2013 Update and Big Summary

Over the last few months, I’ve made a few tweaks to my diet and exercise plan. Here’s one big post with an update on both. And yes, I’m still feeling great!

Most important, remember that this is more than diet… its a lifestyle change.

Quick Summary

I mostly follow Paleo (or Primal) diet, but after reading Perfect Health Diet recently I’ve been playing with adding in some more “safe starches” and changed around my supplements a little.

My exercise is detailed below but can be summarized as 1x/week 20m sprinting session (Tabata burpees, hill sprints or cycling hill repeats), 2x/week 30-45m body weight only strength workout, 3-5x/week low level movement (walking, biking). During a year, I’ll do one or two cycling centuries (w/o additional training though beyond the HIIT cycling workouts). In addition I’ve been working on my thoracic spine mobility and overall back health.

The other major area of focus has been on getting good sleep. Last but not least, I do my best to reduce stress.  

Three books have been most influential in my journey:

  1. The Primal Blueprint - overall lifestyle
  2. Perfect Health Diet - diet research and modifications from primal/paleo
  3. Convict Conditioning - exercise progressions
Diet

So what do I actually eat? Most days I follow a fairly consistent pattern. This is partly for ease and partly because I truly enjoy each of these meals.

Breakfast: Two to three scrambled eggs on top of spinach and either sauerkraut or kim chee. Throw in some bacon once/week. Note, on kim chee - you need to pay special attention to ingredients as a lot have sugar.  

Lunch: Big salad with lots of greens, lots of chopped veggies and some protein. The protein is often Mediterranean style tuna salad (olive oil, olives, parsley, capers - no mayo) or some smoked mackerel, sardines or trout. But anything will do - leftover roasts (meat or chicken), smoked mackerel, etc.

Dinner: One good size but not large (1/4-1/3 lb usually) of protein with 2-3 veggies. You can peruse some pics here.  Since Jan 2013, I’ve been playing with adding a bit more safe starches as well (white rice, white potatoes, and rest of root starchy vegetables I was eating before). For dessert, about half the nights I either have dark chocolate (mostly 99% at this point) or a few dates + tahini.

Do you snack? I occasionally have a light snack. Fruit is generally just 1-2/day after breakfast or lunch. If I’m really hungry at other times, I’ll have a few almonds (literally - I count. Not more than 2-5. Think how long it would take you to shell them yourself!). Kale chips, raw carrots, olives are also all great if I’m really in the need or not eating dinner till later.

Now lets go through all the Yes and No’s in a bit more detail.

Proteins: Use grass fed beef, pastured chickens and wild fish where possible. You should really do this regardless of Paleo. They are substantially better for you (see other sites for details), better for the environment and more humane for the animals. Your body will naturally regulate itself to a good amount but not too much protein.

Eggs deserve special mention. I spend money on eggs from pastured chickens. That’s $8/dozen to be exact. While that sounds insane, my 2-egg breakfast is only $1.30 of eggs plus about a $1 worth of spinach or other veggies. Still very cheap! The pastured eggs are significantly better for you and taste way better to boot. Try a taste comparison if you don’t believe me. And yes, I thoroughly enjoy eating eggs each morning!

Veggies: this is the easiest category. Eat local, organic and seasonal where possible. If nothing else it will mix up what you eat. More colors per meal the better. Some special mentions:

Sweet Potatoes: All good. NOTE: since Jan 2013 more liberal with eating these and white potatoes for that matter.

Root veggies: Yep!

Corn: Officially illegal by the paleo police, but we get amazing corn on the cob here in SF in the summer. Its a super easy meal and super delicious. I ate it all last summer and fall while losing weight. Never more than once/week. Plan on continuing to do the same.

Probiotics: Probiotic veggies (e.g. sauerkraut, kim chi) are awesome for you. Eat up! Just make sure you get stuff made with no sugar.

Oils: This one will be the most against conventional wisdom. Take all your safflower, canola, mazola and other seed oils and throw them out. Instead use coconut oil, butter or ghee, animal fats, olive oil or avocado oil. For cooking that means coconut oil or ghee for the most part since they have the highest heat points.

Nuts: Nuts, but not peanuts!, are generally good in moderation. Only eat a handful at most. I try to limit to 2-5 in afternoon and maybe another few after dinner. Note, some folks out there highly recommend soaking to do deal with phytic acid. Much more important if you eat a lot. I don’t bother.

Legumes: Legumes are out in strict Paleo orthodoxy. However, if you read a lot of Weston Price Wise Traditions you can see that preparing legumes with traditional methods, you can make them okay to eat. There is a lot of back and forth on this subject. Long story short, is we eat on occasion. And I lost the bulk of my weight having beans or lentils almost every day. Now I’m eating no more than 1x/week and I make sure to soak in warm water with lemon juice for 12-24 hours before using. That includes lentils too.

Dairy: Other than butter and cream, dairy is generally a no-no. Butter and cream get a pass as they basically act nutritionally as an animal fat. I used to love cheese. It was one of the major items I cut out. Now when I want to treat myself, I have a little cheese if some excellent and delicious cheese is at hand. This is mostly a once/week affair either at a dinner party we are hosting or restaurant. To put it another way, I used to consume $30 of high end cheese myself per week. Now its a buck or two if that.

Grains: Simply no. That includes, kasha, quinoa, and more. Now there is a spectrum of work on this. The Paleo folks are strictly anti-grains. And certainly avoiding all grains is easier than having to think about it. That said, if you follow the Weston Price work and prepare grains using traditional methods (soaking, fermentation, sprouting) you will probably be just fine. From a weight loss perspective though, its easier to just switch off and then only slowly bring them back into your life and in limited quantities. Note: Since Jan 2013 I’ve been eating some more white rice.

Sweeteners: Sugar, agave syrup and high fructose corn syrup are all out. Honey and maple syrup generally considered okay as a once in awhile treat. There are lots of great paleo desserts out there (e.g. chocolate avocado mousse on almond/coconut crust). We also do some simple desserts: tahini and honey mixed together, medjool dates stuffed with tahini.

Supplements

I’ve been following recommendations from PHD

Intermittent Fasting

I’ve been experimenting with two different varieties of intermittent fasting. Mostly now do a constrained 8 hour eating window 1-2x/week. This mostly just means skipping breakfast. Sometimes, especially on travel days, I do a longer fast of stopping to eat after dinner and not eating again till next night’s dinner. In all cases I continue to drink water and coffee/tea. 

Exercise 

Below is my weekly schedule. Note its less than 2 hours of dedicated exercise time/week!

2-5m each morning: I do one of the following (1) 30 squats, 30 wall presses, 30 vertical pulls. These are simple exercises to get metabolism going and also are a nice way to stretch out the body. I sometimes throw in a crow pose or headstand for kicks OR (2) 20 seconds each of bridge, L-hold, yoga twist plus foam ball rollers on my back. In addition I take a half hot / half cold shower.

3-5 hours of week of moving slowly. This is walking, biking or other activity at 50-75% of max heart rate. If you are used to measuring your HR, you will know this is very moderately paced exercise. I get most of this by walking (or biking) to downtown office (3 miles one way). I fill in other time by walking whenever possible (e.g. phone calls), taking stairs not elevators or weekend hikes with the family.

2x30-45m of lifting heavy things: namely my body! This the one place where I don’t strictly follow PB Fitness. I’ve mixed up the progressions contained in Convict Conditioning and PB Fitness. I think CC has a slightly better view on overall progressions of exercises. This includes ensuring you start off more slowly which builds up systematic strength in your muscles. CC also includes a bridge progression for your back. The places where I’ve mixed it up are working in the jack knife series from PB Fitness into CC’s handstand pushup. And using Bulgarian squats as an extra step from close squats to assisted one leg squats. (This will all make sense once you read the books). The great part about these exercises is you can do them nearly anywhere (other than pull-ups) and often I don’t even bother changing out of my regular clothes.

20m of sprinting: This will be one of the following: (1) 20 hill sprints in front of my house. 5 are warmup. The rest are at full speed. (2) 3-4 Tabata series of burpees. (3) 45-60m session of cycling hill repeats

Ad hoc abs: Great suggestion from Mark Sisson. Whenever you want - e.g. while driving - do ab contractions. Tighten your whole gut and hold it for 10, 20 or 30 seconds. See this post for more detail.

The Rest of the Lifestyle

Equally important to enjoying all the changes is the focus on the other aspects of my life. There is lot in The Primal Blueprint and other sources to review on this. To quickly summarize… get adequate sleep (8 hours), find ways to alleviate and/or remove stress, play, get outdoors, crawl on the ground every once in a while and make sure to enjoy life!

What a year of Primal/Paleo looks like. Reversed 20 years of incremental weight gain. 

Exercise Updates - Workouts, Mobility & Posture

A few changes in exercise routine:

1. Starting two months ago, I now do all 6 Convict Conditioning exercises each workout (i.e. 2x/week). Given I’m now doing less reps of heavier positions (e.g. full pushups over incline pushups), the total time is similar. I’m also trying to eat more protein/carbs right after workout.

2. I finally read Convict Conditioning 2. Highly recommend it. In particular I added in the “Trifecta” set of stretch holds to my routines. Sometimes do it in AM pre shower. Sometimes pre workout. These include progressions of bridges, L-sits and twists. You hold each for a total of 20 seconds (potentially over multiple reps). So quick and good! Next up is working in the grip and calf exercises. 

3. I’ve been working on mobility and posture. First, based on combination of my ART guy and some posts from Mark Sisson’s blog, I’ve added various mobility drills to my morning routine. For the time being these have mostly replaced the wall pushups/squats/vertical pulls. Been focusing on thoracic spine and shoulder mobility, as I’m horrible in both camps. For posture, I’ve been using working my way through 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back. Highly recommended!

Intermittent Fasting

I started experimenting with Intermittent Fasting (IF) a few weeks ago. Been doing fasts from post dinner (well, post almond butter at night to be exact) through next night’s dinner. Roughly 9-10pm till 6pm the next day. I happily drink coffee, tea and water during the fast. Its not Yom Kippur after all. There are supposedly all kinds of health benefits from fasting. And its a great mind over matter test as well. Mark Sisson has a great series of posts. You can read up starting here and work backwards: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/why-fast-part-six-choosing-a-method/. Enjoy!

Cooking Paleo

I’ve hugely enjoyed cooking Paleo (or Primal, but sticking w/ Paleo here). You end up cooking a lot of veggies. I find cooking and thinking about multiple vegetable options much more interesting and intellectually challenging than just throwing down some rice or pasta. Its also given me a chance to cook more stews and braises which are delicious.

In order to make cooking Paleo work, you need to change what you buy. You can find some good getting started guides here, here and here. The basics are you need a lot more veggies and you need different oils/fats. If you follow the basic “shop the periphery of the store” or go to your local farmers market, you’ll be halfway there. Review this post on what ingredients to get.

I’m going to focus mostly on dinners in this post, as breakfast and lunch are fairly straightforward each day. 

The first tip for cooking Paleo is that you can cook out of any recipe book, magazine or blog for the most part. There are a few basic substitutions that will allow you to make just about any recipe Paleo-friendly. Desserts are another issue, which won’t be covered here. 

The substitutions

  • Rice becomes cauliflower rice.
  • Spaghetti becomes spaghetti squash or kelp noodles. Same for asian noodles.
  • You can also sub in julienned zucchini for noodles. Or wide cuts for fatter noodles. 
  • Dredging in flour becomes almond meal, coconut flour or porcini dust or mixture of above.
  • For roux/thickening of sauces try coconut flour or almond meal. When using coconut flour, use way less!
  • For milk, use either cream or coconut milk or thinned out coconut butter.
  • Soy sauce becomes coconut aminos.

Blogs I like

These are listed in the order I use them. Some are blogs. Some are recipe sections of Paleo sites. 

Cookbooks

Yep, I’ve read through all of these. You really only need one. But they’re all pretty cheap and good inspiration. 

Prep for week

Last but not least, if you are going to cook every night and a lot of veggies to boot, you need to do some prep work. I’ve been averaging around 2 hours over the weekend to prep for the week. This includes making/prepping any of the following:

  • Roasting root veggies (and anything others I want to roast for the week)
  • Cauliflower rice
  • Braising kale
  • Steaming spinach, chard or broccoli
Also, if you are making any stews or other long cooking items, I find it helpful to prep all the ingredients the night before so whatever night you are going to cook you can throw it all in the pot and go. You can do that just before sitting down for dinner and you’ll have the next night meal ready to go.
Enjoy!
Don’t forget to enjoy your food! Ideally you are eating with your family or others. Slow down and take pleasure in your thoughtfully prepared food.


How do I get started?

To reiterate from before, the most important thing is start doing and stop reading. 

What should you start doing? If nothing else, drop all forms of wheat and sugar and go from there. 

So now that you want to go deeper, here are a few strategies. Pick one and stick to it. 

  1. Go Primal and dive in. Try to keep to it at least 80/20. I.e. 80% of the time keep to the diet. Over time your body will naturally encourage you to shift that to 95/5 or more. The diet blog entry gives you all the basics for my own take. 
  2. Go Slow Carb to start. This was a helpful strategy for me. The legumes made losing other starches easy. And the cheat day is a great way to maintain the diet in the early going. Note, that I ended up varying my dinners a lot. I like food too much to always eat the same thing. 
  3. Follow this 12-step plan at the Archevore. 
  4. Follow Chris Kresser’s 9 steps to perfect heath. Chris does a great job at taking a balanced view of Paleo through modern science and research. But the results can be wordy. Caveat emptor. 
  5. Go hardcore detox and follow Whole30 and then shift to a more moderate Paleo or Primal diet. 

There are a lot of other write ups on the web, but any of the above should do you as starting points. You will need to change over your pantry and your shopping habits. Long story short, you won’t buy anything packaged and you will be buying way more veggies than you are used to. There are some good starting points here, herehere and here.

Good luck and enjoy! 

Get Solid Sleep

Getting great sleep is the last part of the equation. 

Make sure your room is totally dark. No LED lights that so prevalent! I had to put all of our chargers in a drawer. 

Try to go to bed at same time each night.

Don’t use any computer, iPhone or other screen for 30m before going to bed.

I still follow Tim Ferris’ suggestion of having 1T of almond butter before bed. 

There are a lot more great sleep tips. I’ll add some reference blog posts soon.

Move Slowly, Lift Heavy Things, Sprint

Starting in December I switched from the Four Hour Body suggested workout to Mark Sisson’s Primal Blueprint Fitness. The title of this post is straight from him.

Part of the change was out of necessity as I was travelling and didn’t want to lug a kettlebell with me. The second reason for the change was after reading the book, it made a lot of sense. Lastly, now that I’ve been doing it for a good 1.5 months, I can tell that my body is responding better. Its both able to do more and relax more easily when not in use. Its more fun to play with my kids. I can sit in a squat for a long time. And I sleep better. 

The active workouts take up less than 2 hours/week (including changing, etc). The rest is done during commute or weekend hikes.

The PB Fitness book is free, so definitely give Mark your email and download it!

The simple version:

2-5m each morning: 30 squats, 30 wall presses, 30 vertical pulls. These are simple exercises to get metabolism going and also are a nice way to stretch out the body. I sometimes throw in a crow pose or headstand for kicks. In addition I take a half hot / half cold shower. 

3-5 hours of week of moving slowly. This is walking, biking or other activity at 50-75% of max heart rate. If you are used to measuring your HR, you will know this is very moderately paced exercise. I get most of my time in here by walking home from downtown (4 miles, 1 hr) or biking from the shuttle bus (~20-30m depending on how I route). I fill in other time by walking whenever possible (e.g. phone calls), taking stairs not elevators or weekend hikes with the family.

2x30m of lifting heavy things - namely my body! This the one place where I don’t strictly follow PB Fitness. I’ve mixed up the progressions contained in Convict Conditioning and PB Fitness. I think CC has a slightly better view on overall progressions of exercises. This includes ensuring you start off more slowly which builds up systematic strength in your muscles. CC also includes a bridge progression for your back. The places where I’ve mixed it up are working in the jack knife series from PB Fitness into CC’s handstand pushup. And using Bulgarian squats as an extra step from close squats to assisted one leg squats. (This will all make sense once you read the books). I also follow CC’s suggestion of only exercising each muscle group once/week. So my early in the week exercises are the series from Pushups, Handstands, and Abs. Later in the week I do Squats, Bridges and Pull-ups. The great part about these exercises is you can do them nearly anywhere (other than pull-ups) and often I don’t even bother changing out of my regular clothes.

10m of sprinting. This can be running, rowing or cycling or anything else that will max out your heart rate. I’ve been doing running, but will add in some cycling soon. For running I warm up with 6x50 yards low effort sprints to loosen up. Then I either do 10x50 yards progressively ramping up to full 100% sprints. Or I’ll do 1-2 Tabata series (20 seconds maxed, 10 seconds pause, repeat for total of 4 minutes). The sprints have been easy to work into family life. I just peel off for 15-20m at the playground on the weekend. I occasionally get a few strange looks and have even had some 10 year olds join me!

Ad hoc abs. Great suggestion from Mark Sisson. Whenever you want - e.g. while driving - do ab contractions. Tighten your whole gut and hold it for 10, 20 or 30 seconds. See this post for more detail. 

That’s it! The rest of the time is play. Having two young kids makes sure I get that. 

The Primal Diet

The goal of this post is to give you a quick read through my own personal interpretation of the Primal Diet. It is by no means meant to be a comprehensive survey of all things Primal/Paleo! 

The super short version of Paleo: Yes meat, fish, poultry, and offal. Yes all veggies but white potatoes. Moderation on fruit (1/day). Yes on nuts, but again moderation. Use healthy oils (coconut, olive oil, animal fats). No grains. No dairy. No legumes (beans, lentils, peanuts). No sugar. 

So what do you actually eat? Most days I follow a fairly consistent pattern. This is partly for ease and partly because I truly enjoy each of these meals.

Breakfast: Two scrambled eggs on top of spinach and either sauerkraut or kim chee. Throw in some bacon once/week. Note, on kim chee - you need to pay special attention to ingredients as a lot have sugar.  

Lunch: Big salad with lots of greens, lots of chopped veggies and some protein. The protein is often Mediterranean style tuna salad (olive oil, olives, parsley, capers - no mayo). But anything will do - leftover roasts (meat or chicken), smoked mackerel, etc.

Dinner: One good size but not large (1/4-1/3 lb usually) of protein with 2-3 veggies. You can peruse some pics here.  I recently started cooking a lot of the veggies ahead of time. More on that below.

Pre-bed: 1T of pure almond butter. This is a leftover trick from Four Hour Body. Its a great reward for the day, kills any pre bedtime hunger and ensures you don’t wake up from hunger pangs.

Do you snack? I occasionally have a light snack. I try to time my once piece of fruit to right after exercise. If I’m really hunger at other times, I’ll have a few almonds (literally - I count. Not more than 2-5. Think how long it would take you to shell them yourself!). Kale chips, raw carrots, olives are also all great if I’m really in the need or not eating dinner till later.

Now lets go through all the Yes and No’s in the super short version in a bit more detail and my own modifictions.

Proteins: Use grass fed beef, pastured chickens and wild fish where possible. You should really do this regardless of Paleo. They are substantially better for you (see other sites for details), better for the environment and more humane for the animals. Your body will naturally regulate itself to a good amount but not too much protein. 

Eggs deserve special mention. I spend money on eggs from pastured chickens. That’s $8/dozen to be exact. While that sounds insane, my 2-egg breakfast is only $1.30 of eggs plus about a $1 worth of spinach or other veggies. Still very cheap! The pastured eggs are significantly better for you and taste way better to boot. Try a taste comparison if you don’t believe me. And yes, I thoroughly enjoy eating eggs each morning!

Veggies: this is the easiest category. Eat local, organic and seasonal where possible. If nothing else it will mix up what you eat. More colors per meal the better. The only thing to avoid is white potatoes. Some special mentions:

Sweet Potatoes: are pretty carby, so apply some moderation. They are great right after exercise. Also for kids who need more carbs than adults. I just try to eat in moderation or right after exercise. 

Root veggies: As far as I can tell in my reading all other root veggies (squash, celeriac, parsnips, etc) are just fine. 

Corn: Officially illegal by the paleo police, but we get amazing corn on the cob here in SF in the summer. Its a super easy meal and super delicious. I ate it all last summer and fall while losing weight. Never more than once/week. Plan on continuing to do the same. 

Probiotics: Probiotic veggies (e.g. sauerkraut, kim chi) are awesome for you. Eat up! Just make sure you get stuff made with no sugar.

Oils: This one will be the most against conventional wisdom. Take all your safflower, canola, mazola and other seed oils and throw them out. Instead use coconut oil, butter or ghee, animal fats, olive oil or avocado oil. For cooking that means coconut oil or ghee for the most part since they have the highest heat points. 

Nuts: Nuts, but not peanuts!, are generally good in moderation. Only eat a handful at most. I try to limit to 2-5 in afternoon and maybe another few after dinner. And I still do the 1T almond butter right before bed. Note, some folks out there highly recommend soaking to do deal with phytic acid. Much more important if you eat a lot. 

Legumes: Legumes are out in strict Paleo orthodoxy. However, if you read a lot of Weston Price Wise Traditions you can see that preparing legumes with traditional methods, you can make them okay to eat. There is a lot of back and forth on this subject. Long story short, is we eat on occasion. And I lost the bulk of my weight having beans or lentils almost every day. Now I’m eating no more than 1-2x/week and I make sure to soak in warm water with lemon juice for 12-24 hours before using. That includes lentils too. 

Dairy: Other than butter and cream, dairy is generally a no-no. Butter and cream get a pass as they basically act nutritionally as an animal fat. I used to love cheese. It was one of the major items I cut out. Now when I want to treat myself, I have a little cheese if some excellent and delicious cheese is at hand. This is mostly a once/week affair either at a dinner party we are hosting or restaurant. 

Grains: Simply no. That includes, kasha, quinoa, and more. Now there is a spectrum of work on this. The Paleo folks are strictly anti-grains. And certainly avoiding all grains is easier than having to think about it. That said, if you follow the Weston Price work and prepare grains using traditional methods (soaking, fermentation, sprouting) you will probably be just fine. From a weight loss perspective though, its easier to just switch off and then only slowly bring them back into your life and in limited quantities. 

Sweeteners: Sugar, agave syrup and high fructose corn syrup are all out. Honey and maple syrup generally considered okay as a once in a while treat. There are lots of great paleo desserts out there (e.g. chocolate avocado mousse on almond/coconut crust). We also do some simple desserts: tahini and honey mixed together, medjool dates stuffed with tahini.

That’s it! In all seriousness its easier than it sounds. If all the above is too much, just go back to the super short version. 

Did you lose a LOT of weight?

I get that question a lot now. The answer is yes. But much more importantly I feel better than I’ve felt in my entire adult life. My body fat percentage is now in healthy range. And my muscles are both stronger when needed and more relaxed (less tension) when not. I’m sleeping better, have better energy throughout the day and often feel like I could swing on the trees. 

Starting last August, I started the Four Hour Body (4HB) slow-carb diet. This diet turns out to be roughly the same as the Paleo Diet, with addition of beans and lentils. I also started the 4HB exercise program. Starting in December of last year I got more interested in the Paleo/Primal movements and mostly switched my diet and exercise routines to the philosophy best espoused in Mark Sisson’s The Primal Blueprint. 

To give you a better sense of raw numbers that I have seen in the last six months.

Body Weight: 190lbs -> 160 lbs

Body Fat %: 28% -> 16%

Waist: 34.5 inches -> 29 inches

Yes, buying new pants was a nice reward. But feeling better was the best reward.

The next few blog posts will give insight into the major components of diet, exercise and sleep. After that, I’ll post some of the best links and books I’ve found. Across the blogosphere, there is a lot of active discussion on Paleo/Primal lifestyle, new cookbooks every week, and now even a steady drum beat of scientific papers. You can get stuck reading for a very long time. If you are interested, I’d highly suggest starting with a summary, start acting and then start reading to fill in the knowledge gaps. Its much easier to read about all of this lifestyle change. Its harder to actually do it. But it turns out only doing it makes a difference and it actually doesn’t matter how deep you go on the science and theories. 

If you want a simple place to start:

  • No wheat, no sugar
  • Less hardcore cardio, more walking/low level biking + bodyweight exercise
  • Get 8 hours of good sleep a night in the darkest room possible

Next post will be diet in more detail.