Primal Life: A Journey of Diet and Health

Note: The word “diet,” as used in this piece, refers to habitual nourishment, not a short-term “weight-loss” fixation.

People write me often and ask about resources, books, websites, etc. that point to the primal/paleo lifestyle and/or diet that I often refer to in my posts such as this one titled, “The Medical Establishment is Pathetic.” In that post, I point to one of the numerous articles that appear nowadays, in popular news sources, exclaiming some new scientific fact on food that is based on junk science supported by one man’s opinion or some flimsy “study.” This article in particular points to an establishment medical hack who makes the claim that replacing the saturated fat in your diet with industry’s toxic hydrogenated vegetable oils can make you healthy. Each time I read this simpleton trash I get a good chuckle, but then I ask — at what point does this tripe border on professional negligence? I can’t help but recall the words of Michael Pollan, who stated in his 2008 book, In Defense of Food:

…Most of the nutritional advice we’ve received over the last half-century (and in particular the advice to replace the fats in our diets with carbohydrates) has actually made us less healthy and considerably fatter.

As to the “considerably fatter” comment, one only needs to open his or her eyes in any public place to confirm that notion. Pollan goes on to say:

All of our uncertainties about nutrition should not obscure the plain fact that the chronic diseases that now kill most of us can be traced directly to the industrialization of our food: the rise of highly processed foods and refined grains; the use of chemicals to raise plants and animals in huge monocultures; the superabundance of cheap calories of sugar and fat produced by modern agriculture; and the narrowing of the biological diversity of the human diet to a tiny handful of staple crops, notably wheat, corn, and soy.

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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. And yes, plenty of saturated fats. 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 starving 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 horribly painful neck problem from bending over light tables and art tables all day, so I went to see Dr. Koukles, a chiropractor at the clinic. It turned out that he shared my passion and philosophy for athletics and conditioning, and he was firmly in the natural health camp, so twenty-four years later he is still my cherished chiropractor.

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At the same time I started to scrutinize the food I was eating. I had pretty much always been thin — terrifyingly skinny as a kid — but I had put on some “soft” or what I call “inflammatory weight.” So I started eating more healthy, or at least what I thought was healthy at the time. I was a cyclist, occasionally 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, ate “healthy,” and loaded up on carbs before weekend rides or races. Eating healthy included cutting out the sugar (good), cutting down on meat (bad), and substituting those “healthy” Healthy Choice meals (real, real bad) for real food while at work each day. Also, I ditched sugar-loaded pop and I was drinking bottled water, Evian, as soon as it hit the shelves in the U.S. I did look pretty buff and everyone thought I was such a health nut. But not quite.

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, remember? Then I discovered Atkins and started to flirt with that philosophy. But that went against my endurance athlete philosophy. What to do? I began cycling my carbohydrates — 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 I often cut back drastically on them, hence the “carb cycling.” I eliminated most all processed foods. Since I had chucked pop (soda for some of you) back in 80s, I thought the good alternative was diet Coke. I didn’t drink a lot of pop, but sometimes one a day. All that aspartame must’ve done wonders.

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Things seemed to get better, or maybe I just wasn’t tuned in to my body as well as I should have been. In 2003, I got really sick again — out of the blue, and this time much worse. This whole event — and it was an event — left me bouncing back and forth between the infectious disease and rheumatology Docs at the local hospital for 3—4 months while they all ran around trying to solve the perplexing puzzle.

My recovery from that situation found me revisiting Atkins, where I tweaked and modified that philosophy into what would essentially become something very similar to the Mark Sisson primal diet. I still did not give up wheat and grains 100%, 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 (IF) without any such planning — it just happened because I was busy and running around all over the place.

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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. The old bodybuilder ruse about “losing your muscle” if you didn’t eat gobs of protein post-workout had become a big joke in my mind. All the protein shakes and the constant assault of food is just not advantageous to one’s health. The more I incorporated intermittent fasting into my life, the leaner I became. On some days I’ll eat more, smaller meals, and on other days I’d eat maybe one big meal, and nothing else for 18—24 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, things never get boring.

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I consider Mark Sisson to be the chief proponent of the “primal” lifestyle that is based on returning to our roots as hunter-gatherers and eating the (real) food that we were meant to eat. Mark’s Primal Blueprint (I will review the book soon) is the single best book available that discusses the various ways in which you can attend to your health through food, exercise, and clean living. Mark’s Daily Apple website is a magnificent source of information, and his passion and ideas have motivated me to experiment with my own food selections. And in spite of my continuous experimentation, I will never waver from my core philosophy on food — I feel and look too good to mess with the results.

Oh yeah — and my cycling? I don’t race anymore — not since 2003 and that illness — but I do occasional distance rides, and lots of medium-range rides. I have 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, get home at 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.

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