Richard is a friend and colleague of mine who switched to the Primal life-style a couple of months ago. The difference this has made to his life has made him almost as obsessed with nutrition and health as I am!
What was your health situation before you decided to change your diet and life-style?
Not too bad, other than an operation in December to remove a benign tumour. I am an active sportsman (cricket, football, squash), and regularly cycled, ran and swam to keep up my level of aerobic fitness for my triathlon hobby. I wasn’t too happy with my diet, and indeed, other aspects of my life in terms of energy levels and weight. I felt that if I didn’t do the exercise I was doing, I would suffer even further from a predilection to put on weight.
What caused you to suddenly make changes in your life?
I think that the seed of change was blowing around my person for a while given the above answer, waiting for a way in. I didn’t know what that change would be, but I knew I had an opening to investigate and explore a change. I guess, ultimately, that age and weight were key factors and feeling that both were catching up with me. It was dawning on me that I needed to do something if I was to continue with the active sports that I am involved in – but the catalyst for change was without doubt the initial discussion I had with you, Peter, and hearing how you had made these changes and how you had made them.
What changes did you make in your life and what pace and order did you make them in?
Well, due to my personality, which is somewhat addictive, I listened and chatted more to you, did an evening’s worth of scouring the net, explained and shared what I could with my wife. I asked if she would be comfortable with such a sudden change and helping me cater for it (which I think is a very important factor if you are married and/or with children). So with that, some initial (and probably clumsy) planning around meals and what I should and shouldn’t be eating, I pretty much jumped straight in. I think that the first change was ruling out all cereals/grains/pastas/milk immediately and vastly reducing my sugar intake, which did lead to me thinking “OK, it’s dead easy knowing what not to eat…..but what does that mean in terms of meal planning?”. So, the second change was around starting to plan better, which was helped as I began to understand more about my body and the dramatic change that I was putting it through. I’m into my third month now, and now the primal lifestyle basics are things that are normal part of my everyday life, so I’m starting to plan my next steps, which will include an alteration to my exercise regime mainly, but also gaining more specific knowledge in terms of what I’m eating and what it’s doing in more depth.
What changes have you seen to your quality of life so far and what difference has it made to you?
Lots!! The most noticeable change has been to my weight. When I started living this way 10 weeks ago, I weighed 101.5KG, as I type this, I’m now 91.5KG – and I’ve not starved myself (far from it), I haven’t counted a single calorie, I haven’t sweated buckets in a gym or endured 3 hour runs, in fact, all I’ve done is made the changes I mention above. The difference this has made (apart from being delighted to find those clothes fitting that I kept in the slim hope I’d be able to wear them again) is that being lighter has increased my self-esteem and improved my own body image, which I think are not to be underestimated psychologically. This is to add to the obvious physical benefits that being thinner makes to you. Another change has been a real improvement in my sleep routine. For years I struggled to get to sleep at night, often lying awake for ages fighting a losing battle. Now, however, my average sleep duration has increased to what for me is an amazing 7.25hrs, and the quality of my sleep seems to have improved as well. I think that other changes are knock-on effects from a severe reduction in my nocturnal restlessness as well as benefits from how I’m now treating my body, such as having more energy, less of a tendency to be so stressed (this hasn’t gone completely, although I’m hopeful that it will continue to improve), and generally being a happier and more content person.
What have you learned about diet and health you did not know before?
More than I can reasonably write here I think! Given that I was starting with my bar pretty low in this area, I could argue that every piece of information in this area counted as something I’d learned. If I can distil this into a more succinct answer, I will. Learning that it’s all about controlling insulin secretion at its heart was eye-opening, as well as understanding how the ‘staple’ foods that I’d been relying on all my life do, in fact, encourage the secretion of insulin and how we should rely on the reserves that our bodies will build up naturally to do the buying and selling in our bodies if we follow the lessons of our forefathers (Grok and his mates) and eat primally. Understanding our DNA set-up (well, at a basic level) and how we can, in fact, programme our genes by understanding what happens when we eat what we eat, drink what we drink and exercise how we exercise. Becoming educated, again at a basic level, on exactly what the things on the side of packets mean, and I’m just starting to learn much more about why conventional wisdom around diet and lifestyle doesn’t, in fact, do ‘what it says on the tin’……
What challenges did you have in putting your new life-style into practice?
Aside from the challenge of learning to put together a completely different eating strategy, I did find it a challenge to not ‘snack’ – having been a great snacker before, although not always a snacker of what modern advisors may consider unhealthy (oat bars, cereal bars and suchlike, as well as chocolate, crisps, biscuits). Other challenges were around introducing, or in some cases a re-introduction, to foods that I hadn’t eaten, although as often happens, challenges (or fears) turn into unexpected pleasures. So an awful many foods that I refused to eat for years, I now enjoy hugely and in abundance and I find myself wondering why I was so stubborn before! (Liver, most root vegetables, biltong, greek yoghurt & venison are some of the main ones I refer to here). Another challenge was having to start cooking more than I/we did before, but we quickly realised that this isn’t actually a chore at all, and exploring more ways of preparing and cooking primal foods is one of the pleasures of the diet. Lastly, and this shouldn’t be underestimated I think in an honest assessment of changes, I think if this is approached properly, then not only eating according to the primal way but also obtaining organic, free range, freshly grown and preservative-free foods is important, and it tool us a while to get into a routine of how we do this, because it did mean a big change to the way we procured foods before.
What changes do you expect to see in the future if you continue following your program?
Hmmm…..good question. I think that changes that I will experience moving forwards will be less obvious and much more around the changes in the medium/longer term in how my body will benefit from how I’m now treating it. I think that I will see some further weight loss, although nowhere near at the rate I have been experiencing. I think once I change my exercise regime, I may see a slight change in body shape, perhaps. I wonder also whether I may feel less ‘old’ and more youthful as well…..
What challenges do you think you will have going forward in sticking to the program?
Honestly, I don’t think I will experience any challenges in sticking to it. I’m very contented and extremely happy having this way of living and eating and certainly don’t feel I’m missing out on anything (and when you’ve brewed that wheat-free ale Peter, that will be that sorted too :-)) I believe I will continue to learn more and indeed how to become an advocate of the programme. I believe in it, I ask questions when I don’t understand something, and I challenge things that I don’t think I follow, but it’s improved how I think and how I feel so much, that any thought of abandoning it are far away right now.
Convention says a weight loss blogger must have a before and after picture!
I have struggled a bit with this one. I discovered I had very few pictures of myself when I was at my heaviest. You just don’t want to appear in photos when you are unhappy with your appearance.
Anyway, I finally found a close-up picture of myself from before I started loosing weight. So here is my before and after photo:
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
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.
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.
To listen to this interview click here.
Like me, Ned Koch is a private individual who spends some of his spare time blogging about weight loss and human health. His analysis of the science is very rigerous and his blog contains a lot of good material. In this interview with Jimmy Moore, he talks about his conclusions on optimal nutrition for weight loss and longevity. Ned’s blog is called “Health Correlator”.
There are a lot of very high quality Ancestral Health podcasts out there, and they can be a great way to get a good broad understanding of nutrition and health. It is also true there are an awful lot of Paleo/Primal/Low-carb Podcasts available from a multitude of sources, so it can be difficult to know where to start. To help you with this, I have started this series of Blog posts to guide you to the best Ancestral Health podcasts on the internet.
For information on how to download and listen to Podcasts check out this article.
There are a lot of high quality Ancestral Health podcasts out there, and they can be a great way to get a good broad understanding of nutrition and health. But the amount of Podcasts available can be overwhelming. To help you with this, I have started this series of Blog posts to guide you to the best Ancestral Health interviews on the internet.
For information on how to download and listen to Podcasts check out this article.
In this episode of the Underground Wellness podcast Sean Croxton interviews Robb Wolf who is one of leaders of the Paleo movement. Robb Wolf talks about his book The Paleo Solution and explains some of the fundamentals of the Paleo life-style and how to put it into practice.
This TED video went viral in the Ancestral Health community immediately after it was released late 2011. In it, Dr. Terry Wahls recounts the remarkable story of how she reversed the effects of her Multiple Sclerosis through a Paleo diet adapted specifically to address her condition. She started regaining her mobility within weeks of changing her diet.
Aside from this remarkable transformation, one of the things that really inspired me on this video is Dr. Wahls’ shift from a supplements focused approach to an exploration of real food as medicine. Here is how she describes it:
“Then it occurred to me that I should get my long list of nutrients from food. That if I did this I would probably get hundreds, maybe thousands, of other compounds that science had yet to name and identify, but that would be helpful to my brain and my mitochondria. But I didn’t know where they were in the food supply. And neither did the medical texts nor the food science with whom I consulted……….but it turned out the internet did.”
Jimmy Moore’s interview of Dr. Terry Wahls in January is one of the best he has had recently. Here is a link.
You can also learn more about Terry Wahls on her website: http://terrywahls.com
Finally, Dr. Terry Wahls appears to have done an admirable job as a parent despite the challenge of her MS. Here her son is making a powerful address to the Iowa House of Representatives:
Dr. Uffe Ravnskov methodically goes through the research relating to the Lipid Hypothesis and demonstrates why we should question the validity of this theory.
Art De Vany is often referred to as the Grandfather of Paleo. He has lived according to ancestral health principles for more than 30 years, and is one of the strongest and healthiest looking 73-year olds you will come across. In “The New Evolution Diet” De Vany explains the principles of Paleo life-style along with the science that supports it.
You may be surprised to find this book on my list. Tim Ferris is neither Paelo nor Primal. He is his own man. A dedicated body hacker who conducts extreme experiments on himself to uncover how to achieve maximum results with minimum input. My weight loss really gathered momentum when I started Tim Ferris’ Slow-Carb Diet last year. I now believe the Primal and Paleo diets are more sustainable and healthier, but I am fascinated by Tim Ferris’ perspective on how to affect self- transformation.
For more book recommendations click here.
“The important thing is not to stop questioning.
Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”
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.
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:
Hi Peter – Hope you’re in fine fettle? Thought I’d give you an update a week and a day in…the big headline is that I’ve lost nearly 4 kg (8 lb)!! I honestly cannot believe it, I’ve been eating quite a lot, but been very strict as to WHAT I’ve been eating. Nicki is gobsmacked!
I’ve arranged the visit to the Dr’s this Friday as well, and I’m feeling great – finding time for good breakfasts, and also finding time to cook too. I wish we’d have had that chat earlier….
Anyway – my week two questions move me onto desserts and snack-type things for when I’m a little peckish and whilst I’m reducing the need to feed my sweet-tooth
Also, Nicki mentioned about calcium, although I suspect that you’ll say that it’s present in many of the primal foods anyway….Last one, I like biltong and jerky, is that a suitable item to eat from your perspective? I read that as long as it’s low sugar content biltong then it’s a good nibble to include on one’s diet…
Congratulations, Richard, and well done on sticking to the foods a Primal diet allows!
When it comes to snacks the Primal rules still apply. Stay away from grains, starches and sugar. You are right, jerky and biltong are good options. Make sure they don’t contain sugar or are chemically processed, though.
Other snacks I used to enjoy include nuts, full fat greek yoghurt and grilled bacon rashers left over from breakfast. I don’t snack much anymore, though. You will find over time your need to snack will wane. As your body gets better adapted to burning ketones (fat) the period between meals and hunger will gradually get longer. I also find the hunger I now experience is completely different. It is a less urgent and less stressful sensation. This makes it easier to defer eating when I find myself in a situation where there are no good food choices available.
With regards to sweet things, the best thing you can do is stay away from them, endure the cravings and wait for them to pass. The cravings are part of the adaptation process. Some of it is physiological and some of it is psychological. Eventually you will have fewer cravings and all foods will start to taste much sweeter.
If the cravings become too much, go for a small bar of organic dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa solids. The cocoa is packed full of actioxidants and a small 35g bar of Green & Blacks dark chocolate contains 12g of carbohydrate (mostly sugar, I imagine) which is not too bad for an occasional treat.
At times, you may find yourself giving in to temptation when you are offered sweet treats or other non-primal foods at social occasions. Don’t beat yourself up about that. My philosophy is the same as Mark Sisson’s which is to aspire to 100% compliance, but to be satisfied when I achieve 80% compliance. Now I probably comply 95% of the time, but achieving that was much tougher in the beginning.
The calcium question is a good one. The short answer is that a high-carb diet causes your body to leach calcium. Consequently, on a typical western diet, you need to ensure you get plenty of calcium in your diet. If you restrict your carbohydrate intake, the calcium you get from vegetables is plenty. I don’t remember the details of how the biochemistry works for this, but I will research it and post an explanation on this blog.
We also know that our hunter gatherer ancestors had denser bones than modern man, and osteoporosis is virtually non-existent amongst contemporary hunter gatherers. This is despite a complete absence of diary in their diet. If you think about it, we are the only mammal that habitually consume the milk of other species. My personal intuition is that diary is not essential for humans.
Nevertheless, I do eat yoghurt and a small amount of cheese, but that’s because I enjoy it, and I don’t think it does any harm. As I mentioned in my last post, Paleo purists take a different view, and I respect people’s personal choices with regards to diary. As long as you tolerate lactose and casein (the most common causes of diary alergies), go ahead and enjoy it. I do avoid milk because lactose is a form of carbohydrate, and milk sits high on the glycemic index. It is likely to trigger a spike in insulin secretion, which is something I try to avoid in the interest of keeping my body conditioned to fat burn.
I am sure I don’t have to tell you this, but be aware that the spectacular progress you have made in week 1 is not going to continue forever. Your rate of weight loss will slow and you will also hit a few plateaus along the way. When that happens, focus on how eating primal makes you feel rather than what it does for your weight. Here is a post on how Primal eating makes me feel: link
Keep the questions coming and good luck!