Category Archives: Peter’s Musings

Happy New Year! I am Back!

Only when we are no longer afraid do we begin to live.

Dorothy Thompson

Happy New Year to everyone. You will notice it’s been a while since my last post on this blog. One of my resolutions for the new year is to share more about my personal journey into ancestral health as it happens. My family and I are still living the life-style and still reaping the benefits.

In case you wondered, I have maintained my weight loss, indeed many people comment that I have leaned out further recently. This makes it 18 months I have maintained normal weight. By summer it will be two years, which will be a major milestone achievement. Most studies show that the vast majority of slimmers are back to their old weight or heavier two years after achieving their target weight. Here is a nice article by Ned Kock on this topic with a few links to some of those studies:

All Diets Succeed At First, And Eventually Fail – Ned Kock

My current area of interest is how I reestablish what I call metabolic resilience. What I mean by this is that my metabolism is back to a state where maintaining my weight does not require me to carefully manage the macronutrients my diet. Don’t get me wrong, I consider my diet both healthful and enjoyable, and easy to maintain for the long term. But I would also term it a therapeutic diet. I believe my low-carb diet allows me to maintain a healthy body composition by working around my insulin sensitivity. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say my diet works around my glucose intolerance. In any case, my low-carb diet does not directly address my metabolic weaknesses. At least not to the degree that I would like. It would be good to know that my weight is not going to suffer, if I find myself in a situation where I have to rely on less than ideal food choices for more than a few days.

Jimmy Moore’s example has caused me to reflect a great deal on this (check out his Livin’ La Vida Low-Carb website). Jimmy achieved an incredible weight loss of 180 Lbs back in 2004. The experience made him a passionate advocate for low-carb living, and he is one of the most energetic and prolific activists in the ancestral community today. Despite maintaining a low-carb diet, Jimmy started putting the weight back on. Then last year to address this he started his now famous nutritional ketosis experiment, which has been very successful for him. He discusses this in this episode of his podcast.

Jimmy often describes himself as metabolically deranged to a point where he cannot tolerate any starch and very few carbs of any kind. Whilst I am very happy for him that he is getting back to normal weight through nutritional ketosis, I feel it would help Jimmy and many others if someone came up with a way to measure and track the relative metabolic resilience of an individual.

I don’t believe permanent ketosis is a natural state for the human body. I do believe it’s effective and healthy for some of us to stay in ketosis to maintain normal weight. But wouldn’t it be better if we recovered the ability to switch our metabolism between states without consequences for our weight?

So this is what I am exploring right now. Soon you will see posts here about exercise protocols as well as diet and supplementation strategies for metabolic conditioning. I will also explore how you can measure and track your metabolic resilience starting with insulin sensitivity.

That’s it for now. Why don’t you share with me and other readers what you are focusing on in 2013? Please leave a comment.

So, why should you listen to me?

“Common sense is the knack of seeing things as they are,
and doing things as the ought to be done.”

Josh Billings

Since you are investing time exploring the materials on this blog, chances are you are looking for an new approach to weight loss. You are looking for something that has a better chance of succeeding than the diets you have tried in the past.

If you want weight loss information that goes against the grain, you have come to the right place. But your health is a serious matter, so please take a moment to ask yourself why you should listen to me. After all, I am not a health professional. I am just some guy who had some success loosing weight. I didn’t take a degree in this stuff. I just experimented on myself, and the experiment happened to work.

I am going to make a bold and opinionated statement here. Most mainstream health professionals don’t really know how people get fat. And they know less about how to loose weight sustainably. Some think they do, but their hypothesis is wrong. They believe it’s all about energy balance and eating fewer calories than you burn. They completely ignore how hormones act on nutrients and how this influences an individual’s propensity to accumulate fat. Consequently, most of them offer advice that is ineffective, and sometimes even counter productive, for the majority of overweight people. And in the case of doctors, the advice is typically based on material they have spent no more than 2 weeks studying at medical school.

Have you tried more than once to loose weigh the mainstream way? Did it work? Did the weight pile back on? Are people blaming your weak character for your weight problem? Are you beating yourself up about it?

Why on earth would you want more of that?

I got tired of being down on myself. I made a choice to question everything I had been told about how to eat. I learned that government guideline and mainstream medical advice is not really based in any science. So, I looked for people who offered something different and who did have some science to back up their advice. This led me to the Ancestral Health community and a return to normal weight and dramatically improved health.

I would like you to take the same joyous journey, but I am not saying you should necessarily listen to me or emulate what I did. I just think you should take your own health seriously. Give yourself some credit and stop listening to advice that hasn’t worked for you. Explore alternatives and always educate yourself before you take anybody’s advice. Do your own research and apply a healthy dose of critical thinking to the information you find. Then take action and conduct your own self-experiment by applying what you have learned. If you keep an open mind and trust your ability to distinguish good information from bad, you will succeed.

Here is a video lecture from another contrarian who encourages you to think for yourself. Tom Naughton is not a doctor nor a scientist. He is a journalist and a former comedian. In other words, a sane voice worth listening to in a world that has gone mad.

How tying my shoes became a daily joy

“The only difference between stumbling blocks and stepping stones
is the way you use them.” – Proverb

Tying shoelaces is a trivial task for most people. But when I was at my heaviest it was a daily challenge and a constant reminder of my generous girth and poor health.

Kneeling down or bending down to reach my feet was very uncomfortable. So, to put on my shoes, I would sit myself down in an armchair. As I reached down for my feet my gut would press up against my diaphragm, which severely restricted my breathing. This meant I had to hold my breath as I was tying my laces. After finishing the first lace, I would sit back, take a little break, and snap a gulp of air before diving down for the next shoe.

When both shoes were tied, the next challenge was to get out of the chair. To do this I would rock my bottom to the edge of the seat and then push myself up out of the chair whilst making various strained noises. All this made me toy with the idea of wearing slip-on loafers. Thankfully, I managed to lose weight before this became more than a fanciful idea.

Nowadays, things are very different. I stand when I put on my shoes. I simply balance on one leg, lift up the other and slip on the shoes without making any strange noises or feeling any discomfort. To tie my shoelaces I kneel or bend down without thinking about it. It takes a fraction of the time it used to, and I view it as a daily opportunity to take satisfaction in the changes I have made to my life.

My weight loss has taught me that small things make a big difference. That’s why I advocate writing down the niggles and discomforts that are part of overweight life when you first embark on an effort to regain your health. Here is a list of things to think about to get you started:

  • When you get home from work, do you change into comfortable clothes like sweat pants with an elasticated waist?
  • Do you sit down or stand up when you put on socks?
  • Do you hide behind other people when someone is taking a group photo?
  • Do you have any aches or soreness that won’t go away?
  • Are there times of the day when your energy level crashes?
  • How do you feel after you have walked up more than two flights of stairs?

After you are back to normal weight, it is easy to forget how your body used to get in the way, and it is worth reminding yourself frequently. Take pride in all your little victories and resolve to make them permanent. Once you have escaped the limiting impairments of obesity, you won’t want to go back.

Primal Beginners’ Q&A: How much fruit on a Primal diet?

Question:

Hi Peter – Came across this interview with Michael Arnstein, a dedicated frutarian marathon runner, who is a running mate of my friend Ben Ko. From an ancestral health perspective this kind of diet not only doesn’t make any sense: it shouldn’t be possible at all. Yet, Michael is proof that this diet not only works for him – but his athletic performance is the best it has ever been (he’s in his mid-thirties). I’d be curious about your response – I am a huge fruit fan, and I notice that you don’t eat much fruit at all. So Michael’s diet would be a different as it is possible to be from yours – yet it works for him. – Martin

Answer:

On first sight Michael Arnstein’s diet does seem to go against ancestral diet principles. He suggests 80% of daily calories should come from carbohydrate, leaving just 10% for fat and protein respectively. Furthermore, most of the carbs come in the form of fruit, which means Mr. Arnstein ingests a lot of sucrose and fructose daily. The typical Paleo or Primal dieter would have concerns about all those things.

But there is another way to look at it. You could argue Fructarians eat a part-Paleo diet. Mr. Arnstein’s diet basically consists of raw vegetables and fruit, and Paleo advocates would approve of the following characteristics of these foods:

  • If you set aside the sugar content of fruit, Fructarian foods are anti-inflamatory and dense in nutrients.
  • A Fructarian regime eliminates pro-inflamatory grains and seed oils.
  • Eating raw fruits and vegetables means you avoid all processed foods and dairy.

So, at a stretch, you could view the Fructarian diet as a raw food variant of the Paleo diet without the meat, fish and eggs. In fact, it seems to me the Fructarian and Paleo diets have more in common with each other, than either have with the typical Western diet.

The ancestral health community would say a diet without meat, fish and eggs would not be optimal for your health. I tend to agree, but I also think it is a personal choice. The key principle here is to eat natural nutrient dense foods, and avoid toxic and processed foods. Beyond that I think it’s about eating a diet that makes you feel and perform well. I would also take the guess work out of it by having blood tests regularly to make sure you are staying healthy.

I do think these things have to be viewed in the context of what I believe to be widespread metabolic damage in the western population. It is clear that most overweight people suffer from poor blood glucose control, and, for a growing number, this eventually turns into type-2 diabetes. So, I personally think a low-carb approach is the best remedy we currently have for returning overweight people to normal weight.

Going low carb does not necessarily mean you have to eliminate fruit from your diet. But the problem is fruits have widely differing sugar content. To illustrate this, here are two examples coutesey of SugarStacks.com:

Particularly for someone who has just started a weight loss program, fruit can be a bit of a minefield. I made the choice not to eat fruit at all when I first started loosing weight. I now eat a little, but I tend to stick to berries, which have a lower sugar content than other fruits.

If you really enjoy fruit, I see no reason why you couldn’t incorporate it in your diet in a way that allows you to still achieve your health goals. I would suggest you initially track the fruit you eat and see how it affects you. If you find your weight is sensitive to fruit, then you may have to track your consumption permanently to manage your intake. Alternatively, you could have periodic “fruit frenzies” where you eat as much fruit as you like on a nominated day per week or every fortnight. You will find there are a lot of diets out there, including some Primal and Paleo diets, that advocate “off days” or “cheat days”. A regular off day makes it psychologically easier to stay the course if you find your diet restrictive. It also seems consistent with the Paleo/Primal principle of eating like our hunter gatherer ancestors.

I believe we all need a healthy dose of curiosity, critical thinking and independent thought to manage our health. Particularly since government guidelines and prevailing wisdom has led us down a path of widespread obesity, diabetes and chronic disease. So, it would be inconsistent and disingenuous of me to insist everyone eats as I eat. Instead, I advocate you eat real food from natural sources and otherwise do what works for you.

Disclaimer

This blog reflects my personal opinions and experiences. None of the material I make available should be construed as medical advice, nor should it replace proper medical consultation. If this blog inspires you to start your own weight loss program, I encourage you to consult a medical professional. If you, your friends or your doctors wish to question or challenges any information on this blog, I welcome your feedback.

An overview of ancestral health communities

“The important thing is not to stop questioning.

Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”

Albert Einstein

When you read about ancestral health you come across a variety of terms that describe different sections of our community. Some of the more common are Paleo, Primal and Low-Carb. You may also have encountered the term LCHF. I often get asked what these labels cover, and what the differences are between them. It’s not entirely clear cut, but here is how I define them.

The Paleo Diet is based on the hypothesis that humans are genetically adapted to eat like our pre-historic ancestors. Paleo followers believe modern western diseases and obesity are due to changes in our diet that arrived with agriculture and industrialisation.

The Paleo Diet consists of meat, fish, poultry and vegetables. It suggests avoiding grains, legumes, most tubers, dairy, sugar and processed foods. Paleo dieters also prefers grass fed beef, wild game, organic poultry and wild fish over intensively farmed equivalents.

If you follow a Paleo diet, your carbohydrate intake will tend to be lower than on a typical western diet. But Paleo is less specific about the amount of carbohydrate you should eat than Primal, Low-Carb and LCHF. There are also researchers in the movement who argue for “safe starches”. One example is Staffan Lindenburgh who points to the Kitavans of Papa New Guinea as an example of aboriginal people who subsist on a high starch diet without incurring the degenerative diseases that are so common in the west.

In summary, Paleo is mostly about eating unprocessed and nutritionally dense foods to emulate the diet of our hunter gatherer ancestors.

The Primal diet is also inspired by our pre-historic ancestors. The selection of foods allowed on the Primal diet is much the same as Paleo. However, Primal allows high-fat dairy such as butter, cream, full-fat yoghurt and cheese. Some also argue a small amount of white rice is OK on a Primal diet.

Primal seems to me to be more prescriptive about your carbohydrate intake than Paleo. Primal diet books tend to give specific direction about the amount of carbohydrate you should consume to create optimal conditions for fat loss.

The most prolific advocate of Primal is Mark Sisson who runs a website called Mark’s Daily Apple.

The Low-Carb label is very broad. It covers over a number of diets that prescribe carbohydrate restriction for weight loss. Many followers started their Low-Carb journeys with the Atkins Diet, but there are many other Low-Carb diets such as the South Beach Diet and the Dukan diet.

Although it doesn’t apply to all Low-Carbers, in general this community is more relaxed about processed foods and Omega-6 rich oils than the Paleo and Primal communities. Low-Carbers tend to focus more specifically on the macronutrient balance in their diet. Some emphasise high protein, others emphasise high fat. What they have in common is the restriction of carbohydrate to trigger ketosis, which is when your body burns fat for fuel.

I think most people consider Atkins the founding father of Low-Carb weight loss. The research has since been moved forward by scientists such as Dr. Stephen Phinner and Dr. Jeff S. Volek.

You could argue that LCHF is the Scandinavian sub-section of the Low-Carb community. The LCHF label stands for Low-Carb-High-Fat. The term originated in Sweden where low-carb approaches to health appear to be moving into the mainstream.

I have seen LCHF defined as Paleo with high-fat dairy. By this definition you could argue it is similar to Primal. However, LCHF appears to be a little more relaxed about whether their food is organic and unprocessed, so to my mind their approach is closer to Low-Carb. But, as with all these definitions, we are splitting hairs.

High-profile LCHF people include Dr. Annika Dahlqvist and Dr. Andreas Eenfeldt in Sweden as well as Dr. Sofie Hexberg in Norway.

I like the term Ancestral Health because it is broad and inclusive. To me it covers all the four communities I describe here, along with some others (GAPS dieters and Western A. Price followers are notable examples). Inevitably when you try to define these movements, you emphasise the differences, which, to a degree, masks the obvious commonalities. At the same time, there are plenty of people in the Ancestral Health movements who don’t fit neatly into any one of these buckets.

I have learned a great deal from leaders and enthusiasts across the Paleo, Primal, Low-Carb, LCHF, GAPS and Western A. Price communities. We don’t all agree on everything, off course, but we do share some key characteristics. We are all sceptical about the low-fat grain-based diet dogma that dominates the mainstream. What drives us is the belief there is a better and more natural way of achieving wellness and vitality.

Further materials:

Diana Hsieh has published the best summary of the Paleo protocol I have seen online on her blog. It includes links to articles and materials that explains the rationale for each element of the diet. Click here.

Thought leaders in the Paleo movement include Loren Cordain, Robb Wolf and Art deVany. Here are som YouTube videos:

Mark Sisson more than anyone is responsible for popularising Primal living. Here is a YouTube lecture with him:

For visuals summarising of the Primal life-style click here.

I have posted this video with Dr. Andreas Eenfeldt recently, but it is so good it is worth sharing again:

How to unravel science

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself,
and you are the easiest person to fool.”

Richard Feynman.

Headlines in newspaper, articles in magazines and programs on television offer new health guidelines every week and they often contradict each other.

You know the kinds of stories I am talking about. First garlic protects against heart disease, then suddenly it doesn’t. You read coffee is supposed to be full of antioxidants, then you see another story that says it causes cancer. It is all very confusing. It makes you wonder what information to trust and what to dismiss.

Tom Naughton did a lecture on this at the Low Carb Cruise:

Ben Goldacre also did a presentation on this topic at TED:

In summary:

  • If you really want to know whether you can trust the research you read about, you need to know how the research was conducted.
  • Don’t be intimidated by science. A bit of critical thinking is all you need to determine if the information you are given is worth paying attention to. Tom Naughton’s lecture offers tips on this.
  • Know the difference between an observational study and a clinical study. Observational studies try to find correlations between events and outcomes. They are useful for developing hypotheses, but are not conclusive proof of anything.
  • Be aware that most health coverage in popular media is based on findings from observational studies.

More than ever, it’s critical to think critically. Bad information travels fast on the internet. Guard yourself by learning how to sniff out the good stuff from the bad.

Further Reading:

Science 101 Tutorial by Tim Huntley at My Athletic Life

Book: Bad Science by Ben Goldacre

Article: Lies, Damned Lies and Medical Science by David H. Freeman, The Atlantic

Article: Why almost everything you hear about medicine is wrong by Sharon Begley, The Daily Beast

I will never stop “dieting” – It feels too good!

“Don’t count the days. Make the days count.”

Muhammed Ali

General wisdom says dieting is something you do temporarily with a specific goal in mind. Most people think weight loss involves lots of sacrifice, and no one in their right mind would deny themselves the good things in life indefinitely. The goal is to get back to “normal” as soon as possible. Otherwise, why would it be worth dieting?

This is how I used to think about weight loss. In fact, last year my New Year’s resolution was to be back to normal weight by end of 2011. I fully intended to then stop dieting. But things have changed. I no longer view the food I eat as a weight loss regime and I don’t want things to go back to the old “normal”.

I admit my daily diet is restrictive in some key areas. But I enjoy the food I eat and I love what it’s doing to me. I can’t remember feeling this good since I was a teenager.

Aside from weight loss, lot’s of other things have changed in my life since switching to a primal life-style. Overall, I have gone from a person who was chronically fatigued to someone who is full of energy.

  • I used to hate physical activity, but I now find myself exercising with great enthusiasm. I can’t bear to be sedentary. I have to move, otherwise I get jittery.
  • My mental stamina is better than I thought possible at my age. I no longer have the volatile ups and downs I used to have. My energy level stays high throughout the day.
  • I wake up refreshed in the morning, and I rarely need an alarm clock to get me out of bed. I sleep better because I no longer snore, and I no longer get up 3-4 times a night to go to the bathroom.
  • Somehow, I am less stressed and less anxious than previously. I don’t quite know how to describe or explain this. But somehow I have acquired a quiet confidence and it’s making a real difference to my daily life.

The way I look at it now, my new waistline is the least of my achievements. It’s no exaggeration to say I have gained a whole new life. That’s why I will never stop “dieting”. It just makes me feel too good!

Quotes to reflect on for 2012

The Christmas break is coming to an end and it is time to look forward to 2012. I thought I would sign off for 2011 by sharing a selection of favourite quotes:

“We should be taught not to wait for inspiration to start a thing. Action always generates inspiration. Inspiration seldom generates action.” – Frank Tibolt

“You are what you repeatedly do. Excellence is not an act. It’s a habit” – Aristotle

“Whatever the situation, it is important you recognise that fearfulness is a product of your own mind. You should aspire to operate with an awareness of your fear and to contain the danger of paralysis by deliberately self-managing your mindset with great determination.” – Unknown

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent” – Eleanor Roosevelt

“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.” – Mary Engelbreit

“Attitude, not aptitude will determine your altitude.” – Unknown

“An expert is a master of the basics.” – Unknown

“Although nobody can go back and start a new beginning, anybody can start now and create a new ending” – Chico Xavier

“The universe doesn’t conspire against you, but it doesn’t go out of it’s way to line up all the pins either.” – Tim Ferris

“Do not stop yourself from acting because you overestimated the competition and underestimated yourself.” – Unknown

“Purpose as a currency is more valuable than money.” – Proverb

“Winning isn’t everything, but wanting to win is.” – Vince Lombardi

“The man who complains about the way the ball bounces is likely the one who dropped it.” – Lou Holtz

“We either make ourselves miserable or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same.” – Carlos Castaneda

“Pain is temporary. Quitting lasts forever.” – Lance Armstrong

How to survive international air travel

Neither appetising nor Primal


“If you don’t like something, change it.

If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.”

Mary  Engelbreit


If you have read any of my other blog articles, you know my approach to weight loss prioritises food quality over food quantity. I don’t bother with calorie counting. Instead, I focus on eating the right stuff.

But modern living sometimes puts you in situations where you have to get by with less than ideal food sources. One example is international air travel, which I do a lot of. In fact, I am writing this article on a flight from London to New Jersey.

Airline food is not very appetising and caters poorly for a low-carb life-style that emphasises non-processed foods.

When I first started my diet, I thought diabetic in-flight meals was the solution. But I have been disappointed and  horrified with what airlines serve diabetics. An abundance of refined carbohydrates and very little fat is what airlines seem to think diabetics need. Get ready for a serious spike in blood sugar if you eat that!

Instead, I stick with the standard meals on offer. I then follow a few simple tips to make in-flight meals acceptable:

  • I generally only eat the meat, poultry or fish in my meal along with the few limp and overcooked vegetables that come with it.
  • I do not touch the starch that is served with the meal.
  • I also leave the dessert alone.
  • If the meal comes with cheese, I eat it on its own.
  • If I am sure the little wrapper of  “butter” is actual butter, I will eat it. I generally melt it on top of my meat, poultry or fish. Sometimes I just eat it straight out of the wrapper. (This attracts looks from my fellow passengers that range from puzzlement to horror.)
  • If the salad dressing comes on the side, I generally leave it and eat my salad undressed
  • If my salad is read-dressed, I choose not to worry about the potential for highly processed plant or nut oils. I eat the salad.
  • The same goes for wheat or additives in any sauce that may have been poured over my meat. I don’t worry about it. I figure I need to eat something. I don’t go out of my way to eat all the sauce, though. Just the stuff that happens to cling onto my protein.
  • If there is a choice of meals, I avoid the pasta options. The other choices usually contain more protein and fat.
  • Sometimes I bring food with me on the flight. Typically, this would be nuts, vegetable crudities, or snack-bags of chorizo. I leave all left-overs in the flight cabin when I disembark. I don’t want to be stopped in customs with food I’m not supposed to bring into my destination country.
  • If the departure airport has decent restaurants, I may have a large low-carb high-fat meal before boarding my plane, so I can completely avoid eating the in-flight food. I am particularly fond of all-day English breakfast and steak with salad.

Some might argue a long-distance flight is an ideal opportunity to practice intermittent fasting. At the risk of upsetting Paleo purist, I have to admit I don’t find fasting very pleasant. The same goes for long-distance air travel. I fear combining the two would tip me over the edge.

Each to his own, though.

Happy travels!

How I use Twitter to do health research

“Absorb what is useful, discard what is useless and add what is uniquely your own.”

Bruce Lee

If you are serious about loosing weight, I recommend you put some time and energy into understanding nutrition.

I hope my blog inspires others to address their weight problems, but I know very few will duplicate my approach exactly. Most of you will likely have to adjust my formula to suit your own personal circumstances.

But it’s very easy to make mistakes when you change a weight loss program. One small misguided decision could slow down your progress dramatically. Also, there are a lot of people out there who peddle weight loss programs that don’t work or are detrimental to your health. The internet has given everyone a medium to peddle their wares for good and bad. More than ever you need knowledge and good dose of critical thinking to make an informed decision about your health.

I rely on Twitter to find a lot of my health research material. With Twitter I don’t have to search for the information I need. Instead the information finds its way to me. By following people who are interested in health and nutrition, I get to hear about the stuff they write about as well as the stuff they read. It’s like tapping into a huge network of reviewers and referrers.

Here are some of the people I follow on Twitter:

@chriskresser
@ChrisMasterjohn
@deniseminger
@FitnessExplorer
@glutenfreegirl
@livinlowcarbman
@Mark_Sisson
@nedkock
@NoraGedgaudas
@PaleoComfort
@robbwolf

I also use Twitter to make people aware of the materials I post on this blog or interesting materials I find on the net. If you would like to follow me on Twitter my ID is @PrimalPeter

If you have not used Twitter before, here is a video tutorial:

For a comprehensive on-line guide click here.

In future articles I will talk about how I use YouTube, Facebook, Google, Podcasts and good old printed books to continually expand my knowledge about health and nutrition.

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