So, you are really trying to get yourself in shape. You are lifting heavy things, trying to eat properly and now you, or maybe your whole gym, are about to embark on a 30-day paleo (or primal) challenge.
Good for you. Good luck. I am not focused on you today, though.
Instead, I am taking several steps back and centering my thoughts on the more, er, nutritionally remedial amongst you.
You are the person who is utterly convinced that while paleo/primal sounds like a great idea on paper, it is clearly not for you. Not right now. The thought of, tomorrow, giving up *all* the bad stuff, particularly all grains, sounds like it will be as unsuccessful as every other "diet" out there has ever been for you. It also just sounds, well, awful -- like the "no fun" police have suddenly taken over your life.
So you have a question: "Um, Mr. Paleo Drummer, sir, can I, um, half-ass this paleo/primal thing?"
Instead of the answer you expect -- a nasty and/or sarcastic "No" delivered with a heaping helping of phrases (that I, by the way, truly believe in) like "60% paleo is not paleo at all," and perhaps even a side order of derisive laughter -- I say:
"Um, yeah, sort of. But it depends on whether you have big goals or whether you are satisfied with half-assing it."
Let me explain....
See, I know what it's like. I used to be one of you.
Just a few years ago, I was, to use a technical term, all fucked up. And get this.... I didn't even know it for the longest while.
I was eating a mostly vegetarian-plus-fish diet that was low in fat, heavy on "whole" grains, nearly absent of any animal protein, and, when animal protein was in there, it was always in some pathetic, nutritionally deficient form like factory-raised skinless chicken breasts or skim milk.
I thought I was healthy. But my numbers -- like the ones you get from blood tests at a physical -- were not so hot. Strangely, they were just okay enough -- like barely in the allowable range -- that my doctor was cheering me on. "Whole grains! Vegetarianism! Yay!" he would say. (To be fair, he probably wasn't *that* goofy about it, but he *was* enthusiastic). But my HDL sucked, about 43, and my triglycerides were pushing, but not quite at, 150, and my fasting blood sugar was 97, just under pre-diabetic.
More importantly, I was always hungry or eating. A day would go something like: go to gym and do a lot of running followed by maybe a little weight stuff, but never with a barbell, always on a machine; cereal for breakfast; starving by 10 am so a grainy snack like a Clif Bar; starving by 11:45 so two sandwiches for lunch of PB and J or turkey (low fat! whole grains!); starving by 2:30 so another Clif Bar; starving by 5:30 so another grainy snack, and then dinner of pasta/fish/veggies. Pizza was eaten in enormous quantities for dinner at least once a week.
And I was such a raging a-hole when I was hungry too. Once I would start to feel hungry, I had about ten minutes to eat something to take the edge off or I would get uncontrollably mean/nasty. (I learned later this was the result of insulin spikes and crashes).
But I just thought this was what happened. I wondered why I exercised so much and still had low HDL and high-"normal" triglycerides. But I never did anything about it because the doc was cheering me on and -- and here is the catch -- the first time they ran a blood-sugar test was when I was 46 years old.
The high-"normal" blood-sugar number of 97 caught my attention like nothing else had previously. I had (overweight) friends with diabetes -- one who then just recently died from it -- and, even though my own physician and a doctor pal at my then globo gym told me 97 was "perfectly normal," the logic of that phrase puzzled me when I knew that only three little points higher equaled "pre-diabetic."
I (moderately) freaked out. I read up on diabetes. This transformed the moderate freakout into something heavier. Trust me on this: you don't want to be diabetic. So I decided to cut my carb intake and start taking fish oil.
That was almost four years ago.
Progress/effort was slow, but here's the thing: I was never satisfied with moderate success. "Cutting my carb intake" began with what, in retrospect, seems like a ludicrously tiny step: cutting out most pasta from my life and turning those two lunchtime sandwiches into two open-face sandwiches (half the bread). I lost a little weight and I noticed that the crazy hungries were no longer completely ruling my life. Oh, they were still there, but not all the time.
So, I ditched the bread in the sandwiches entirely -- started putting all the meat, etc in baggies instead. PB and J? No more. And I noticed that despite having no bread, I was getting just as full and, get this, *staying* full for longer.
And, in 2009, when I had my age-47 physical, the combo of the low(er) carb eating and the fish oil dropped the ugly numbers a bit. No increase in HDL yet, though.
Cool, but I wasn't satisfied (are you catching a repeating theme yet? I knew you would).
So I cut more grains, even tried to cut back on the beloved beer elixir, and, when I joined CrossFit Aspire in 2010, I started reading up on nutrition. The Zone diet was still hot then, but paleo was the up-and-comer. I tried the 40/30/30 ratios of carb/fat/protein of the Zone for a couple months, learned what "blocks" are (don't worry about it...) and saw a little more progress. I also started taking even more fish oil. My physical at age 48 showed a dramatic drop in triglycerides and blood sugar and a small increase in HDL.
So I kept going, looking for the next step. Never being satisfied until you reach a goal.
And then I found paleo. And I am not going to drag you through my paleo journey blow by blow, but it started slow in 2010, and it progressed to the point where I don't ever eat gluten anymore. Beer is not a part of my life. I nearly worship the full feeling that adequate dietary fat gives me. My wife has ditched 30 years of vegetarianism to go paleo and is beating an autoimmune disease while simultaneously flat-out killing it in the gym. We eat tons of grassfed meat, have a share in a local organic farm CSA and try to buy most of our beef from Philly Cowshare. My HDL is nearly 70, my triglycerides 46 and my blood sugar 87. I am 30 pounds lighter than I was in 2009. My insulin management is pretty damn good for a guy who used to spike and crash multiple times a day, and I (nearly) no longer ever have symptoms of Raynaud's, which is all about insulin regulation.
And we still aren't fully satisfied, having just recently made the jump from fish oil to Green Pasture fermented cod-liver-oil/butter-oil capsules that should have "PR" stamped on them considering how many PRs my wife and I have gotten in the gym lately.
So this is the point of all this interminable yapping: yes, you can half-ass paleo, but only if your half-assing is part of a determined plan to make progress and not to stop until you have reached the goal of being fully paleo (or primal... Grassfed dairy is a debate for another time).
Don't say things like, "I am 60% paleo." That is complete bullshit. You are not paleo in any meaningful sense at all if 40% of your caloric intake is from non-paleo sources. But -- and this is critical -- it is okay if you happen to be at that 60/40 balance right this minute. Just make it better. Make it better every freaking day until you get to that point where gluten is gone, legumes are gone, processed vegetable/seed oils are gone and your meals -- all your meals -- consist of animal protein, veggies and a good fat. This can be a slow process if that's what you need to reach your goal. But always strive toward that goal by getting a little stricter, a little closer to where you ought to be.
And *then* do a 30-day challenge. And then stick with it. You have no idea how awesome you can feel if you get all that crap out of your diet. Actually, you probably *do* have an idea. Go make that idea happen, always progressing, always moving forward.
And then, one day, you can be satisfied (almost, anyway).
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