Primal Life: Diet and HealthSaturday, January 23, 2010
People write me often and ask about resources, books, websites, etc. that point to the primal/paleo lifestyle/diet I often refer to in my posts such as this one. I’ve undergone a somewhat long and exploratory process to get to the point where I am now eating only fresh, whole, natural foods - real foods, such as meat, vegetables, animal fats, fruits, and nuts.
My evolution to “things natural” started way before it was fashionable because I have never been a fad person or a follower. All my life I have never understood, or felt, this thing called “peer pressure.” Not as a teenager, not ever. In my opinion, that is a crock of you-know-what. In 1986 I was working in the printing industry – my artist days, as I like to call them. I was a keyliner (page designer), if you even remember that term. We printed up a quarterly newsletter for the local chiropractor, East Detroit Chiropractic. I would read the articles and ads as I worked on the layouts, and I was eager to understand what chiropractic was all about. I had a brutally painful neck problem from bending over light tables and art tables all day, so off I went to Dr. Koukles. It turned out that he shared my passion and philosophy for athletics and conditioning, and he was firmly in the natural health camp, so he is still my chiropractor today.
At about that time I started to look at the food I was eating. I had pretty much always been thin – terrifyingly skinny as a kid – but had put on some “soft” or what I call “inflammatory weight.” Within a few years I was eating rather healthy, or at least what I *thought* was healthy at the time. I was a cyclist, racing mountain bikes and doing track and road training. And we were taught to, yes, carb-load. Endurance athletes need tons of carbs, they say. Far more than the average person! So I raced, and ate “healthy,” and loaded up on carbs before weekend rides or races. Healthy included cutting out the sugar (good), cutting down on meat (bad), and substituting those “healthy” Healthy Choice meals (bad) for junk food when at work each day. I was drinking bottled water, Evian, as soon as it hit the shelves in the U.S. I looked pretty buff and everyone thought I was such a health nut.
In 1996 I got very sick – an assortment of symptoms that I won’t get into here. How can a young, well-conditioned athlete get as sick as I did? The solution for me from the medical specialists was drugs and tests and more drugs and more tests. That lasted a very short while for two reasons: 1) the drugs made a nightmare of my metabolism and the side effects were not acceptable, and 2) I had no tolerance for short-term, easy solutions that glossed over the underlying issues. I wanted to know what was causing the problems, and then, what solutions were available to get rid of those problems.
I tossed the pharma garbage – never to return again – and explored other alternatives such as massage, chiropractic, holistic health, homeopathic remedies, more meat and …… still I carb-loaded. I was an endurance athlete so I had to eat lots of carbs, or so I thought. Then I discovered Atkins and started to flirt with that philosophy. So I began cycling carbs – in other words, I was being smarter and cutting back on them at times. I was eating carbs when I felt I needed them, but sometimes cutting back drastically on them. I eliminated virtually all processed foods. I had chucked pop (soda for some of you) back in the late 80s or early 90s, and I thought the good alternative was diet Coke. I didn’t drink a lot of pop, but usually one a day. All that aspartame.
Things seemed to get better, but then in 2003 I got really sick again – out of the blue, and this time much worse. This whole event – and it was an event – took me straight back to Atkins, where I tweaked and modified my diet into what would essentially be a “light” version of the Mark Sisson primal diet. I still did not quite give up wheat and grains, but fat started to become a staple of my diet and processed foods were nixed entirely. About that time I started to do intermittent fasting without any such planning – it just occurred because I was busy and running around all over the place. For instance, on Saturdays and/or Sundays, I’d jump from my morning gym workout to the Harley to meet up with friends to ride all day – and sometimes I was going between 18 – 24 hours without eating. And I discovered it made me feel great. So on some days I’ll eat more, smaller meals, and on other days maybe one big meal, and nothing else for 18+ hours. I never plan anything; I just take it by the day or hour. I take advantage of my busy schedule to fast, and if I am home all day I may eat a lot. I like the “confusion” and change this offers my body. And again, just as with exercise, it never gets boring.
Oh yeah – and my cycling? I don’t race anymore – not since 2003 and that illness – but I do distance rides, or lots of medium-range rides. No stamina problems whatsoever. I pity those poor endurance athletes who think they need all of that nutritionally deficient pasta to keep riding. And so many cyclists I see out on the trails are 30-40 pounds overweight, or more. I’ll wake up on a weekend day, do a 20-40 mile road ride, not get home until 1pm or so, and not eat anything until afternoon. On a longer ride I’ll stick some food in my bag — trail mix, fruit, or the occasional carb (Clif brand) bar.
Mark Sisson’s “primal eating plan” is about the best framework out there for laying the foundation for what to eat. No soy or wheat, low carbs, and limited grains. One thing I have done recently is swear off soy altogether. I never had it much, but once in a blue moon I enjoyed a tofu meal at my favorite Asian bistro, or a veggie burger. I eat very little grains or wheat, no processed anything, no toxic processed oils, drink almost no pop (a diet Vernors or diet Coke maybe once per month or less), and no sugar. There is a “primal” substitute for just about everything you enjoy right now.
As an example, I was watching the Food Channel last night, and a host on one of the shows went to Philadelphia to eat at a famous Philly Cheese Steak dive, and his goal was to eat its signature 4-pound Philly cheese steak sandwich. Gobs of bun, a ton of good meat, onions galore, and a whole lot of entirely disgusting cheese sauce. Yes, those Philly cheese steak sandwiches, that are supposed to be so good, are buried in a trashy, disgusting, heavily-processed cheese sauce. He ate the whole thing, nearly getting sick, while the crowd cheered.
The sandwich looked disgusting. That is how I have come to view food like that over the years. I do not desire it and therefore I miss nothing. I do not want sugar, pop, candy (except dark chocolate and Godiva), cakes, chips, snacks, bagels, and other junk. There are no food demons that I have to fight, and that’s because I eat so much great food. And that’s the great thing about the primal eating plan – eating good food and being satiated by fat.
This morning post-gym, I decided to make a better, healthier KDC cheese steak. I had some ultra thin-cut chip steak that I cut up into small pieces and put aside. I sauteed onions, fresh mushrooms, and red peppers, and added about five spices. When those were ready, I added diced-up grape tomatoes and got those hot. I dumped that mixture in my plate, and threw the chip steak into the pan with all the drippings from the sauteed veggies. It took about 1 minute for that chip steak to get medium rare. I dumped the steak pieces on top of my pile of sauteed veggies, and then I topped that off with freshly shredded romano cheese and fresh-chopped parsley.
To sum things up, here’s a nice quote from Richard Nikoley at Free the Animal:
So, many may have noticed that I’ve upped my carbohydrate considerably over the last few months. You can consider it another self experiment. After all, it’s a long time I’ve been writing that Paleo is a dietary framework, a foundation. It’s not a prescription. It’s principles that are to be applied individually, and so the dietary makeup is going to differ individual to individual. But what if it also differs depending upon where you are? Are you fat or lean? Are you diabetic or borderline? Are you hungry all the time or never hungry?
And he nails it. This is about taking a healthy food foundation and modifying it – constantly – to customize your lifetime diet for your needs, and to accommodate your desires. It is a learning process, and for me it is also about constant change and experimentation. Everyone can start with the basic principles and make that dietary framework work for them.
I have been on my “journey” since I opened that chiropractic newsletter back in 1986, with big changes in 1996 and 2003. I have more energy, now, than I have ever had in my whole life. People at the office often joke that I “bounce off walls.” And I am at my leanest weight ever, while retaining a lot of muscle mass. I was about 97 pounds wearing size -0- pants post-high school, when I started bodybuilding. I am 112 right now, wearing sizes in the range of 1 -3.
My next post on this will round up some of the great resources on the web for the primal (or paleo) lifestyle.