 30 days). I started reading through this, seeing the issues it had the potential to address, and instantly thought of my dad.

My dad has been fighting with his health since before I was born. In many ways, he is a medical textbook, having suffered through a gauntlet of different and serious medical conditions. So much of what Robb Wolf claimed was like it was designed exactly for my dad. So I began to look into it even more deeply.

I began to voraciously read articles and websites about paleo, primal, natural movement, crossfit, etc. It was all very interesting and something about it really spoke to me. I decided almost immediately that I would ‘go paleo’, at least for  the 30 days, and see how things went.

9 foods to thrive on.

Cow's are goooood!

A month ago, Primal TOAD asked a simple question “If You Could Only Live on 9 Foods, What Would They Be?” The game is basically “desert island discs” but with food instead of music. I just stumbled across it, and it seems like a great exercise – something kinda fun, but at the same time, a good look at how people eat and how their preferences dictate their diet.

So, without further ado, here is my list.

1. Steelhead – Take the best salmon you’ve ever had and turn it up to 11. Yes, it’s so good that I used one of the three “This is Spinal Tap” references I have left for the year.

2. Beef steak – it’s versatile, and theoretically you could grind it, shred it, cube it, grill it, broil it, braise it or hell, just eat it raw.

3. Onions – I add these to almost everything. They can offer a real change.

4. Portabello mushrooms – again, delicious and they can be thrown in soups, eggs, stir fries, you name it.

5. Butternut squash – it’s a sweet and hearty vegetable. What’s not to like?

6. Bacon – Nothing more to say, here. Not only this, but a byproduct of bacon is bacon grease, which is terrific to cook with.

7. Eggs – Use them in anything. They’re easy to grow, too!

8. Broccoli – Delicious and good for you. We eat this all the time.

9. Macadamia nuts – these may be the most delicious nut on the planet. Bet you can’t eat just one handful!

I found that paleo erin did the same thing, as well as paleo at penn. Both are interesting reads. I think it’s interesting to see the differences and similarities (for instance, chicken breast didn’t even enter the top 25 list, let alone the top 9.

Anyone else have a top 9 list they’d be willing to share?

Beef and squash soup – a tasty adventure

1.5# beef (we used tenderloin, but any can be used) cubed.

1 whole large butternut squash, peeled and cubed

1 large onion, chopped

2 cups chopped celery

1 tbsp minced garlic

1 bay leaf

1 tbsp dried parsley flakes

3/4 tsp rosemary

1/2 tsp ground cloves

2 cups mushrooms, quartered

8 cups Beef base/broth – just enough to cover the vegetables

2 tbsp butter or other saturated fat cooking oil

 

In a large pot, saute the vegetables  in the butter, being sure to add in the herbs and spices (reserve the bay leaf for later) until just beginning to soften.

In a separate skillet, brown the beef cubes.

When the vegetables are ready to go, add the beef base/broth to the pot and bring to a simmer.

Add the bay leaf.

When the beef has browned, add it to the soup pot.

Continue to let simmer until vegetables reach desired tenderness (they should be easily pierced with a fork).

Salt and pepper to taste throughout the cooking process.

 

Enjoy! It’s a great soup, and quite simple, too. The butternut squash and cloves give it a sweeter character, but it adds to the whole of the soup, offering up a nice counterpoint to the richness of the beef.

Primal living – a simple life.

The alarm clock buzzes, trills, and honks, injecting tendrils of wakefulness into the depths of the dream Joaquin’s mind had only moments before been so thoroughly involved with. The  dream regretfully evaporates, and he can no longer remember exactly what was happening. He had been hunting – or had it been the other way around? The thrill of it all still coursed through his body, culminating in a wiry contracting in his shoulder blades, a slight anticipatory tension in his legs. He had been ready to spring – and by all rights still was. As wakefulness rudely crowds out the last vestiges of the dream and any hope of sleep, he pushes himself slowly onto his side, reaches over to the nightstand and, without so much as a twitch of his eyelids, fumbles three times before finding the button to silence the horror that is the alarm clock. For a moment he contemplates a long, luxurious return to the mattress, but grumbling slightly to himself, manages to push his fleshy body up to a seated position. His forehead is already wrinkled in a mix of pain, grief, annoyance, and frustration. It’s definitely going to be one of those mornings.

Of course, he reflects, as he slides his feet between the layers of nine hundred count Egyptian cotton sheets, over the edge of the bed and to the soft StainMaster(tm) carpeted floor below, every morning seems to be one of those mornings.

He manages to swing just enough of his mass over the floor to propel himself upward. Not bad, he thinks to himself, no hands today! It’s the little things that count. He stumbles past clothing hastily doffed in a rush to get into bed and get to sleep and heads towards the five piece master bathroom. AS he crosses the threshold, his hand snakes out and flicks the light switch. His eyes, currently normalized for sleep, are not any kind of ready for the visual assault the bathroom lights offer him. His eyelids, still puffy with too few hours of sleep, snap then squeeze tightly closed. He forces an eye open the scantest of distances and manages to see the glass shower door, which is covered in a haze of soap scum and some pinkish bacteria that seem to be thriving on the low levels of they municipal water district has infused into the water. With a tug, the shower door swings open silently. Moments later, he has turned on the shower water and is anxiously awaiting the pseudo-scalding he enjoys in the morning.

***************************************

This is an all too familiar scene in the houses of many modern day ‘Westernized’ men and women. Instead of listening to the natural rhythms of their own bodies, of their sleep cycles, and of the diurnal and seasonal cycling, modern man has instead opted to become beholden to another decider of things: the clock. A paleolithic man would look at a modern man and his strict adherence to the clock and wonder What kind of magic powers does that clock have over this man who wears shiny and bright clothing, wraps his feet in something like tree bark, and looks as though a mile over rough terrain might well kill him? The paleolithic man would find this clock worship amusing (or perhaps hysterical) and would not at all understand why someone would take such a large part of their day and give it to pursuits which have no bearing on real life. He would then, probably, go off, kill a rabbit or two, grab some bulbs or tubers out of the ground, and proceed to eat. Being around in a modern country, he might well go and take a nap. What else is there to do, for today, really?

“The things you own end up owning you.” – Tyler Durden, Fight Club

Flippancy aside, a primal modern man daily walks a tightrope between wanting to enjoy the conveniences and luxuries of modern society, while still respecting his own life and anthropological history. We modern primals have electricity, petroleum powered locomotion, 60″ television sets, 5000 Watt surround sound THX certified home theater systems, video game consoles, refrigerators, super markets, malls, space age fabrics, and shoes so thick that even a princess couldn’t feel a pea beneath them. And to compound the whole thing, every last thing is wired up to the internet so you can check in, let everyone know what you’re doing RIGHT NOW, all 9000 of the people that you know so incredibly well that you’ve agreed to be friends with them on face-ter.

This is not necessary.

This is the background noise modern primals must adapt to. No longer do saber-toothed tigers stalk us through the wilderness, nor in general do we have to contend with hyenas or bears or things that go bump in the night. Instead, we have to contend with something much more insidious – the things we own.

Now, I’m not advocating stripping your life clean from the vagaries of technology – far from it. I have a very fond place in my heart for technology – indeed for many of the things I listed above. But a modern primal must determine a way to use these tools to his advantage, and not vice-versa.

But, for example, what happens when you limit your email exposure? Is it really so terrible that you only check it twice a day (or only a couple of times per week)? Does the world come crashing to a stop? The reality is that it won’t, and after you get over the initial anxiety of not checking your email every hour or half hour or ten minutes (as you probably do – via your phone or instant notifications or whatever), you’ll discover something wonderful – you don’t have to deal with your attention being fragmented, you can focus on the task at hand, and end up getting a lot more done.

As I take a journey towards becoming a modern primal, You can rest assured I will be taking steps to ensure that my devices do not control me. I have already taken steps at work to limit my email exposure (exactly as detailed above – twice a day, at 12 and 3), and have further taken steps at home. My wife and I cook nightly and, while we don’t get to bed as early as we should (and have a little one that acts as an alarm clock), we manage to do all right. My wife enjoys needlework some evenings, and today we spent time in the garage building furniture, took a trip to the park, and even cooked dinner outside. It was a great day, and I even managed to wake up without an alarm clock (or the little one).

Remember – this is not about restriction, or withholding, or technological abstinence of any kind. This is about asserting your control over the things that you own, taking your life back from the beeps, boops, and blips of modern conveniences, and ultimately living and enjoying your life without dependency on the electronic doodads and jimmywhatsits that are so everywhere today. After all, what good is life if all we’re good for is operating machines? We aren’t just, thumbs, fingers and eyeballs. We’re a whole being – let’s get out there and use it.