10 November 2014

Primal Living Part 4 - A typical week in food

Last week in Part 3, comparisons were made between Paleo, Primal and Atkins. It's important to understand the similarities and differences between certain nutrition philosophies. I believe that the commonalities across various plans, research and ideologies can serve as validation of those principles. For example, while sentiment on legumes (+Mark Sisson, creator of the Primal Blueprint explains the issue with beans and legumes here), saturated fats and red meat may differ depending on what you're reading or who you  are talking to, you are very unlikely to find anything that advocates for sugar, highly processed, preservative loaded foods.

The Primal food pyramid according to +Mark Sisson, see MarksDailyApple, or Part 1 for more
I place an incredible amount of value in this idea. While "everything in moderation" may often apply, and although carbohydrate-rich food such as grains may have their value in small doses, reducing your intake of sugar, highly processed and preservative loaded foods as much as you possibly can, the better you will feel and the healthier in body, spirit and mind you will be.

There is no ONE Primal Lifestyle

This is the focus for this week's piece. My favourite aspect of Primal Living is the push for flexibility. As outlined last week, primal isn't a list of foods. It's a set of principles (a fantastic infographic can be found here), and although these may seem like rules, they are not as rigid, ad are instead malleable according to environment, climate, responsibilities and resources relative to each individual person. This may seem like a licence to break rules, but you have to remember that primal is built on Ancestral Health and, what worked for our ancestors thousands of years ago cannot be boiled down to one set of standards. 

A world map showing the origins of the world's indigenous peoples. There was never meant to be one rigid set of foods everyone should be eating.

The foods, levels of activity and sleep patterns varied greatly depending on region. It doesn't take much imagination to understand that the Inca people of South America probably ate differently than the Inuit native to Northern Canada, Scandinavian Vikings, Mongolian conquerors or South Pacific Islanders. All of these groups had different animals, vegetation types, temperature ranges and predators to deal with.So, although all of them had diets rich in animal meats and vegetables, and the occasional seasonal fruit, and spent very little time running at a moderate pace for prolonged periods of time, the specifics of how they lived, would have differed greatly.

This is why it's important to truly be honest and self-aware regarding what works and what doesn't. While it may be easy to use influences such as budget and time as excuses for living a less than optimally healthy life, they key is to genuinely try to make these principles work for you as much as you possibly can.

What a typical week for me looks like

I should preface all of this with a very brief rundown of my daily schedule:
  • I wake up at around 5:30 and have "breakfast" around 6:30
  • By 7:00 I’m leaving for work (which is about 1km away so I walk)
  • I arrive at my desk at around 7:15am
  • I’m a high school teacher so that involves a bit of walking from different rooms and buildings. I’m not entirely camped at a desk all day, but I’m not constantly on my feet either.
  • Lunch, which is usually my true meal of the day, usually occurs at 11am
  • I am usually anywhere between 4:30 and 5:30pm
  • Dinner is usually at 6pm
  • I try to sleep by 10pm

Most mornings I don't have anything for breakfast other than 1 or 2 cups of coffee. Once upon a time, the notion of skipping "the most important meal of the day" seemed terrifying. I thought for sure this would lead to me dying of starvation by 10am. Easily the most amazing thing I have learned from Primal is the value of fats and the destruction that carbs do in terms of providing energy in the morning. I find that if my meat and vegetables made up most or all of what I ate the night before meaning my protein and fat intake was up to scratch, I really wasn't hungry in the morning, and the coffee (with heavy pure full-of-fat cream) was more than enough until lunch time. 

I just love the inviting warmth of a smooth cup of coffee in the morning. Usually, all I have for breakfast is one cup - sometimes two at around 6:30am. Normally I don't eat until after 11am..
Earlier in the year, I tried a mini experiment on myself and monitored my hunger levels depending on my morning routine. I was literally astonished to discover that, when 10am rolled around, I was hungrier if I had cereal, toast or anything else loaded with carbs, than if I had nothing at all. Obviously, eggs and bacon (or dinner leftovers) eliminated hunger the most, but aside from just not having much time for it, I honestly started to feel full. It works, my body looks to fat for energy consumption and no longer calls for the quick boost carbs offer.  People often ask me, "how are you not starving if you skip breakfast?". To be honest, my answer is simply, "I don't know. I'm just not". Of course, I do know and try to explain , the problem is that it's apparently just too hard to believe for some people.

On days where I have an extra 20 minutes, little is better than scrambled eggs with cheddar and spinach, half an avocado and some free range local bacon rashers.
With breakfast (or lack thereof) out of the way, the rest of the day should be pretty simple to describe. Usually, lunch is the first actual meal I have for the day, and it usually occurs at 11am. I genuinely am a bit hungry by then, but not starving, and on the occasions when I end up having to delay eating another hour or so, it's not really a big deal. Contrast this with people that pound away high-carb foods like cereals, granolas, crackers, biscuits, cookies, noodles, and the like. From my observation, it's pretty common for these people to express extreme hunger even if they've just eaten maybe 2-3 hours prior. Here's an Ancestral line of thought. If our cavemen brethren need to eat something every 2-3 hours, in order to avoid feeling sluggish, headaches, and growling stomachs, would they really be able to survive their historic period?

Anyway, for lunch I usually have a salad made with cos lettuce and spinach, plus a couple of other chopped vegetables - usually cucumber, cherry tomatoes, or capsicum (Australian for red/green/yellow peppers). For protein I chuck in some canned tuna, smoked salmon, or pieces of leftover dinner meat. Dressing will be in the form of some whole-egg mayo, olive oil and various seasoning (dill, or just salt). I also always chuck in a handful of nuts. If I have leftovers from dinner, I go with that, but usually I don't have any leftovers.

A "Big Ass Man's Salad" for my first meal of the day. 11am. Lettuce, spinach, capsicum, cucumber, almonds, cheese, whole egg mayo, crushed garlic, olive oil, avocado, smoked salmon. The 600ml water bottle is just there for perspective.
Dinner will always be some form of meat and vegetable combination. The usual rotation consists of:
- Steak, pork chop or chicken cutlet with boiled vegetables
- Meatballs in marinara sauce with sauteed vegetables
- Chicken and vegetable stirfry
- Steak, pork or chicken cutlet and salad

Steak, zucchini. garlic, coconut oil, butter, macadamia nuts, capsicum, silverbeet and avocado fried in a wok
You may be able to tell from that list, but I'm not much of a cook. I don't care much for hours of prep and slow cooking roasts. I've never baked anything in my life that wasn't a nacho dish that took at most, 10 minutes.

The important thing isn't how food is prepared, but the type of food we have available each meal. Our general grocery list follows the lines of:

Meat: steak, chicken wings, meatballs, chicken, bacon and pork are our primary varieties (lamb or veal are ok, but not our favourite). We go through a tonne of tuna and salmon

Vegetables: Broccoli, zucchini, carrots, spinach, lettuce, silverbeet, bok choy, cucumber, capsicum, tomatoes, avocado

Fruit: Bananas, and whatever is in season

Nuts: Almonds and macadamias

Herbs and spices: Whatever. My favourites are dill, garlic, generic barbecue, celery, basil and tumeric.

Other: cheese, pure cream, greek yoghurt, wine (I have a couple of glasses week), dark chocolate, olive oil, coconut oil

Irregular add-ons depending on tastes and sales: ice cream, nachos

Occasional garbage I have maybe once every couple weeks: McDonald's, Hawaiian Pizza, Fish n Chips

Good oil
The foundation is what matters most

As you may notice from above, I follow what is hardly, the strictest of diets.  The salient point is that Primal isn't meant to be a restrictive list but a solid foundation of principles. In general, I have  very few carbohydrates and load up on protein and fat via animal meat, plus all the colourful vegetables I can eat, and I make sure not to forget that I don't have to eat if I'm not hungry. For everything else, I roll with the punches. As far as concrete, deliberate rules go, I just try not to have carbohydrates if I don't have to. I don't step out of my comfort zone to avoid them - if it's someone's birthday, or someone just brought cake in for work I will happily share and appreciate, but given the choice, I'll opt for a salad rather than bread roll.
Taken from MarksDailyApple.com and used in Primal Living Part 2 - Ancestral Health
It may be only anecdotal, but I can personally vouch for the "Weight Loss Sweet Spot"  I discussed a while back. One thing I have done for years which may be considered pedantic is weigh myself every day - or most days. Over the years, I have learned that whenever I made a distinct effort to reduce my carb intake by holding off on pasta, rice and bread, the weight dropped even if this was all I did. I didn't need to workout at all, just swap some roasted veggies in for rice or choose not to add noodles to my stir fry, and I could be a kilo lighter after a week. The absolute foundation to all of this is to listen to your body and take stock of how it reacts to what you put in it. I started learning this long before I heard of paleo or primal, but the fact remains it was still crystal clear.

These days, I have a few years of reading, experimenting, and adapting under my belt. I look forward to registering for the Primal Blueprint Expert Certification Course, but I don't think I will ever be one for exact measurements. Nevertheless, I'm positive I stay within the Effortless Weight Maintenance zone of just over 100g of carbs per day. It make sense since I'm not putting on weight, and feeling healthier than I ever have despite working out the less than I ever have. In 2010 I ran around 70-100km a week so I could successfully complete the Gold Coast Marathon. Today, my dedicated exercise occupies maybe 3 hours a week. It may seem hard to believe, but I'm absolutely healthier, stronger, more relaxed and generally happier now than I was 5 years ago, and I have much more free time.

This just about covers what a typical week for me looks like in terms of food. Again, it's not too complicated. Next week, I will go switch gears and go over what my fitness regimen looks like. For now though, I'd love to know what you think? What is your week like? If you've been living primally yourself, how similar is your food week to mine? If this is all new to you, do these principles seem like reasonable adjustments you could make? Let me know in the comments below or on Google+.