Primal Saved My Health

Recently by Karen De Coster: How the Public Schools Keep Your Child a Prisoner of the State

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.

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