Updated: May 13, 2018
Does this sound familiar?
When I married gorgeous Kathleen, I was 6' 2" and weighed 190. Within 5 years, between raising a family and running a business, I weighed over 300 pounds.
Over time I tried Fit for Life, Atkins and Weight Watchers. Kathy and I spent long stretches (multiple years each) as vegetarians, then as vegans, then back to ovo-lacto, etc. We even experimented with weight-loss supplements.
Despite temporary success with each, my weight would just creep back up.
I managed to fight it down, over many years, to about 275. A combination of excercise and sudden illness, during a Biggest Loser stint, got me close to 260-for a few weeks.
In 2015 I dumped diets to focus on exercise and "sensible" eating (heavy on salad/veggies, whole grains, modest portions, fewer sweets).
Like many people, I improved my fitness but still did not lose enough weight.
Frustrated, I doubled down, lifting fewer weights and trebling my cardio—often spending over an hour on the treadmill each day, huffing as fast as I could.
I began losing consistently, 1-2 lbs per week…but I was exhausted. I “hit the wall” constantly, and had to time meals and snacks carefully to get through workouts. I fought off daily cravings…or surrendered when I got faint and shaky, gorging on whatever I could find.
20 minutes of snacking often erased a week’s agonizing progress. The high-heart-rate cardio hurt my knees, ankles…even my hips. My sedentary job didn't help...I was slumped over a computer all day, constantly hungry and tired.
Desperate to sweat off the pounds, I overdid the cardio and wound up in the hospital.
The discharge doctor said, "you're doing everything right, just don't go above 80% of your maximum heart rate" on the treadmill. That's it. No other advice.
Conventional "wisdom," conventional results
So I dialled down the cardio to 80%.
I kept eating the “right” things: fruit, vegetables, lean meat, eggs, cottage cheese, whole grain bread, brown or wild rice, tons of quinoa, beans, organic oatmeal and nut butters, expensive protein drinks & bars, vitamins, and moderate beer or wine.
I slowly got stronger, and a bit leaner, but couldn't shake fatigue, cravings, and constant pain.
The sheer effort to time meals, drag my increasingly aching body to the gym, and stifle post-workout cravings seemed monumental…but I couldn’t figure out what else to change.
Life raft floats by: The Whole 30
During the 2015 holidays I noticed The Whole 30 hardcover edition under my stepdaughter's Christmas tree. I thought it was a cookbook. To this day, I dont' know why I picked it up.
The book's simple, direct approach drew me in. I studied it all day--right in the middle of holiday madness. I quickly bought my own copies (electronic and hardcover.)
I grasped the basics and explained them to Kathleen. We decided to jump in on 1/1/2016
See here for details of the The Whole 30, which doesn't tout "paleo" or even low carb. The book emphasizes the health "reset" benefits of eliminating
sugars & sweeteners
most conventional oils
certain food additives
for at least 30 days, and gives a rigorous template for reintroducing these "questionable" or other gray area foods after the elimination phase.
The Whole 30 does not focus on weight loss, although many participants experience this. The authors even recommend NOT tracking pounds or inches.
We had dramatic results, but not what you might think.
Pleny of beef...but where's the BREAD??
We followed all the rules for 30 days, no small feat as many paleo-elimination dieters know. Life without bread (and pasta, beans, cookies, wine etc.) was damned odd-at first.
I did enjoy the permitted foods though, especially grass-fed beef, heritage pork, wild caught fish and all the healthy fats (olive, coconut and avocado oils, clarified butter.) Entree salads became a staple. Avocados enjoyed a renaissance.
We went through the “carb flu” phase. Mine was particularly bad, with occasional splitting headaches besides the traditional brain fog. I kept doing what the book said and finally adjusted. My fog lifted at about day 20.
Kathy was less affected and immediately lost weight. She looked slimmer within 4 weeks, and by day 90 had lost 20 pounds. Her progress spurred her to exercise more, with awesome results.
I ran afoul of the "fill your plate" idea and actually gained about 15 pounds. I developed great energy and completely stopped getting sick...but was confused and disappointed by the extra weight.
Rescue complete: The Primal Blueprint
Looking back, I simply ate too much of all the right things-especially breakfast, which I had skipped for years. White potatoes, permitted by The Whole 30, were also a major culprit.
A colleague mentioned Mark Sisson's Primal Blueprint when I complained about my unexpected weight gain. Curious, I read it too…overnight.
The Primal Blueprint gives different perspectives and emphases on the same basic strategy. This presentation snapped many things into place for me…I made rapid adjustments, kept my new grain-free metabolism, and began losing weight.
The Whole 30 is fairly regimented (necessary, by the way, to ensure compliance and results.) Many consider The Primal Blueprint a more "relaxed" framework.
Important takeaway: find the framework that works for YOU
This was my first experience juggling paleo systems, but it was worth it.
The Whole 30 and other Paleo plans often emphasize rigid main-meal scheduling (instead of grazing or snacking) to normalize hunger-related body chemistry. This forced a third meal into my schedule (breakfast), which helped with cravings but added too many calories.
The Primal Blueprint is less rigid, focusing more on food choices and eating when hungry. This approach helped me control intake.
White potatoes contributed too many calories and carbohydrates. The Primal Blueprint discourages white or sweet potatoes for most dieters, in favor of squash, beets, and other vegetable carb sources. I made this adjustment and began losing immediately.
Yes, you can over-eat on Paleo. "Filling your plate" doesn't mean gorge yourself every meal.
The Primal Blueprint gives many examples of snack and meal size (including calorie count--which I finally realized wasn't just "optional information!") It also emphasizes keeping carbs low, helping me select appropriate foods.
[In fairness, The Whole 30 offers detailed help with food choices and staying on the rails. Between the book, website, and online forum you get a complete set of tools. Just remember, as the text states, this is not specifically a “weight loss” plan.]
The Whole 30 certainly recommends exercise, but leaves the specifics up to you.
Mark Sisson, an experienced athlete and personal trainer, offers very detailed suggestions in The Primal Blueprint—many of which run counter to conventional wisdom.
My advice? Just do what he says.
Following the basic guidelines in The Primal Blueprint accelerated my weight loss, boosted energy even more--and I'm now in my third wardrobe. I have to keep giving away clothes.
I will explore specifics in a separate post. The details matter.
The short version? WALKING is my foundation now, normal pace, nothing fancy. In 2017 I began wearing a weighted vest to increase intensity without speeding up. I also reduced my weighlifting volume by 80%--but still make strength gains.
Yes, you can progress on Paleo without exercise--but why bother? Exercise keeps you younger longer, and can help reduce chronic disease.
Paleo is a completely sustainable lifestyle
Two years in, we have no regrets.
To many it seems unthinkable to go without bread, pasta, beans and cookies, but after about three months you don't really miss them.
Kathy occasionally noshes on bread at restaurants, and puts sugar in her morning coffee, to no ill effect. She looks so young and trim that I can't complain.
I am stricter, and have consumed MAYBE 4 ounces of sugar in the last 25 months.
(The American Heart Association says most Americans consume 20 teaspoons of sugar--2.9 ounces--PER DAY.)
We have so much more energy (no ups, no downs, just get up and go...I function easily 6AM-10PM daily) that we couldn't even consider regressing to the SAD (Standard American Diet.) We'd lose too much productivity!
You can still have fun on Paleo
We enjoy controlled splurges with potatoes, cheese and some wine. I renounced beer along with bread, and spirits no longer tempt us. The headaches next day just aren't worth it.
Many Paleo resources "don't forbid" moderate wine. One highly esteemed resource, Dr. Terry Wahls, even includes wine in her list of allowed fermented foods (see The Wahls Protocol, a true must-read.)
Too much wine (or any alcohol) can arrest your new fat-based metabolism (in favor of alcohol’s easy-access carbs) and may reignite the dreaded carb flu for a few days. I try to stick with a couple of glasses, twice weekly at most.
Dairy is hot topic in Paleo circles. Not everyone can tolerate it, and many should avoid it. We successfully re-introduced it after our Whole 30 elimination phase. When possible we stick with raw-milk cheese.
A whole lot of cooking going on
The biggest trade-off (besides organic veggie and free range meat prices) is FOOD PREP.
And after all, in the Stone Age there were no "convenience foods" like snack bars, Tuna Helper, canned soup or meat, Lunchables, etc.
This forces you to cook or scratch-prepare almost everything you eat. We adapted, and have no regrets…but we do have to budget TIME each week for highly targeted shopping and meal prep.
We batch-cook most of the week’s food on Sundays. This "food fest," as we call it, has become a great family bonding event.
Paleo is about a healthy life, not just a healthy weight
We found Paleo by accident, and stuck with it, at first, for the weight loss. We are now more excited by the long-term health benefits.
Many others come to Paleo when conventional medicine fails them, and they begin looking on their own for natural or alternative ways to improve health.
In their books, Dr. Sarah Ballantyne, Dr. Terry Wahls, Robb Wolf and Chris Kresser all tell poignant and riveting stories of health success with Paleo--which they found through their own dietary research.
This is a common theme in many Paleo testimonials. Mark Sisson's web site alone offers hundreds. Here is one of my favorites (from an M.D. no less!).
Food for thought: Why is Paleo something we have to dig for? Why don't we hear more about the benefits of whole foods or ancestral eating habits--either from our health providers or major media?
Gee, I wonder...
The good news: now YOU know about Paleo, if you didn't before.
Please see our resources page for more information. Keep your footing, take your time. Skim at first. You don't need to be a biologist or dietician to get the gist or enjoy the benefits.
The older we get, the more important this information becomes.
And don't forget:
DAVID WHITESIDE IS NOT A DOCTOR and does not give medical advice or treatment. He offers information and personal experience only. Nothing you read on this website or blog should be construed as medical advice or as intended to supersede information you get from your medical professional. Following the advice given here or on any recommended resource site does not create a doctor-patient relationship or create liability for David or anyone else. David is not liable for any loss or complication you experience from following any diet or taking any action. You should check with your properly accredited medical professional if you think you are injured or ill.
An earlier version of this post appeared on www.davidwhitesidecopywriting.com