Over the last few days I’ve spent significant time catching up on reading some of the newer Paleoish, Low-Carbish diet & fitness books to hit the shelves. Specifically, Rob Wolf’s The Paleo Solution: The Original Human Diet , Art De Vany’s The New Evolution Diet: What Our Paleolithic Ancestors Can Teach Us about Weight Loss, Fitness, and Aging, and one that’s been around a while, Jeff Thiboutot’s and Matt Schoeneberger’s S.P.E.E.D.
All of these books are heavily researched and referenced, but the more common thread I find among them is a deep confidence in these authors surrounding a pretty simple set of dietary and/or lifestyle principles informed by a recognition that humans are animals with a reasonably easy-to-determine biology and physiology, and that a lean & strong body and a healthy sense of well being ought to come naturally for human beings, as it does for all other animals that behave in accordance with their natures.
But even more than that, one gets the sense — at least I do — that these foregoing principles were arrived at first by simply thinking logically about it, followed by self-experimentation, followed by excellent results, followed by introducing family, friends and clients to these various self-experiments, followed by equally impressive results in them. What kinds of results? Well, there are tons of them right here, in both the posts and the many comments to the posts.
The scientific references contained in these books are fine and dandy and to some extent, necessary for credibility — but how are you going to know any of this science has any particular value to you, unless you put it to the test on yourself? And what happens when your personal results in terms of how you look & feel contradict what mainstream, conventional experts have been telling you and backing it with "science;" you know, of the sort typically reported in breathless quotidian headlines in the "Health" section.
To put it more directly, probably the most common comment we see around here in terms of self-reporting of results and progress is the prelude; that of years, often decades of trying to follow "expert," conventional advice, yet getting fatter, sicker, and more depressed all the time. Look around you. How genuinely happy and self assured can these increasing numbers of obese souls be, especially the young ones who ought to be having the times of their lives? And, do you suppose they’ve really been self-experimenting at all, or have they simply been doing what they’ve been told to do — or not, feeling or realizing that "eat less, exercise more" is like some sort of miserable prison sentence?
So I would suggest to you that your experience trumps all science in these matters, no matter how sound it seems. That said, there’s no need to go off the deep end. Moreover, it’s better that you gain the confidence you need to carry it forward and you do that by controlling for variables. What that means in simple terms is that you change one or two things at a time, just long enough to see how it works for you. Then you change more things.
In a dietary context, perhaps you go low-carb first, but don’t worry so much about what sorts of foods you’re eating. And once you’ve established how that works, you might try dropping grains, sugars and anything with modern vegetable or seed oils, like corn, canola, soy, safflower, sunflower, etc. A different approach might be to just drop the aforementioned processed foods and go the paleo way from the get-go. You might find that it’s not so much the carbs, but what kind of carbs.
Once you’ve established your path in terms of diet, now you can turn towards exercise. Perhaps you simply drop cardio. Maybe replace it with sprints. And how about shortening your workout from three sessions of an hour each to 2 sessions per week of 15-30 minutes, but give it your all and lift heavy for fewer reps and fewer sets?
There are a lot of variables to account for and while it’s certainly possible to jump in and change everything at once and you’ll probably get excellent results, those results are going to be an average. You’ll have no way of knowing what’s giving you the greatest benefit vs. what might not be helping, or is even slowing you down because the negative is being made up in other areas.
In my personal case it kinda worked out this way without even explicitly trying to go the slow, steady route. I began with the workouts. Short, 30-minute sessions twice per week, no cardio, and I began to see results even without much attention to diet, especially in a rapid lowering of blood pressure. Then, over the months I gradually began cleaning up the diet to a more paleo way and saw results increase in terms of more rapid weight loss, easing of GURD symptoms, dropping sinus allergy meds, and so forth. What did this tell me? It told me I was on a good track in terms of both diet and exercise. Had I done everything at once it would have been harder to tell what exactly was doing what.
Then, after another few months I discovered intermittent fasting and fasted workouts and weight loss got even more rapid, energy levels seemed to increase, sleep became simply awesome and again, I had verified for myself that humans, just like any other animals, are designed to go hungry now and then. When we go hungry our bodies turn to self repair by using the waste, damage and garbage in our cells as repair fuel.
The next step was some supplementation. This one is difficult because it’s simply very difficult to gain certainty, and so I keep it simple and reasonable. First, I got plenty of sunshine and that was a very noticeable improvement in well being, to the extent of occasional euphoria. So, I began taking some vitamin D and noticed I never get colds anymore (I currently take 4,000 IU, but not every day). A bit of cod liver oil & fish oil seems like a good idea so I do it, but modestly, about 3g total per day. And vitamin K2 I think might be one of the more important ones since we don’t seem to eat as much of the foods containing it as we would have in the wild. And that’s pretty much it, save for a bit of magnesium, and some iodine once per week or so.
…But there was one more self experiment I engaged in that turned out to be perhaps the most surprising, and of all the things I’ve ever blogged about, seems to have been the single thing that got this blog more attention that anything else.
My next post will recount the history and results of that most successful self-experimentation, now more than 18 months running.