“Real People, Real Paleo” is a series of posts written by real people who were inspired to share their paleo story with you. There is such diversity in the challenges that bring us to a paleo diet and lifestyle and in what we hope to achieve by adopting them. These stories are intended to be a place of inspiration, written by real people, showing the diversity of our needs and our approaches to this way of eating and living, and explaining how each individual’s implementation of paleo meets their needs. By sharing these people’s stories with you on my blog, I hope to redefine what paleo success is. I believe that paleo is about being healthy enough to thoroughly enjoy life, whatever that means for you, and about sustainability for our entire lives. If you are interested in writing up your story, please email my assistant Tamar at email@example.com
I decided to change my profile picture on Facebook recently. It had been a while since I had last done so. I’ve also changed my appearance since then. The kind of change that happens after losing 50 pounds. Part of the reason I posted the picture was to surprise my friends and family who hadn’t seen me in a while. I was also curious to see what kind of response it would gather.
First off, I’m happy to announce I don’t have a serious illness (that i’m aware of). I do find it odd however that we often associate weight loss with serious illness. Is being fat becoming the new normal for middle aged men? In the Spring of 2013 I decided to make changes in my life, positive health related changes that are beginning to impact me greatly… in a really good way. My story is a bit long but I’m writing it because I think the journey I embarked upon this year will be useful to others who are looking to make healthy changes to their lives as well.
As we age I’m seeing many of my friends struggling with their weight and health. Things start to happen when you hit your late 40s. Discussions about SSRIs, statins, high blood pressure medications and testosterone replacements become common place as we realize we aren’t the Supermen and Superwomen we once thought we were back in our 20s. My age and being nutritionally irresponsible for the past 25 years had caught up to me. I knew it was time to change but wasn’t quite sure where to begin. I’ll be honest, the task seemed a bit overwhelming.
The search began… Like most searches mine began on my computer on the Google website. I entered the term “The Perfect Diet” and quickly realized my quest to understand nutrition was going to be more difficult than I first thought. Dieting is not only a means to lose weight, it’s big business. Everyone has a solution that claims to be the best. The marketing and hype is borderline ridiculous. I was determined however to try to figure this out.
My search became a little easier one day when a co-worker of mine shared his story of weight loss with me. He had lost over 100 pounds and was suffering from some of the same symptoms which I was. He had visited a local naturopath here in Ottawa who had provided him with extensive blood test results on a barrage of things including vitamin deficiencies, hormone levels, gut bacteria levels etc… I decided to do the same.
Sometimes living in denial is easy… When I turned 40 things were good. I had cruised into it on a steady diet of blueberry muffins or bagels for breakfast, Subway sandwiches and diet cokes for lunch, bag of pretzels or chocolate bar for an afternoon snack and a frozen meal of some sort for dinner with a good sampling of whole grain nachos or Smartfood popcorn for a TV snack later on. I was fueled on junk and the odd fruit and vegetables to pretend I was living a half healthy life… My body was filled with a steady stream of processed junk and it was keeping me healthy…. or so I thought.
Carrying excessive weight was always an issue of mine. It began a few years before hitting puberty, it wasn’t anything crazy but I easily carried an extra 25 pounds on my body. During puberty I shot up to 6 foot 2 and leaned out at 175 pounds. I was physically active during those years, playing in my college indoor hockey league, biking a lot and hitting every alternative club dance floor until 4 am every weekend. I stayed at that weight until I graduated college and started my first full time office job. I also felt great during this time.
And so it began. My thin 175 pound body soon went up in yearly increments of 10 pounds. The Canadian winters in particular were brutal because of my tendency to stay indoors, eat and drink more than I should and not engage in any physical activity or exercise. Looking back I found it pretty amazing how seamless gaining weight had become. There was one skill I was really good at and that skill was gaining weight. Watching my overweight self during my years on MTV and Canadian TV wasn’t exactly a thrill either. Fat, fatter, fattest.
257.6 pounds, that’s the number I entered into an iPhone app I had downloaded to track my weight on April 1st of this year. It’s almost embarrassing to write that number here today. But every journey needs a starting point and that was mine. It wasn’t long after my 40th birthday that I began to feel the effects of years of not eating properly or exercising enough.
That’s when I officially became an ailment collector. Up until then I had never really needed to see any doctors. Apart from the odd rash (I’m allergic to WD40) or sprained foot, years would go by between visits to a doctor’s office. Things were about to change however. When I turned 41 years old I began experiencing anxiety related issues. Panic attacks, dizziness and the feeling I was having a heart attack began hitting me on a daily basis. The cold / dark Canadian winters in particular were brutal for me. I found myself in the ER of a couple of local hospitals thinking I was dying. After various heart tests I was told I was fine but should seek out my doctor to talk about the panic attacks.
Doctor…. I think I’m going nuts. DO SOMETHING!
And that’s what my doctor did. I walked out of his office one day with a prescription for an SSRI called Paxil. It wasn’t something I was terribly proud of would write in my Christmas cards about but after starting to take the drug my anxiety problems quickly became manageable. They were gone on some days and lurking in the background on others but I was able to function normally in everyday life. But here’s the big problem in all of this. Taking a drug like Paxil removes the symptoms of a problem but the problem itself remains or becomes even worse if you don’t make changes to fix it. The human brain requires 600 calories of energy to function everyday and 90% of the production of serotonin in the body comes from the gut. You can rest assured feeding your body coca-cola everyday is going to do nothing but put your brain in a world of hurt as I learned the hard way.
Unfortunately for me at the time I decided to move along and not do anything. I thought my anxiety issues were cured…. kinda. That’s when my ailment collection began to grow even bigger.
Age 41…. Acid Reflux…. check
Age 42….. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)…. check
Age 43….. Sleep Apnea…. check
Age 44….. Lower back and hip joint pains…. check
Age 45….. Non Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) and Iron Overload….. check
Age 46….. Increasing blood pressure….. check.
What could possibly be next? As I sat in the waiting room of my naturopath I stumbled upon some literature on Mediterranean and Paleo diets. As my name got called out I quickly folded the papers and put them in my back pocket. They were going to come in handy.
My naturopath handed me a folder. In that folder contained a multi-page document listing all the blood test results I had taken. Page after page we went over the results together one after the other. There was a common thread going on; the lists I had before me indicated deficiency after deficiency. I almost laughed when a result indicated a positive level.
The slap in the face was soon to follow. As we finished off going over the results he closed the folder and looked at me. I felt as if I had just received an F on my grade 5 report card and the principal was about the scold me about it. His look of disapproval of my results was pretty obvious. His trumpet blasted out the sounds of war. “Glenn, you’re 47 years old. Unless you make changes, this is where you’re headed. You are borderline pre-diabetic right now and showing signs of metabolic syndrome. By the age of 55 you’ll have diabetes and then give or take a couple of years depending on your genetics you’ll be dead by the age of 65 of a serious illness like heart disease or cancer”.
UGH! As I sit here today writing this I’m still not sure if he was trying scare me into nutritional responsibility or bluffing me. The poker player in me knows however when it’s the time to put your cards down and accept that you’ve lost your hand. It was time to listen and take this seriously. Our talk remained focused on nutrition and the food I was eating and how those foods were affecting my health. I received an overview on insulin resistance, inflammatory conditions and why 60% of North Americans were now fat or obese and metabolically broken while suffering from anxiety, depression and stress overload. It was a heck of an eye opener.
Off I went… broken but not defeated. I like a good challenge and it was time to take this on full charge. I began to read nutrition books, listen to health related podcasts, watch lectures and documentaries online to educate myself. The deeper I got into this the more I realized how broken and tainted our food supply is right now. How the food companies have engineered processed foods to be addictive using the same techniques the tobacco industry has been using for years. These techniques are making foods so addictive people struggle to stop eating them. They call it food engineering for a reason. I’m also realizing the impact big pharmaceutical companies are having on our lives… and they aren’t very good.
My wife and I took a trip to Paris recently. Instead of staying at a hotel we opted to rent a small apartment in the Latin Quarter of the city. The neighborhood was charming, full of small shops, cafes and bars where the locals hang out and socialize. Our first day there we decided to hit up the local grocery store to pick up some breakfast food for the week ahead. It was like a freight train had hit us. As we walked around Paris earlier that day we noticed that almost everyone was thin. It was almost as if it didn’t make any sense. The only overweight people we saw were carrying an extra 20 or 30 pounds. The only really obese people we saw that entire week in Paris were tourists from the States, Canada or Australia. How could this be? What was going on here?
As we stood in line at the grocery store to pay for the food we were buying I began to look at what the others had in their baskets. Meat, cheese, vegetables, fruit, freshly made baguettes and wine. It was as if the French as a whole had decided that eating processed foods was a cultural faux pas. It was the same thing with fast food restaurants. They were completely out numbered by local establishments selling real foods over highly processed ones. I found the French experience interesting because it was a confirmation that the approach my wife and I had taken 6 months before that was dead on. Vacation over.
Back in the spring my naturopath suggested that based on my height and build a weight of 190 pounds would be ideal for me. 190 pounds… The last time I was that weight was back in 1990, roughly 23 years ago give or take a year or two because I never really tracked my impressive weight gain record. That guy was out trying to impress the ladies (albeit not successfully) and full of testosterone. Could I do this? The goal ahead of me was set… 67.6 pounds. That’s the amount of weight he suggested I lose.
That’s where the Paleo diet came in. After doing my research and absorbing Robb Wolff’s book The Paleo Solution I was sold on the science behind the diet. It became a template for myself, my wife and slowly my six year old daughter (that’s an entirely different discussion and one of the reasons I love The Paleo Mom website as the information helps out paleo dads as well). Reading that book was one of the best decisions I ever made.
My updated health report… Beyond the 50 pounds I’ve lost so far things have begun to change with my body in terms of health.
1. I got off Paxil for my anxiety issues and no longer need it. The anxiety was somewhat brutal at first but after stabilizing my blood sugar levels, fixing what I think was an adrenal problem and adding a few supplements (Multi, vitamin B complex, Omega 3s, Magnesium, Zinc, Rhodiola, Probiotic, Curcumin) I now feel great. It took months to get there however.
2. GERD and IBS… I always knew I had some sort of food intolerance, going to the bathroom 5-6 times a day just didn’t seem normal. When I eliminated wheat both problems vanished within a week. It was almost surreal that I had subjected myself to years of issues that both vanished after one food group was taken out of my diet.
3. Sleep Apnea… just about gone. The weight loss is doing the trick. I’m hoping it’ll be done with once I reach my target weight. My wife has also remarked the insane snoring issues I once had are now at a minimum.
4. Lower back and hip joint pains…. gone. I’m assuming the elimination of wheat and inflammation had a lot to do with it. I also purchased a memory foam mattress that helped at night.
5. Non Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) and Iron Overload…. Limiting my intake of carbs to 60 grams daily has my body in a state of ketosis which is known to reverse NAFLD. If you are obese there’s a very good chance you may have NAFLD. Please talk to your doctor about it and have a scan done. Iron Overload often goes hand in hand with NAFLD but men of European descent (like myself) tend to have it more. I have a Ferritin blood test result that i’m expecting in a couple of weeks. I’m hopeful it’ll be a good one. In the meantime I’m donating blood every two months to lower the iron store in my liver.
6. Blood Pressure…. It was in the 130-135 / 85-90 before and now in the 110-115 / 70 range. I’m thrilled every time I see it low. The little things in life.
A couple of things… I use Paleo now as my template for health but sometimes life takes over that prevents me from eating a perfect diet.
Social events are always an interesting challenge to work around. Maintaining an 85% great food / 15% not as great food ratio while removing all foods that cause an intolerance is a good healthy way to live. Don’t kill yourself about not being perfect, it’s a pointless exercise that will lead you to being stressed out and eventually failure. I was guilty of it myself when I first began and it was to my detriment. Tomorrow is always a great day to get back on the ride. Be patient… The damage you’ve put your body through the past 20-30 years isn’t going to fix itself overnight. It’s a slow process to get to the finish line. Stick with it and you’ll get there.
If you’re beginning to experience some of the same things I was start to consider making a positive change in your life. As i’m learning the human body is incredibly resilient despite the continued abuse we put it through. It’s never too late to consider a better road if the one you’re on right now is approaching a dead end. Stay healthy my friends and be kind to your body.. It’ll be kind to you in return.
Here are two more photos showing the “before” and “after” for both myself and my wife Sharlene. As you can see, we have both benefited from adopting a Paleo diet.
Glenn Humplik is the long time co-host of the cult television show “The Tom Green Show”. In Canada, the show aired on Rogers TV in 1994 to 1996 and The Comedy Network from 1997 to 1999. Two different formats of the show aired on MTV in the United States (and around the world) from 2000 to 2003. He now works in the hi-tech industry and lives happily with his wife Sharlene and daughter Mira in Ottawa Canada. You can learn more about Glenn on his website.