“The first step toward change is awareness. The second step is acceptance.”
My intention is for this to be a living, “work in progress” page. I’ll update this piece with new information as it becomes available, and as it influences me to adjust my working theory; my take on the subject of Physical Culture, my “life’s trajectory”, so to speak. My theories do not remain static, nor do I intend this page to remain so. As a consummate epistemocrat, I am forever on the prowl to uncover material that forces me to expand — or completely change, if need be — my held-to beliefs. What follows are what I consider my to be my currently held “truths”, as they relate to overall well-being and the pursuit of the Physical Culture “high life”.
My General Premise
1. Forget, and completely so, what you previously thought of as diet and fitness and overall well-being Gospel. Wipe the slate clean; be receptive to a completely new paradigm in nutritional well-being and Physical Culture.
2. Wrap your mind around this one very simple idea: agriculture is a relatively new development (within the last 10,000 to 50,000years, or so) vis-à-vis the human genome. Our bodies (and genotype) have not evolved sufficiently, and are therefore not adequately prepared to handle, the “modern” onslaught of grain (in all of grain’s multi-varied derivatives) and of other simple carbohydrates. Our thinking may (arguably) be well-advanced from that of our stone-age ancestors, however, our bodies and brains, genetically speaking, are relatively identical to the Paleolithic, hunter-gatherer.
3. Exercise (in the pursuit of health) should be infrequent, intense, of short duration, and highly variable. Training for a specific athletic event/sport is an entirely different animal — and not necessarily a healthy one at that. And to the extent that we correlate sporting prowess to overall health and well-being is indicative to just how off-base, irrelevant — hurtful, even — mainstream ideas toward health, diet and fitness have become.
4. Following a Primal/Paleolithic/Evolutionary Fitness template, within the confines and limitations imposed by the modern, work-a-day world, is no doubt a daunting prospect — at first blush. Adherence to the Primal/Paleolithic/Evolutionary Fitness template, though, is, in practice, easy to pull-off. The aim of Theory to Practice is to chronicle, demonstrate, and lead by example, just how one does go about achieving a life of finely tuned, Physical Culture.
5. This process is an ever-undulating, ever-expanding journey; there is no static or defined “destination”, per se. “Good health” must always be measured in context, and against the background of one’s goals. Constant adjustment and refinement must be the rule of the day and not the exception, as new scientific findings must be continually evaluated and re-evaluated in light of practical application. All things must be evaluated through prisms of an n=∞ and n=1 nature; that is to say, all “truths” carry with them a universal and an individual component. This blog, then, is more of a signpost along the path than it is “the answer”. Take from it what is useful in your own on-going journey, and make it your own.
6. Proper diet and proper exercise stimulation are the Yin and Yang of health and overall well-being. One in the absence of the other renders the overall experience lame. It’s a hackneyed sentiment but, in this case, unarguably true — the whole, here, is tremendously more powerful than the sum of its part.
So there you have it, Theory to Practice in a nutshell. I am, at my very essence, an epistemocrat – defined by Nassim Taleb (in his marvelous book, The Black Swan) — as being “someone of epistemic humility, who holds his own knowledge in greatest suspicion” (hat tip to Brent Pottenger, at Healthcare Epistemocrat, for that fine quote, and for taking the lead of expanding this idea as it applies to expression of fine Physical Culture). As such, I consider myself a consummate seeker of knowledge, but one not married to any one notion. Dogma, to me, is an anathema. The dogma is, that there is no dogma! This blog, then, is a composite of my own n=1 journey through the wilderness in search of the best that might be obtained in the wide world of Physical Culture.
A More Specific Overview
The Diet Component…
“Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution”
– T.G. Dobzhansky
The basic concept of a Paleo-like diet is that our bodies are genetically best adapted to utilize the foods we evolved to eat, and that humans (and ergo, the human genome) evolved over a few million years as hunter-gatherers. Agriculture did not appear on the human landscape until between ten to fifty-thousand years ago. Although most reliable estimates place the appearance of agriculture at closer to the ten thousand year mark, even using the maximum fifty-thousand year estimate yields a similar outcome — not nearly enough time for our genotype to evolve sufficiently to cope with the introduction of these new, agriculturally-grown (read, grain) foodstuffs.
The most prevalent source of calories for our Paleolithic ancestors of 50,000 years ago would have been lean meat. The fatty parts would have been favored (as it offered more “bang for the buck”), however, since wild game is very lean, the average fat intake would have been relatively low. Our genes are cued to respond favorably to a much higher fat intakes, however.
Dairy, too, would not have been consumed until just a few hundred generations ago, when livestock was initially domesticated. Lactose intolerance is an extreme symptom of our genotype’s having not yet evolved to handle this novel food. I take an agnostic approach when it comes to dairy, though, as many people do tolerate it well, and (in the raw form at least) dairy does provides a multitude of healthful benefits.
Ultimately, the genes we inherited from our Paleolithic ancestors now determine what our optimum diet should consist of. These same genes — virtually identical to those of our ancestors harbored some 50,000 years ago — evolved according to the environment (including food varieties that were available to them) in which those ancient ancestors evolved. And although our ancestors did not eat just one single diet — but rather, ate various diets, depending on geography, ecologic niche, season and glaciations — these various diets did, however, share some of the following, universal characteristics:
The available carbohydrate sources were:
· Plants, leaves
· Roots and tubers
· Nuts (could be considered a fat source as well)
The available protein and fat sources were:
· Wild animals of all sorts (including muscle tissue, fat, organs, brain and marrow). However, the total amount of fat, and the fatty-acid composition of that fat, was different than that found in modern domestic animals.
· Fish and seafood
It can be argued, as well, that the carbohydrate content and load for the modern version of the fruits/berries (and to some extent, vegetables, as well) is much different that that available to our ancestors. This is a minor point of contention, though I do tend to agree. One can, however, avoid problems here by limiting the ingestion of these foods. The same can be said for opting to eat grass-fed meat when possible and where available. I am a realist, though, and will always opt for taking care of the major worries before attempting to fix the minor stuff. See my thoughts on the 80/20 rule, here.
The Exercise Component…
In general, an exercise session should be constructed such that it is consistent with the following dictates:
it should be intense, though of short duration
the chosen movements should be functional and/or compound in nature
the individual components of the workout — as well as the workout itself, when considered in total — should be constantly variable.
workout intensity and workout frequency should act as inverse variables.
above all, try to learn to listen to the fractal rhythms of your body and adjust the four prior-mentioned points accordingly.
there should be periods of low-intensity “play” interspersed throughout the more intense exercise outings. This can consist of virtually anything you enjoy that involves fresh air and bodily movement. Walking, for example. Light tennis. Softball. Personally, I enjoy fixed-speed and mountain biking. Partake in whatever lifts your spirit and fuels your fire.
And the Results…
Again, the preceding was intended simply as an overview, the specifics of which are fleshed-out and debated throughout the many posts you’ll find here. Feel free to email me at theorytopractice@gmail with any questions/comments/concerns that you feel don’t quite belong in the comments section of any particular post. Or, hit me with something novel that you’d like for me to consider. Persuade me; change my mind on a topic you feel that I’m missing the mark on! Either way, I’d love to hear from you.
I agree with the basic idea of the Paleo lifestyle, except for the hard-and-fast rules imposed! And though this is not directed at you or this site, I’ve read many statements similar to yours that I feel warrant stating another angle to the Paleo way:
Firstly, short duration/high intensity exercise makes sense from a direct hunting/ fight-or-flight point of view, yet there would have been plenty of long duration low intensity food gathering and preparing (even if not necessarily cooking), water gathering, shelter making, spear/flint making, animal skinning and curing, walking to better hunting grounds in new seasons (for days or weeks at a time!), etc, etc. And please don’t say that that was only for women (if you were going to, that is, hehe!)
Secondly, there is evidence that even at least one Neanderthal set of teeth (presumably an even older human diet and digestive system) found contained some grass seeds (i.e. grains!) remaining from possibly the last meal or so. Therefore, while grains and dairy would have been fairly rare, I’d say if you had natural access to gather grass seeds by at least a handful or two, you’d certainly be adding that to your food intake if you could!
And if you’d accidentally shot a female animal, you’d take the milk if you could as well (we’ve done that when hunting). So I dare say, our ancestors would have made use of everything available to them … whether frequently or rarely.
Because of this, I don’t tend to buy milk and flour, but will eat it if presented with it or at a restaurant, or it comes my way somehow. Variety is the spice of life, and the secret of human survival.
I couldn’t agree more with your thoughts. And here’s the thing — the only “hard and fast” Paleo rule (as I see and practice it, at least) is that there are no hard and fast rules. There are Paleo guidlines, to be sure — but in this, as in any endeavor, terms like “never” and “always” give me pause.
I also agree with your notion that our Stone Age brethren did, in fact, partake in limited amounts of what I would consider Paleo, gastronomical “no-no’s”. The key here, though, is load. Trace amounts. Once in a blue moon. And the biggie of biggies — those grains were in no way refined. But, hey, I’ve been known to swill a beer now and again — and I do love my wine — both of which, unfortunately for our ancestors, were unknown in their day.
And yes,there must have been plenty of day-to-day activity — some it it semi-strenuous — that had nothing at all to do with the fight-or-flight response, or of the intense hunt. Nothing wrong at all, I think, with mimicking that best you can either. In fact, I would like to do much more “play” on my non-intense days,if time allowed. What I’m saying is that with the given of a limited amount of free time,your best bang for the buck, fitness wise, is to do variable, high intensity work of a short duration. By all means, if you’ve got the extra time, get out and move and play!
Thats amazing!!!! Im on paleo and it is certainly working wonders for my weight loss. I hope it keeps going like that!!!
Keith – pretty much sums up my philosophy. Good photo. I’ve been paleo for a year this month and with every week my randomness increases, both in diet and in exercise. It’s very liberating, as a former routine-junkie to throw all that out the window and revel in variety and accident….
p.s. Just posted a graph of my changing body composition over the last year of Paleo – One Year Later: Hunter Gathering and Body Composition
I just stumbled upon this post and the “About me…” one. Really awesome summaries that make perfect sense. Our philosophies have a lot in common, from Paleo living to Taleb. It is actually through Taleb bokks and then website that I stumbled upon Art Devaney, from which I change my lifestyle after reading his EF essay.
I look forward to reading your future blog posts and would love to hear your “practices” on the Taleb “theories”, if you want to call them that.
For starters, the toughest part is trying to allow “randomness” to thrive within a structured, work-a-day world. Planning and pre-planning are essential to getting much of anything accomplished health and fitness wise. Too much, though, spoils the stew. Trying to reconcile the necessity of planning with the need for randomness is something I struggle with on a daily basis.
Keith- totally impressed and excited to find your site. I’ve been searching to find a practice and lifestyle definition and my search lead me to the paleo life. I’ve been a proponent my whole life and did not know it. I have recently finished reading the Paleo diet and the incredible writings of Paul Shepard as well- “Coming Home to the Pleistocene”. If you have not read it I know you will understand it deeply simply by your writings. I am now committed to combining my diet exercise and backcountry exploits into an all encompassing change in my life. I bowhunt for ALL my own game and my family and I have lived off wild game as our principal protein for 16 years. My restlessness with the “civilized” world and my desire to be wild are natural- I never knew it until I started researching all this. I feel vindicated and freed now to be celebrate my “wildness” and true genomes- I always thought something was wrong with me. I look forward to reading more from here- this is inspiring.
I envy your ability to get totally back to nature, Chuck! Thanks for the good words, and I hope you find plenty of information here that you can put to use.
Where did you get or come up with this information?
As a person studying anthropology at the top university for such studies and under one of the premiere paleoanthropologists in the world, some of this information is just completely false or very incomplete. For example, there is a ton of information that indicates the ability to digest dairy is the most selected for gene in the last 5-10,000 years among Europeans and most Europeans are able to digest dairy without problems. You also ignore the great variety of diets around the world, some of which had a wide array of fruits and some that had few; some had access to a variety of fruits, while some had little, and more. The point is that most “paleo” diets tend to work because it creates a convenient way for people to restrict the foods they eat, get in a fair amount of protein, and gets people to eat fruits and vegetables. There are numerous diets you could do that can accomplish this without forcing people into some false dichotomy of “paleo” versus “non-paleo” and restricting foods that have numerous health benefits.
Evan, I certainly respect and would encourage further comments from, or an ongoing discussion with you. I think the things you have mentioned (lactose tolerance, variety in diet) are covered adequately and on-going throughout the balance of the blog. I agree with you, by the way, on both of those points. The page you have commented on, however, is by design a brief introduction and not intended to be the “whole” of the premise. Please peruse more of the blog; I encourage you to comment as you see fit as well.
Also misrepresented is the notion that man only began consuming lactose/dairy in the last few hundred generations. In fact, all mammals, including our ancestors, have been consuming dairy from the first moments of their lives for many millions of years. Its called mother’s milk.
Honestly Star61, everyone knows that. Obviously this issue is whether or not ADULTS can use the milk from another species as optimum nutrition.
Such ridiculous comments really don’t contribute anything to the discussion.
Hello, I really like the site. Great stuff, you seem like a pretty smart and fit guy. I will be reading your blog from now on. I got a few comments though. Well, the fact is that we evolved during an ice age; hence animals would have been a lot higher in fat compared to what would be found in wild game today. Animals that live in the cold tend to hold on to more fat. Also did we or did we not hunt the mammoth to extinction? That’s a lot of fat. Paleo principles are all out of whack today. Also while we are a very adaptive species but, we are in no way shape or form herbivores. It also seems that the few plant foods we do eat have been demonized by these pseudo paleo principles because of a high GI, like roots and tubers which do grow in cold climates. We are designed to eat starch, I mean for god sake our saliva is full of starch digesting enzymes. They are actually a plant food we can assimilate well. Carbs are not so much source but more about amount, overall load. You should look at a BLOG called Plant Poisons and Rotten Stuff. There is a lot of really well referenced info on all the nasty things found in lots of fruits and vegetables and nuts. On your workouts they look top notch and I wish I could workout like that but when I first started working out I banged my self up so I have been working on getting my knees, back and shoulders back to normal, it isn’t easy but I still hit it hard, just got to be careful.
Well take care
You might do well on a Doug McGuff-style workout protocol. Check-out the book Body by Science.
I just saw cardiologist Dr. Robert Vogel of Pritikin (http://books.google.com/books?id=9q3W0M5F4CYC) give a presentation the other day. Interestingly, although he is still talking about Dean Ornish, his exercise recommendations are coming in line. He is recommending HIIT (and NOT lots of cardio) and “social exercise” (e.g. dancing) and talks about doing things that are in line with our natural make-up.
The main dietary differences seem to be in his concentration on fish in place of meat and the proportion of plant-based foods to animal.
“The main dietary differences seem to be in his concentration on fish in place of meat and the proportion of plant-based foods to animal.”
The Paleo umbrella encompasses a rather large and diverse range of diet (think of the indigenous diets of Eskimos, as compared to those living nearer the equator). The avoidance of grains and the minimalization of (modernized) fruits is the common thread.
Agreed. I understand the Paleo perspective, but Vogel would definitely not embrace it, as it isn’t based on large well-designed studies. I just think it’s very interesting that as science advances, dietary and exercise recommendations are starting to converge somewhat, which is what you would expect. Paleo is a highly rational, analytical approach that derives recommendations from precepts gleaned from archaeology, etc. Medical sciences are not rational and very messy in comparison. However, as knowledge advances across the board and better biomedical studies are designed, empirical and rational recommendations should converge.
One major difference may be that Vogel is clearly looking at life extension, not fitness per se. As there aren’t evolutionary advantages to extreme (i.e., >60-65) life extension, it may be that the broader Paleo dietary recommendations are easier to follow in maintaining fitness but that only subsets (those Vogel is finding) within the Paleo lifestyle are effective at the upper extremes of age.
“As there aren’t evolutionary advantages to extreme (i.e., >60-65) life extension…”
Very well could be. However, I think we, as a society, tend to downplay the importance of elders to the survival of the hunter-gather group/tribe. It would have been advantageous to the group/tribe as a whole to keep the old folks who’d made it that far (not lost to accident/violent death, infection, etc.) around as long as possible. Wisdom transfer would have been a very valuable commodity to the survival of the group as a whole.
I haven’t read about this topic specifically, but I have seen it come up in a variety of scenarios. Daniel Dennett suggested something similar for the perpetuation of homosexuality, and the presence of menopause in Homo sapiens has also been theorized to have developed for group survival. However, since the game for Paleo man would have changed from sexual competition to group promotion in his later years, it stands to reason that body requirements would change as well.
I remember hearing a researcher in aging once suggest that if we could force the body to go through mid-life hormonal changes in the late teens we could extend life span. I’m exaggerating, but basically he was saying that if we all stayed the way we were in our late teens to early twenties, our prostates would blow up and we’d die of cancer at relatively early ages. I.e., there’s a growth-longevity trade-off. Obviously, the story must be more complex or we would see this relationship clearly in epidemiology and everyone would know about it. However, the idea of developing physiology over a life-span would fit with competing evolutionary goals of individual competition and group cohesion.
Again, I don’t really know anything about it, but I’m sure there’s a large literature out there.
“…there’s a growth-longevity trade-off.”
I couldn’t agree more. The trick, of course, is to find that optimum balance. In other words, I aim not for longevity just for the sake of longevity, but for productive longevity. Another way to say this is, compressed morbidity. I think this is really what we’re (most of us, anyway) are truly shooting for.
“I aim not for longevity just for the sake of longevity”
Yeah, actually I keep asking myself that with regard to our entire health care system. Anyhow, you should be fine until they put a sin tax on meat.
“I aim not for longevity just for the sake of longevity”
Yeah, actually I keep asking myself that with regard to our entire health care system. Anyhow, you should be fine until they put a sin tax on meat.
“…you should be fine until they put a sin tax on meat.”
…or on fat in general. Don’t get me going on this subject 🙂
I’ve been following the idea of low/no carb diets for a while now, since I read an interview with Devany in a newspaper. The logic behind it certainly makes sense, as according to my number crunching skills, the human genome has changed a mere 0.0025% in the last 10,000 years (assuming a 20 year generation time).
However, I’m entered for a marathon in about 4 months, and I’m worried that reducing carb intake will have a serious impact on my training. Would I be better off keeping unrefined carbs in my diet, or should I just up my total calorie intake to fuel me through training, while still maintaining a paleo diet?
As it takes some time for the body to re-adjust to being a fat/ketone burning machine, I’d suggest you remain on your current diet until after you’ve completed your marathon. It’s been my experience that 4 months is probably enough time to properly re-adjust, but I’d hate for you to loose training time while you’re in “the valley” and going through the dreaded carb. Jones. After you’ve adjusted to the diet, you’ll find that bonking is a thing of the past. You’ll also experience a much improved, and steady, energy level throughout your training and racing.
Read Joe Friel’s Paleo Diet for Athletes. He’s a cycling/triathlon coach who has converted to the Paleo diet with significant modifications. For example, I’m preparing for a marathon 4 months away, and after a hard workout I’ll drink as much as 700 calories of Accelerade to efficiently replace the glycogen in my muscles. That’s the most significant departure from a strict Paleo diet, but he also gives detailed provisions for how to eat before, during, and after the workout. This allows your muscles to recover before your next workout.
“3. Exercise (for health) should be intense, of short duration and highly variable. Training for a specific athletic event/sport is an entirely different animal — and not necessarily a healthy one at that.”
Keith, have you heard of a book titled Moment Arm Exercise? Should prove insightful since it not only challenges the notion of varied and “functional” training (I’m sure you’ve read counter points already, this is a fresh take however), but takes it a step further and says that full range of motion is not even optimal.
Anyway, great blog, keep it up
No, I haven’t. Thanks for the heads-up, I’ll check it out. I’m always open to different points of view.
Nice pic but you should do a workout cleaning the bathroom.
Reserved for my endurance days 🙂
Great post! I found you via MDA.
My question is fitness related. How does someone start? I’m totally new to this “life heavy things” and functional workouts, just have done the typical aerobic “girl workouts” in the past and I don’t know where to begin……not familiar with the technology and just need a guide.
Perhaps there’s one on your site you can direct me to?
Thank you for your help!
My suggestion is that you attempt to find a CrossFit affiliate in your area. I’d also trust a Paul Chek or Charles Poliquin certified trainer as well, though those are not so easy to find. I don’t totally agree with the entire CrossFit mentality/approach, however, their trainers at least take a functional approach to fitness. If you’ve never lifted heavy free weights before, I’d really suggest some knowledgeable, hands-on help to at least get you pointed in the right direction. What you definitely don’t want to do, though, is go to a big-box gym trainer. That, IMHO, will just be a waste of your money.
I am 43 and am hoping to get back into shape.The problem is that I start and then after a week or so I feel wasted. The short workouts and diet concepts proposed by you are very intriguing. How do you decide or make up your daily workout?
I believe I am still caught up in the old ways of thinking that one has to have a structured routine with predetermined sets reps and exercises which need to be done, and then a separate cardio session.
I would really love to get out of this rut.
My name is David and I am a Strength and Conditioning Coach. I blog about health, wellness, and balance. Your blog is great and I would love to exchange links with you. I have included a link to your blog on my site. Let me know what you think!
Just found your site here and from what I can see so far, it’s great!
I’m just working my way out from under the whole conventional wisdom thing. When I put so many of those theories under the microscope now, I can’t believe I just accepted them.
Thankfully people like you and other primal/evo/paleo types have sites like this to give us the info we need.
Thanks also for taking such a sensible, balanced and doable view to it all.
Welcome to the tribe! Hope you find plenty of useful information here 🙂
You’ve just picked up another new reader.
Just signed up for the feed and I’m going to lay a beating on the archives
Very cool, Doug; welcome,and I hope you enjoy.
First visit, very impressed. Seems easy for a beginner like me to get lost in the details, the little controversies and all the slightly
different approaches etc. Statement of the basic principles like this seems like an excellent staring point.
Oh and nothing wrong with spending your time preparing good food & working out to look like that, even if it means missing the
bathroom cleaning occasionally!
I’ve just now started reading this blog so I’m just here to say it looks well designed, simple, and full of info. I will probably be awake until early morning reading now, thanks. Just one comment. I saw above that there was some flak for some detail you got from about paleolithic facts. Dude, your 44 yr old physique is inspiring! Those making that ruckus are like people sitting around watching a person build a rocket doubting him the whole way. Then, seeing him fly off into space say, “Yeah, but he painted that rocket a dumb color.”
Just my 2 cents for right now. I plan on reading and commenting a lot more.