TEDx - Dr. Terry Wahls and the Paleo Diet for MS

A while back, I posted some videos from Dr. Loren Cordain on the clear benefits of the paleo diet for Multiple Sclerosis. Unfortunately, those have since dropped off of YouTube (if anyone has updated links, please send them my way so I can update the old ones).

Fortunately, a couple of friends recently pointed me to a talk by Dr. Terry Wahls at TEDx in Iowa, regarding her firsthand experience suffering through highly degenerative MS, and subsequent recovery achieved by modifying her diet. If you or anyone you know suffers from MS, watch this.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KLjgBLwH3Wc

A freezer full of meat is a happy freezer indeed

I’ve been on the prowl for meat.

Between blasting through my most intense workout program yet, provided to me by my buddy Dave, and the inspiration that comes with hanging out with a bunch of crazed powerlifters, the need for fuel is paramount. In days past, I was typically on the bison and elk train for lack of finding a solid beef provider, and still have a great appreciation for wild red meats. Unfortunately, the popularity of these tasty beasties has led to a substantial increase in prices that I’m just not willing to pay.

Enter TK Ranch. While shopping at Community Natural Foods late last year, I noticed frozen beef products by this local Alberta farm, and picked some up after seeing the grass-fed verbiage on the packages. (Reminder: grass fed = higher omega 3:6 ratio, and no sick cows due to being fed garbage they’d never eat in nature, i.e. corn.) The judgment: delicious! And not a billion dollars.

But the best news was that after reading through every page on TK’s web site and speaking to one of their lovely reps, I was assured that they actually did use a 100% grass-fed process, not to mention having a distinctly humane and compassionate attitude toward their animals. Previous jaunts through Calgary’s farmers’ markets turned up no shortage of proclaimed grass feeders that were still using a grain (including corn) based finishing process.

TK offers farm direct purchases, which provides both a benefit to us, the hungry customers, in terms of price and to them in terms of profit. And they do home deliveries within Calgary and Edmonton if you order over $500, which is an easy enough feat if you bring on a friend or two. I’m hoping to gather enough folks next time around so that we can pick up half a delicious (and previously very happy) cow. (They also do poultry, lamb, and pork.)

If you live in Alberta and need fuel to solve your Riddle, check out tkranch.com.

Paleo diet meal plan, Part 2

I promised there’d be no preamble in Part 2. I lied.

Cheat meals

First off, I wanted to call out the weekly cheat meal. If you’re just starting out with paleo or have a lot of weight to lose, I’d recommend going one or two months with only two cheats per month, rather than four. Trust me on this: the induction period does wonders. And if you don’t crave a cheat, don’t have one just for the sake of having one. I find they are as often the result of social obligation as actual cravings.

I also recommend staying away from anything containing gluten or dairy, if possible. There are countless gluten-free alternatives out there that, while not great as a regular component of your diet, will do a lot less harm in the long run.

Workout days

Try coordinating heavier carb days according to your workouts. I train Mon, Tue, Thu, Fri, so those are the days that I’ll generally eat starchy carbs like sweet potatoes or a home-baked treat. I also tend to eat a portion of my lunch as a mid morning snack, about 1 to 1.5 hours prior to working out.

Final caveat

While eating perfectly is an admirable goal, its pretty damn tough to do every single day. If you don’t have time to prepare something from scratch, its infinitely preferable to use a packaged product with one or two non-ideal ingredients rather than staying defiant and ending up eating nothing, followed by a manic starvation-induced stuffing of the face with double downs (ahem).

I occasionally use a pasta sauce that contains salt and soybean oil, and worcestershire is just too good on burgers to pass up. I also ensure that any processed meat products I buy, such as pepperoni and bacon, are nitrate and preservative free. You’ll likely have to split your shopping between the big box stores and your local health food shops or farmers markets to find everything you need. Just be smart about it.

Lastly, you’ll see a lot of elk and bison in the meal plan. These meats have a higher reported nutritional density than conventional beef, so if you can find them, fabulous. If not, try to source grass-fed beef. It may seem more expensive at first, but buying in bulk easily offsets that cost. (If you happen to live in Alberta, I can help point you in a few directions. Since writing this blog post, I have moved almost exclusively to grass-fed beef due to availability and cost).

The Meal Plan!

And here it is. I’ve prefaced each week with an approximate grocery list, based on food for two people. Odds are I missed one or two things, but you can figure it out. :) Enjoy.

Week 1

Meat: Dozen eggs, 2 lbs ground meat, 2-3 lbs stewing meat, 1 package burgers, 2 packages chicken breast, 1 package turkey breast, dozen drumsticks, 1 package breakfast sausage, 1 package bacon, 1 package shrimp, 1 fresh salmon, 1 white fish, 1 package meat snacks (natural deli meat, beef jerky, pepperoni, etc).

Produce: 2 avocados, 1 bunch spinach, mixed greens, 2 cucumbers, 3 bell peppers, 1 bunch green onions, 1 bunch fresh parsley, 1 bag onions, 1 spaghetti squash, 1 butternut squash, 1 sweet potato, 1 cauliflower, 1 rutabaga, 1 bag carrots, 1 bunch celery, 1 bunch broccoli, 1 celery root, 1 fennel bulb, 1 package mushrooms, unsalted nuts (almonds, walnuts), 1 bag apples, assorted berries, other fruit of choice.

Prepared: 1 can tuna, 1 can tomato paste, 1 jar pasta sauce, 1 carton low sodium broth, 1 jar almond butter, 1 carton almond milk, 1 bag cacao.

Monday

Breakfast: Eggs, avocado

Lunch: Chicken drumsticks (@325, 35-40m/side, onion powder, garlic powder, black pepper, cayenne), giant salad (leafy greens, cucumber, carrots, red pepper, green onion, parsley)

Dinner: Elk meatballs (baked or fried at low temp; ground elk, diced onion, egg, spices), spaghetti squash (halved, submerge in 1 inch water open side up, @350, ~30m covered), tomato sauce (simply natural)

Snack: Nuts and dates

Tuesday

Breakfast: Leftover drumsticks, steamed spinach

Lunch: Leftover meatballs and squash or salad

Dinner: Curried chicken (chicken breast, onions, mushrooms, cumin, turmeric, coriander, black pepper, garlic), steamed mashed cauliflower (way more delicious than it sounds)

Snack: Canned tuna with mustard/mayo on cucumber rounds

Wednesday

Breakfast: Eggs, turkey breakfast sausages

Lunch: Leftover chicken, steamed broccoli (I prefer brocollini, which is more tender than normal broccoli and slightly sweeter)

Dinner:  Grilled bison burger patties, giant salad

Snack: Celery or carrot sticks with almond butter

Thursday

Breakfast: Leftover bison burger and salad (tahini dressing over both, yum!), avocado 

Lunch: Stir fry shrimp (shrimp, diced onion, coriander, black pepper) and steamed asparagus, or sushi (treat day)

Dinner: Elk stew (freeze a portion for the weekend)

Snack: Fruit

Friday

Breakfast: Eggs, apple slices with cinammon

Lunch: Leftover elk stew

Dinner: Pan fried mahi mahi (dill, black pepper), steamed mashed sweet potato

Snack: Meat snack (shaved roast beef, natural pepperoni, beef jerky, etc)

Saturday

Breakfast: Eggs, bacon (natural pork, turkey, beef, or bison), berries

Lunch: Grilled turkey kabobs (turkey, mushrooms, onions, bell pepper, spices, olive oil)

Dinner: Baked sockeye salmon (@350, 17-20m, parsley, crushed chilis), steamed and mashed butternut squash

Snack: Leftover kabobs, hot chocolate (organic cacao, almond milk)

Sunday

Breakfast: Leftover elk stew

Lunch: Stir fry chicken breast, braised root vegetables (celery root, fennel, carrots, lemon juice, olive oil)

Dinner: Grilled beef steak, leftover squash or braised vegetables

Snack: Fruit or nuts

Week 2

Meat: Dozen eggs, 2 steaks, 1 package beef strips, 4-6 short ribs, 1 package turkey burgers, 2 packages chicken breast, 1 package breakfast sausage, 1 package turkey deli slices, 1 package bacon, 1 fresh trout, 1 fresh salmon, 1 package smoked salmon

Produce: 2 avocados, 1 bunch spinach, mixed greens, 2 cucumbers, 2 tomatoes, 3 bell peppers, 1 bunch green onions, 1 bunch fresh parsley, 1 bunch beets, 1 sweet potato, 1 cauliflower, 1 white cabbage, 1 rutabaga, 1 bag carrots, 1 bunch celery, 1 bunch broccoli, 2 zucchinis, 1 package brussel sprouts, unsalted nuts (almonds, walnuts), fruit of choice.

Prepared: 1 can tuna, 1 can sardines, 1 jar salsa, 1 large can crushed tomatoes, 1 small carton egg whites, 1 carton low sodium broth

Monday

Breakfast: Leftover steak or pan fried beef strips, chopped tomato, cucumber, and avocado with pepper

Lunch: Giant salad with canned tuna

Dinner: Baked trout (@350, 17-20m, dill, black pepper), grilled zucchini, tahini sauce

Snack: Fruit

Tuesday

Breakfast: Eggs, steamed spinach, salsa

Lunch: Leftover trout, steamed mashed sweet potato

Dinner: Giant cajun chicken salad (pan fried chicken breast, basil, oregano, black pepper, chilli powder, cayenne, onion powder, garlic, mixed into a giant salad)

Snack: Steamed beets (steam beets until tender, peel, allow to cool, slice, mix with oil, vinegar, crushed garlic, parsley, good in the fridge for 3 days)

Wednesday

Breakfast: Eggs, bison breakfast sausages

Lunch: Leftover chicken salad and beets

Dinner: Elk steak, braised cabbage (diced white cabbage, tomato paste, black pepper, crushed garlic, lemon, olive oil, start at high heat, then add water as necessary at low heat until fully cooked, ~45-60m)

Snack: Canned sardines (honestly, so good), nuts & raisins

Thursday

Breakfast: Veggie omelette

Lunch: Grilled turkey burgers, leftover cabbage

Dinner: Beef short rib stew (brown beef and remove, braise vegetables and remove, bring broth and wine/tomato paste to a boil with spices, combine all, bake @325 2-3h covered, freeze a portion for the weekend)

Snack: Leftover beets or fruit

Friday

Breakfast: Smoked salmon, eggs, green onions

Lunch: Leftover short ribs

Dinner: Baked ginger chicken (chicken breast, lemon rind, lemon, worcestershire, olive oil, ginger, garlic, black pepper, rosemary, parsley, brown first then @350 ~30m), mashed cauliflower

Snack: Baked apples (diced apples, walnuts, almonds, raisins, cinnamon, @325, 30-45m covered), or almond cookies if a treat day (1 cup almond meal, 2-3 eggs, 1 diced apple sauteed in coconut oil, cinnamon, vanilla, 1tsp baking soda, @350 10-12m)

Saturday

Breakfast: Shakshuka (basted eggs in tomato sauce with bell peppers and onions, recipes can be found online, delicious but please skip the pita!)

Lunch: Leftover chicken and apple treat

Dinner: Pan-friend salmon (coriander, black pepper, onion powder, garlic powder), steamed brocolli

Snack: Carrot salad (shredded carrots, blueberries, sunflower seeds, oil and vinegar)

Sunday

Breakfast: Grilled turkey burger, leftover carrot salad

Lunch: Cobb salad (lettuce, tomato, cucumber, avocado, diced natural turkey deli meat, chopped bacon, olive oil and vinegar)

Dinner: Bison steak, steamed or pan fried brussel sprouts and carrots

Snack: Nuts

That’s all he wrote! Enjoy.

Paleo diet meal plan, Part 1

Four months?! Yes, it really has been that long since my last blog post. I blame 60-hour work weeks, moving to a new house, and numerous other excuses that can be drawn from what was probably the most chaotic year of my life. But here we are in 2011 and I’m all riled up and ready to go, by Crom.

One thing I seem to be asked repeatedly is “what should I eat?” Paleo is about as straightforward as you can get — meat, vegetables, fruit — but the shift can be a drastic and confusing one if you’re used to eating a lot of filler and convenience foods. So I’m setting aside my Conan graphic novels, forbidding myself from playing Settlers all weekend, and am finally writing out an honest to goodness meal plan (which will actually appear in Part 2 of this post).

The plan spans two weeks but is intended as a framework that can be extended indefinitely with easy variations of ingredients. Likewise, you won’t find any award-winning recipes here, only simple delicious foods that will fill you up and make you feel and look great. Preparing every meal can be a lot of work, but if you have the wherewithal to transform some of these items into fancier fare, more power to you (just make sure you share the recipes with me). What you will see a lot of are leftovers. I highly recommend preparing large quantities of food whenever possible. If your main dishes can span two or three meals, you’ve just saved some precious hours that can be better spent at the gym, writing obnoxious blog posts, or looking at cute animals online.

Tips & Tricks

Before detailing the actual meal plan, I’d like to lay out a few ingredient basics that will help you prepare your food paleo style, as well as vary them in the weeks and months that follow.

Cooking oil

Olive oil for low heat applications, and coconut oil for medium to high heat. Coconut oil contains beneficial lauric acid and is also a medium chain fatty acid, meaning its quickly metabolized by the liver and made available as energy, rather than being stored as fat. Amazing stuff, really.

I recommend against using canola oil, due to the heinous amount of processing involved in transforming rapeseed into something “edible.”

Salad dressing

I have two favorites, both of which are dead easy.

The first is extra virgin olive oil and apple cider vinegar or lemon. If you want to spice it up, add a bit of black pepper and oregano, or whatever other herbs turn your crank.

The second is a tahini based dressing, which consists of 3-4 tbsp tahini, one squeezed lemon, 2 tsp olive oil, 2 cloves crushed garlic, and enough water to reach your desired consistency. I can eat the shit out of this stuff. Put it on anything: salad, fish, burgers. Yummy.

Herbs & Spices

Its amazing the things you learn once you stop “flavoring” everything with salt. Here’s a quick list of my favorite herbs & spices according to meat type. I use mostly powdered herbs for convenience, except for dill and parsley which are cheap to buy and so much better fresh. If you do crave a bit more saltiness in your food, use onion powder. Its especially great on burgers.

Fish: dill, parsley, coriander, crushed red pepper flakes, black pepper

Red meat: thyme, black pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, basil

Poultry: cayenne, coriander, rosemary, cloves, ginger, cumin

Supplementation

The other side of my meal plan is supplementation. A little googling goes a long way in this regard, but like the food I eat, I stick to basics. I’ve linked to a few products that I use below which I’ve found to be beneficial while also being free of gluten, yeast, and various other rubbish. Disclaimer: ask your doctor first, look both ways before crossing the street, don’t stick your appendages in electrical sockets, etc etc

Vitamin D

Living in Canada, I don’t get nearly enough sun, particularly in the winter. Medical research is increasingly pointing to Vitamin D as an essential factor in everything from immune system response to healthy cell replication. I take 2000iu/day NOW brand D3.

Omega 3s

By now, everyone should be aware of the benefits of Omega 3s, particularly in brain function, heart health, and metabolism. Modern diets have an exceptionally high ratio of pro-inflammatory Omega 6 to Omega 3, as a result of over-consumption of refined vegetable oils, grain-fed meat, etc. Achieving an even ratio of Omega 3 to 6 is challenging even as a strict paleo eater (and my cashew addiction doesn’t help matters), so I take 2 grams/day Genuine Health brand Omega 3.

Multis

I’m still on the fence about the shotgun approach of multivitamins, particularly their Vitamin A content, which is so readily available in vegetables and eggs, as well as over supplementation of zinc without a corresponding copper balance. As it stands, I take a 2/3 daily dose of Prairie Natural Iron-Free Multis. If I didn’t have such an intensive workout regime, I’d probably drop them altogether. I also take a gram of AOR brand Vitamin C post-workout, as intense workouts can temporarily suppress immune function.

In the next post: the meal plan! (And no more preamble. Really.)

The Paleo Diet and Multiple Sclerosis

Its hard to believe that a month has passed since my last post! I blame 80-hour work weeks and True Blood. Safari 5 crashing constantly certainly doesn’t help. &^#$ you, internet!

Anyway. Having recently picked up Robb Wolf’s much anticipated book, The Paleo Solution (TPS), I was finally inspired to write about the correlation between diet and multiple sclerosis. Its an especially pertinent topic for me as I have a family member with MS, so my caveman zealotry is more than just 6-pack deep.

In addition to applying the science of paleo to fitness and general health, TPS discusses the connection between neolithic foods (particularly grains, legumes, and dairy) and autoimmune diseases. Rather than rehashing, and potentially misrepresenting, the heavy science behind it all, I’ll quote a choice paragraph from TPS below. When I read this, I actually had to put the book down and say “woah” — or something approximating woah. It discusses molecular mimicry and how lectins confuse the body into attacking itself.

As you recall, proteins are made of molecules called amino acids (AA). Let’s imagine for a minute these amino acids are represented by Legos, with different shapes and colors denoting different amino acids. Imagine a string of Legos with a specific sequence; let’s say its five to ten Legos long. Now imagine another, identical set of Legos attached on top of many more Legos. The top five to ten of the long piece is identical to the short piece. Let’s assume the short piece is WGA [a wheat lectin] and the long piece is a protein in the beta cells of your pancreas where insulin is made. If the WGA is attacked by the immune system and an antibody is made against it (because the body thinks WGA is a bacteria or virus), that antibody will not only attach to WGA, it can also attach to the protein in your pancreas. When that WGA antibody attaches to your pancreas, it precipitates a wholesale immune response — attacking that tissue. Your pancreas is damaged, or destroyed, and you become type 1 diabetic. If that protein happened to be in the myelin sheath of your brain, you would develop multiple sclerosis.

I also recently discovered an enlightening 7-part video series on paleo & MS via Direct MS, presented by the author of the original Paleo Diet book, Dr. Loren Cordain. Parts 1 through 3 mostly cover the background and philosophy of the paleo diet. Parts 4 through 6 discuss lectins, leaky gut, systemic inflammation, and how it all comes together into one great shitstorm. The final part mostly talks about dairy and its contribution to MS.

Though there’s a ton of science here, its presented in a remarkably easy to understand fashion. If you or someone you know has MS, or if you just want some insight into why paleo heads like me proselytize so much, spend and hour and watch them. Until next time…

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7

The Professional: Bench press

There comes a time in every meathead’s journey where he must step back for a moment and ask himself: “does my form suck?”

I’ve been working out hard for a while now, read plenty of books, watched a plethora of YouTube vids and more powerlifting documentaries than you thought existed thanks to my gym-crazed girlfriend. But humans — even muscly ones — are creatures of habit and its easy to get accustomed to suboptimal technique.

Of the major lifts, my weakest has always been the bench. While I’ve hit over 3 plates on the deadlift, I still struggle for 2 on the bench. The frustrating part is that I can have great lifts and awful lifts within the same workout, meaning form is more of an issue here than brute strength.

Fortunately, I work out at a gym peopled by a good number of experts and professional Riddle solvers. One of these guys is 29-year-old David Breker: trainer,  powerlifter, and all around nice guy. Check out that smile.

This year he won the 220 lb class and the overall at the GPC Canadian National Powerlifting meet and the Bruce Greig memorial in the raw category. With an unsuited bench PR of 455 pounds, this was the guy I needed to see, so I booked a session for the week off following my last AGBC cycle.

The first thing I learned was that I should be benching like a powerlifter. “No shit”, you’re saying to yourself, but let me clarify. Casual worker outers tend to bench in an inefficient but sensible enough-looking fashion: flat shoulders, flat back, flat feet. This can do the trick at light to moderate weight, but as the weight goes up (if the weight goes up) injury is more likely, particularly in the shoulder joints from over extension. The reasons most of us don’t use powerlifter techniques are:

  1. No one told us to.
  2. It’s complicated.
  3. We’re not worthy.

Change is a comin’.

The Warm Up

I learned very quickly that flexibility is paramount in achieving proper form, particularly in the shoulders, lower back, and quads. I started with some windmills, holding a band taut as I rotated my arms back and forth, keeping them straight at all times. If you’re flexible enough, you can do this with a broomstick or the like. Do it for a few minutes and you’ll get a nice, agonizing burn. I then lay on my back, knees bent at a 45 degree angle, then rotated them from side to side while keeping my feet together to limber up the low back. If you have a foam roller, give your quads and low back a spin too.

Technique

So why bother? Because it works. The idea behind a powerlift bench is to recruit power from the entire body — shoulders, back, and legs — and to mitigate the potential for injury by keeping the movement short and tight. Dave gave me a great checklist to go over every time I bench. It seems lengthy, but quickly became second nature. Flexibility was the largest limiting factor.

  • Keep the shoulder blades tight together and pulled down and away from the ears during the entire lift
  • Arch your back and bring your feet underneath you to emphasize the arch
  • Drive your heels to create tightness
  • Never lift your butt off the bench
  • Take a large breath of air into your stomach and hold it for the entire lift
  • Grip the bar tight and try to pull it apart
  • Bring the bar low on your chest
  • Watch the bar the entire time
  • TUCK YOUR ELBOWS!

And that’s it. Easy right? Not at first, but there are some things you can do that help lock in proper form. First of all, if there are yoga mats or the like at your gym, lay one down on the bench. Instability is killer on the bench and a high friction surface will do wonders to keep you planted. Next, lay down on the bench with your butt and feet where they’re going to stay, but your head and shoulders hanging off the top. Once in this position, grab the bar with an underhand grip, arch your back, and compress yourself like an accordion until your eyes are under the bar. At this point, you should be ready to go with a nicely arched back and shoulders pulled back and down.

Assistance Exercises

In addition to doing your actual bench properly, its essential to strengthen your supporting muscles. In my case, Dave pointed out weakness in the traps and rear delts, and general shoulder mobility issues, emphasizing that power on the bench comes from the muscles I can’t see in the mirror. He detailed four key assistance exercises I can do after my core lifts on chest days. The rows are best suited to lower reps with heavier weights, while the others should be repeated in sets of 8 to 15. Word of warning: the bands look harmless, but they’re the spawn of Satan — be ready for the burn.

Cherry picker row

This is essentially a mild angle bent over row. Pull the bar towards your belly, following the angle of your upper legs and pulling the shoulders together at the top of the movement.

V-Bands

Loop a band around a cage or whatever is handy, wrists wresting on the grips rather than holding them. Pull your shoulders down and back.

Y-Bands

Again, loop a band around something, but this time grip the bands and pull your shoulders up and back, forming a Y with your arms.

Rear delt flies

Position yourself face down on an incline bench, feet planted. Grab two dumb bells parallel to the ground, then pull your shoulders and arms back.

Stretching

Stretch! I say this with emphasis because I used to be horrible with excuses at the end of a workout, but it must not be skipped. You just worked the hell out of your body and if you don’t maintain your flexibility, your lifts will suffer and you’re more likely to hurt yourself. In addition to repeating some of the warm up movements, do whatever stretches you think you need to do to restore mobility now that your blood is flowing. My favourites are long child poses for my shoulders and laying over a swiss ball for the low back.

Conclusion

Well worth it. I also have a great deal more respect for the bench press in general, which has proved to be even more technical in my opinion than the deadlift. In all, the technique feels solid and doable, though flexibility is a work in progress — who knew my quads could hurt so much from doing a “chest exercise.” The timing has also been good, as I’ve just started a 5/3/1 strength program with the boys so proper form is key.

Next time you have a week off or feel like your form’s not quite right, ask yourself if you could benefit from professional advice. Odds are yes.

Up next: does my deadlift form suck?

Paleo diet 18 month review

I’ve been doing the caveman thing for about a year and a half now and figure its time to post a summary of my results. I hope this review proves useful both to folks who have already started down the path, and those looking for new ways of losing weight, and improving their health and physical performance.

What the hell is paleo?

Wikipedia has a pretty good summary:

[The Paleo diet] is a nutritional plan based on the presumed ancient diet of wild plants and animals that various human species habitually consumed during the Paleolithic—a period of about 2.5 million years duration that ended around 10,000 years ago with the development of agriculture. The idea is that the human digestive tract is better suited to foods acquired via a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, rather than the products of agriculture and mass production. 

Pretty heavy ideology for a diet, but it all comes down to eating unprocessed, nutrient-dense foods. Here’s a great summary from the official Paleo Diet FAQ:

[Paleo diet] foods (fresh fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and seafood) are high in beneficial nutrients (soluble fiber, antioxidant vitamins, phytochemicals, omega-3 and monounsaturated fats, and low-glycemic carbohydrates) that promote good health. [The diet is] low in foods and nutrients (refined sugars and grains, saturated and trans fats, salt, high-glycemic carbohydrates, and processed foods) that frequently may cause weight gain, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and numerous other health problems. The Paleo Diet encourages dieters to replace dairy and grain products with fresh fruits and vegetables — foods that are more nutritious than whole grains or dairy products.

Like many schools of thought, paleo has branched out since its inception. Some folks have reintroduced dairy (particularly butter) into their diets, while others have accepted previously verboten starchy tubers such as sweet potatoes for post-workout recovery. An increasing number of people have embraced saturated fats from foods like avocado and coconut; that’s about where I slot in. 

Ultimately, it all comes down to eating whole foods for good health and fat loss. Many would argue that that they can lose weight on calorie restricted diets without giving up their grains, and this is true — calories in, calories out. Two considerations are:

  1. Is calorie counting sustainable in the long term? I love stuffing my face, and can’t imagine anything more tiresome than weighing and measuring everything I put in there.
  2. What about other health factors beyond simple weight loss? The consumption of gluten in particular has been linked to everything from simple acne and GI irritation to autoimmune diseases. I’ve posted some links below that go into greater detail on this subject. If you’ve got the time and patience, I highly recommend Robb Wolf’s super dense Paleolithic Solution podcasts.

Websites

Books

Was it hard?

Change is hard — usually. Sometimes it just takes a little longer to realize completely. I was raised on an old world mediterranean diet, so I feel like I’ve always been conscious of eating healthy. But it doesn’t take fast food to make you fat. Even with a foundation in real food, I managed to stay plump through most of my adult years. The lowest low was a misguided decade of vegetarianism — I’m pretty sure I’m still working some of that tofu out of boobs.

Inklings of change came about five years ago, when I started reducing bread and dairy due to food sensitivities (skin problems, mostly) and a pre-paleo awareness that they were probably contributing to my general fatness. But it wasn’t until 2009, when my dear friend and workout buddy Mark lent me The Paleo Diet, by Loren Cordain, that I took a pivotal step forward.

I resisted at first, because the very idea of dieting seemed stupid — it couldn’t possibly work. As it turned out, eating paleo came remarkably easy and nicely complimented the New Rules of Lifting, which I still follow. I was rapidly eating more vegetables than I ever ate as a vegetarian, which in turn made it easier to cut filler foods. Even eliminating salt was markedly easier than I thought possible. I was the guy who’d power through all the pretzels in a bag just to get to that pool of crystalline wonder at the bottom, moistened fingers at the ready. Now salty food tastes completely unpalatable.

So that was 2009. I started looking less like a B and more like a V, but I wasn’t completely ready. The paleo diet traditionally suggests 1 to 3 cheat meals a week, and I was stuck on the latter. I’d still go for sushi every week, eat a tray of gluten-free cookies for dinner every once in a while, and pound back a healthy number of martinis (vodka has no calories right?) for my friends’ regular Daisy of Love nights. (Seriously, best show ever. Really. No, really.) Consequently, though I gained a ton of strength and saw changes in overall body composition, I ended the year at a still chubby 185 lbs and about 20% bodyfat.

Enter January of this year and my first new year’s resolution ever: by Crom, I was getting ripped! Surprisingly, it didn’t take much more effort, just a mental shift. Through January, I allowed myself only two cheats (sushi and gluten free pancakes). I kept up most of this strictness through February and have relaxed somewhat in the months since, though I find that my metabolism is so even now that I rarely crave off-brand foods. The result is me being in the best shape I’ve ever been in, which I’ll detail in Results below.

So what did I learn from all of this? 

  • Strict induction periods are hard but worth it. Carve yourself out a couple weeks of time, stuff your fridge with groceries, and go hard. Long term adherence will be much easier as a result.
  • Establish quantifiable measures to keep your progress moving forward. Get evidence that you can put on your dekstop background, stick to your forehead, or whatever it takes to realize that yes, you’re making progress, or no, you’ve been eating too many cheats. For the love of God, take before and after pictures! I didn’t and regret it to this day. And get regular bodyfat measurements — there’s nothing more satisfying than watching that number drop.

Food plan

So, paleo is an unmeasured, unweighed method of eating that ends up being lower in calories by skipping the filler. That being said, it might be helpful for some to get an idea of caloric intake from a typical day. According to the Internet, my BMR (35, male, 5’11”, 165 lbs) is about 1760 calories. Also, according to the Internet, if I am “very active”, such as on a gym day I suppose, I need just under 3000 calories.

The following numbers aren’t exact, but the cloest approximations I could make based on labels, specs at nutritiondata.com, and the websites of my local farms.

Breakfast (512 calories, 47g protein, 0g carb, 33g fat)

  • 4 oz elk sirloin (cooked in 2 tsp olive oil)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 avocado

Early snack (670 calories, 20.5g protein, 44g carbs, 51g fat)

  • 1/2 salad*
  • Handful mixed nuts (cashews, almonds, walnuts)**

Post-workout shake (350 calories, 31g protein, 27g carbs, 0.5g fat)

  • 1/2 cup hemp protein powder
  • 1 cup berries
  • green tea

Lunch (401 calories, 36.5g protein,  25g carbs, 19g fat)

  • Mahi mahi fillet (cooked in 2 tsp olive oil)
  • 1/2 salad*

Dinner (534 calories, 68g protein, 18.5g carbs, 20.5g fat)

  • 250 gram turkey breast (cooked in 2 tsp olive oil)
  • 2 cups steamed broccoli
  • 2 squares (20g) 85% dark chocolate

Late snack (234 calories, 31g protein, 22g carbs, 3g fat)

  • Snack sizes turkey breast
  • 1 cup blueberries

DAILY TOTAL: 

2701 calories
234 grams protein
136.5 grams carbs
127 grams fat

* Salad consists of: 3 carrots, 3 radishes, 100 grams spinach, half cucumber, 1 red pepper, 1 yellow pepper, 1 tsbp olive oil, 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar.

** Nuts are my weakness, something I’ll go into more detail about a bit later.

This is the first time I’ve done an exercise like this, and to what end? Well, apparently I’d be in a calorie deficit on gym days and a pretty large calorie excess on non-workout days, even without the shake. I suspect that traditional BMR calculators might be as useful as the food pyramid (i.e. not very). Would love some feedback on this.

Cost

So how much does all this healthiness cost you? My girlfriend and I tracked our expenditures over a few months and came up with an average of about $600/month each, which includes food, basic vitamins (multis, Omega 3s, and Vitmain D), and post-workout nutrition (hemp protein powder). Now this may seem like a lot, but almost everything we buy is grass-fed if its a critter, or organic if it came out of the ground. This adds expense but ensures we’re getting the best nutritional density that we can, while avoiding as much chemical detritus as possible.

The other consideration that must be made is money saved as a result of lifestyle changes. Last year, in a typical week I’d treat myself to sushi ($25), maybe a breakfast out ($15), and then there’s the alcohol (I better not estimate this one in case my mom is reading). $100/week easy. We rarely eat out anymore and while I’ll still have the occasional drink, its a pittance compared to my lushy days of yesteryear. At worst, I’m breaking even while eating a thousand times better.

Results

Is this rambling epic going anywhere? Yes, finally. So what has all of this done for me? Here are a couple of photos. As I mentioned previously, I didn’t have sense enough to do a proper before photo and I regret it to this day. Seeing as I never plan on getting fat again, I will have to be satisfied with fragmented memories of man boobs and juicy love handles.


Before, circa 2008. That’s me on the left. This photo is especially significant because it also shows my girlfriend Frances, in the middle, and my friend Mark on the right. We’ve all gone paleo and seen drastic changes. Keep an eye out for a future blog post that’ll show where they’re at now.


And here’s me last week, being a dork in the woods. Not there yet, but progress for sure.

I also started measuring bodyfat in February of this year. I was about 190 lbs at the beginning of 2009 and God knows what bodyfat. At the beginning of 2010 I was 184 lbs and I’d guess 20% bodyfat.

So that makes for 20 pounds lost and about a 10% reduction in body fat (based on a starting estimate of 20%) this year alone. But wait just a minute! What’s going on in the that last month? The 0.2% increase in body fat can be attributed to margin of error in the caliper measurements, but it doesn’t change the fact that this is the first time in 7 months that my bodyfat hasn’t shown improvement.

One possible explanation is that I had just completed two months of strength training not specifically focused on fat loss. But its more likely that I’ve finally reached that dreaded “the last 10% is 90% of the work” point. I knew it would come but had hoped it would wait until I was at 10%. I may add some HIIT (high intensity interval training) and I should probably also cut back on the nuts; tasty they may be, but when a handful rings in at a jaw dropping 500 calories, its very easy to derail yourself (not that I’m counting calories or anything…) I’m also in the process of tweaking my post-workout nutrition. I’ll post an update in the future to show what worked and what didn’t.

So, I’m not at my goal yet. Perhaps a better question to ask is: am I happy? Self-loathing has been a key motivator in my self-improvement, so I’m hesitant to just switch over and acknowledge what I’ve accomplished thus far, despite the insistence of virtually everyone around me (especially my girlfriend). But happiness will arrive in due time. Maybe after another 2%… :)

On paper

So what about all that meat and eggs? Doesn’t it give you high cholesterol? In addition to tracking visible changes, I like to keep up regular physicals to see what’s happening under the hood. I sat down with my family doctor today to go over the results. He’s a great guy who’s always entertained by my bloodwork — specifically, neither he nor his colleague of 20 years have ever seen triglyceride levels (generally associated with heart disease and stroke) as low as mine.

I’ll post a few details for the scientifically disposed:

  • Triglycerides: 0.34 mmol/L
    Reference range: 0.6-2.3
  • Total Cholesterol Ratio: 2.3
    Reference range: < 4.0 for high risk, < 5.0 for medium risk, < 6.0 for low risk

So I blew that out of the water. All other results were good. We referred to bloodwork from fall of last year and the numbers were very similar, the only notable differences from this year being slightly higher good cholesterol and a whopping B12 measurement of 822 pmol/L (reference range: 155-700). Thank you bison, and thank you elk, for your noble sacrifices.

Everyday improvements

This is where I’ll sound like a snake oil salesman, but I swear by Xenu that I have tried to keep hyperbole to a minimum. The point of this journey has been to learn, to get healthy, and to get lean. If I wasn’t happy with the results, I’d say as much. So I present to you my lengthy list of observable improvements that I believe are attributable to the diet.

  • Better sleep. And thank God for that. Its still not the sleep of the dead, but in the last few months particularly I’ve actually been able to sleep through the night. A few years ago, I was diagnosed with sleep apnea, which confused my doctor seeing as I wasn’t a 50 year old obese alcoholic. He suggested that my airways might have been obstructed as a result of reflux, which no longer exists.
  • Better mood. This really presented itself after quitting my job last November. What had been planned as a 1 month sabbatical from The Man dragged out into 4, bringing all kinds of financial stressors. But I handled it and moved forward. I can safely say that it takes a lot to get me riled nowadays (notably Glee and Intervention).
  • Better skin. I never had an issue with facial acne, but for most of the last fifteen years I was prone to breakouts on my scalp and chest. I eventually narrowed it down to a dietary reaction from gluten and dairy. I still get the occasional irritation on my scalp but its minor by comparison, and I’m hoping it will eventually subside altogether. I’ve also been told by people I haven’t seen in a while that my “skin is glowing.” Maybe all those marathon sessions of Fallout 3.
  • Better poops. Yep, sorry to my friends who are reading this and thought they could retain any kind of personal boundary, but I love my poops. Every morning like clockwork, about 30 to 45 minutes after I get up. I should note that I suffered from intermittent constipation in the first month of strict paleo, but once my body adapted all was well.
  • Better digestion. This is a given, but still worth mentioning. I almost never get bloated. Even at the end of the day my stomach remains relatively flat. I used to suffer from intermittent bouts of heartburn and a sensation of something always being stuck in my throat. These are also gone.
  • Better workout recovery. As recently as last year, I was visiting my massage therapist every two weeks to deal with chronically tight muscles. So far this year I’ve only been 3 times. Part of this is likely muscular adaptation to hard workouts, but I’m certain that a reduction in inflammatory foods has contributed.
  • Size 31 waist!
  • Lastly, I’ve just learned a lot. Many thanks to all those working so hard to get the word out into the mainstream, and for educating us pleebs on why stuff does what it does. To Mr. Wolf I send a special thank you: your podcasts have made my otherwise mind-numbing road trips to Edmonton endurable.

Conclusion

The paleo diet is one of the best things I’ve ever done. I look better, feel better, am better on paper (+2 Constitution at least), and have more capacity at the gym than ever before. I have several friends on the diet as well as my girlfriend, and they’ve all seen equally spectacular results. Calling it a “diet” seems silly, as I’m confident it will be my lifelong nutritional plan. I still have work to do to reach my goals but with a little support, a few tweaks here and there, and going heavy at the gym, I know I can do it. Onward!

Deadlift: exercise of champions

Last weekend I had the pleasure of spectating at the King of Kensington, an annual strongman competition held by the fine folks at my local gym as part of our Sun & Salsa street festival. Among the events were a truck pull, log press, and the classic of classics: a deadlift competition. By the end of it I had witnessed a man lift a bowel-rupturing (not literally, thank God) 700 pounds. And that’s when the guilt set in.

I’m on week 3 of an AGBC fat loss cycle and was secretly relieved to have a break from deadlifts. Its an exercise I’ve made great strides with (just over 3 plates, or 325 lbs), but its also damn hard. But watching that guy lift 700 pounds made me anxious for the end of AGBC and the beginning of another strength cycle (New Rules, Strength 3), when I could again attempt to solve the riddle of steel. When Morley Flood — owner of my gym, organizer of King of Kensington, and best named strongman ever — told me there might be a light weight class in the competition next year, I got even more excited. Four plates here I come!  

So other than looking awesome and exciting little children and muscleheads, what makes deadlifts so great? As an exercise that works almost every muscle in your body, no other single lift is as important for building total body strength. Whether you’re male or female; into powerlifting, improved sports performance, or looking sexy; or if you just want to be able to lift your kids up off the ground without groaning like a 150 year old, do some deadlifts.

The key is to do them properly, which can certainly be difficult if you’ve never done them before. Rounding of the back in particular can be a dangerous offense. I’ve personally tweaked my Quadratus Lumborum (QL) a couple times when not paying as close attention as I should (laundry, its always laundry) during a heavy set. The internet is replete with articles on proper technique, but I’m keen on this Rippetoe video which demonstrates the steps as clearly as possible without all the confusing verbiage. Its all about the hips, baby.

So get out there and give it a shot. If you can, find a trainer, employee, or helpful musclehead at your gym and have them watch your form until you get it right. Your bicep workout can wait until Saturday night.

Elk stew

There’s a reason why protein means “of the first importance”: its important! Eat a lot and your well-nourished muscles will sing like Samson as you bench that new PR. Eat too little and you’ll damn yourself to a sallow level of hell reserved for vegans and Eliza Dushku.

The challenge is finding good meat (pasture-raised, hold the corn). Fortunately, living in Alberta means easy access to farmers who raise their stock the way they should: on grass, without chemicals. Last year I was on the bison train, which is generally superior to conventional beef: higher protein, iron, B12; lower calories, fat, and cholesterol. This year I’m hooked on elk, thanks to some great deals from the folk at Wapiti Ways. The taste is very similar, with a slightly saltier finish.

Which brings me to this delicious stew and my first recipe on the blog. Its a simple one, but useful. Eating paleo can be a pain in the ass on account of having to prepare virtually every meal. Big batch recipes like stew are helpful, as you can throw a ton of stuff into one pot then freeze individual portions for the week. Note: even though I’m using our velvety friends in this recipe, you can substitute with any red meat. Just try and stay away from anything that’s fed breakfast cereal.

Here are the main ingredients:

  • 3 lbs cubed stewing meat
  • 10 carrots
  • 2 onions
  • 1 celery heart
  • 1 bulb garlic
  • 1 small can tomato paste (I use Unico 156ml)
  • 1 liter low sodium vegetable or chicken broth (Imagine has great organic broth)
  • spices (black pepper, thyme, rosemary, cayenne)
  • olive oil

Preheat oven to 325 and stovetop to medium/high. You’ll need a deep pan (2 or 3 inches)  with a cover that’s oven safe.

Cook meat uncovered in olive oil only until browned. Add generous spices (except for cayenne; a teaspoon should suffice). Reduce temperature to medium and add vegetables, diced large. If there’s room in the pan, you can go for a little caramelization, but most of the cooking will happen in the oven anyway. Mix tomato paste into the broth, add to pan and stir well before transferring to the oven.

Cook covered in the oven for 1 hour at 325, then reduce temperature to 225 and cook for another 2 hours. I’m a chronic stirrer so I like to take things out for an occasional looksee, but its probably unnecessary. If the stew seems too watery with an hour to go, partially tip the lid so that it can reduce. You’ll know its done when the sauce is nice and thick, and the meat is as tender as Oprah’s belly.

Voila, serve and enjoy. Or don’t — like most stews, it tastes even better after an evening in the fridge. This particular batch cost around $40 to make with all organic meat and vegetables, and provides 8 goodly sized servings. Not bad for nutritious and delicious. At some point in the future, I’ll try to get specific nutritional data from my elk man and will update this post with a complete breakdown. In the meantime, eat and be well.

New wordmark!

  • Thanks to Sheldon for making the logo look less like ass.