With so much already happened this year, it is hard to believe we haven’t even cleared January. There’s been little time to reflect on 2012 other than to recognise it as a year of thrilling highs and emotional lows, achievements and frustrations, of welcoming new friends into my life and on closing the door on others, and venturing off to new lands whilst appreciating the land I call home all the more… such is the ebb and flow of life.
When I first dove down this rabbit hole called paleo, part of my motivation was adventure. Learning this stuff, applying it to my life (with great results), and seeing how it could help others (when they wanted to listen and be helped), learning and relearning the science-side of things, travelling overseas to link with like-minds, was all part of the adventure. People ask what I want out of all of this and I honestly don’t know what to tell them. I love the simplicity of it all and the health it brings me, but I don’t really have a set destination; I don’t have a number. I don’t have a certain weight to get to, nor a certain waist measurement. I haven’t set perfect blood lipid markers as my goal, nor do I want to achieve 50 double-unders.
In my mind, all of the “life will be good when I’m skinny at XXkg”-type goals are a destination I don’t really want to get to… because right now, the journey and the adventure is a lot of fun. The diet and training are getting tinkered with all the time, and in what seems like a case of convergence, there seems to be more of us focused on things other than safe starches, calorie counting, and whether 6 days of METCONs are better than 5. I’m talking Paleo 3.0 here – the focus on sleep before exercise, on socialisation, on being in natural environments, and on engaging other senses than the ones required to look at and tippy-tap on a screen all day (huh… irony).
One of the turning points in my 2012 journey was the selling of virtually everything I owned (not much – I’m a bit Zen about material possessions), to aid the moving to another country (the healthy socialisation part). I was in the throes of disengaging my life from New Zealand when I was contacted by a chap wanting a consult about his diet, exercise, and lifestyle. Being only literally days from skipping the country, I was reluctant to be taking anyone on… more for the fact that my head wasn’t in it. But I do like puzzles and when someone contacts you to say that their paleo-leaning GP wife recommended he come and see me, well, my ears prick up a bit.
So a meeting with Tim was arranged. We caught up late one Sunday afternoon, and before me I saw a guy who wasn’t the best physical specimen in the world, but also a guy who was quite nervous, anxious, and seemingly fearful of what his future might hold if he didn’t do something different. Maybe I read too much into it, but I saw a guy who could see the imminent arrival at the destination of his own mortality – albeit far too early for a man of his age. Had this been a case of another person wanting a promise that they just need to eliminate starches, perform torturous exercise, and still eat brownies whilst enjoying the best of health, I’d have likely not kept the appointment (the good thing about not doing private for a living is that I get to chose who I want to work with – so refreshing after so many years as a PT having to take all-comers).
What made me take Tim on? The fact that he had relocated his family to the other side of the world to give them a better life… That he had likely had to move away from familiarity, from family, from friends, for something that meant a whole lot more – his and his family’s health. And he chose New Zealand… and better yet, Christchurch. He made all the right noises and I was keen to help him out, albeit it in the basis that I was off to the land of Oz (his country of birth), and would have to work with him remotely.
Below is Tim’s journey from that point on. As you will read, I put him through a Whole30 as a reset point to work from. He shares his honest account of that, his praise and his criticisms. Some of the criticisms you read from Tim, both on the Whole30 and on a lack of a path to exercise, I don’t agree with. But I also take responsibility for his criticisms. There was a promise to write him some sort of exercise routine, but I didn’t… on purpose. You see, it is all too easy, when giving out something like the Whole30 and a structured exercise programme concurrently, to fall into the diet+exercise, calories in, calories out trap. I didn’t want Tim doing that. But I did want him finding the energy and confidence, from his dietary changes, to explore his new home town… to come into the summer and to embrace cycling, walking the hills, getting out to the beach, etc.
So his comments around exercise, what he thinks is paleo exercise (Crossfit), heart rate training zones, and so on, are more a reflection of a lack of information and guidance. Yet despite this lack of guidance, he is doing everything I had hoped. He has embedded a change in both the food he eats and his relationship with it. He has taken onboard some of the key aspects to just moving. And best of all, he seems to have taken this on as a form of adventure… as a new journey. Tim has been kind enough to share his journey, thus far, here. Enjoy.
13cm 12.5cm 10.5cm until I finally become a man!
Jamie asked me if I would write a guest blog for him on how I have found trying a Paleo diet, so I thought why not?
Now for those of the Internet generation or with Internet-provoked short attention span disorder:
- I have always been a fatty,
- At my age this made type-2 diabetes a real prospect,
- With a push from the doctor-wife and great steer from Jamie I started the Whole30 approach to Paleo,
- I am still fat,
- But not as fat,
- And one day I hope to become a real man.
I met Jamie only the once – that was enough. As you may have guessed however, the meeting with Jamie was all about long-term health and wellbeing – mine.
I grew up in a small town, country NSW, Australia. The freezer was always full with half a cow or a sheep, and fresh frozen vegetables; the pantry was packed with preserved fruit and the cupboard full of homemade cakes and biscuits. I was a chubby child. Chocolate, however, did not really feature, whether it was too expensive or just ‘not good for you’; it was a rare treat to be savoured. Something I don’t think the Teenager [my daughter] would understand.
As an adult, I blame the Americans. Up until 1998, I was always at the upper limits of ‘healthy’. Then the Americans went and changed the guidelines and like 29 million Americans I suddenly became ‘Overweight’, ‘Obese’, and let’s face it just plain old FAT! I was devastated (or I would have been if I had known it at the time), so I consoled myself with the three essential food groups: beer, chocolate, and pasta. And so, thanks to the Americans, my BMI crept up to over 33 (well okay, this may be a bit of exaggeration and I can’t really blame the Americans).
In reality I have always been a chubby adult. In 1997 thanks to some serious personal stress, obsessive exercise, and lots of beer I dropped to a healthy weight. A few years later another stressful event also led to serious weight loss, this time successfully dealt with only with the aid of alcohol. A few happy “3rd time lucky” years later 10+kg was lost over three months thanks to a no (ultra-low) fat diet and cycling for about 8-12 hours a week. I confess I did feel a lot fitter after this period, but sadly winter came, it got dark and the three essential food groups beckoned.
In my head I have always felt 22, this year my wife reminded me (with only just a little bit of glee) that my body had actually achieved two score and 10 in spite of the abuse and neglect it has received. The nature of what I do is really rewarding. It can also be rather stressful and is quite sedentary.
It is because of what I do we had the opportunity to move to New Zealand and this is where I met Jamie. Christchurch is a great city and I feel privileged that after all these years I can use what I have learned to be able to give something back to rebuilding this community [post-earthquake]. In return I get a better work/life balance and the Teenager gets an opportunity to grow up in a way that is now longer possible in the UK. To me, my weight needed a little bit of attention (to my doctor-wife I was five-eighths on the way to diabetes), but I was unable to see what I could do differently to achieve a sustainable weight loss and healthier lifestyle. After all I had tried pretty much all accepted dietary practices and the old habits and essential food groups always returned, so why bother?
I am (or rather was) an emotional eater. I liked to eat when I was happy, when I was sad, or when I was stressed. I could rationalise eating anything at any time. Some may say I was an addict and they may have right.
My doctor-wife, the clever girl, knew that if I didn’t do something Type-2 diabetes, prostate cancer, and/or heart disease were just around the corner. So for her it was all about me living longer, not just my weight.
She pointed me in the direction of a Paleo diet. I had never heard of it. I had tried an Atkins diet for a few weeks and felt lousy so I may have been a little sceptical when she first mooted the idea. Gently she poked and prodded, found, and then introduced me to Jamie & the Paleo concept.
When I first contacted Jamie he was a little surprised that a GP was promoting Paleo. She still has some reservations regarding some of the claims and ‘science’ surrounding a Paleo diet (its benefits, scientific interactions, and the need to lift tractor tyres), but as one who herself has to live a lower-carb lifestyle (weird but interesting medical condition that no nutritionists seem to want to tackle), the overall benefits it could bring to me outweighed her concerns.
I met Jamie one sunny afternoon in the Coffee House. Not your Dutch-style coffee house, but a real Christchurch survivor and great coffee. Over a couple of hours we talked about what I was looking for, what I was willing to invest, and what he could offer. During this period he did drop in the fact he was buggering off to Australia. He also explained the Whole30 concept and gave some rather pragmatic and helpful tips as to how to approach and get the most out of Paleo. Apart from getting more sleep, possibly his best and most used tip from that day was to go out and buy a Soda-Stream [water carbonator]. The simple act of drinking carbonated water has helped break habits formed over a life time – go figure? He also said don’t worry about exercise just yet give it six months or so. This seemed odd (or an accurate assessment of my physical fitness) but it has allowed me to get to grips with and focus on the dietary aspects of Paleo rather than get diverted looking for tree trunks and tractor tyres.
Jamie supplied some of the Whole30 information and pointed me to other web-based resources. We said goodbye and I’ve never seen him again. But thanks to the wonder of the Interweb he has remained a great source of information and support.
One of the things I did like about my initial reading on Paleo was the F-you [tough love] approach they took. It is up to you if you make it work, no one else; no magic cures or anyone else to blame if it doesn’t work or something goes wrong. If only teenagers could be imbued with this. But at the same time it provided solid advice and practical steps to identify the route, highlighting pitfalls, and letting you know that you are not alone. Others have done this so it’s less a seldom trod track up a mountainside and rather more like you’re on a 6 lane highway (something that doesn’t actually exist in New Zealand). Having a map for this ‘track’ exposed has been a critical success factor in my diet.
Now one piece of advice proffered in the Whole30 was to cut the excuses and just start the Whole30 that day; that minute. I do not subscribe to this approach to anything, so I didn’t. Instead I spent a week following a Paleo-esque diet before leaping into the Whole30. This worked for me and you know what? I don’t think the authors would really care so long as it works – FU mate.
The concept of a 30-day diet was not a challenge. Fairly regularly I could control what I ate or drunk for a month and lose 4 or 5kg. So it was with gusto I leapt into the diet. With a bit of will and lots of preparation (Jamie did say starting out finding time for preparation is an initial challenge – he was right) the days soon turned into weeks.
After about two weeks, we were out at a horse show with the Teenager. We hadn’t planned to be out so long and the only food available was a sausage sizzle. A dilemma! The sausages were not from home-raised pigs, fed only organic scraps, then lovingly killed and stuffed, additive and grain-free, into natural skins. They were pre-cooked, additive, flour, sugar and fake-flavoured -filled bundles of joy. I was going to stay true to “the 30” and go hungry. The doctor-wife (in her best GP voice) said “don’t be so stupid, the human body is designed to be resilient, one sausage is not going to kill you or break the Whole30”. It didn’t. Indeed it showed that this diet was possible. I didn’t realise at the time but this was one small step to realising that a Paleo diet could be a sustainable way forward for me.
The doctor-wife is very clever and knows what can motivate and demotivate me. When I would ask “Is this paleo?” she would look it up and let me know a précis of the web’s opinions.
Only towards the end of “the ‘30” did she let me look at the forum. Just as well! Whilst I do like attitude, the Stalinist approach adopted in the forum for staying on the Whole30 would have quickly brought out my Bolshevik side – not always a happy ending. Looking back this is a mild criticism now. At the time it was not. But I can see that for some, Stalinism is needed and necessary and history tells us it worked well – for a time.
During “the ’30” there was no epiphany. I didn’t wake up one morning a convert. I never leapt out of bed and reached for the nearest pile of rocks or tractor tyres. I did, however, go to sleep without feeling bloated and without my ‘normal’ 30-40 minutes of agitation. I did begin to wake up feeling rested, settled, more, well awake. During the day there was no longer this mid-afternoon energy drain – someone had stolen my biorhythms! Now when I drive to work in my big white Ute, I have a smile on my face, probably due to living in New Zealand, but I do think it is helped along by the diet.
About 3 weeks into “the 30” I decided I needed to reward myself, so I bought a pineapple. It was only a baby and I only had less than a quarter. It was so, so sweet. I then bounced around the house for about an hour with a silly grin on my face, my wife laughing at me whilst I was on a huge sugar rush. A sobering thought. It was at this time I began to understand just how food had affected not only my health but also my moods and how I looked at life.
At the end of 30 days, there was no question about not continuing; indeed I felt no desire to ‘treat’ myself to any non-Whole30 treat. Okay – 3 months on I will now have a glass of wine, or cider, eat a little goats cheese and put a knob of butter in my pumpkin mash, but chocolate biscuits, pasta, specialty breads, hot chips or even jelly beans no longer have appeal.
Jersey Caramels, however, have a different hold. For the record I have not had one, but they represent the power of my emotional association with food. A Jersey Caramel is a small square of fudge made up of a white layer sandwiched between caramel coloured layers. They probably taste of nothing, but as a child they were the lollies we were allowed to occasionally have as a treat and they were my Father’s favourite. They represent every warm and fuzzy childhood memory – good times, freedom and security. An emotional eater’s nirvana and I have to pass them every time I go to the local supermarket! We now have a relationship that seems balanced, I acknowledge them as they sit quietly in their pick-a-mix home and in return they help me remember the good times associated with them but that I don’t need to eat them to gain this comfort. They now ask for nothing in return, not even to be taken home. Then gently after our brief interaction, they point me in the direction the dry-roasted cashews. More importantly they have become my friend and they have helped me change my relationship with food. I still (like any ex-addict) fear a relapse, but so far, thanks to support I have received from my Jersey Caramels, the doctor-wife, and Jamie, this fear is growing into confidence that this diet, unlike previous attempts, will provide a long-term, healthy solution.
Before we do look to the future, another issue I’ve found with the Whole30 approach was that there should be absolutely, positively, no measuring. Whilst I can understand it for those who demand instant results, I’ve found this odd for two reasons: the Paleo-approach is looking to found itself in science. Science requires a hypothesis to be made and then it to be proven by careful experimentation and data collection. Secondly, unfortunately, as humans we are judged and monitored every day, and as interactive creatures, we need feedback. For some of us ‘listening to our bodies’ needs interpretation via statistics. So another piece of Whole30 mantra duly ignored.
So just what do the stats say… what has 15 weeks on a Paleo diet achieved?
My weight has dropped 14.3%, my body fat has dropped 15.6% and my water content has increased 3%. I have no idea what (apart from the kilograms) all of this means, but the same set of scales were used and the Doctor-wife tells me all have headed in the right direction. Another useless measure is BMI – this has dropped from 32.02 to 27.43. In six weeks (because I forgot to start measuring this from the beginning), my waist has reduced by 7cms. Sadly however, I remain fat, and according to some articles, I am therefore not a man.
To date the diet has been easy, but it is only half the story. To make any diet sustainable, a sustainable level of exercise must also be achieved. Just as 4 months ago, despite understanding the science and theory of diet, I did not know where to look for the right sustainable-exercise track – it remains hidden from view.
Now here is a tip for those super-thin, super-fit Crossfit exercise freaks who may or may not have been overweight but who are now finely-tuned athletes who eat babies for breakfast and lift tractors for fun. Images like this are a real demotivation to fat people like me. All these images do is reinforce “them” and “us”. If you want to join our club, it’s up you and you alone. And until you join us, we are going to go on about how fit and healthy we are. But where is the path?
An example, or perhaps a metaphor, of the challenge exercise presents, I own several, seldom used bicycles and Christchurch is a great place to ride because it’s flat. If I were to keep my heart rate under 85% HR max, I would have to get off and walk. To achieve an exercise level of 75% I may well just walk to the fridge and grab a beer. Christchurch also has, within 5km of the city, the Port Hills. These are short, sharp hills which, I am told, are great for cycling on and off road. They lead to the Port of Lyttelton and I am going to go out on a limb here and guess why they got their name. On the bike I am sure I know where to find them (there are also sign posts), but mentally there is no clear path or road map to the top. Where the Whole30 so successfully provided the dietary map equivalent, no such tool seems available for exercise – for me at least. Of course as I type this I hear you all screaming “just get off your arse and get out there”. If so my point is made.
I read an article, written in that tone which seems to be a requirement of fitness articles, that suggested that to be a fit, healthy, and therefore a real man, you must be able to run 2km in under 10 minutes, your waist dimension must be less than half your height, and you must be able to lift a cow, or several tractor tyres single handed. Well maybe not the last bit but it was something equally as silly and macho.
I have never run more than 2km in my whole life, and I don’t own a tractor, so I thought maybe there is a chance of one out three. So I am looking forward to the day when a further 10.5cm has disappeared, waking up, and for the first time in my life, being fit, healthy, and at last calling myself a true Hominid.
I’ll stick with a Paleo diet.