Why Paleo

Following up on the last post Why Crossfit, this post will talk about why I settled on Paleo as my eating plan for the last year.  Since there are so many resources on Paleo I will try to stay away from the science and just talk about my reasons for deciding to give it a try.  Not to sound too cliché but the first reason comes down to one word and one word only.  


                I know, everyone talks about bacon on Paleo, personally I believe that it is God’s second greatest gift to mankind.  I even had a discussion with a friend about how much more awesome it would be at church if instead of wafers there were little pieces of bacon at communion time.  She disagreed but she’s vegan and that means she doesn’t count anyway, right?  Seriously though I do enjoy the stuff, and a big absence in any diet that I had done before was that the consumption of bacon was an early casualty in any “low fat” diet.  So when I heard that I could still have a couple strips of bacon at breakfast Paleo had my ear.

                Bacon couldn’t be the only reason to start a new diet so here are some others.  First, the science was convincing.  Without getting into the technical side of things too much the arguments that I saw being made against grains and refined sugars made sense.  I knew from the way that I felt that something was wrong with the way I was eating, and even when I was very strict on my diet and didn’t eat large amounts of fast food I still would weigh in at 300 pounds or more.  How can a person that eats rice, wheat bread, and chicken breasts still be that big? I had no idea what was wrong at the time, but as I read more about it the more I became convinced that it was the grains and sugar that was in my diet that was holding me back.  I decided that it made sense to give this a try, the other ways had not worked up to this point and I guess I could try to find a way to live without my beloved pizza.  Second, the portion sizes of the meals that I was seeing were not the ones that I was used to seeing when I had been on other diets.  I’m a guy that loves to eat, even now at my smaller size I’ve still got a raging fat kid inside that I sometimes have to keep in check.  In fact going back to reason 1 if it was up to my inner fat kid I’d eat nothing but dry roasted almonds, bacon, and dark chocolate all day.  The fact that I could cover my plate in food and eat it and still lose weight made me interested in trying this thing out. 

                So Paleo it was, I really didn’t put a lot of thought into it at first.  I had read the Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf, took a look at some websites like Marksdailyapple.com and was really only going to give it a try.  In the book Robb says to try it for a month, and just see what it does for you.  My decision to try Paleo was really only a commitment for that first 30 days, I just realized in that first month that it worked well for me.  At first my diet was really basic and boring, I ate a lot of piece of meat with onions and peppers on the side.  I had never been a big eater of things other than meat, bread, potatoes and since I had eliminated two of the three from my diet I had some adjusting to do but I was moving forward with it.  I tried to find things to make myself eat.  I settled on broccoli and asparagus at first, and from there started eating other things.  Even today there are things that I’m not a big fan of, and I still don’t think I eat enough of the leafy greens but I’m working on it.  I guess you could say that I’m still a pretty picky caveman, but it works for me, and everyday I’m getting a little better about increasing the variety in my intake. 

                I’ve stayed on Paleo because it’s worked so well, and while I would say I dance the Paleo/Primal line a bit it still works out alright.  I’ve found that dairy doesn’t bother me so I get to have cheese sometimes.  The meals that I have I enjoy and there’s a great variety to it, and I must say that eating organic, and grass fed really makes a difference in the taste of the food that I eat daily.  Besides that there’s always the cheat day from time to time to get those things that you just can’t get eating Paleo.


Why Crossfit

This post and the next one will be a little different, instead of telling a single story I thought that as readers you might like to know the reasons why I chose the programs that I did.  So here goes my reasoning behind why I chose Crossfit and why I think that it worked so well for me.

 Asking myself why I chose Crossfit at first I shrugged my shoulders and went I don’t know even to myself.  Looking back on it a year later it kind of seems like it was just the way it was meant to be.  I’m sure that it was not the case and to be honest last year there were many times that I had major doubts as to my abilities when I looked at some of the other people doing the WODs around me. 

I guess the first reason why I chose to do Crossfit is because it’s not boring.  This is key, who really wants to do a boring workout routine all the time.   I had been there and done that.  Going into the Rec at school and sitting down on the bike to ride 20 miles, and then pushing some weights around wasn’t what I wanted to do anymore.  I had gone through various programs over the years, so more motivating than others but without a major competitive sport to train for it was hard to dedicate myself to two hours plus a day in the gym.  The hunt had begun for something that was going to be a change of pace from the programs I had been doing in the past. 

After a rugby match spring 2011


I was also looking to do new things; years of training based around competitive sports meant that I was very comfortable doing a few different movements with free weights and using a few machines.  I was used to going in and following a routine, ride the bike, do arms or legs, move to the machines for a bit, maybe do some dumbbell work and then do situps and go home.  I was interested in getting to try some of the things that I saw in Crossfit videos.  I had never done a pull-up in my life, and I also had never used a Kettle bell, some of the movements that were being done with barbells were completely foreign to me also.  So I wanted to learn how to do this stuff, it only made me more interested when I saw some of the strongman things that were being done in some of the workouts I saw online.  I knew I wanted to do this, but I couldn’t do it on my own.

Lastly, what I was looking for was someone else to do my programming as well.  It’s too easy to take it easy on yourself or only program things you’re good at if you get to choose what you want to do on any particular day.  Crossfit offered solutions to that problem as well, by having a WOD for the day I didn’t get to choose what I did or did not want to do.  Also knowing that I was going to be doing things that I wasn’t good at meant that I would have to get better at those things.  So as I was hunting around online I had begun to think that Crossfit might be the program for me, and I began to hunt for a place to try it out at.  Although I was skeptical at first at the length of many of the workouts I was seeing.   Having come from years of measuring my workout duration in hours I wasn’t sure that I could get the same benefits from such a short amount of time in the gym.  What I had been doing up to that point had not been working and at that point I figured what did I have to lose, I might learn some new things, and maybe even find that I enjoyed it. 

So I emailed Brian at Capital City Crossfit, he answered a few of my dumb questions, and encouraged me to come check it out.  He offered the first week free of charge if I didn’t like it then I had nothing to lose, except maybe a ton of sweat since there was no AC and it was July.  I figured why not and made my appointment, the rest of the story is what we are talking about here.  I could do many more posts about why I love Crossfit the way that I do, and why I think that it has been so beneficial to me, but I hope that the stories I tell over the course of this blog make that very clear.  Crossfit has helped me to transform myself in ways I never thought possible, and exceeded all my expectations for how it has impacted me physically, mentally, and emotionally.  There are not enough good things I can say about my experiences over the last year with Crossfit.

Moving forward

July 2011 was the start of something great, but like most things that are the beginning of something bigger in the moment it’s hard to realize what is going on.  That’s the way it was for the majority of my On-ramp experience into Crossfit.  I was going in for the three classes a week that are part of the program, learning movements and generally leaving feeling humbled every time.  I was not exactly sure what I was doing, I knew that the workouts where needed but I had real doubts about my ability to move past the introduction phase and start doing the normal WODs that I would see on the board everyday.  For me everything was scaled, from the number of reps, to the amount of weight, to the time I was given to complete exercises that month I didn’t do anything without some modification.  When you are as large as I was that’s to be expected looking back on it, but in the moment it really made me feel like unmanly.   Walking into the box each day I realized that there was a lot to learn, and that it was not going to come easy.  As the month progressed there were small victories, days that I began to see that there was a progression to what I was doing.  Getting that extra rep, or getting further in an AMRAMP gave me confidence going forward.  The encouragement of the people at Capital City was amazing and as I came to the end of my three weeks I had a choice to make.  One last week as August began and I had to make a choice, was Crossfit really the thing for me? What was going to be the path for me, I was days away from starting my time in the classroom student teaching, I had a mountain of uncertainty about what the future would bring, but I knew one thing, I was going to need something that I could count on everyday.  What better thing to set my schedule around than beating the living crap out of myself six times a week?  Six month membership here I come.  I talked to Brian, set myself up for six months and to make sure that I didn’t wuss out I paid for all six months up front.  I was ready to take on the fall.  The first month had been a challenge for me, high summer temperatures and learning new things had seen me struggle a lot.  There was going to be a lot more struggling before I started to see major victories but the truth was, that at the end of the first month I was already down a shirt size.  I had made it through four weeks of workouts and a new system of eating.  My weeks had been filled with change, and I was hooked, I was ready to see where the road ahead would lead.  Six months of Crossfit awaited me, I had two months till the wedding and I was looking at a massive unknown as I would step into the classroom to teach.  How would I hold up to the pressure of student teaching? I had no idea but I was counting on the people at Capital City Crossfit, the WODs, and my friends to help me move forward to graduate in December.  The months ahead made me doubt if I was up to the challenge, but I knew that I had to keep going, because at this point I already was sure of one thing, there was no going back.

Steve starts Paleo, his roommate eats pizza in front of him

A week after starting the On-ramp class at Capital City Crossfit it was time to start eating better.  I had put it off for a week knowing that I needed to get rid of some of the food in the apartment, and knowing that I had the wedding that weekend and there was no way I was going to miss out on one last round of wedding cake.  So for a week I allowed myself to enjoy foods that I knew I wouldn’t be having for a month, more if this Paleo thing actually worked.  Finished off with extra wedding cake, and a great time with friends celebrating an important day in their lives.

The time had come, I was abandoning the way of eating that I had known for my whole life.  I was about to go from a man who would often go days without a vegetable in his diet to a guy that had them with every meal.  Leaving behind the days of walking into Little Caesars and getting a pizza, crazy bread, and a 2 liter and thinking that was an appropriate meal for one.  I started simple and just worked on staying strict as much as possible.  I had many meals of a piece of meat, onions, and peppers.  I worked on making sure that I was avoiding all of the processed foods and worked to make myself like other veggies.  Slowly I started to enjoy eating broccoli, and I made a lot of roasts.  Surprising for me was how quickly I took to eating such a different way.  I learned that anything that lets me have lots of bacon is a good thing.  I really like bacon, and it got to be a huge part of my diet plan.  Secondly Asparagus is amazing on the grill, double that if you combine that lesson with lesson one.  And third is that my roommate is a jerk.  He’s not really a jerk, and I love the little guy, but his favorite activity in my early days/weeks of the new eating plan was to sit down and eat meals that were not even close to something I could eat.  Allow me to set the scene:

Steve sits down, he has a meal that includes a huge glass of water, a steak, and peppers and onions to go with it are a few almonds.  Peter sits down next to Steve, with a giant bowl of pasta with a red sauce.  He brings with him a giant bottle of some sweetened beverage and lots of garlic toast.  Then proceeds to ask if I want any.  This is less than a week into the diet and continues in various forms.  I sit down with my meal, Peter brings pizza, or pancakes, or anything else you can think of that I might miss.

I should also share the fact that I as a new Paleo eater lived with a baker, a man who spend his entire working day making things that I had no business eating.  Luckily he never brought anything home so it was never an issue, but still the Paleo guy was living with a guy that spent at least five hours a day baking sweets.  That would make a great tv show.  The first few weeks were going to be tough, as with any major change in life I struggled, but getting to know the ins and outs of my body and tracking how I was doing most days helped.  I quickly realized that my appetite was way down from where it had been and that I was able to slow down at meal time because I no longer felt the need to shove massive amounts of food into my system.  As this was going on I began to realize something, my pants were getting loose, and that I didn’t feel as beat up anymore.  Yes I was tired from all the workouts and long days at work, but my body was actually recovering.  As the days turned to weeks and I was coming up on the end of the month it was time to decide what to do about my diet and the answer became clear, I should keep this Paleo thing going.  Here’s a picture of me after about 3 weeks, I’m at a Phish show, back home in Chicago.

Already you can see that I’m changing, and so as I prepared to take on the biggest challenge in front of me I was going to stay strict Paleo.  Student teaching, Paleo, and Crossfit could that really be the match made in heaven? That’s what was in front of me, 16 weeks of challenges and stress, but here goes nothing.