Tag Archives: Health & Fitness

Weight loss shows are sending the wrong message

25 Mar

Before I get on my soapbox and have a rant about why I think the weight loss and “transformation” shows are doing the wrong thing, I should probably first start out by admitting that I’ve become a bit of a “transformation show junkie”. Yeah, I know it’s probably not good for me to be sitting in front of the TV watching something that I know will end up annoying me before the credits roll, and yet I can’t help getting my little “reality TV” fix.

So the thing that triggered my urge to write about this topic came last night as I sat to watch the Biggest Loser (Australian edition), and I saw Michelle Bridges doing something that I feel was completely awful. Now before you think I’m simply going to be trying to tear Michelle down, I want it on the record that I admire her achievements and her commitment to her career. Even while I question how commercially focussed she appears to have become – and yes I know that the public view of famous people often doesn’t reflect their true nature, I still admire how well she has done and how focussed and committed she is.

So back to the story I’m trying to tell, where I saw Michelle trying to show a little tough love to a contestant. Now I don’t know if she’s turning up the intensity for the camera, or if she was simply having a bad day and getting frustrated with this particular contestant, but rather than showing him that she had his best interests at heart she instead came across as the worst sort of bully you could imagine. Her whole approach was aggressive rather than assertive, and she used insults instead of support or coercion. Naturally the contestant got angry, and I think that Michelle was lucky that this guy only left the room with a little foul language behind him!! Sure it makes good television – if you like that sort of thing, but what message does it give to the contestant and to the viewers who are watching the program? That the fat person can still be denigrated by the fit person even when that fit person is supposed to be helping and supportive? That it’s OK to be abusive towards the fat person simply because they don’t wish to do what you want them to? That personal trainers have some sort of right to insult their clients?

From my “armchair quarterback” position, I think that it wasn’t so good for Michelle to display what I believe is such a great degree of unprofessionalism, and such a lack of respect for someone who – competition or not – was at that moment her client. If I was show that video as my only view of what a personal trainer does, I wouldn’t want to hire one, or I wouldn’t want to hire the person who I saw behaving that way. Sorry Michelle, as great as I think you really are, I don’t think you are really helping either your client, or our industry in general when you behave that way, no matter how good it might be for the show or the ratings.

Which brings be to the other part of my rant, and the heart of the topic that I wanted to write about, and that is that these TV personality trainers have it in their power to do some real good in the world, and to really spread the message not only about how important it is to be healthy, but that it is also possible to undo the damage done by years of self-neglect, and the sad and truly silly thing about this is that these people are squandering this opportunity and allowing themselves to get sucked in to the commercialism of there TV shows, and I believe doing more harm than good with the mixed and often wrong signals that they send out to their adoring public.

Those mixed messages started even before any of these shows first aired. Yes, I’m saying they – The Biggest Loser people – got it wrong the moment someone first pitched the idea of having a variation on the Survivor style of reality TV program where you get a bunch of overweight people to compete in a situation where – from the public’s perspective – elimination ends your journey and with it the education that you need in order to do something that from the obese person’s perspective could literally save your life! It trivialises not only the journey that each of the contestants needs to take, but also the risks and reasons that have led the contestants to take part in the competition, and week to week, you get to see people who will get kicked off the show because they were unable to keep up with the others – regardless of whether it was due to physical difference, poor mental preparation, or sheer laziness. And they’re not just booted out of the show for coming last in a weekly competition, they get voted off by the very same people who are supposed to be a part of their support network during the show!

Even worse in my mind is that there is even a competition at all. You have a bunch of people who have come to a point in their lives as a result of hardship, depression, and self-loathing just to name a few of the reasons for their poor physical condition, and instead of building a supportive environment where they can be encouraged to learn and grow beyond the barriers they have had to getting healthier on their own, these people enter into a competition, where losing means they will not only not win the prize money at the end of the season, but that they will likely also not be anywhere near achieving any of their goals, nor likely to be any healthier or happier unless they are lucky enough to survive the competition long enough to make it reasonably close to the end.

Competition is great if you have the mental fortitude to deal with defeat, yet when you feel the whole world is against you and that a loss will just validate your own self-loathing, why would anyone risk subjecting you to the sort of pressures and behaviours that probably led you into such a negative mental state in the first place?!! Seriously, it’s disgraceful that these poor people are subjected to any of this, let alone the sort of unprofessional abuse which I described earlier. I really find it disgusting, and a part of me feels ashamed that in spite of all of this, I find myself drawn back time and again to watch with an almost morbid fascination as a group of people compete to be insulted, bullied, pushed and prodded for the amusement of the viewing audience, and the ratings of a television station.

There is one show that I have seen that seems to try to break the reality TV nightmare mould a bit, which is Chris Powell‘s Extreme Makeover. Instead of following a bunch of people for weeks on end, you get to see one person transform in each episode, which covers a year long journey. I have a lot of respect for what it is that Chris does, and for how his show generally comes across in trying to show a very difficult and personal journey with a great deal of decorum and sensitivity towards each individual that Chris helps. I like that you not only see the great successes, but that you also see the not so great successes, and even a few of the failures as well. It’s a little more real, more confronting for the viewer as well as the person being transformed, and I can’t recall seeing Chris behaving as anything other than professionally in the gym, and otherwise as a really nice human being, a mentor, and a friend when he is dealing with his clients at other times.

I wouldn’t be writing this however if I didn’t find something that doesn’t sit quite right with me, and this is one of those mixed messages that the other weight loss shows make an even greater deal about and where they fail quite spectacularly, and that is the correlation made between weight and health instead of dealing with the problem as one of fat vs health. These should not be weight loss shows, but should instead be Fat-loss shows. It isn’t weight that kills obese people. It isn’t weight that causes metabolic diseases and other life threatening complications. These problems are the result of poor dietary lifestyle, inactivity, stress, depression, and on top of all of that it’s ultimately due to an excess of body fat that obesity occurs.

So while I really love what Chris does with his show, the message is all wrong. We don’t need to be bullies as I’ve said earlier, but we also should not be so scared into political correctness that we can’t admit that it is fat that is the killer, that being fat is a big part of the problem for so many people, and that mental health is also something that needs to be addressed, and not this focus on how many units of weight you have gained or lost over time. To Chris’s credit however, and it is one of the reasons that I really like his show, he makes use of the scale, but doesn’t make the scale the focus of everything that his clients do. For that alone I’d admire his work, certainly a lot more than I do with that other show that I mentioned.

Another mixed message which comes from these shows, is that they make it seem as though you can only get the kind of help that these TV shows show from your famous weight-loss TV show celebrity, from personal trainers, or that you need to be obese before you can get that kind of extreme help or intervention. While I can’t claim to have ever reached the massive weights of those contestants and others shown on the TV, I do know that both the mental journey and the physical one have been very intense for me, and I am sure that there are millions of other people in the world battling similar demons of their own. The real help comes from the network of supportive people that you choose to surround yourself with, whether it’s family, friends, your local doctor, your psychologist, nutritionist, or even a bunch of people on-line who read your blog from time to time (Yes, that’s probably you the reader as well!!). Ordinary people with day to day problems sometimes need help too, and this help is available all around them, and shouldn’t require extremes in order to be dealt with.

Your personal trainer is one person out of many, and no matter how much I grow as a personal trainer, I hope that I never forget that I am only one of many people who are there to provide support for my clients. While my skills may be important in helping a person to travel their journey, and even while those skills may touch on other areas such as psychology, nutrition, and general health, I should always keep in mind that there are others better qualified to focus on such areas, and it will remain my job to provide my clients with assertive yet compassionate support, physical training, appropriate advice within my areas of expertise, and the  professionalism that that they deserve, with a direct and simple message minus all of the misdirection that they end up getting from the TV.

Life isn’t a competition, and your problems aren’t trivial or wrong just because someone else doesn’t understand or can’t relate to them. This is certainly  apart of the message that I am focussed on getting out there into the world, and so to is that we are all entitled to live healthy and happy lives. It doesn’t matter whose fault it is or what the reasons are for becoming unhealthy or unhappy. Help should always be available for those who need it, and no-one should learn to hate themselves just because they were unable to recognise their problems or for being ill-equipped to handle them.

If you want a better show, show a person’s journey from start to finish. Show how we can learn from our failures, celebrate our victories, and what sort of help systems there are in the world for those requiring more extreme forms of help. For Chriss Powell, I’d suggest that he follow up on those he felt he couldn’t help, and to see after a year or two whether those people were able to find other ways to overcome the physical and mental barriers that prevented them being successful in their journeys. Did they seek a support group, or counselling, or some other intervention process? Did it work? Did it help? Would these things make a difference to a person who tried to reboot their journey after they had learned a few more skills?

For all of those shows, change the message. Focus on health and fat management more, and less on competition and on having people turn on each other in order to win. Show us that everyone can be successful with a little love and support, and that everyone who has struggled with their health in life deserves another chance to be healthy again without the risk of bullying, abandonment, or showing that the entitlement of health only belongs to those who fight hardest for it, even though we must sometimes fight with ourselves in order to ensure we maintain our physical and mental health.

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What do you do when the wheels fall off the bus?

23 Mar
Failure_Freeway

Failure_Freeway (Photo credit: StormKatt)

To say that I’ve had a tough past couple of weeks would be an understatement of epic proportions. I won’t go into all of the details, so suffice to say that I’ve been on the proverbial emotional roller-coaster, and that life has decided to chew me up and spit me out for yet another attempt at trying to get my shit together. I’m not going to make any excuses, and whatever the reasoning is won’t change the fact that the past couple of weeks have been a write-off in terms of diet and exercise.

Yes, somewhere along the journey I fell off the wagon… well, perhaps not completely off the wagon, and it wasn’t entirely falling off either. It is more like I went and took a running leap to try and get off the wagon, only I’ve tripped, got my foot caught, and ended up being dragged along by the wagon with my foot still on it and the rest of me bumping along the path while I lie there thinking to myself “WTF am I doing?!!”.

So where have I failed?

  1. I haven’t been drinking nearly enough water. I am probably mildly dehydrated, and have probably been this way for over a week now.
  2. I haven’t paid much attention to my food, so I haven’t been eating nearly enough vegetables, nor have I been eating a wide enough variety of colours or types of vegetables.
  3. I’ve been lazy about getting my exercise. The last workout I put any effort into was when my kids were here about 3 weeks ago, when I went for a run with my youngest son. Since then, I’ve ignored my weights, bands, routine, gym clothes… all of it.
  4. I’ve not been getting nearly enough sleep. Waking early, and going to bed late.

These don’t appear to be very good signs for a future personal trainer do they. I mean, how can I expect people to take my advice seriously if I can’t even stick to it myself? What do I expect is going to happen, how am I going to make a success out of my new career, and what will become of all of those future clients that I want to help?

The last couple of paragraphs show you how easy it can be to create a negative mind set around a problem area in your life, and is really the culmination of all of the negative behaviours that we learn as children, and which are reinforced as we become adults. Yes, all of this negativity is learned behaviour, and we all know that negativity can be a bad thing when it becomes a focal point in your life and in how you deal with the challenges that life places in your path.

So what can you do to prevent negative emotion having it’s way and bringing your life to a standstill? How can you ensure that negative emotion won’t either send you or return you to an emotional place where you don’t wish to be, and how can you create an emotional environment for yourself that will help you to keep yourself focussed on your goals and ultimately motivated to achieve them regardless of the emotional hurdles which you face? I believe that the answer to these questions is really all about understanding your priorities, understanding where you are emotionally, and deciding for yourself how you wish to live emotionally.

Yes, what I am saying here is that you can actually choose to exist in a poor emotional state, and when you live in a place where you surround yourself  with negativity, you yourself have chosen to be there. No one made you do it. Nobody is forcing you to live that way. It is something that you have deliberately chosen to do – even if only subconsciously – and all because it is your response to life’s challenges which you unfortunately learned from your parents, teachers, bosses, and others who all seem to believe that teaching through failure means to hold up failures as examples to be made and to feel bad about, rather than examining how failures occur in order to better understand them and to learn from them.

negative feedback system

negative feedback system (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Clinging to negative examples in life doesn’t teach you to learn from them. It instead sets up a negative feedback cycle that gains strength with every additional failure, and it encourages you to behave in a manner that is consistent with feelings of guilt, poor self worth, and depression. The longer you live your life in this state of mind, the more attractive negative thought and emotion becomes, the more normal it seems to be in a negative state, and the more learned and ingrained will negative behaviour become. So much so that you can reach a point where you and can feel as if a negative state of being is normal and that you can’t remember ever living any other way.

As I mentioned, I believe it comes down to a question of priorities. I’m talking about choices here, and how it’s up to you to choose how you wish to live your life. Do you choose to live your life surrounding yourself with negative emotion, feeling negative, and focussing only on your negative thoughts? Or, do you choose to take each moment in life one at a time, to face your problems and your negative feelings, and to use those negative emotions as a teacher rather than as a torturer? Or to put it more simply – and perhaps a little less dramatically,  do you strive to be happy or do you choose to give up and be unhappy?

For me personally, I find it difficult to maintain a positive attitude all of the time, let alone when life keeps sending me curve-balls and sliders, when all I want is a good fast ball that I know I can hit. The thing is, you need to accept in life that you don’t always get what you ask for, and there is no point getting all pouty and depressed when you aren’t getting things all your way. I do like to believe though that like the song says, while you don’t always get what you want you will often find that you get what you truly need, and often you won’t realise this until a lot of time has passed and with the benefit of hindsight you can appreciate how things eventually ended up.

I consider myself very lucky to be able to recall two very profound moments in my life where I found myself aware enough to recognise in that moment that I was getting something that I truly needed. In both cases they were words of advice which not only changed my outlook in life, but which also came to be incorporated into my own core values. The first happened about 5 months prior to separating with my ex-wife back in 2007, and while the advice given was something I already strived for in myself, I don’t believe I truly understood it or recognised it until it was spoken to me.

Sadly I don’t recall the name of the guy who I was speaking with. I do remember that he was a psychologist at the time, working as a marriage counsellor with Humaneed in Carlton, Melbourne. I had travelled to see him to engage his services as a marriage counsellor, and to help me find a way to try and recover the shreds of a very sad and tattered marriage. While his advice and work didn’t get me the result I had asked him for, he did give me some very good advice that has stayed with me for many years now, as well as some tools to recognise how unrecoverable my marriage was, and how I could survive those awful days after separation when I didn’t get to see or hear from my sons for several weeks.

What this psychologist said to me was the following:

“When it comes my time to die, I’d like to think that I will end up standing before the gates of heaven, and that in order to pass in I will be asked a single question… ‘What have you learned?’ “.

This single statement has had a profound effect on my life. While I’m uncertain whether I should believe in a heaven, pearly gates, and white-winged folk with little gold halos, the mental picture that it created for me was such that it has stayed with me as something to reflect on whenever I am faced with a negative moment, and sometimes it’s something I reflect on during some of the more positive moments as well. For me this has grown as a concept, so that when I personally reach that inevitable moment in my life where it is time for my own journey to end, I’d like to be able to reflect not only on all of the things that I have learned, but also on the number of lives I will have been able to touch in a positive way.

The real message behind this story however, is that it was a very timely piece of advice that came to me when I needed it most, and that in some ways continues to come to my aid in those moments that come from time to time where I fail to get what I want, and when it is this reminder of something that I truly need, and that is to learn from all of my experiences in life so that my life can be enriched by all of those experiences, and by that I mean both the positive and the negative ones.

The second really profound moment for me is both about some words of advice, and also about a way to approach everything in a way that really reinforces the lessons which I learned through my earlier experience. it was another psychologist by the name of Rob Cunningham who I went to see when I  found myself dealing with an emotional breakdown round the middle of 2011. I have written before about how it is thought which creates emotion, and it was Rob who taught me about this by getting me to keep a thoughts diary, where I only needed to write a couple of lines to note how I was feeling, and what I was actually thinking about as I felt it.

Rob also taught me about another concept called mindfulness, which I have more recently learned is a practice inherited from Buddhist tradition that has been a very useful tool in the Western psychologist’s bag of therapeutic tricks. While Rob help me to learn to become more mindful – that is more self-aware – as a means to treat anxiety and depression, he may not have realised that he was also giving me a tool which is also very useful in helping me to find enrichment in my life through all of the experiences that I encounter.

As I was learning to become more mindful, it was like I was having one of those light-bulb moments of pure clarity, where something very profound and difficult to understand has suddenly become easy and so meaningful that it makes you wonder how you could have been getting by in life without having realised it before. I could see at the time that I had a long way to go to learn to employ mindfulness effectively, and yet I could also see that being mindful was not simply a way to distract me from my negative thoughts, but was rather something I could use to examine thought in such a way that I didn’t need to focus too heavily on it to understand it, and to learn from it.

Even better for me was the realization that I could enjoy the benefit of learning just as well from my positive experiences and thoughts as I could from the negative ones, and in some ways it was this process that not only set me firmly on a path towards recovery from long term anxiety and depression, but which also taught me to open my mind to greater possibilities in life and to be more receptive to them. So much so that I don’t believe I would have found my desire to become a personal trainer had I not allowed myself to be mindful and open to the possibility that I could do something else quite fulfilling in my life.

So as I often do I start one story, yet I end up telling another. The thing is that the two are intimately related. You see, it’s because of these profound experiences that I had – a kind of “spiritual awakening” if you like to think about these things in such terms – that I feel gives me the ability to look back over recent events on my life quite objectively. And just as I prefer it to be, I have remembered to be mindful, to reflect on my recent experiences, and to see what I have learned.

Yes, I slipped into a bad habit of neglecting my dietary intake of water, and yes I’ve been lazy with some of my meals and maintaining a good dietary balance, yet I have also experienced something very positive, and that is that I have maintained the quality of the foods which I have been eating, and I have not slipped into a habit of binging on processed foods. I can be proud of myself because I’ve changed some habits and I no longer seek comfort in food, nor do I use negative experiences and emotions as an excuse to go off and cheat on my diet. I have also been paying more attention to my fluid intake, and I have nearly returned myself to the strict hydration habit that I was trying to instil in myself before my “March Madness” began.

Yes, I have been lazy about my workouts. I have however been moving a lot of furniture and other things about the house, and when I have found myself in places where it is customary to sit, I have learned that sitting for extended periods of time has now become incredibly uncomfortable for me. So much so that my legs kind of “hurt” in a way that encourages me to stand up and move around, and when my back starts to feel sore, I do my little hula exercise, and a couple of Psoas stretches, and after a short while the pain goes away.

Even though I have skipped out on the exercise, by maintaining my diet, and encouraging myself to stand more often, I have also continued to lose excess body fat, and a recent weight measurement shows that I am now at least 1 kg lighter without any additional effort required. In other words, my journey hasn’t really stalled or failed, it has simply gone into a temporary recess, awaiting the return of my more positive and enthusiastic self.

Yes, I also found myself not getting enough sleep, and this is probably because my water intake became quite low. The thing is that I am recovering in this area also, because I recognised the problem, I connected the cause with the symptoms, and I have taken action to correct the problem. In other words, I have become proactive about dealing with each of these things that I have seen as negative symptoms of the events which have been occurring in my life.

So what do you do when the wheels fall off your personal “bus”? You stop the bus, get out, step back, and look at the problem from a distance, look at each wheel in turn, and if a wheel has fallen off take action to put the wheel back into its place, and when the bus has all of it’s wheels again, get back on the bus and continue your journey.

photo credit – theboringrunner.com

For those of you who hate metaphors, I’ll spell it all out with a little psycho-babble thrown in for good measure: You take a moment, try to be mindful of your situation and how you are reacting to the situation in your thoughts. You take each problem that you face, examine it mindfully, accept that it has happened, see what you can learn from the experience, and then take steps to return yourself to a place where it doesn’t matter what the problem is or whether it happened, and you permit yourself to move forward from the experience with an open mind. You deal only with those immediate problems which you feel are barriers to your self-improvement or life journey, and you leave the others until you actually need to address them. Then, you simply return to travelling your life journey one moment at a time.

I have also learned that I don’t necessarily need to maintain a positive mindset all of the time, and that’s it’s OK to have negative thoughts from time to time. No emotion is truly bad, yet how we respond to those emotions and what we choose to do in response to those emotions is important and something that we need to be more mindful of. In reflecting on all of this, I have reminded myself of the things that I feel are most important to me, and I have remembered that I would rather learn from my failures than sink back and wallow in them.

In my own recent experience, while it may have felt at the time that I had thrown myself under the wheels of the wagon I should have been on, the reality is that things were only feeling so bad because I allowed myself to feel that way. I learned that I was mistaken, and that I didn’t need to feel this way. I learned that my journey hadn’t ended, but rather that it simply took a detour and that it was up to me to determine the length and quality of the detour. I learned that even while I felt myself failing at some of my goals and tasks, I was also succeeding at most of my other goals and tasks.

Something else that I’ve taken away from all of this is that the purpose is not to balance successes against failures to determine how well or how badly I have done. Instead, the purpose is to either try alternate strategies when a failure occurs and keep trying until I feel comfortable that I have reached a point of success, or to reflect on the failure, learn from it, and to identify if my goals are sensible and achievable, or if I should be redefining my goals to better reflect my abilities and my needs.

What all of this means is that I don’t need to feel guilt, or low self esteem simply because I have failed to achieve my goals. I don’t need to allow myself to become depressed. I can instead choose to take something positive out of every negative experience, because no matter how tenuous the positive connection may be, it is still a good thing and something to feel good about. So for every negative experience and thought you might have, remember that there is something positive to learn, and that in itself is a small goal that you can set yourself to achieve every time something occurs in your life, regardless of how you might otherwise choose to feel about it.

Let me tell you why I am a reformed Paleo & exercise guy

10 Mar

It was about 10 years ago when I found myself living in a very stressful period of my life. My work was tough and the company I worked for was new and unlikely to ever pay me what I thought I deserved, the demands of a new project manager were over the top and it was clear he didn’t have a clue about how to adequately manage a software development team, and of course because he was new he was “asserting” himself quite strongly to make his mark and secure his position within the company. I was starting to wonder if moving to the new job was a mistake, and to make matters worse, my home life offered me no respite because my wife at the time (now thankfully a long and nearly lost ex) was doing her best to fight over every little thing, where all I wanted to do was rest and spend time with my kids and to de-stress from a hard day at work, so in the end I actually believed that I was going to work in order to de-stress from my home situation instead!!

The thing about stress and in particular with long term stress is the effect it has on your metabolic processes. Your liver for example can start to play up, and you’ll see indicators of stress in your blood work, but that’s IF you can be bothered to see your doctor to get a blood test. For me though, the real kick in the guts at the time was less about liver function, and more about the news that I had very high levels of cholesterol, with a total count somewhere in the vicinity of 13 mmol/L where it would have been better to have seen it well below 5. At the time my dad (then aged 56) had recently undergone surgery to have a stent inserted into one of the arteries of his heart. His cholesterol was at a less unhealthy 8-9 at the time, so you can imagine my concern as a young 30-something faced with the possibility of things like angina, stents, coronary artery disease, heart attack, stroke, and all of those other nasty situations that can arise when your cholesterol is messed up!!

I made a lot of changes to my diet which mainly involved cutting out what I thought must be excesses of fatty red meats such as lamb and beef, I cut out all pork, and limited my intake of chicken. I read all of the ingredients on the oil bottles, and went for the least fat and trans fats in particular. A lot less effort was made to improve my exercise, and unfortunately I found my carb intake getting higher as I tried to replace all of the protein I was missing with other foods. Even so, by about this time in 2011 I had managed to slowly claw my total cholesterol down to a high yet less scary 6. While my HDL cholesterol was low, at 1.1, it was still considered acceptable, however my triglyceride was high at 2.2, and my LDL cholesterol was also high at 3.9.

There was a problem with this approach to food however. Lower protein with higher carbs meant that my weight started to grow out of control, and no amount of exercise seemed to prevent this. What made things worse was that the more I exercised, the more I found I needed to eat, and without a good source of protein I felt like I was hungry all of the time. I didn’t really understand how to exercise either, so the other problem that I had was that I kept getting recurring injuries in my back, knees, elbows, shoulders, and feet, and so I would find myself at rest more often, and physically active only when the injuries seemed to have resolved. So in short I got fat, but surely I should have been happy that my cholesterol was at a less dangerous high, right? Well… no. I was fat, uncomfortable with my own body and my body image, and it seems I was eating my way into malnutrition and what felt like starvation.

At about September of last year, my wife was browsing randomly at some on-line coupon site, and found a guy selling 6 weeks of his boot camp program for about $20 per person, and when she told me about it, I said to here that we should do it. I knew that I needed some help getting my fitness kick-started again, and perhaps this guy might be able to show me where I had gone wrong in my training. So Through November and a bit of December, we attended the boot camp. The workouts were hard, I was the oldest and fattest guy there for the first couple of weeks, and after that I was simply the oldest guy there. I was also the least fit person.

In my first session, I found that I couldn’t physically push myself to complete the exercise set out for us to do (I was in the easy group). I felt nauseated, but even pushing myself physically, willing myself to keep going no matter what, I reached a physical limitation early where I simply couldn’t move my muscles any further beyond the pain and the muscle shakes. By the end of the week, I had attended only 3 sessions, and I felt completely wasted. My back gave out on me, and I needed to rest it up for about a week because I didn’t understand at the time where the back pain was coming from and why, and yet a strange thing happened during the rest of the boot camp. Not only did I find myself getting stronger, I found myself wanting to do better.

I also started to learn more about recovery, and somehow my injuries started to slowly go away and my efforts at the boot camp became easier to handle. The only thing that was failing me was that I was still struggling with a really messed up diet, feeling hungry all the time, and craving things like biscuits and chocolate. It seemed that the harder I worked out the more of a sugar junkie I became, and the weight loss seemed to be a very slow thing given all of the physical activity I was getting. Cutting out all of the sweets and the better exercise did have a very positive effect, because for the first time in a long while my cholesterol levels dropped below 5. The problem however was that my HDL levels had fallen below the recommended minimum, while my LDL’s and Triglycerides still remained too high.

It felt so disheartening to see all of that effort only to find that my body chemistry was still a mess, I was always hungry, getting paranoid about food, and found trying to figure out how to exercise and eat such a complicated mess that it made me wonder both what it was that all of the leaner people knew that I didn’t, and whether there was enough time in the day for all of the exercise that it seemed I would need in order to become and maintain a leaner person. So I did what any modern day person does when searching for answers in life. I went seeking answers from that mighty “oracle” that we call the Internet!!

Cover of "The Paleo Diet: Lose Weight and...

Cover via Amazon

At about mid December, I came across the idea of the palaeolithic diet. The webpage that mentioned Paleo was a little… to say “odd” is doing it a kindness… but for all it’s strange over the top new-age-ish evangelical vibe, it had a few statements that kind of flipped a switch in my brain. Something seemed a little odd, yet the root concept seemed to make a lot of sense. So I dug around, found out all I could about the Paleo diet, read Loren Cordain’s book, and by the end of December realised that I was going to try doing it. I’d give this Paleo lark a 30-day trial to see whether it lives up to the hype, and then see how it goes.

I’ve blogged several times about how well the Paleo diet has worked for me, but what I haven’t been able to show to you so far is some real science to back up the claims, and whether the stuff that I feel and that I now believe is real, or simply a lot of empty words on your computer screen. So I went to see my doctor and had a full blood work-up done. Samples were taken recently on the 1st of March, and I got the results back yesterday. Everything came back listed as Normal !!!

In only two months of an easy to managed healthy diet, and with a bare minimum of exercise, I have cured all of the abnormalities in my blood, apart from a slightly elevated bilirubin which is consistent with hereditary Gilbert’s Syndrome (which means my liver behaves funny but that’s normal for me and most people of Mediterranean descent). I also found out that my total cholesterol is now only 3.9, my LDLs are safely normal at 2.2, triglycerides are fractionally above the desired range at 1.6, and my HDLs are now right on the minimum at 1.0. So all of that effort I made to avoid animal fats according to the long-held knowledge that the medical community had been telling us really was the wrong thing to do and was very unhealthy for me. What I should have done instead was get rid of excess hidden sugars, eat those lean meats (including the red meats I had been avoiding) and ingest only healthy fats to get my cholesterol back on track.

I now feel confident that my cholesterol will be much healthier when I go in for a check-up at the beginning of next year. I am 100% convinced that I have proven that the Paleo/SANE approach to healthy diet is the best way to recover from health problems relating to diet and that it is also crucial to recovery after exercise. Yes, I know that I am only 1 person with one set of results and that this is hardly a peer-reviewed scientific study. Frankly I don’t care whether or not if you would draw the same conclusions that I have. I know what I feel, and what it has taken for me to reach this point. The reality is that I am the healthiest I have ever been, and I am getting healthier and stronger every single day.

I have a system that works, I can show the world how well it works, and I’ve been documenting my journey here to offer some empirical evidence that it works. It’s relatively straight forward and doesn’t require a herculean effort to achieve. So why aren’t more people doing this? Why is it that the world seems to be convinced that only Brand X supplements, Brand Y fitness tools, and Brand Z diet systems are the only way to go? I have a feeling that the problem is in the message of “eat healthy and exercise”. It’s just too glib, even if completely true, and has been said so many times that it’s now easy to ignore the underlying message. It really does seem too easy that you can deal with all of the cravings, eat as much as you want, exercise as much or as little as you want, and still be completely healthy. It goes against everything that the medical, pharmaceutical, diet, and fitness industries have been telling us for the last 20-30 years, and it just seems too good to be true.

The real issue though, is that a Paleo/SANE diet is sustainable activity. It’s not something that you need to work at. It doesn’t require special attention to “cheat days”, weighing and measuring food, counting calories, understanding the finer complexities of food labelling, abstinence, denial, obsession, or any other thing that makes the simple act of eating food so difficult to manage or understand in a modern world. Most people who go on a diet fail to achieve their goals, and most dietary changes where there are difficult to manage restrictions, and complex systems of measurement are abandoned as soon as a goal is reached. Inevitably most diet’s are fads that fail to deliver long term sustainable results, and make the dieter feel like a failure when goals aren’t reached when it is a failure of the dieting system itself that sees poor results and a high rate of abandonment.

Likewise exercise need not be overcomplicated, and should be able to be easily incorporated into the daily activities of your life. You don’t need to go to a gym and do an hour of cardio every other day to maintain your health and fitness, and you don’t need to attend every single fitness class, or to become an expert on the use of all of those complicated fitness machines. Do those things because they interest you, or because you want to, but not because you feel like you are supposed to. Instead, move some furniture, do some gardening, paint a fence or a house, chase the kids/dog around the park, go for a hike and climb over a boulder just for the hell of it. Everyday activities that will keep you fit and will match the effort you are making in the kitchen.

So why am I a reformed Paleo and exercise guy? Because it’s simple to do, and it’s easy to sustain as a lifestyle rather than as a task. Perhaps most importantly however is that compared to everything else that I have tried over the years, its because I KNOW that this works, and I now have a healthy body to prove it.

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