Primal Life: Diet and Health

Saturday, 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.

Be Sociable, Share!
You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

25 Responses to Primal Life: Diet and Health

  1. pineywoods says:

    January 23rd, 2010 at 4:49 pm

    Any opinions on a raw food diet?

  2. cousin lucky says:

    January 23rd, 2010 at 6:52 pm

    When I need to restore my health I go to a health food store ( my juicer is broken ) every other day for a large cup of strained ( I bring my own cup and strainer ) carrot juice that is mixed with an ounce of wheatgrass juice.

    Many moons ago I went on a raw food diet and found out that the tar and concrete of large cities is not harmonious with a raw food diet.

    Thanks Karen I am going to look into your diet parameters!!

  3. Tomás says:

    January 24th, 2010 at 11:32 am

    I really do agree with Karen, change your diet to fit your needs and what makes your body feel good. People have truly gotten away from the concept of what food should be: fuel for your body.

    Another diet/eating lifestyle that should be considered is Eat Right 4 Your Type, it basically corresponds with the Paleo credo when it comes to Type O blood types (who are the largest group at roughly 46% of the US population).

    Type Bs (10% of pop.) have the most varied diet, and can ingest the most dairy, Type As (40% of pop.) are the closest to vegetarians and can ingest the most grain, and Type ABs are basically A+B, but without the wheat tolerance.

    All food is divided into beneficials, neutrals, and avoids, based on how the food’s antigens (anti-A or anti-B) react with your blood type’s antigens.

    I enjoy it because it has really made me feel better, I have always been skinny like Karen, but my health has never been great, and I can’t imagine now NOT taking charge of my own body’s health. ER4YT, along with the paleo diet, are great also because of how they respect the individuality of people and don’t expect (or want) people to be cookie-cutter copies of each other.

    The main ER4YT website is, but the best book to get you started can be found on Amazon:
    Eat Right 4 Your Type

  4. Alex says:

    January 24th, 2010 at 3:40 pm

    I was one of those “Whole Wheat Hippies” for a long time, based on the writings of people like Dean Ornish, Neal Barnard, etc. I had bought into that whole “meat and fat are of Satan” meme of theirs, (think of that Judge Reinhold comment about “red meat stuck in the colon” from the movie “Beverley Hills Cop”). After your “Ass on a Stick” column (lol), I decided to try the Paleo Diet. My weight has dropped, and some health problems I contracted when in the military have subsided. And Mr. Reinhold notwithstanding, I’ve actually been MORE “regular” on the Paleo diet than a wheat-heavy one. It works and I do feel better!

    The Paleo program will always be considered “fringe” and “alternative” due to the fact that it doesn’t benefit the sugar and grain industries that are heavily subsidized by state and Federal governments. I always chuckle at the food packages at stores and restaurants (especially those aimed at children) that are loaded with sugar, yet brag “FAT FREE!!!”

    Therefore, the obesity “problem” will never go away in this country, and indeed I expect it to get worse, as people like Ornish and PETA continue to have sway over the government nanny state regulators.

  5. Avelardo says:

    January 24th, 2010 at 4:28 pm

    My wife and I are blood type A and when we eat grains we get FAT so I don’t buy the blood type diet. Now, the Primal/Paleo diet is more of a lifestyle than a diet. It’s based on eating meats, vegetables, fruits and nuts while eliminating grains, legumes and junk food from your diet. Then you add in exercise the Primal way by walking, sprinting and lifting. This develops a lean muscular body that is strong. It represents a person that can handle anything. I don’t want to be skinny or fat as it represents weakness in mind and body.

  6. Karen De Coster says:

    January 24th, 2010 at 6:53 pm

    Alex, Ornish is evil/horrible…..and do you note that he looks like shit?? !!

  7. Tomás says:

    January 24th, 2010 at 7:57 pm

    Avelardo, my description was a quick and dirty one, there are other subsets of blood types that effect your diet according to the book, especially secretor status: whether one has the ability or not to secrete your blood type’s antigens into your digestive system. I’m a non-secretor myself (we only make up 15-20% of the pop.) Type A and white flour was a destructive force to me. I can honestly say I probably had borderline symptoms of autism and ADD when I was younger simply because of my intake of white flour and HFCS soda.

    But yeah, I don’t think white refined bleached flour is good for anyone, period.

  8. Tomás says:

    January 24th, 2010 at 8:17 pm


    yowza, I just looked up a picture of that guy and he is the definition of shlumpy!

    Reminds me of how every time I would walk into a health food store, almost every one there looked just absolutely nasty: pasty skin, skinny yet bloated at the same time, hunched posture, bags under the eyes. I can guarantee you that they were probably all either vegetarian or vegan, and to me that’s probably the strongest case against it: just look at them!

  9. Paul Mollon says:

    January 24th, 2010 at 8:30 pm

    Karen, years ago my daughter and I attended a lecture by Dean Ornish – the first thing I noticed, as you mention above, he looked like death warmed over. (I’m surprised he’s still alive) I recall, in his slide show, a picture of a cross section of an artery plugged with plaque and him saying, “look people, that’s animal fat there blocking that artery, that’s why people are dying from heart disease! It was as if he believed saturated fat went directly from your tongue to your artery walls. Now, having recently read Gary Taubes “Good Calories Bad Calories” I fully understand what a crock that was – stupidly oversimplified and misleading. Isn’t it remarkable how these misconceptions can take on a life of their own and just like the Energizer Bunny, just keep going and going. (Global Warming anyone?!?)

  10. Karen De Coster says:

    January 25th, 2010 at 6:57 am

    Tomas, indeed! All vegans look bad, and the skin color is the first thing you notice. I’ve always bashed the way they look, and people get upset with me.

  11. M. Terry says:

    January 25th, 2010 at 1:19 pm

    Exactly, Karen. I’ve been flamed before when posting about the walking cadavers in health food stores closely examining all the labels to assure there’s no animal products in what they are purchasing.

    I had two vegan males living in a house behind me – one shaped like an avocado and the other shaped like a beanpole. They had a pull-up bar in the back yard, and neither could do a single pull-up.

    I’m sure there are healthy vegetarians out there, but I’ve yet to encounter one.

  12. Chris G says:

    January 25th, 2010 at 3:08 pm

    After years of abusing my body with junk food, I was a bloated 384 pounds. 8 months ago, I adopted a paleo diet & lifestyle & have dropped 113 pounds. Needless to say, I ain’t looking back!

  13. Avelardo says:

    January 25th, 2010 at 9:36 pm

    Chris G losing 113 pounds makes him a bad ass and a Primal Warrior in my book!

  14. Tom Osborne says:

    January 26th, 2010 at 12:19 am

    Thank you so much, Karen, for taking the time to write out all that valuable advice–your example is very inspiring.

  15. Michael says:

    January 26th, 2010 at 12:45 pm

    No way. I love my morning bagels with peanut butter!

  16. Timothy says:

    January 26th, 2010 at 8:40 pm

    I never quite understood what Karen meant by “paleo” until I followed one of her links to Mark Sisson’s blog.  I thought I was in pretty decent shape before then, but little did I know.  Now I’m exploding with energy, jogging all over the place and getting amazing results working out with a sledgehammer.  (The “shovelglove” gets my vote as the greatest DIY strength-training tool ever invented!)

    Some of the most revolutionary aspects of the primal diet:

    * Reduce or eliminate carbs.  This should be obvious but I used to cling to the idea that I needed X amount of carbs to make the fat burn.  Now I’ve found that carbs are just a drag unless you’re going for more than an hour of high-intensity workout per day, which should be rare.  No carbs means no insulin response which means feeling great all the time!

    * Fill up on protein and saturated fat.  Bacon!  Butter!  Whole eggs, not just the whites!  Coconut in all its splendid applications!  Being able to dig on delicious fat completely makes up for carb cravings.

    * Eat vegetables as the main bulk of your diet.  Replace grains, legumes, even fruit, any part of your dish that was carb-rich, with dark green leafy stuff.  You can’t get enough.  I used to loathe vegetables back when I was a carb addict.  Now I seek them out like Pac-Man.

    I used to be chronically hungry from trying to restrain my diet, but after going primal I eat to bursting and yet the fat has simply melted away.  The irony is at first I thought the primal lifestyle would be a chore and the food no fun.  But my tastes changed subtly as I rediscovered the lifestyle to which our species is genetically adapted.  I only wish I’d learned all this sooner, but at 33, I feel I still have a good sixty years left to enjoy the paleo life, if I don’t get stepped on by a mastodon.

    Folks, if you haven’t followed Karen’s link to Mark Sisson’s blog, I couldn’t recommend it more strongly.

    Thanks, Karen, for your inspiring example, and for taking a hatchet to the CW in your always inimitable style.

  17. Bruce says:

    January 26th, 2010 at 9:33 pm

    Terrific column! And haven’t we noticed that the cyclist who is 30 lb overweight will pay $2000 more for a bike weighing 5 pounds less than the department store model? Which makes his excess poundage worth about $12,000 by one count. Well he saved a few ounces in the brain weight column.

  18. Karen De Coster says:

    January 26th, 2010 at 10:10 pm

    Bruce: observations confirmed!!

  19. John Paul Jones says:

    January 27th, 2010 at 11:22 am

    Vegans are just grandstanding hippies who use diet as another social statement. It may not fuel their bodies very well, but it fuels their sanctimony just fine.

    Q. How do you know if you’re talking to a vegan?

  20. M. Terry says:

    January 29th, 2010 at 3:20 pm

    JPJ – Good point. I’ve also noticed that many vegans are crystal-waiving new agers. I’ve spoken to several who see thing and speak with entities that no one else can see, and they think there’s nothing wrong with this.

    Most likely have starved their brains and aren’t getting enough B vitamins and amino acids in their diet.

    Couple that with the fact that they often consume soy protein isolate instead of meat, and are likely getting aluminum poisoning from that agribusiness “tested and approved” soy product.

    It’s noteworthy that almost no animal will eat many of these soy products. Seems they can tell the stuff isn’t good for them, but humans can’t. Just flavor it right, call it a Tofurkey or some other name, and the vegans will eat it right up, and pat themselves on the back for not killing an animal. (Nevermind that millions of animals, birds, etc are killed and displaced by agribusinesses, and that everything else they consume effects animals in some way.

    Do a Google search for Soy Protein Isolate dangers. Pretty creepy. But don’t worry – it’s approved by agri-giant ADM.

    The who vegan thing reminds me of a saying about environmentalism – An environmentalist is someone who had their cabin built in the forest LAST year…

  21. Jeannie Queenie says:

    January 31st, 2010 at 12:26 am

    Hard to believe that Steve Forbes is taking a sick stance in his praise of Monsanto messing with seeds. He is off the deep end on this one. Gleaned from Dr. Mercola’s article are these facts about the many improprieties and outright crimes committed by Monsanto, such as:

    Suing small farmers for patent infringement after Monsanto’s GM seeds spread wildly into surrounding farmers’ fields, contaminating their conventional crops

    Secretly discharging PCB-laden toxic waste into an Alabama creek, and dumping millions of pounds of PCBs into open-pit landfills for decades after PCBs were banned in the US for being a possible carcinogen.

    Being found guilty of bribery to bypass Indonesian law requiring an environmental assessment review for its genetically engineered cotton.
    Last year, the supreme court of France found Monsanto guilty of falsely advertising its herbicide Roundup as “biodegradable” and “environmentally friendly.” Scientific evaluation discovered that glyphosate, the active ingredient in RoundUp, is acutely toxic to fish and birds and can kill beneficial insects and soil organisms that maintain ecological balance. Additionally, the surfactant ingredient in Roundup is more acutely toxic than glyphosate itself, and the combination of the two is even more toxic.
    In 2007, the South African Advertising Standards Authority also found Monsanto guilty of lying when advertising that “no negative reactions to Genetically Modified food have been reported.”
    According to one EPA scientist, Monsanto doctored studies and covered-up dioxin contamination of a wide range of its products. She concluded that the company’s behaviour constituted “a long pattern of fraud.” The
    New York Times exposed Monsanto’s PR firm, Burson Marsteller, paid fake “pro-GMO” food demonstrators to counteract a group of anti-biotech protesters outside a Washington, DC FDA meeting.” To read even more disturbing news of Monsanto..
    Check out Dr Mercola’s article here…Has Forbes Gone Psychotic or Taken the Blue Pill?
    January 30 2010

  22. M. Terry says:

    February 1st, 2010 at 7:23 pm

    It’s the same old same old, Jeannie. These Agribusinesses do so much harm, and fund study after study to explain how safe their products are, and why we should be using them.

    Your post reminds me of a news article about a Sierra Club resort where they pumped raw sewage into a stream, and did all other types of horrid environmental destruction.

    Yet one has to go to Mercola’s site to find this stiff.

    Eat Big Agra food – it’s all safe. Yeah, right.

    Monsanto has been screwing small farmers for quite some time. Asshats.

  23. Jeannie Queenie says:

    February 2nd, 2010 at 10:08 pm

    M Terry,

    Yes, we all know what Monsanto is doing with plants and seeds, but the latest evil endeavor of theirs is reaching new heights. The world market for pigs is beaucoup billions of dollars. Monsanto now is attempting to get patents on all pigs on the planet, that is, except for those porkers in Washington feeding at the public trough or the Monsanto pigs. This hideous abomination finds farmers committing suicide here and abroad. In India they are drinking Monsanto herbicide to kill themselves. The patenting of pigs is all about control, so that Monsanto can own all the cattle and keep every farmer indebted to Monsanto 24/7. Reminds me of the old mob movies with Joe Bonanno but now it stars Joe Monsanto. If this isn’t extortion I don’t know what is. In short, they’ve a license to attach a fee to every farmer’s piglets.

    Note W’s face in this video around 25.10 where he gets that ballistic, bullying look on his beer bloated face that wreaks of ‘we will force you guinea pigs to eat our pigs, for we want to be filthy rich pigs and dominate the pig market”, as he speaks to Europeans. Adding to the insanity, is that GMO plants and feeds fed to pigs are actually hindering their ability to conceive. Keep that up and the pork chops and dry rubbed ribs we all love, could go the way of the extinct dodo bird. Europeans especially farmers have yet another reason to hate america as they get pressured by our govt and monsanto to tow the mad mark. Listen with shock to american farmers who meet with the USDA, the EPA and other govt entities only to be scoffed at. Now the Chinese, the Danes and others are racing to get a DNA pig patent as well. All want to create a ‘super pig’, an ironic attempt in light of a declining pig population as a result of GMO feedlots. These sickos will have to grow some pretty dam big pigs to make up for the dwindling supply they are killing off. They will have to be the sort of supersized variety of PIGS who are altering our food supply and threatening our very existence. You can watch this worthwhile video good for around 40 minutes, some of it in subtitles when in European countries.

  24. M. Terry says:

    February 5th, 2010 at 2:50 pm

    Thanks for the video Link Jeannie.
    Some people believe that free enterprise is what we have.

    Actually, corporatism is alive and well. When there’s this much control, it becomes harder and harder to vote with our dollars.

    It’s up to the little guys – like Karen and her blogging efforts, as well as activists like you posting links like the ones you supplied – to get the word out. Maybe that’s why so many “journalists” in the MSM hate bloggers. It’s a safe bet that Monsanto, ADM, etc, spend a lot of money advertising at corporate media sites.

  25. D. Rock says:

    September 14th, 2011 at 8:57 pm

    I really enjoyed reading this article.  I have to say though, I was a low fat raw vegan for about 1 year and felt absolutely amazing.  I was fit, strong and happy.  I stopped because I didn’t feel like paying as much as I was for food (i.e. tons of fruit and leafy greens).  

    I am SO happy to say that I have found the primal way of living now!  I feel just as good as I did when I was just eating fruits and greens…but now I can actually socialize with people over food!

    I am blood type A and also don’t do well on grains.  I tried following D’adamo quite a few years ago and it seemed to work for a bit, but didn’t last.  I am now loving the primal lifestyle!

Leave a Reply