Over the last 10 years, I have been on a journey to reclaim my health. Sadly (or happily) I have only figured my body out in the last six months but it was the whole journey that took me to this point. To be clear, I don’t have the holy grail of diet and exercise programs but I do have a list of false starts, unsuccessful diets and unsuccessful medications to share. In addition, I have some concepts that worked for me and may work for you. But, please take into consideration that everyone’s body is different and, I’ll just say this once, I am not a doctor. Most of what I do know comes from medical talks, medical studies and nutritional experts. I will share as many links as I can since this post is just a story about what I did and I would hope that my story will inspire anyone who is “sick of being sick” to begin their own journey and do their own research. This post is just a curated group of ideas that worked for me. The reason that I would hope that you would do your own research is that, as most people know, maintaining a diet and exercise routine is hard, but, understanding the “why” of the choices you are making improves your chances of success. Self-control is a limited resource. When people ask me if my diet is hard, my answer is: sometimes. When it’s hard, I cheat a little bit. I think the best thing you can do is cheat a little bit and then hop back on the bandwagon. I think there are a lot of things that you need to enjoy to live a happy, healthy life. Some of those things are food. But, you need to have a healthy relationship with food. I’ll get into my diet in a little bit but first I’ll share my health issues.
My health issues:
So, this gets a little personal. I think I could be friends with someone for years and still never share some of them. But, in the conversations that I have had with a few people recently, I realize that there are a lot of people in a similar situation. I realized that I am ok with oversharing or being a little embarrassed if this helps just one person. Also, I am very thankful for all the information out there that has helped me and I think, in writing this, I am paying it forward to heal others.
Here are some of my issues... I have battled depression my whole life, I have had IBS-D (it stands for Irritable Bowel Syndrome and the D is for diarrhea) since my mid-20’s (I’m 39 now) and I have been fighting a slow weight gain for the last 10 years. Sadly, those are just the obvious problems. The depression, IBS and weight gain come with a lot of baggage in the form of insecurity, low energy, self-isolation, anger, self-medicating, brain fog... the list goes on and on. In addition, I had low testosterone and a non-alcoholic fatty liver but had no idea why. My doctors only wanted to try different medications for different issues. The sad part is, it’s a spiral without a way to turn it around. I took several antidepressants, 5 different medications in total. Instead of getting “happier”, if there was a side effect by taking the anti-depressants, I got it. I felt like someone else, detached yet angry, and I couldn’t sleep and was gaining more weight. The worse part was the sexual dysfunction. I won't go into details but nothing hurts the male ego as much as the last one. For the IBS, I was scoped from every direction and was told that I’m healthy. What?... Needing to run to the bathroom after every meal and not wanting to leave the house is not healthy, and neither was the bloating, cramping and all around energy drain that comes with it. But, here came my doctors to the rescue again with more medication. I tried antispasmodic medication and anti-anxiety medication, that turned me into a zombie, but nothing actually made me feel better.
During this time, I wasn’t just looking for medication to fix myself. I tried several exercise programs but I was always low on energy and my joints would get inflamed. I tried several diets as well. We went vegan for 4 years. During that time, I gained more weight, lost more muscle and none of my symptoms improved. In fact, I got worse. My memory started getting worse. Conversations with my wife would include me forgetting 2-3 names and 2-3 places. They became a guessing game like “You know, that one place?” and “The guy that married that one girl, you know, what’s his name?” I can already feel the hardcore vegan’s saying “you weren’t managing your diet correctly” but I will say it again; I think everyone’s body is different and you need to find the right diet for you. In addition to vegan, we tried several other diets for varying timeframes. Then I tried going raw, vegetarian, FODMAP and celiac among others. In fact, at one point, I just ate oatmeal for a few days in hopes of eliminating everything and slowly introducing one food at a time to find out what I was reacting to. Some diets worked a little better than others but none of them fixed me. Here is the diet that did work.
I was listening to the Joe Rogan podcast while on a business trip. He had a guest named Mark Sisson, author of Primal Blueprint. During the interview, Mark went on to explain a diet designed to mimic the diet that our ancestors would have evolved to consume in order to lead long, healthy lives. The diet rejects the Standard American Diet (SAD diet) consisting of sugar, grains and other simple carbohydrates and focuses on unprocessed food with healthy fats. What I learned is that my body was running on sugar (glucose) and shortly after consuming sugar and carbohydrates, my body would dump a bunch of insulin into my system to clear the toxic level of sugar from my system and store that energy and nutrients into my fat cells. Then, once the sugar has been cleared out my blood system, I would soon feel weak and get hungry for another (sweet) snack or meal. So, as long as my body was running on glucose, I was locked into a blood sugar and insulin roller coaster and continue getting fatter and sicker. Our bodies have a second system that runs on fat. In the absence of abundant carbohydrates, our bodies produce ketones. In a Ketogenic state, our bodies are fueled by dietary fats as well as our own bodies fat stores. So your body literally turns into a fat burning machine so instead of constantly being hungry, your body uses it’s own energy reserves. Using this system, you not only lose weight but your endurance will increase since your body can store significantly more fat energy than it can store glucose in your muscles. Also, your muscles and joints do not get as inflamed from training as they do with a high sugar diet. For this reason, many endurance athletes have now transitioned to ketogenic diets.
Here is a link to a Dr explaining how this works: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_evJd_iZZzs
So, what do I eat? Here is a small example of what my daily diet might look like.
Scrambled eggs with cheese and bacon.
Because I am no longer on the insulin roller coaster, I am not usually hungry for breakfast. However, many days I will train in the morning, while in a fasting state, and work up an appetite.
Coffee with Half and Half (I may blend with Grassfed Butter as well). Mark Sisson doesn’t recommend dairy but I enjoy diary and have not had any allergy issues with it. Listen to your body.
- 1-2 hamburgers (No bun) with melted cheese
- Steamed vegetables
Again, I’m not usually hungry around lunch time so I will typically eat lunch around 1-3pm.
- Steak with salt, pepper, and garlic
- Sliced Avocado
- Steamed Vegetables
- All over Quinoa
If I am hungry throughout the day, I will snack on macadamia nuts or almonds. If I want a heartier snack, I usually have leftover steak, chicken or eggs covered in butter and cheese.
The beauty of this diet is that you are leaving behind the foods that your body burns through quickly and craves more. Fatty foods, are very satisfying and, although they are very calorie dense, you tend to eat less throughout the day.
Here is a link to more Keto recipes: https://www.reddit.com/r/ketorecipes/
I have never seen a sport, workout routine or athletic club change someone's life like Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu aka BJJ. If I could shout it from the rooftops I would. It is a sport where you get stronger, learn how to control your body, learn to control other people and learn who you are. It’s hard in ways that you will have to discover for yourself but the friendships and community that you will form keep you coming back. My body feels like it’s mine again and I feel 20 years younger. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a grappling sport and self-defense art. BJJ uses leverage that allows a smaller, weaker person to control and submit a stronger, heavier opponent. The ego is the first thing to fade in BJJ. Your ego will keep you coming back but you will be baptised on mat during every training.
Through BJJ, I have gained back my core strength and solved my lower back pain issues. I can now run for miles at a time without getting winded since my cardio has significantly improved. My confidence has increased considerably since I now know what I am capable of but I am also more humble because I know what other people's bodies are capable of. My depression has lessened and the lows are considerably less low. I attribute this to hormone release by the intense exercise as well as the feeling that I have control over my health.
How you spend your mornings really does set the tone for the day. Here are a few things that have significantly helped me.
I like to wake up before anyone else in the house. The silence in the morning gives me time to reflect on what I want to accomplish that day. I spend 10-15 minutes in meditation followed by affirmations. Affirmations don’t have to be cheesy but they are more powerful that you can imagine. If you are not willing to say nice things about yourself out loud, how can you expect anyone else to? Also, they set the tone of positive self-talk before you can begin speaking negatively to yourself. After affirmations, I will repeat the 5 things that are the most important things in my life. This helps me make decisions and set boundaries throughout the day. My five important things are: Husband, Father, Health, Work, Hobbies. If something doesn’t make one or several of these things better or if something negatively impacts these things, I will be very careful what decision I make. Also, the order is important.. Keeping your priorities straight is the secret to happiness. Next, if there is time, I will write in my journal or go over my todo list for the day. After my morning practice, or morning routine, I am ready to take on anything.
A good books on the subject:
After all of these life changes, here is what has changed. I am a healthier, skinnier, stronger and most importantly, a happier version of myself. My IBS is 100% cured as long as I manage my diet correctly. I went from a high of 210lbs and I am now around 175 lbs and I’m still losing weight at a rate of 2-3 lbs a month. I went from size 36 pants into, a very loose fitting size 32. Most of my joint inflammation is cured. I still have some issues with my elbows but BJJ can be really taxing on the arms until you perfect your technique. My depression is 90% cured. I still have some bad days but the day to day battle of depression is a thing of the past. Cognitively, I feel incredible. I still forget the occasional name or place but I’m no longer frustrated with my own ability to recall facts on demand.
My journey is not done. I feel like I have only begun turning into the person that I want to be. However, I feel like I have solved many of the roadblocks that have been blocking me from realizing many of my goals. I hope this helps you. You are different and your journey is different but perhaps you will see some of the things that I have done and, even if you don’t adopt any of my changes, you are inspired and see hope out there for yourself.
Also, here is the obligatory before and after pictures. I will continue to post after pictures over time as well.