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Primal, Paleo, Crossfit, Stonage, Evolution Diet…Getting Started

Posted Jun 11 2010 12:00am


A short while ago a family member contacted me with some questions regarding health and wellness, and in my typical excitement, we ended up talking about nutrition for most of the phone call while neglecting exercise and lifestyle choices which are also important aspects of the equation.  This conversation, as well as many others I have had with friends, family, colleagues and students, always focuses on the same topics such as fat, carbohydrates, cardio, and calories to name a few things.   The more I talk to people about making changes to their eating plan and exercise habits, the more often I have requests for further resources such as recipes, workout plans, further reading and links to other people who have had success with their lifestyle changes.  This post is my attempt to fulfill such requests so that I don’t have to spend hours at the computer typing out the same thing over and over again.

Keep in mind that this philosophy, although successful for thousands, maybe millions of people world wide, is one way.  I do not believe that there is only one way, however based on my experience, and the experience of those who I have read, this way works, and it makes life so much more enjoyable because it is easy once you understand the basic concepts. 

I will begin with nutrition because without the proper fuel for the body, nothing else works at an optimal level…

Many people ask me what I eat to stay healthy.  For the most part I eat meat, vegetables, nuts, seeds, some fruit, little starch and whole fat dairy products.  I love sweats so I indulge, mostly on weekends, and I  rarely turn down a good piece of cheese cake!  There is no sence living life and not enjoying the food you eat, starving yourself or overexercising to keep the body at a certain image (I’ve done it).

Over the years I have played with different eating styles including Vegetarian, The Food Pyramid, Low Fat High Carb, and now I am a hybrid between a Paleo and Low Carb style.  I would like to call it Paleo Lower Carb but I recently found a new resource which has helped to label my food requirements.  Based on the Hauser diet Book , I am an Otter Diet Type , although I would prefer to call it the Otter Eating Type.  Having said that, I do not base my entire eating plan on a simple on line quiz, but more from years of playing with my diets and understanding what works for me and what doesn’t, the Hauser Diet website is another tool that I have used to label my preferred eating habits for others who are interested in knowing the how and why I do what I do.

This basically means that based on my metabolism as a fast oxidizer of foods (and my personal history with food/illness/wellness), I require foods that will take longer to break down such as meat, and fatty foods such as cheese, whole milk, nuts and so on.  My carbohydrate intake works best to be somewhere around the 25% margin where the rest of the diet is a balance between fat and protein.  I generally feel best when I am eating a diet that is about 60% fat, 25% protein, and 15% carbohydrates however I very rarely waste my time counting calories and instead I enjoy great tasting foods that keep me full and nourished rather than constantly hungry, bloated and ittitable.   

That does not mean that you should eat that way.  I strongly suggest that you play with your eating habits until you find something that works for you.  The best way to know if it is working for you is to have comprehensive blood tests done and to monitor your energy levels, as well as your digestion.  If you have lasting energy, you feel great, and your poop doesn’t stink, sink, or take forever to pass, chances are that you are eating well for you.

In any case, here is an example of the types of foods I prefer to consume on a regular basis:

Meat: grass fed beef, game such as moose, deer, elk & bison, chicken, turkey, low sodium – uncured bacon,  pork, loads of eggs and what ever may be on special in the meat department. 

Vegetables:  Generally raw or slightly cooked with most of the veggies consumed at lunch in salad or soup. 
Peppers, zucchini, broccoli, snap peas, onion, green onion, red onion, spinach, kale, swiss chard, carrot, cucumber, garlic, ginger, summer squash, asparagus, mushrooms, lettuce, cauliflower, squash, beets, parsnip.  I will eat most veggies, but this list is what I generally buy.

Nuts:  almonds, walnuts, macadamia, pecan, almond butter, cashew & pistachio (on occasion), pine or whatever nut happens to be in trail mix when I have some.

Seeds:  Mostly sunflower & pumpkin but I like a trail mix with a variety and would generally eat most edible seeds

Fruit:  Banana, strawberry & other berries such as blueberry, black berry, lincoln berry, boysenberry, raspberry; apple, avocado, kiwi, mango, melons, peach, nectarine, pear…

Starch:  Potato, sweet potato, yam and other starchy tubers (all on occasion).

Dairy:  Whole milk, cheese, full fat yogurt, butter, cream, lower sugar higher fat ice cream.  I know that coconut is a fruit, but I will add the coconut milk here because it seems to fit better.  I have had issues with dairy when I have too much and I am fairly certain that I have a lactose issue so I try to keep the dairy to a minimum.

Beverages:  Water, Whole milk (in smoothies), tea (matcha, white, green or herbal), cold coconut milk.

Sugars:  I love sweats but prefer chocolate, cheesecake, butter tarts, ice cream, & a fruit crumble with ice cream.  I do my best to limit these delicacies as much as possible, but I allow myself to play when I feel the need.  I often don’t eat foods that are processed such as cereal, nor do I eat pasta, rice, or bread on a regular basis.  I also do my best to eat foods that are as close to nature as I can find/afford.

Now that I have a comprehensive list of what I eat, here are some examples of how I eat:

Breakfast generally happens around 6:30-am after the kids wake up.  I would eat eggs and bacon every day, but I also enjoy smoothies and yogurt with nuts and berries so a week of eating could have an egg & veggie omelet on Monday, Berries with nuts & yogurt on Tuesday, my big treat of the week on Wednesday is my famous waffles (or pancakes or french toast), Thursday can be a smoothie , and Friday we finish the week egg & veggie scrambler.  Saturday and Sunday will be some mix of the foods from the week, or it can even be a fasting day where I eat dinner the night before and skip breakfast to then eat lunch at about 12:00.

Lunch is usually at about 12:00 during a work day and can happen between 11-2 on weekends.  During the work week, lunch is a Big Salad or Soup with as many vegetables as I can fit in the dish along with a bunch of meat such as chicken, or turkey.  With the soup I use broth and water, toss in the veggies and cook for about 5 minutes so that the veggies are slightly cooked.  We will use leftovers as well so sometimes we will have beef or even pork in the salad.  When there is no meat, we use tuna.  My salad/soup is big, and packs a bunch of fat and protein that keeps me fulfilled until dinner on most days.  I usually top the salad with guacamole or avocado instead of the sugar filled low fat salad dressings.

Snack time is a habit that I have been working on breaking.  This goes back to my high carbohydrate pasta and cereal eating days when I was constantly hungry because of big blood sugar spikes.  I usually like to have something small like a Lara bar, bacon & hard boiled egg, avocado, trail mix with a fruit, or even a smoothie on smoothie days.  I have been getting better at having a breakfast that keeps me satisfied until 12:00 and the introduction of the big salad has helped in maintaining my satisfaction until dinner.

Dinner is constantly varied (just like my workouts) but will usually follow these guidelines:  My plate will have a bunch of meat, and even more veggies, with the occasional starch such as potato or yam/sweet potato.  I love meals like butter fried mushrooms, seasoned chicken breast with broccoli.  We sometimes have chili, or spaghetti but that is rare as we try to have a meat/veggie/small starch dish.  When we eat a starch, we always dress it in fats like butter, avocado, sour cream & bacon.  Another favorite is steak with butter fried mushrooms and a vegetable such as broccoli or asparagus.

Snack 2 is another habit that I have since my childhood.  I used to have a bowl of sugar cereal before bed time and the habit has stuck with me, however I have moved away from the cereal and into snacks such as berries with nuts & yogurt, apple & almond butter, or meat & a piece of fruit.  I also like to have a cup of tea before bed.  The snack usually happens about 8:30-9:00.  On a fasting day I will skip the snack but will still have the tea.

Restaurant Eating and dinner guest invitations happen occasionally and I do my best to follow my Otter Type guidelines while being respectful to the hosts and those who have joined me.  Occasionally I allow myself to let loose and enjoy whatever I want, yet most of the time I will order foods based on my preferences and which will best serve my health.   As an example, I will order spinach salad with a seasoned chicken breast with guacamole on the side, or a burger without the bun, I will pass on the fries and ask for extra veggies or a dinner size salad to accompany my meat selection.  On the times where I go all out, I look for taste and can be found eating a whole pizza, or even a couple of deserts.  It all depends where I am at in the week and what is coming up in my life over the next few days.  I know that by eating like crap I will feel like crap so I think about what is happening and make my decision.

I really find nutrition interesting, and lately as I have been eating closer to nature I have also found that food prep and grocery shopping is incredibly easy.  When I shop for food, I stick to the outer part of the store so I can buy produce, meat, dairy and nuts/seeds.  The rest of the stuff simply stays on the shelves.  When I cook, I don’t have to cook a bunch of different foods, just meat & vegetables and the odd starch like potatoes or yams.  I cook in bulk so that it lasts 2 days and then I cook again.  Rather than cooking every day, I only cook meals 3-4 times a week at best.  This leaves more time to spend with my family.

Lastly, I don’t like to be considered a food snob, so I do my best to allow people to eat as they choose, however, when people come to me for advice, I will tell them what I think about their eating habits because I care about them and I want to see people eating well for their health.  It is much more exciting to live a life of vitality than one of illness and lethargy, I have been on both sides.  If we could eat well 80% of the time and keep active through walking and lifestyle activities, many more people would be a lot healthier than they currently are.

The reason I eat this way is simply because it makes sense to eat as closely as our ancestors did for thousands of years.  We did not have processed foods, nor did we have refrigerators, so we were forced to eat a diet based on meat and vegetables with supplemental nuts, seeds and fruit.  When we eat this way, we decrease the refined carbohydrate intake while increasing the protein and fat which controls blood sugar and insulin.  Our triglyceride levels drop, and our HDL (high density lipoprotein) increases, while our LDL will increase but will be the pattern of LDL that we need compared to the LDL that we have when eating a diet high in carbohydrate from refined sources. 

Following an eating plan that is high fat (from animal and some plant sources), moderate protein (animal and some plant sources) and lower carbohydrate (natural and not refined/processed) controls hormones such as insulin, and ultimately improves cholesterol, while controlling blood sugar, maintains satisfaction longer and decreases cravings, the body eventually prefers to use fat as it’s primary fuel source compared to a low fat-high carb plan that uses carbohydrate as it’s primary source and blood sugar is controlled by eating every 2-4 hours.  On the low carb plan, many people can easily go 6-12 hours between meals because they no longer experience the blood sugar spikes that are attached to high carbohydrate eating.

Prior to eating a paleo/primal/low carb style, I used to eat every 2-3 hours and when I missed a meal or snack, I would experience severe headaches, nausea, shakes, irritability and sometimes confusion.  In order to combat this, I would have to be around a food source constantly, even to the point of waking up in the middle of the night to eat something that would fuel my cravings.  There were many times where I would forget to eat my afternoon snack, and then we would be asked to go out for dinner so waiting all that time caused me to be very cranky!  Even now, my mother will always ask me if I need something to tie me over if dinner is running a bit late! 

Today, because I eat more fat, protein and less carbohydrates, I am easily able to have breaks between meals that can last upwards of 10-12 hours.  Most times I will go about 6-8 hours between meals, but on the weekends I am now able to grocery shop without having to eat a donut or something sweet to keep me going.  This experience has allowed me to enjoy my life so much more because I am not worrying about when my next food fix will be.

No.  When I used to eat the vegetarian or high carb diets, I would workout anywhere between 7-15 hours a week.  I did so thinking that I loved to workout, but I now realize that I had to train all that time to burn off all the excess carbohydrates I was eating.  Many times over the past 8 years I have gone stir crazy and drove my wife crazy because I wasn’t able to get my workout in.  Now, with my high fat eating habit, I workout for 15-20 minutes, 2-3 times a week at high intensity.  I no longer have to run all the time, and I don’t feel that it is necessary to bike to work to maintain my preferred body composition.  Since I have made these changes, I walk 1-2 times a day with the kids, I drive to work, I workout 2-3 times a week for a total of 45-60 minutes and I have increased my muscle mass, decreased my body fat and my performance in the gym has either maintained or improved across the board.

Here are my most recent numbers that come from eating this way for about 1 year…

Triclycerides – 43
HDL – 83
LDL 142 (when HDL is high, and Triglycerides are low, then the LDL is the preferred density)

TRI:HDL – .52 (should be below 2)

Total:HDL – 2.8 (should be below 5 for males)

LDL:HDL – 1.71 (friedwald) 1.27 (Iranian) – should be below 4.3

We are taught by the media and most fitness professionals that we should be eating less, doing more cardio and that will result in weight loss.  I used to believe that until I made the dietary changes.  Now I eat lots, especially fat, and I workout way less.  This combination has resulted in my best body composition of my adult years, and I have constant energy from the time I wake up, until I go to bed at night.  Back in my former days, I used to require naps, and would be useless past 9:00pm because I was exhausted.  Not any more. 

I generally follow the Crossfit concepts with a bit of my own flavor.  Basically, the goal of CF is to increase work capacity across broad time and modal domains.  This basically means that we want to be able to do as much work as possible in as short a time as possible.  The ability to do so maximizes power output and ultimately increases intensity.  So long as the intensity is high, and the movements are functional, meaning that the whole body is being used to create force such as in squats, sprints, throws olympic lifts, etc, then the body will become stronger as one unit rather than training individual muscles such as in bicep curls or sit ups. 

I prefer to do a lot of body weight movements mixed with a few weighted drills which tend to fall in the following categories:

Lifting – dead lift, sumo dead lift
Squatting – back squat, front squat, overhead squat
Pushing – push up, bench press, med ball throw, cable press
Pulling – pull ups, rows
Rotation – ball throws, cable rotation
Overhead pressing – shoulder press, push press, push jerk, split jerk
Olympic lifts – clean, press, snatch and assistance exercises
Sprinting – usually in my Vibram five Fingers on trails
Throwing – rocks, or anything else that can be tossed!

Treadmill run/skip x 3:00 each
Dynamic movement – lunges, crawls, twists, med ball throws, bromm stick movement drills, etc

Generally one of the lifting movements for about 3-10 sets of 1-10 reps

Example:  5 sets of 5 reps
10 sets of 3 reps
3 sets of 5 reps
I rest for about 30 seconds between sets so that I can increase the weight and set up for the next set.  I don’t waste time because I am not really interested in winning a power lifting or body building competition.

Circuits can be anything from one to five exercises and usually follow these formats:

Singlet example:  100 burpees as quickly as possible as long as it is through full range of motion and proper form

Couplet example: 10 sets of :  Dumbbell Swing x 10 and 20 meter crawl of choice

Triplet example:  20 minutes of Pull ups x 5 / push ups x 10 / squats x 15  (this is known as ‘Fran’ in the Crossfit community)

Circuit example:  3 rounds of 5 exercises x 1 minute each with 1 minute break after each circuit.

‘Caveman Workout’ example:  sprint / jump / crawl / carry objects for unprescribed reps/sets/time

Other than my specific workouts, I will do a sprint based run in the trails on occasion, and my only ‘cardio’ comes from walking with my kids, keeping busy at work, and the odd bike ride or rollerblade with my wife and kids.  I no longer feel the need to go and do a ‘cardio’ workout like I did when I was doing triathlons and I love the extra time that I have since the change.  Having said that, I will occasionally join a running race or mountain bike race and do quite well in my age group.  All of this with a fraction of training compared to my opponents!

There is so much to say about the benefits of this lifestyle but I am sure that you have more to do than to spend your day reading my blog posts.  The following links should be helpful in your quest for an improved lifestyle.  I wish you all the best, and if you have any further questions, please feel free to contact me.

This is a short list of the thousands of paleo/primal/low carb blogs and websites out there.  I have many more that I frequent, however I am sure that by reading through the links I provided, you will find many other wonderful resources to assist you on your journey.  If I can sum up in a few points:

  • turn off the television and move more often
  • educate yourself and read Good Calories Bad Calories!
  • eat meat, vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and full fat dairy
  • enjoy a treat once in a while
  • train at high intensity for you 1-2 times a week for max 20 minutes each session
  • play more often
  • play with your nutrition until you find what works for you
  • if what you were doing wasn’t working, don’t do it and try something new
  • don’t starve yourself…enjoy food
  • learn something new every day and share with the world your experience

I would love to hear your stories.

Until next time…

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