Thursday, 27 August 2009

Getting Started: A Brief Guide to Paleo / Primal Living

What is the Paleo / Primal Lifestyle?
Other Things
How Paleo/Primal Are You?
Further Reading/Listening/Watching
Your Resources

I thought it was about time I pulled together a single resource that could be used to guide for newcomers, a summary for the curious and a reference for the already inducted.
What is the Paleo / Primal Lifestyle?
Also known as the hunter gatherer, caveman, ancestral, evolutionary lifestyle.

In one sentence:

We have been evolving for 2,000,000 years, yet we have made profound changes to our activity patterns and the composition of our nutrition in the last 10,000 years; whilst there may have been some small genetic adaptations in that time, we are still, essentially, built to eat and behave as our earlier ancestors did.

Where’s the evidence?

Don’t take my word for it – the blogs, books, podcasts and videos listed in the Further Reading/Listening/Watching section contain a wealth of detail, including scientific references, to help you make up your mind.

I won’t pretend it’s easy - proving what’s best for the human body is one of the most complex challenges we face. No one has all the answers, but the material in that section is produced, for the most part, by fair minded and intellectually rigorous individuals with a more transparent agendas than many who influence mainstream advice.
The Paleo/Primal ‘diet' is what people tend to hear about first and is usually the first thing they try.

In a sentence:

Paleo/Primal food is so much more nutritionally dense and so much more in tune with our genes than the typical modern diet that a radical improvement in wellbeing is almost inevitable when you switch from one to the other; you will feel better, look better and minor ailments you had taken for granted will often disappear.

In a quote:

Plants (vegetables, fruits, seeds and herbs) and animals (meat, fish, fowl, and eggs) should represent the entire composition of your diet.

- Mark Sisson, The Primal Blueprint, 2009

In a nutshell:

Paleo in a Nutshell Part 1: Food video.

Changing what you eat to fit the Paleo/Primal model can be quite a challenge. This guest post I wrote for another blog provides some ideas on how to go about it.

If you want to see what I am eating every day, follow me on Twitter or if you just want to see the photos, they automatically appear on this page.

I sometimes post the recipes for my favourite meals, which you can see here.
The diet and exercise aspects of the lifestyle cannot be truly embraced in isolation. Our bodies evolved to function optimally with a certain kind of nutrition, with a certain range of patterns of activity.

In a sentence:

Our ancestors had short, intense bursts of activity when hunting, fleeing or climbing, along with extended periods of low level activity when tracking animals, foraging or playing; so either getting no exercise, or doing regular, long, hard sessions is out of tune with our evolved past and affects our wellbeing adversely: fitness and health are not the same thing – otherwise Olympic athletes would not catch colds.

In a quote:

An evolutionary activity pattern is mixed and varied. It contains brief, intermittent episodes of highly intense physical action mixed with languid periods and play.

- Art Devany, Evolutionary Fitness essay, 2000

In a nutshell:

Paleo in a Nutshell Part 2: Exercise video.

For ideas, you can follow my own workout diary on Train Now Live Later.
Other Things
Diet and exercise are the big ones – but there is more. There are other things our bodies evolved to expect, but which modern life deprives them of.

Here are just a few:

Sun exposure: we got a lot more before. Many of us are vitamin D deficient as a result (read here and here for my experiences.)

Paleo in a Nutshell Part 3: Sunshine video.

Cold water exposure: we would have swum or bathed in cold water regularly. There are significant health benefits to doing so – yet we avoid it.

Sleep : we used to get more of it, get more naps, and be woken naturally. Modern sleep habits can affect our health more than we may think.

Medicine: we didn’t take any. Modern pharmaceutical drugs can save and improve lives - but many of us happily consume daily cocktails of drugs without realising how they affect our wellbeing.
How Paleo/Primal Are You?
Try this quiz to see how your current Paleo/Primal credentials stand (but don't take it too seriously!)
Further Reading/Listening/Watching
- Blogs & Websites
There are almost too many good blogs and websites to list – but these are the ones I visit most:

Free the Animal – no holds barred discussion of the science and research that sometimes misleads – covers mostly the diet aspect. Richard also posts some of his excellent recipes.
Michael Eades – one doctor who DOES get this – he doesn’t always blog about Paleo/Primal living but it’s an underlying theme. He is great at ruthlessly tearing apart bad science and exposing the conflicts of interest that lead to poor mainstream advice.
Mark's Daily Apple – the blog of Primal Blueprint author Mark Sisson – probably the blog where you will find the most comprehensive set of guidance for Paleo/Primal living.
Natural Messiah – ranter extraordinaire, and the thinking person’s Paleo/Primal blogger. Also the man who introduced me to Paleo a few years ago.
Primal Wisdom – my most recently added blog favourite. Don covers mostly diet and the science behind it – seems to know his stuff.
Arthur Devany - his Evolutionary Fitness blog was my first ever resource. He is fiercely intellectual but can get quite technical.
The Paleo Diet - Loren Cordain’s website - he is a researcher of some distinction, and applies his study of the living patterns of our ancestors to form the basis for his dietary recommendations. Author of 'The Paleo Diet' and 'The Paleo Diet for Athletes'.
TBK Fitness - I have spent almost no time on this site, but Tamir B. Katz is seen as one of the early innovators in this area and often gets mentioned, so it would be remiss not to give him a mention.
The Weston A. Price Foundation - I haven't spent as much time on this site as I'd like, because it seems to be a fantastic resource. Price was a dentist whose investigations into the diet of non-industrialised cultures led him to many of the conclusions about nutrition that underpin the Paleo/Primal philosophy.
As I say, there are many more – if you spend time reading the comments on these sites or looking at their blog-rolls, you will soon discover other blogs and sites.

- Books

Sometimes it’s hard to glean the information you need from archived blog posts. If you’d prefer to read a book on the subject, here are my recommendations:

Specifically Paleo/Primal Books I have read:

The first two are bibles. The third is a little more geared towards athletes - perhaps Cordain's The Paleo Diet, which I have not read, is worthy of bible status. If pressed on a single recommendation, I would say The Primal Blueprint - it's a great all-rounder and covers just about everything you need to know.

A new book, sure to be good, but that I have not yet read: The The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf.

Related Books:

Body by Science – Doug McGuff and John Little. This is about a particular approach to high intensity short duration exercise. Depending on your point of view you may not see it as strictly Paleo/Primal in nature, but the spirit of the protocol and the recommended diet is definitely in tune with the philosophy. There is a summary of BBS on Train Now Live Later, here.
The Great Cholesterol Con – Malcolm Kendrick. People who are suspicious of Paleo/Primal eating often cite the dangers to the heart of a high fat diet. Kendrick does a great job of dismantling the supposed evidence for this.
Good Calories Bad Calories – Gary Taubes. Gary debunks the myths and bad science that led to the current mainstream misconceptions that eating fat is bad. It is regarded as a seminal work on the problems with processed carbohydrate consumption, and so provides important support for the value of Paleo/Primal eating . I have not read this book but a borrowed copy awaits my attention.

- Podcasts

This resource would not be complete without a mention of some superb podcasts Jimmy Moore has done with thinkers in this area. Here is a selection of the most relevant:

Dr Loren Cordain (website and book author - see above)
Mark Sisson (website and book author - see above)
Doug McGuff (book author - see above)
Sally Fallon (member of the Weston A. Price foundation - see website above)
Tom Naughton (filmmaker - see below)
Gary Taubes Part 1 (book author - see above)
Gary Taubes Part 2
Gary Taubes Encore
Robb Wolf

- WebCasts

Two great lectures from Gary Taubes, the author of Good Calories, Bad Calories, mentioned above.

'Big Fat Lies' Lecture - Gary Taubes at the Stevens Institute of Technology

- Films

Fathead - Tom Naughton (reviewed here, trailer here) - not strictly about Paleo/Primal, but like Taubes' work, its efforts to undermine the fundamentally flawed mainstream advice on diet makes an important contribution to understanding the benefits of Paleo/Primal.

Tom Naughton's original short video - which is one of the best ways to explain to people in 3 minutes why the modern diet is wrong.
Your Resources
Read below in the comments for more resources. Please do add a comment of your own if you know of relevant blogs (including your own!), books, websites or any other media.

What is the Paleo / Primal Lifestyle?
Other Things
How Paleo/Primal Are You?
Further Reading/Listening/Watching
Your Resources
... Read more

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Transitioning to a Paleo Diet Case Study: 3 Month Update

This is a guest post by Straight to the Bar's Scott Bird - 3 Months In : Increased Mental Clarity
Having switched over to a Paleo diet just over three months ago, I've noted a gradual improvement in many areas; and in health overall. No regrets whatsoever.

One of these improvements has been a steady increase in mental clarity. This is perhaps the most difficult area to quantify (as I haven't exactly got a stockpile of 'mental history' notes); though from my point of view it's the biggest change so far.

Before I take a look at the improvement itself, I'll define what I mean by 'mental clarity'. Here are a few phrases to give you an idea of what I mean :
  • ability to focus on a task

  • reduction in the impact of distractions

  • detailed recall of events

  • extension of my peak working hours
As you can imagine, all of these are very welcome changes - and a complete surprise. To me, at least.

To see the changes themselves, lets take a brief look at each one in turn :
Ability to focus on a task
The clearest example of this occurs when I first wake up each morning.

When I first open my eyes, I'll have an idea of what I'm going to do that day. Major items - 'work on project x' or 'finish writing y'. This thought is only approximate; more the 'what' than the 'how'.

As I go through the usual morning routine (a bodyweight workout, coffee and so on), this idea solidifies. Gradually the 'how' comes into view.

By the time I'm ready to start work, both the 'what' and 'how' items are lined up and ready for action. It's a great feeling.
Reduction in the impact of distractions
In the past, I'd seek a quiet area in which to work. Whether writing, photographing a subject or solving problems; silence was always the goal.

Gradually, however, I'm finding that I can tolerate more and more ambient noise. This in turn leads to being able to work more effectively in a greater number of environments. And yes, this is a good thing.
Detailed recall of events
Although I've always been noted for observing details about a place or event (yes, I'm that person who announces that all of the bad guys are using a particular type of 'phone in your favourite show), my memory is not exactly world-class. Still, all the information's clearly in there somewhere.

Over the past few months, this has been changing. Whilst the observant part is unchanged, the recall has been steadily improving. Especially the level of detail for each event.

The exact location of a house I used to live in? Not going to happen. The license plate of a car I passed yesterday? Yep.
Extension of my peak working hours
While I still work the same number of hours each day, I've always found that I get the most done in the late morning (around 10am - midday). If I've got a major task to get done that day, I'll try to work on it during that time.

Since the switch to Paleo, I've noticed that the 10-12 has grown a bit; 9am - 12:30pm would now be more accurate. As I said, I still work the same number of hours each day as before, I just have a larger 'peak operating window'.
Final thoughts on the Increased Mental Clarity
Overall, I'm astonished by the level of improvement that a switch to the Paleo Diet has brought. Of particular note are the benefits which came as a complete surprise - and very welcome ones - such as this increase in mental clarity.

Love it.


Scott Bird is a writer, photographer and lover of all things strength. He can usually be found in the kitchen stuffing his face, or over at the strength-training site Straight to the Bar.

See Also:
Transitioning to a Paleo Diet - Guest Post on 'Straight to the Bar'
First 2 Weeks of Transitioning to Paleo Diet: A Case Study
... Read more

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

The Primal Blueprint Health Challenge: My Competition Entries

Mark Sisson is running a 30 days of competitions over on Mark's Daily Apple, with "Over $6,000 in Prizes". It's being billed as The Primal Blueprint Health Challenge.

I was unable to resist entering a few of them myself, and am including the video and photos I entered below.

Competitions vary from the small (send a photo of your breakfast) to the large (create your own Primal Blueprint workout video.) The prizes aren't too shabby either, with that second example promising the winning entry quite a haul.

There is a list of the competitions, many of which are still open, here. There are more being run every day. Here are my own entries so far:

Show Your Breakfast Competition.

Primal Post-Its Competition

Primal Blueprint Recipe Video Competition

... Read more

Friday, 7 August 2009

Warrior Paleo Experiment & the Many Faces of Fasting

My Plan
Why was I doing this
What Happened (the meals)
What Happened (body composition)
The Good
The Indifferent
The Bad
Feasting or Binging?
My Verdict
Another Perspective
Other Reading and References on Intermittent Fasting
In the middle of May I decided to try the Warrior style of eating - essentially, one meal per day. There had been a lot of buzz about it on Twitter and I was interested in the concept.

My normal eating pattern – and the one I have returned to since, is roughly this:

MondayBreakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Tuesday Dinner
WednesdayBreakfast, Lunch, Dinner
ThursdayLunch, Dinner
SaturdayLunch, Dinner
SundayLunch, Dinner

The precise days vary, but this is a good representation of the average week. Another way of putting it would be:

- 2 x 24-hour fasts
- 3 x mini, 16-hour fasts
- 2 x full eating days
Intermittent Fasting
For those less familiar with intermittent fasting, the simplified premise is this: your body takes advantage of the ‘downtime’ to perform cellular repair and do other good things. This makes sense as an evolved function - our eating patterns would have been less regular when we were hunter gatherers.

Studies on animals have shown longevity to be extended by periods of reduced calorie intake – even when the net calories over a given period are the same.

The idea with intermittent fasting is that you eat the same number of calories – just in a different pattern.

If you want to read more about intermittent fasting, see the further reading section below.

One important thing to note about fasting – it’s much easier when you have been on a low carb diet (such as Paleo/Primal) for at least a few weeks. This is how long it takes your body to start remembering it does not need a constant supply of blood sugar to function well.
My Plan
My plan was to try this instead:

Tuesday Dinner

Clearly I would have to start eating bigger evening meals.

In fact, if you look at my normal eating pattern, this meant I would be eating exactly half as many meals and therefore need to be eating evening meals that were twice as big!

...although in fact my breakfasts and lunches are typically about two thirds the size of my evening meals, so it was not quite that extreme.
Why was I doing this?
Curiosity: how would this affect me physiologically? I felt like this to be a viable interpretation of ancestral living – spend the day locating and hunting food, then feast in the evening. I wanted to know how that felt.

Greed: I liked the idea of big feasts. I am a greedy eater by nature, and having an excuse to eat big meals was appealing.

Time Saving: I would not have to prepare breakfasts or lunch to take to work. Seven fewer meals to prepare meant at least an hour saved per week (yes, I can make them that quickly!) Each day I would just skip out of the door and return later to make dinner.
What Happened (the meals)
My experiment ran from May 21st to June 11th.

Here are all the meals I ate during that time, taken from my Twitter records:

May 21st

trout with steamed broccoli, onion and kale.
May 22nd

got 2 hungry at lunch (not enuff trout last night) & hit the shops - chicken & nutsRoast rabbit + veg
May 23rd

wine, mackerel kebab, wine, salmon curry, banoffee pie, whisky, biscuits, then can't remember
May 24th

huge bowl of rabbit stew + veg + nuts + chunk of creamed coconut. Forgot photo!
May 25th

crab starter, then 1/2 roast chicken & veg, parsley
May 26th

chicken soup (from last night's carcass) then seabass & veg
May 27th

chicken leg from Monday's roast + small bag of walnuts.sea bass & tomato soup, 16oz cow's heart steak + parsley, cabbage, cauliflower, other veg
May 28th

whole roast wild duck, cauliflower, cabbage, carrot, onion, parsley, courgette
May 29th

Fasted through the morning but overtaken by hunger at lunch so resorted to supermarketduck & cabbage soup + grilled pork rind & tomato puree then pork fried in c'nut oil + tin of salmon + avocado + veg + nut feast afterwards! full!
May 30th

salmon & trout starter then lamb & chicken platter
May 31st

curried venison liver (c'nut cream, onions, spices etc) + steamed broccoli.
June 1st

6 'special' scrambled eggs (evoo & c'nut cream mixed in) + ling + steamed veg
June 2nd

lamb mince fried w onion, pepper, tom, c'nut oil + 2 tins sardine & mixed veg
June 3rd

trout, scrambled egg mixed w c'nut cream, broccoli, peppers, beetroot leaves
June 4th

beef heart steak, tuna, wine+evoo sauce, onion, celery, beetroot, avocado, toms
June 5th

beef fried in c'nut oil, wine & toms + broccoli, avocado, beetroot, aubergine
June 6th

tandoori salmon, chicken and a bowl of mixed roasted nuts.
June 7th

Curried venison & steamed mixed veg
June 8th

Chicken breasts and walnuts. Hunger got the better of me despite big meal last nightWild Sea Bass, scrambled eggs, carrots, cabbage, courgette, parsnip, onion, evoo, almond butter
June 9th

braised grass-fed cow's tongue chunk + steamed veg + evoo + tongue juice
June 10thscrambled organic, kiwi, sardines.

lamb cooked in garlic, onions, mushrooms, tomato puree, olive oil & thyme + mixed veg
June 11th

Beef heart, carrots, courgette, cabbage, kale, avocado, celery drizzled in evoo

What Happened (body composition)
During that time, my weight did not significantly change, as this chart shows:

The Good
Not having to prepare food to take to work did turn out to be a liberating experience – an hour feels like a long time to someone who works a 40-hour week.

In fact it was like a second liberation, since I had already been liberated a couple of years previously from a many-meals-per-day routine when I went Paleo/Primal (that epiphany is described here.)

As an aside, this was a double whammy, liberation-wise, because at roughly the same time in May, I started experimenting with the Body by Science training method (my ongoing account of this can be seen here) – which requires theoretically only 15 minutes of working out per week.

I even noticed the reduction in rucksack weight. I am guessing it weighed between 1 and 2 kilos less on days when I would normally have carried breakfast and lunch to work, a round trip which involves up to an hour of walking.
The Indifferent
Other than the practical benefits, I don’t remember feeling a lot different. Energy levels, gym performance – these were neither better nor worse.
The Bad
When you have only one meal per day, it takes on new importance. For me this meant a few issues.

The first problem was sometimes under-eating. Being an innate glutton, I was not expecting to struggle on this front - yet there were days when found myself driven to eat during the day. As you can see from the meal records, I failed to stick to the protocol on 5 days out of the 22.

Clearly I am capable of fasting through a day until dinner, as I regularly do with my normal eating pattern - but I don’t normally fast on two consecutive days. The ravenous hunger I experienced on these 5 days must have been because I got the meal size wrong on one of both of the previous days.

No doubt this is one of the reasons why well-spaced intermittent fasting works so well – each fast is padded with days of plenty.

In a way this is a great example of the human appetite in action: in spite of my intention to follow the warrior protocol and my usually steely determination when fasting over 24 hours, my body ratcheted up my appetite to a new level when deprived of calories to a new extent.

A second issue was meal composition. I often found myself feasting on nuts after meals to a much greater degree than I would normally recommend – simply because I had not managed to create a big enough meal from meat, fish and vegetables. Too many nuts and I get uncomfortable guts.

I think to an extent I was also using the ‘I must get enough calories’ mantra as an excuse to binge on something I would normally limit myself on – so as the experiment progressed I made an effort to ensure the meal itself was bigger. I would buy bigger pieces or meat or throw in a side of sardines or scrambled eggs – this helped with the third issue...

… which was variety. I am a creature of routine – which means my breakfasts and lunches tend to be composed of similar foods. When I stopped having them, I stopped eating those foods. Eggs, fruit, tinned fish, avocado and salad were the main casualties.

I was happy to lose the fruit, which I consider a nice-to-have - but I valued the others more, both nutritionally and emotionally, so I started incorporating them into the main meals. This also helped increase the meal size. For example, look at the medley of foods I had on May 29th and June 1st.

You may have guessed the fourth issue by now: sleep. Being a 9-5 man, I had little flexibility around when this big meal took place. I could usually get it prepared and eaten before 8pm , but with a 10pm bedtime this scarcely provided enough time for me to go to bed without still feeling full.

Depending on the composition of the meal, this could mean some discomfort - especially when I was still eating too many nuts. Likewise, too much of some coconut-based products and I get bloating. This leads neatly to issue 5…

…which is, ahem, intestinal turbulence. Let’s just say that Mrs M was not always so pleased to be next to me on the sofa during this time. One of the benefits of eating a hunter gatherer diet is a lack of this turbulence. However it would seem that if you eat large enough meals then this benefit diminishes. No doubt the post-meal nut or creamed coconut binges contributed to this, so I am willing to accept that it was not the size of the meals per se that was to blame.
Feasting or Binging?
Finally, a thought about binging and fasting.

In a previous post I talked about how I had taken to repetitive fasting during some festive binges, as a way to repent/recover from large, carb-laden meals. This, I felt, was behaviour akin to eating disorder.

During this experiment I essentially did the same thing, but with real, Paleo/Primal food - and it was interesting to see the differences.

The main one was that my appetite was under control. I recall distinctly from the festive binges that my appetite was no help. I had to consciously decide whether to eat and if so why. I was forcing myself to fast, whilst simultaneously lusting after more junk, whilst simultaneously hating the idea of eating it. Then when I did finally eat, I would eat too much. Another difference is that I put on several pounds with the high-carb binges, as the chart I published soon afterwards showed.
Faithful Guide
This time, hunger was a faithful guide. I looked forward to the feasts, but they always seemed to come to a natural end. I ate a lot more than I would normally do in a sitting, but my body seemed happy. The next day, the hunger seemed to grow proportionally through the day until I was ready.
My Verdict
This is a sustainable approach in my view and great for busy people. Provided you get the meal size and composition right, it does not seem to significantly affect how you feel or perform through the day. However, it does require additional thinking, at least initially:

- how to make those evening meals fulfil the nutritional variety normally spread across lunches and breakfasts

- How to make sure the meals are big enough – buy bigger chunks of meat, for example. Get this wrong and the next day you could find yourself at the mercy of food vendors you would normally eschew...or binging on foods that should be consumed in moderation.

…and based on my previous experience, clearly this only works when the meals are Paleo/Primal – or more to the point, not high in carbohydrate.
If I do it Every Day, is it still Fasting?
It seems counterintuitive that you can fast every day. I imagine that somehow the body starts to adjust and the benefits of intermittent fasting are moderated. Aside from that, the very size of the single meal must extend the digestion period, thus reducing the fasting time. Perhaps the answer is that you are indeed fasting every day, but just not for as long.
Another Perspective… from Rusty at Fitness Black Book
By coincidence, Rusty over at Fitness Black Book posted recently about his experiences with Warrior and Eat Stop Eat, Brad Pilon's approach. As it turns out, my typical week more or less follows the Eat Stop Eat pattern, so it was fascinating (and a little spooky!) to read Rusty’s post just as I was writing mine.

We seemed to come to the same conclusion, but perhaps for partly difference reasons.

The main difference is that I am more interested in the sustainability and practicality of fasting and less in the fast loss.

I am always grateful when I do become leaner through fasting – but personally I have found that regardless of my meal pattern, the main contributor to success or failure in fat loss is whether I am willing to be a little hungrier for a little longer on a day to day basis.
Other Reading and References on Intermittent Fasting
There is a good post about the benefits on Mark’s Daily Apple.

Intermittent fasting can also be a powerful weight loss tool, so if that’s a perspective you are interested in then try this article on Life Spotlight.

I have also written various articles about fasting before, especially in the context of binging and appetite.

My Plan
Why was I doing this
What Happened (the meals)
What Happened (body composition)
The Good
The Indifferent
The Bad
Feasting or Binging?
My Verdict
Another Perspective
Other Reading and References on Intermittent Fasting
... Read more