By my mid-twenties I had suffered multiple injuries to both knees and started to realize I couldn't keep up the pace forever. I also met my wife and decided to scale back on the sports to make room for someone else in my life. A couple of years later we were having a baby and I dropped out of my last league team, promising the guys I would come around for pickup games on the weekends when I was able.
Between dropping out of sports and some sympathetic pregnancy weight, I started to get soft, mostly around the middle. At first I convinced myself it wasn't all that bad. Just a little weight, nothing I couldn't work off. But as the winter months dragged on, the sleepless nights left me too tired to prepare a proper meal, and when I did, I fell back on old standbys, mostly pasta.
I don't know whether it was the lack of sleep from the newborn baby or just plain denial, but I went from convincing myself I could deal with a little weight to forgetting about it entirely. As I continued to gain more weight without even realizing it, I also started to get knee pain that started out as mild discomfort going up the stairs, and gradually grew to the point that my knees hurt more often than not, and going DOWN the stairs was becoming painful. What awaited me was a harsh awakening. At the age of 30 my doctor was telling me that I had arthritis in both knees and if I didn't lose weight I was headed for the same heart disease that plagued my father's family.
I spent the next couple of years trying everything I knew to lose weight, eating "healthy" - three meals a day following the almighty food pyramid, cutting out sweets, restricting calories to the point that I was constantly starving, just aching for my next meal. I also started trying to exercise more, going for walks in the evenings and picking up P90X on a friend's recommendation. With every effort I initially lost a little weight, usually around 10 pounds, followed by gaining back more than before. My calorie restriction left me so famished that when I finally succumbed to the hunger I ended up snacking constantly, eating far more calories than I had to begin with.
Then one day, providence struck. My mother was diagnosed with celiac disease. Two of my siblings had experienced symptoms similar to hers and went to their doctors, resulting in two more diagnoses. When my mother mentioned it to her doctor he had an interesting response: "all people are essentially allergic to gluten, just not everyone presents such acute symptoms as to be diagnosed with a problem" he said. I told a friend of mine who had celiac all her life about the doctor's comment and she pointed me to a website called Mark's Daily Apple. Her pretense was that my mother would appreciate all the gluten-free recipes on the site, but I think she knew I would figure it out once I saw it for myself.
After browsing the site a little, mostly looking for recipes with a little casual browsing, I found myself drawn to the ideas that were being presented. They just made so much sense, and were actually backed up by research - real science! Before long I found the Primal Blueprint 101 page and spent every evening reading through the articles until I had exhausted the list. I couldn't believe what I was reading, and at the same time I couldn't believe what I had been doing to myself for so many years.
After a lifetime of a primarily carbohydrate-based diet, I decided to turn the tables on conventional wisdom and follow my gut - and the Primal Blueprint. Some of the best advice I got from the forums before making the transition was: don't go hungry, and stock up on primal snacks to get through the initial carb cravings.
After my experience, I am firmly in the "carbs are an addictive drug" camp. The first couple of weeks I had intense cravings for carbohydrates, I wanted to stuff a loaf of bread down my throat one day, and thought I could have eaten a whole pot of pasta another. But armed with my new cardinal rule "don't go hungry" and a big pot of Primal-approved trail mix, I was set to surpass all my own expectations.
In fact, in the first couple of weeks I was convinced that I was actually going to gain weight due to the massive amounts of trail mix I had eaten (it even had dark chocolate in it). So much so that I was afraid to weigh myself. In the third week, however, I started noticing that my pants were getting loose. I had to tighten my belt a notch and my stomach was visibly smaller. By the end of the week I knew I had to have lost weight, so I decided to brave the scale.
I had stopped weighing myself months before, mostly out of shame and disappointment, so when I stepped on the scale this time I was convinced it was broken. Something had to be wrong, the number I saw wasn't possible. The last time I had weighed myself I had weighed 245 pounds and I was sure I had gained more weight since then, having added an extra notch to my belt with a carving knife in the meantime. I stepped off the scale and recalibrated it twice just to be sure, but when I stepped back on each time the number came up the same - 220 pounds.
I had lost (at least) 25 pounds in the first three weeks. I knew I had a lot to lose, but at that point I was 100% sold, any lingering doubts were gone. The Primal Blueprint was my new way of life. Over the course of the next year the weight loss continued at a more moderate but steady pace until I weighed 180 pounds and friends and family couldn't stop themselves from commenting on how good I looked every time I saw them.
One friend who had watched my progress, and struggled with her own weight over the years finally approached me to ask more about the Primal Blueprint and how it worked. It just happened to be the same time Mark's Daily Apple was gearing up for a Primal Challenge, a chance to participate in 30 days of following a Primal program with dozens of other people online so I invited her to sign up and ended up agreeing to do it with her, so we could compare notes and meal ideas.
I thought I had already lost everything I needed to, but decided to take the opportunity to make my own improvements, cutting down further on fruit and starchy vegetables, and looking for more varied sources of healthy fats, especially the coveted Omega-3s. I also looked to improve my exercise habits, as I had barely done any at all along the way. As it turned out, the result of the additional tweaks was losing another 10 pounds, finally settling at 170 and feeling more energetic than I could remember feeling since high school.
More than a year later I still weigh 170, and still have more energy than anyone else I know at my age. My doctor no longer worries about heart disease, and I have no pain at all in my knees. I am free to play with my growing kids, and enjoy life without anything holding me back.
-initial carb cravings
-some resistant family members were convinced I was going to kill myself by not eating "properly"...if only they knew.
What advice (if any) would you give to someone interested in trying a carbohydrate-restricted or paleo diet? Were there any obstacles that you overcame that could help future dieters?
1. Don't. Go. Hungry.
2. Prepare your meal plans in advance. Make sure you identify what you are going to eat for a healthy source of good fat, of protein, and what in your meal consists primarily of carbs. Awareness of what you are doing is absolutely key.
3. Having Primal snacks on hand to fill the gaps (especially at first) is key. I slowly phased out of the snacks over the course of the first year, but at the beginning when I was floundering trying to figure it all out, having grain-free snacks was crucial - mixed nuts (no peanuts), mixed seeds, dried cranberries, and dark chocolate chips were my best friend, and actually helped me lose a lot of weight (while also eating grain-free, low carb meals).