Monday, August 26, 2013

The Primal Blueprint

The Primal Blueprint
By Mark Sisson

I admit it, I've always thought of myself as being in pretty reasonable shape and I have all sorts of reasons to make that assumption.

I'm a very active person. I've been a regular swimmer since college and have become an avid runner in my thirties. I do a fair bit of hiking and I prefer walking to cared and motorcycles.

I eat healthy. I haven't eaten at a fast food restaurant since I was a teenager (other than Subway... full disclosure). I avoid processed foods and a good amount of the fresh produce that enters my home is organic.

I have a very low stress life. I work, on average, about 20 hours a week and my job, which pays well and is rarely taxing. The rest of my time is devoted to my family and friends and travel when I can afford it.

I feel pretty blessed that I have attained the age of 38 without having to take any medication. I don't wear glasses and I don't smoke. I get more than enough sun, reasonable amounts of sleep and I try to have fun wherever I m and whatever I am doing. Granted, I do have a weakness for alcohol, particularly beer and red wine, but I'm hardly an alcoholic.

So it can as a shock to me when a could of weeks back my wife showed a photo of me and my mother from when she visited Taiwan a few months back. In the photo, clear as day, was a pot belly. It was not an optical illusion or a sudden gust of wind caught on film but a fully formed and rather round belly. It was like my entire world came crashing down. How could this be? All that running and swimming for nothing? Sure they tell you that your metabolism slows down with age, but I wasn't particularly ready for a gut at age 38.

I immediately hit the scale, something I haven't felt the need to do in years and lo and behold! 78 kilograms. Hardly obese by any measure, but the last time I weighed myself in my early thirties I was holding steady at my typical adult weight of 70kg. Where did this 8 kilos come from? I was mortified and more than a little scared. I mean, I guess I had noticed that my pants were a little tighter, but I just assumed they had shrunk in the wash! There was no way I had gained that much weight.

Sometimes, the truth hurts.

I've never subscribed to a workout system or participated in a structured fitness program or weight loss program. I've always eschewed them in favor of my own brand of fitness: cardio plus sensible eating equals healthy. But I was rattled and impressionable. My co-worker gave me his copy of The Primal Blueprint and told me that he'd gone through something similar. I began to feel like my life was turning into a spam email. I half-expected him to tell me that the book was going to change my life forever, then spew off a bunch of nonsensical keywords.

So here I am, at the insistence of a co-worker, reading and reviewing, The Primal Blueprint, the sort of book I never thought I'd ever read. A self-help fitness book. And this post is going to sound like an infomercial because, well, let's just get this out of the way: it's working for me (more on that later). The Primal Blueprint hardly a diet or a workout regime. It is an amalgam of anthropology, hard science and common sense. The Primal Blueprint presupposes that, from a human health perspective, the agricultural revolution has been a detriment to humanity and has caused us far more harm than good. The Primal Blueprint is not going to win any literary awards. It is written in the same informal style as Mark Sisson's blog, (but seriously, if you are reading a self-help book and critiquing style and form, you need to reassess your priorities). Where it lacks in style it more than makes up for un substance. And it does have a narrative, of sorts.

At the core of The Primal Blueprint is Grok. Grok is a neolithic hunter gatherer whose life pre-dates the agricultural revolution. Sisson gives us a peak into a typical (though a tad idyllic) day in Grok and his family's life. It is an eye-opening deconstruction of a hunter-gatherer's daily life from sunrise to sunrise. Sisson chronicles every mundane detail of the family's life from what they ate and how often, how they move and how much. How they divide there time and so forth. In the process, he paints a vivid picture of pre-agrarian life and then juxtaposes it with a glimpse into the lives of a typical American family in our times. The differences are striking. It's a real shock to see how Grok and us, two specimens of the same species separated by a mere microsecond in evolutionary history living such vastly difference lives and doing such vastly different things.

That's when Sisson hits you with the kicker. Grok's lifestyle is what drove human evolution for two million years. The agricultural revolution, they domestication of grains for human consumption, occurred roughly 10,000 years ago. Hardly enough time for our bodies to adjust to this new form of sustenance. Add to that the more recent introduction of processed foods and we, as a species of animal, are now sitting two seats over from where we should be seating. We were never build to consume large quantities of carbohydrates. The vast quantities of carbohydrates that exist in the modern diet (in the form of grain: rice, corn, wheat, barley, etc...) is the primary culprit for the increase in obesity and related illnesses. The consumption of carbohydrates spikes our insulin levels for short periods of time. Over the course of a lifetime of consumption, these spikes in insulin lead to all sorts of health problems (obesity being one). The book goes into painstaking detail about how and why this occurs as well as other events happening at a cellular and organic level within our bodies when we ingest and digest our food.

What Sisson is advocating is hardly new. Low-carb diets have been all the rage over the past few years. From the Atkins Diet (which Sisson is quick to distant himself from) to the strict Paleo diet (eat only food that was available to Paleolithic man). But The Primal Blueprint is absolutely not a diet in the sense that we understand it today. It's not designed to help you lose weight (though you will). It's designed to maintain optimum health and vitality through diet and exercise. It's an entire philosophical shift. What's more, unlike virtually every other health plan, it's not designed to deny or test a person's will. Rather it begs the question: What would Grok do? And while the book is comprehensive (it has to be, it needs to convince you), it can all be boiled down to ten points, known as The Ten Primal Blueprint Laws:

1. Eat lots of plants and animals
2. Avoid poisonous things
3. Move frequently at a slow pace.
4. Lift heavy things
5. Sprint once in a while.
6. Get adequate sleep.
7. Play
8. Get adequate sunlight
9. Avoid stupid mistakes
10. Use your brain

Simple, practical stuff, right there.

So, what of me? Well, I've been adhering to the system now for about a month and a half. Granted, my lifestyle prior to The Primal Blueprint gave me a bit of a head start, but it has been ridiculously easy to follow. I have cut out all grains (even rice... in Asia... can you even believe that?) and refined sugars and added a half dozen servins of meat, fruits and vegetables to my daily diet. I have modified my workout schedule to be a bit more low-impact and allow for more time to heal. and I'm proud to say that I have already shed six of the eight kilos I had gained. I'm more alert, less tired and generally feel better than I have in years. My daily aches and pains have all but disappeared (apparently grains are inflammatory) and I don't miss bread rice or pasta at all (never really liked corn, so that was nothing). My wife has also subsequently joined me and in her month on the Blueprint she lost the last of her pregnancy weight with almost no effort. Best of all, we seem to eat like kings in the process.

This system is, obviously, not for everyone, but from what I read and experienced, it makes a whole ton of sense and it has been working. I apologize for the infomercial-ness of this blogpost. I promise, I will not give you an 800 number to call or offer you a free set of steak knives if you comment on this post in the next hour, but I do urge you to look into Sisson's program. I don't mean to come off as a shill, but the fact that I'm almost the same size as I was when I was 28 says a lot.

I'm totally sold.


Brian Joseph said...

Interesting approach to eating and exercise. I myself am 46. Up until six years ago I was very out of shape and fairly unhealthy. About six years ago I begin eating mostly right and exercising a lot (I will be going out on my 5 AM run in a little while) and I am mostly in shape.

It is great that you have shaped up as result of this program. I would never give up grains (I am really a big advocate of non - processed Carbohydrates) but whatever works has got to be good.

Anonymous said...

You saw a pot belly on your picture? Imagine the shock when you have a little girl whose eyes are at the level of you navel and who asks you "are you pregnant?"

Give us an update in a few months, to see how it goes.

PS: Chick lit books know everything about carbohydrates, these women chase carbs, they're the Big Enemy :-)


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