Benefits of the Paleo-Primal Lifestyle and Great HealthFriday, April 13, 2012
Folks are well aware that I spend a lot of time, and words, hawking the paleo-primal lifestyle and its numerous benefits, especially for libertarian audiences. According to Mark Sisson, this lifestyle is “a broad, holistic approach to living and not simply a list for eating.” To me, living primally means I have adapted to the modern world by making certain changes in my lifestyle – in terms of food and fitness – to minimize premature aging, prevent modern disease, and stave off the all-too-common problem of physical and mental lethargy. Since going primal I have experienced a quality of life I never had before, and that includes life in my 20s and 30s. I am 49.
Since exploring the paleo-primal concepts beginning in the late 80 and early 90s, via the Dr. Atkins program, and moving to a more robust and dedicated lifestyle in about 2003 following an illness, I have settled into a very self-regulated yet spontaneous way of life that fits neatly into the framework of Mark Sisson’s Primal Blueprint. Essentially, here are some very high-level, self-imposed commandments that I live by:
- Avoid all sweeteners, most sugar (unless it is cane sugar in the occasional homemade good), and even minimize natural fructose. I’ve never been much of a fruit eater.
- Avoid all industrial oils because of their rancidity, poor fatty acids profile, and hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated properties.
- Use lard (home rendered or bought from those who render it and sell at the market); raw butter; Kerrygold Irish butter; olive oils; sesame oil; macadamia oil; coconut oil; tallow (beef and lamb).
- Avoid grains, except for occasional rice and, yes, beer in the warm months.
- Eat quality meat: pastured or grass-fed (lamb, pork, beef, chicken, turkey) stored in my large freezer, and eat only wild caught fish. See a photo of my freezer. I deal directly with all of my farmers via email and do pickups at their farms.
- Eat a high-fat diet with moderate protein.
- Don’t focus on the macronutrient content (fats, protein, carbs). I keep it simple and eat real food and don’t turn eating into rocket science. I don’t have time for the tracking or logistics. By way of my real-food principles, my diet is naturally low in carbs.
- Utilize farmer’s markets for obtaining the majority of my food (farmers and artisanal makers). I live right by the largest and most glorious market in North America, so I am fortunate: Detroit Eastern Market. During the off-season, I buy from Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and local specialty/produce markets. The Detroit metro area has a gazillion of these wonderful markets.
In terms of fitness and conditioning, one thing I took from Mark Sisson when I began reading him in about 2006, that I have never let go of, is the following: more is not necessarily better. It took a while for me to process that notion through a brain that is wired to be ambitious and hardcore. My fitness patterns, though still intense, take up a whole lot less time in my life. I am able to spend more time on relaxing, fun, and/or adventurous outdoor activities as opposed to “conditioning.” My intense-but-short functional workouts allow me to stay in first-rate condition without having to spend too much time “getting there.” I don’t count calories, miles, speed, or minutes; I don’t set goals; I don’t plan workout routines (I spontaneously move through them); and I rarely think about PRs (personal records). Employing primal concepts has meant that staying in shape has become easy and rather effortless for me.
For instance, this past summer, I spent very little time in the gym doing intense training (2 days per week, tops) and instead, I spent that time kayaking, hiking, doing cycling rides (destination rides and mountain biking), hiking, canoeing, playing frisbee, golfing, and tooling around on the big lake in a friend’s dinghy with a cooler loaded with microbrews and beef jerky.
That said, I no longer kill myself to stay in great condition. I often get letters from folks telling me, “I used to look like that, too, when I was younger and worked out 3 hours almost every day.” Three hours! I do perhaps that many hours per week these days, unless I engage a long cycling adventure or other functional escapade. It is a big, fat lie to say that you need to drive yourself into the ground to get fit. People seem to think I work out endlessly to get fit and stay fit, but that is a myth that needs to go away. Ignorance drives these thoughts. I used to work out a ton, but because I love to do it, not because I needed to do it. Now I don’t have the time to do that anymore, which is a good thing. I divorced myself from endurance addiction and chronic cardio. This is the kind of functional workout I enjoy now - in the outdoor, natural gym.
Recently, my ability to adapt and recover was tested when I went through my fourth orthopedic surgery – though it was my first surgery in eleven years. I loathe surgery because I have no patience for the recovery period. After almost sixteen months of injuries culminating in a torn hip labrum, I was looking forward to this surgery and the end of the pain and physical limitations. The string of injuries started with a really bad collision between my pelvis and a wood floor while playing walleyball in November 2010.
A lot of folks asked me about this surgery, and their enquiring minds wanted to know why I would go that route, considering my views on the conventional wisdom of the medical establishment. I write often about how the western medical establishment largely ignores integrative and functional medicine and does not view individuals as holistic beings who have underlying causes of their health problems, especially chronic diseases. Instead, western doctors treat the symptoms, with drugs, while the drugs mask the symptoms and the underlying health issues. Thus the chronic problems, and disease, fester and grow over time, leading to more drugs and a lesser quality of life.
For the most part, there are two types of Docs I really like – chiropractors and orthopaedic surgeons. My chiropractor keeps my neck issues in check, and orthopaedic surgeons are really good at fixing stuff when it breaks. And that’s what they are supposed to do: look at the symptoms and determine the cause of those symptoms (what’s broke?), and fix it. That may seem simplistic, but my injury seemed to be pretty cut-and-dry.
A lot of folks who think holistically, like me, desire to turn to non-surgical options like physical therapy and/or pain medication, such as anti-inflammatories. I have even come across many blogs where folks describe a life of pain killers in the pursuit of avoiding a knee or hip surgery. Some folks will pursue prolotherapy for a torn meniscus. I tried both physical therapy and anti-inflammation medication, and neither worked. It is my belief that non-surgical treatments are not very successful at ending the pain with my type of injury, or, more importantly, allowing someone like me to go back to my very active lifestyle. A torn hip labrum is torn cartilage, and I thought it was best to pursue the hip arthroscopy, first, to fix the labrum issue, and then if any pain remains in the surrounding areas – gluteus or sacroiliac joints – I will consider prolotherapy.
So I, along with my Doc, determined that surgery was the way to go, and that entailed an arthroscopic debridement of the labral tear and surgical repair of any associated structural problems. So few orthopedic surgeons are capable of doing this surgery, because it is a sub-specialty within a specialty. I did a ton of research on hip labral tears, and I ended up finding the right surgeon at the Detroit Medical Center, Dr. Philip Schmitt, DO. He’s the guy who did the first Birmingham Hip resurfacing in Michigan, and he’s one of the top Docs in his field, having also performed many hip arthroscopy surgeries. I am lucky to have found him. Here’s a video of my Doc talking about hip arthroscopy.
The reason I thought this was worth writing about is the uniqueness of my situation, and how my body has responded to the ordeal. Plus, I have an appetite for self-experimentation and exploring options for how to make myself stronger and more apt to take on physical and/or mental hardship. This situation gave me the perfect opportunity to gauge my progress and my body’s ability to rebound.
Because of my lifestyle described above, I often have unique responses, I think, to otherwise traumatic situations. Though this surgery was much less invasive than my first two surgeries (shoulder joint reconstructions), I was still worried about how my body would respond post-surgery, especially considering my age. Most people end up getting kicked in the butt post-surgery, due to the nature of being under a general anaesthetic, as well as the pain and post-op recovery involved with the broken part. Additionally, I read many the blog posts of several folks who had this same surgery and had a very long and rough recovery periods and/or they experienced fallout from the surgery.
The first couple of hours in the recovery room were slightly rough, but then my primal being kicked in, and four hours out from surgery I was home and I felt great – not sick, not tired, and I did not experience a whole lot of unbearable pain. I was not tired that day, and I did not wish to sleep. I was on a walker or the couch, so the energy was lost on me, and that was perhaps the most difficult part for me to bear. By hour 20, I was off the walker and limping on my own wheels. By the morning of the second day after surgery, the walker was a relic of the past. My energy levels stayed up, I never took naps, I was already sleeping normally (6-8 hour nights), and I had not taken a single Vicodin since I left the hospital. The only painkiller I had was the stuff that was put in my IV when I was in recovery.
The post-op nurse called me on the next business day with a courtesy follow-up call, and she asked how I was doing. I said “pretty darn awesome.” She replied, “Yeah, we kinda figured that.” The fact that I am a “pistol” (or so I am always told) was not lost on these folks.
I am posting this piece exactly two weeks post-op. My energy has not waned a bit since I left the hospital, which was only four hours after I was wheeled out of the operating room. I know folks who have had much lesser surgeries than mine, and they complain of having had their butt kicked from pain and fatigue, for days, or even weeks, following surgery.
People often write me and ask me about supplements and super foods and other tricks of the trade. However, I am not into gimmicks and believe that most supplementation is unnecessary, especially when one eats well. So I am not really into the supplementation thing because I eat such a huge variety of foods. Since most people are Vitamin D and B-12 deficient, everyone can benefit from taking a high-quality D3 and a liquid B12. I use Bio-Tech D3 and take 5,000 IUs per day, and I have for years. Testing for 25-hydroxy Vitamin D always reveals my level to be in the 70s or 80s. I also use injectable hydroxocobalamin, a natural form of vitamin B12 that I get from my holisitc Doc, which I do not inject – I take it under the tongue 1x or 2x per week.
Additionally, the world’s greatest healing food is broth, and I have had plenty of chicken and beef bone broth post-surgery. Low cost options are beef soup bones and beef shanks for the beef broth, and a store-bought rotisserie chicken for $5 or $6, with the carcass making an excellent chicken broth. Here is my beef bone broth recipe, and here is what a spectacular chicken broth looks like, along with some photos of food I am eating post-surgery.
I am almost walking normally now, with a slight limp part of the time. I am not able to do any activity outside of “normal life” stuff, but I am allowed to go to the gym for upper body weightlifting, stationary cycling, and using an elliptical. I was in the gym doing upper body weights on Day 4 post-op, and I was on the bike and elliptical on Day 6, with permission from my Doc. I am forbidden from doing anything that will load the hip joint until he clears me to do so, and that won’t be until at least week 4. Even my Doc commented on how it was amazing that I did not lose any muscle tone in my left leg, in spite of having the injury (or injuries) for almost a year-and-a-half. And that is in spite of the fact that the injury kept me from doing intense, leg specific workout routines since April of 2011. Even post-op, I have not lost a single beat in terms of muscle tone.
What is really fun is that many folks, including co-workers, kept telling me in the days prior to my surgery, “You look great, and you don’t look like someone who needs a big surgery like that.” Well, I try not to act or look like a victim. Mental strength and attitude are the key to recovery. Since the days immediately following surgery, everyone keeps telling me, “You do not look like someone who just had hip surgery!” Indeed, I don’t feel like it, and I am proud to hear that from some very intelligent people who I respect. I am delighted to hear these remarks because it confirms the benefits of my lifestyle, my self-education, my attitude, and the sensibility of my choices.
I have something right now that I have never experienced before, and that is “me time.” I’m off of work for a few weeks for recovery, and in spite of the inopportune reason for that, there are always a few positives to spin. I have time to think and get stuff done. I have time to concentrate on healing. I also have the time to explore the thesis for a book that will be co-written with a prominent member of the paleo community.
In the end, I give my lifestyle – food and fitness choices – all the credit for making me so resistant to the wear and tear of a surgical procedure, especially of a weight-bearing joint such as the hip. All I can do now is wait for time to pass and progress to move forward as the healing allows.