My Primal Story: UPDATED
This is an updated version of a post I originally posted at www.benlawprimal.uk on 24/08/2014.
In May 2013 I bought a book called 'The 4 Hour Body' by Tim Ferris. I had previously bought the first book by Tim Ferris called 'The 4 Hour Work Week' which I really enjoyed, so for that reason I thought I would buy his next book. It definitely wasn't because I believed there was anything wrong with my body or the way I was eating and exercising. I had always had an interest in health and fitness but thought I was very fit and healthy.
Upon reading, however, Tim raised some very interesting concepts on diet and exercise including reduced carbohydrate or 'low carb' eating to reduce body fat. Tim developed a diet around this concept called the 'Slow Carb' diet which involved substituting all starchy carbohydrates including rice, potatoes, bread, pasta and any type of grains plus fruit and basically anything with sugar in it, with legumes (lentils, pulses, beans etc.) as these were low in carbs and slow to release their energy. This helped to keep blood sugar under control, which Tim suggested was the main factor in controlling body weight and providing consistent energy. This concept intrigued me and at this point I was by no means over-weight but had no visible abs and felt that maybe this could help me lose some body fat and provide more definition. Even though I was massively into my bread, rice, pasta, potatoes and LOVED my desserts plus thought I could possibly collapse in a heap due to lack of energy without them(!), I thought I would give it a go.
Initially it was very hard and had a negative impact on my bowel movements! One of the biggest hurdles to overcome was breakfast. I used to have a HUGE bowl of porridge every morning packed FULL of fruit which I loved. I reluctantly swapped this for eggs, spinach and lentils but after a few weeks I soon got used to it and, along with the rest of the diet, found it quite easy and enjoyable and the bowel movements returned to normal, thankfully! The diet also included a big blow-out once a week where you can eat whatever you wanted for a day which helped curb any cravings and prevented your metabolism from down-regulating.
It took about a month but I started to notice a visible reduction in body fat (measured visually as I had nothing accurate to measure body fat at the time) but something else also started to happen which I wasn't expecting at all. Before eating like this was I was hungry ALL the time and had to eat every couple of hours or thought I was going to die! If I hadn't eaten for a while I would become extremely light headed, shaky and faint and after eating I would have a massive dip in energy and feel tired and lethargic. I thought this was just normal for all men and thought nothing of it, but when I switched my diet I realised it wasn't. Suddenly all the dizziness and dips in energy had gone...... well, gone until the blow-out day when it all went wrong again and the energy roller coaster returned! I've since realised that this is all related to big drops in blood sugar known as 'Rebound Hypoglycaemia', proving Tim's theory correct.
So I was feeling great and had lost some fat but after a while things started to plateau, so I thought to myself, why not take it further? This simply involved removing the legumes from the diet as well, leaving only a very small amount of carbs in the diet coming primarily from vegetables. Again, I was worried by such a low amount of carbs but I needn't of been because the transition was very easy. As I was used to eating fairly low carb now anyway, this final step was not a problem.
This kick started the fat loss again and I was still feeling great, with no loss of energy and no food cravings. It also raised my interest in discovering more about this way of eating to a whole new level. I was hungry to find out more information and curious to find out if their was a community out there eating the same way. This obviously led me to the internet where I came across a well known health expert, Dr. Mercola. Dr. Mercola has hundreds of videos on the internet and several are related to the benefits of low carb eating which was a big validation for the way I was now eating. However, Dr. Mercola raised another important aspect of eating this way that I hadn't yet even considered - adding high amounts of fat to the diet. As you can imagine I was very sceptical at first as I held the belief, as most people do, that fat makes you fat.
Putting my trust in Dr. Mercola, I started increasing the amount of fat in my diet but not just any old fat. There are 'good fats' and 'bad fats' and obviously I picked fats from the 'good fats' list as suggested by Dr. Mercola. These include all forms of coconut (oil, butter, flakes, water, milk etc.), avocado, nuts, nut butter, nut oil, olives, olive oil, butter, cream etc. Low and behold I didn't gain any fat and actually kept losing it. Could this be real? Eat richer, fattier, tastier foods and still lose fat?! Surely not....
By increasing the fat I started to notice something else - I was getting less and less hungry and almost had to force myself to eat at mealtimes. At this point I was still eating 3 times a day with snacks in between as I always had and as Tim Ferris recommended. I then stumbled across a Dr. Mercola video where he was interviewing another doctor about a diet called the 'Ketogenic Diet'. What was being described was pretty much the way I was eating with the main difference being the frequency of meals. This bit is what blew me away as they were talking about eating only once or twice a day with no snacks and no breakfast! This sounded crazy to me because again, falling back to convention, we have always been told to eat three meals a day with snacks in between and that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But as convention was already going out of the window for me with the low carb/high fat thing and the fact I was never hungry; after thinking about it I could see how eating once or twice a day could be possible and quite easy.
The science behind it was also very solid. In the absence of carbs in the diet for fuel, the body adapts to burning fat for fuel and subsequently produces ketones as a by-product in a process called 'ketosis', hence the name, 'Ketogenic Diet'. As fat is much slower/longer burning fuel than carbs you can go much longer periods without eating with little variation in energy levels plus lose fat at the same time. This pretty much explained everything I was experiencing and all the pieces of the puzzle were falling into place.
Eating this infrequently also has surprising health benefits that I didn't even realise and, again, goes counter to popular belief. The process is often referred to as 'Intermittent Fasting' or IF and is where you go for extended periods without eating, causing many processes within the body to up-regulate whilst also giving them a break from constantly having to deal with food loads, resulting in a natural internal detoxification. This also falls in-line with how our Palaeolithic ancestors would eat and subsequently how we evolved as food was not readily available.
Backed by this information the next stage was easy, I would reduce my meal frequency and only eat when I felt I needed to. This basically resulted in me having a shake for breakfast and an evening meal. I was initially worried that I would lose muscle eating this way due to the reduction in protein intake but it didn't happen as fat is muscle sparing, meaning you need less protein to maintain muscle if you are consuming high amounts of fat, which I was.
It was incredible that I had gone from having to eat every two hours for fear of death, to being fine with one shake and one meal a day (both very low carb), maintain muscle and generally feel great! Again I wanted to take this a step further and push the limits of what my body was capable of so I started playing around with the frequency and timings of meals. I pushed the morning shake further and further back so it wasn't in the morning any more and crept into early, then late afternoon. I would also often do a workout in the afternoon before eating anything and felt totally fine. I would sometimes not have a shake at all and just have an evening meal and felt totally fine. I would sometimes not have an evening meal and just have a shake and felt totally fine. Travelling was a really good way to test it as nobody likes eating plane food (unless you like the taste of cardboard) so I just wouldn't eat and felt totally fine. It seemed that however infrequently or frequently I felt like eating, when I felt like eating or how much I wanted to eat, it didn't make a difference, as long as I was eating low carb/high fat meals I felt great. I honestly felt super human.
So back to fat loss. As you can probably imagine, eating this way started to have a significant impact on the amount of fat I was losing. The whole calories in, calories out theory has been proven to not be true but it IS true that a reduction in overall calories consumed will result in fat loss when your body is adapted to burning fat. As a Ketogenic Diet makes it easy to reduce calories and adapts your body to use fat as its primary source of fuel, you basically become a fat burning furnace!
I wasn't happy with just measuring things visually any more, I wanted numbers! As I am a little OCD and a bit of a technology geek, I wanted something as accurate and geeky as possible so took the plunge with an ultrasound measuring device called the Bodymetrix Personal. This actually measures the thickness of fat at any given point and is not effected by hydration levels in the body as many devices are. At last I could quantify things and what I was seeing was amazing. Every month I was dropping at least one percent body fat and often more. I started measuring in August 2013 and it was 9.5% (baring in mind that I probably started around 12-13% when I changed my diet in May 2013) and by December 2013 it was 6.3%! This confirmed what I was seeing in the mirror - my abs were much more visible and I generally looked much more defined. Of course there is only so low your body fat will go (unless you take drugs) as your body needs a certain amount for a whole host of health reasons. It did continue to drop but at a much slower rate and reached a low of 5.5% in May 2014. That is an incredible reduction of around 7% body fat in a year from someone who didn't have a great deal of body fat in the first place! I now reside around 6% body fat and effortlessly maintain this without really thinking or stressing about it.
So where does primal fit into all of this? After all this is called 'My Primal Story' on a site called 'Ben Law Primal'! At the time I got into intermittent fasting, playing with meal frequency and subsequently seeing even better results, my thirst for more knowledge was at an all time high. This led me again to the internet and to a series of videos from 'The Ancestral Heath Symposium'. This is a yearly event in which experts talk on a variety of different subjects related to how our palaeolithic ancestors ate and they suggest that since our genes really haven't changed that much since then, we are also evolved to eat this way. Many of the videos discussed how our ancestors ate a low carb/high fat diet due to humans having roamed the earth for 2 million years and modern agriculture (which produces the most carb laden foods) having only been around for the past 10,000 years.
This was also the first time I had heard the terms 'Paleo' and 'Primal' to describe this way of eating. I had heard of the Paleo diet before but never really looked into what it was but it turned out that had been eating a Paleo/Primal diet without knowing it! Well, that is not entirely true... strict Paleo doesn't include dairy or legumes but, although I didn't eat legumes, I definitely ate dairy. As I didn't start eating this way because of the Paleo/Primal diet plus the fact that I tolerate dairy very well, it doesn't effect fat loss for me and full fat raw dairy has a host of health benefits, I carried on eating it and still do to this day. The diet also specified eating unprocessed/whole foods, good quality grass-fed meats, wild caught fish and vegetables; all of which I ate in abundance anyway, so again, without knowing it, I was ticking those Paleo/Primal boxes too!
As I continued to watch the videos I stumbled across talks by people by the names of Mark Sisson, Robb Wolf, Chris Kresser, Nora Gegaudas, Mat Lalonde and Ron Rosedale. I had no idea who these people were at the time but their talks were so inspirational and really resonated with me so I decided to investigate them further and found out that they were really huge figures in the whole Paleo/Primal scene, especially Mark Sisson, Robb Wolf and Chris Kresser. This is where things really started to change for me in the understanding of the way I was eating. It was not just some fad diet but a proper movement with an ever increasing community of individuals and highly experienced health and fitness professionals behind it. Now that I was fully aware of the movement and the big names behind it I sought to soak up as much information as possible. I went from video to video, blog to blog, book to book and podcast to podcast like a sponge and was totally shocked and excited at the wealth of information out there!
As my knowledge grew and grew and the fact I was seeing amazing results, I started to develop a passion for the subject and realised from that point on that I would like to make this part of my career. As I previously mentioned, I have always been into health and fitness which led me to create a food supplement company called Love Life Supplements in 2012, before I even got into Paleo. I have always known that supplements can play an important role in the modern diet due to many factors including a lack of nutrients and contamination in many commercial foods due to poor soil/water quality and this applies equally to Paleo. Even though the diet is based on unprocessed/whole foods, certain factors such as soil quality are beyond our control. Then there is role that supplementation plays with intermittent fasting. Yes IF has a host of health benefits but the fact remains that by reducing the food that passes your lips you are also reducing the amount of nutrients entering the body which could possibly have negative consequences. This is where supplementation comes in as you are still able to maintain a fasted state while still getting the nutrients required. This is also referred to as Calorie Restriction with Optimal Nutrition or CRON.
These are ways in which my supplement company tie into the whole Paleo/Primal approach but what is really exciting to me is that I am now using my knowledge of the subject to develop specific supplements to compliment this way of eating. Not wanting to give too much away but one of these that is nearing completion is a high fat protein shake that is based on the very shake I make for myself every day! This is the first in a long line of products I have in mind for my 'Primal' range so watch this space!
Of course the website you're on right now is another way I am making primal part of my life. At the time of writing the site is still in its infancy but I will be constantly adding recipes, videos, blog posts and providing tips and advice on all things Paleo/Primal, including many of my workout routines. I also have plans for a 30 day low-carb kickstart ebook so watch out for that!
So where in the journey am I right now? Well I'm starting to push the boundaries yet again and experiment with the diet as part of my nature is that I am never satisfied! I am still very much Paleo/Primal but for muscle/strength gaining purposes I am playing with something called carb back-loading, developed by a guy called John Kiefer. Carbs you say? Yes carbs but carbs used almost as a drug delivered precisely at the right time after a resistance training workout but at no other time. There is a great deal of science behind this that I won't go into now but basically it stimulates muscle growth without causing fat gain and can even increase fat burning. I have only been doing it a short time but am already seeing some great results with it and if you want to find out more about it I will be posting videos and blogs related to it in the near future.
I'm also looking to get certified by completing 'The Primal Blueprint Certification' (when it's ready) which the only course that I am aware of that deals with primal nutrition. I will then be able to take my knowledge to the next level and really be able to help people at a more in depth level.
So there we have it, my primal story. I can honestly say that eating this way has had a massive positive impact on my life in both my body and mind and the way I feel on a day to day basis. I know I will eat this way for the rest of my life as I truly believe it is the way we are evolved to eat and my results are all the evidence I need to back this up. If anyone had of said to me before I started all this that I would be totally fine not eating carbs all day and eating 1-2 meals a day I'd of said they were crazy but it is honestly not a problem and I don't even miss the carbs. I don't see it as a 'diet' anymore, it is just the way I eat. I realise it is hard for people to comprehend as the misguided importance of carbs in the modern diet has been drummed into us from an early age and sometimes my friends and family think I've lost the plot, but I know if they would just give it a go they might see that I still have all my marbles.
I'm certainly not saying this is right for everyone and it may not be right for you but if you are interested in giving it a go and would like any tips, advice or information then please do not hesitate to get in contact or check back regularly as I share all of my diet and exercise tips while I continue on this journey.
You may be wondering if I have a managed to maintain this way of eating/living or if this was just some fad I went through which was impossible to maintain over the long term? Well I can safely say that over a year since writing this post I still eat a low carb/high fat diet pretty much all of the time, avoiding rice, pasta, bread, all other grains and only occasionally eat potatoes or a sweet treat on a cheat day or when I feel a boost in insulin will help my metabolism/muscle growth.
I still predominantly just have my 'Wondershake' in the afternoon and a LCHF meal in the evening of meat/fish and veg/salad but I also now add some MCT's to my morning coffee for a brain/energy boost. This daily eating schedule has become so routine now I don't even think about it. It's just how I eat and really makes life simple.
As mentioned in my original post I experimented with carb-backloading but after while I decided to revert back to being low-carb most of the time and found I could still increase muscle mass and strength without it. It may be more appropriate for someone looking for huge mass gains but that is not me.
I maintain a weight of around 80kg without ever counting calories and my body fat percentage is around 8-9% which I feel is a much healthier looking body composition for me than the photo above where I was 70kg and 5-6% body fat. This weight increase was not a concious effort from me but my increased training volume was. This probably naturally led to an increased caloric intake.
About 5 months ago I decided to venture out of my home gym and join my local crossfit box (Lift Off Crossfit). I had been following crossfit for some time online and was keen to give it a go. It seemed to tick all the boxes for me for how I like to train but provide some much needed guidance and learning in areas I was lacking or knew very little about. I also thought the communal/competitive side to it would help push the boundaries of what I could achieve.
It didn't disappoint.
I am already much stronger, fitter and flexible and have improved technique and developed new skills, and this is only the start! Who knows where I'll be in 12 months time! Why didn't I start this sooner?
This is definitely the most intense I've ever trained but I still do it with minimal carbs (around 50g a day) and feel full of energy during the workouts and am able to do it again the next day. I feel my body is so well adapted to using fat for fuel now it really is the only fuel I need, even during very high intensity efforts.
So there you have it - I am still living a LCHF Primal life, training more than ever and loving it!
Don't forget to follow me on social for daily updates, tips and advice and make sure to check back here for another extended update in the coming months.