When I first decided I wanted a six-pack over a decade ago, I didn’t really know how to get one.
I was young and naive. I ate low-fat foods and generally tried to cut down on calories. I tried many of the popular diets on the market. They all left me feeling hungry and as though I was punishing myself.
The best I ever did was following the Atkins Diet for two weeks. I lost plenty of weight but got scared when I read that I might be losing muscle too (in fact I wasn’t, the Atkins diet just worked really well at shredding fat).
Even still, none of these diets was something I could do for life.
Around 2005 I discovered Dr. John Berardi and his lean eating principles over at Precision Nutrition. His 7 healthy eating habits seemed to gel with me. They made sense from a ‘gut feel’ point of view. He also had the science and success stories to back up his claims.
And so I began experimenting with his eating strategies, albeit not with as much determination as I have now.
A few years later I discovered that his strategies are similar to those used on the Paleo Diet, Warrior Diet and a number of popular diets (although he allows unrefined grains in the 2 hour window post workout). Not surprisingly, the way bodybuilders and fitness models eat also have more similarities than differences.
The Slow Carb Diet
I knew that I has carb sensitive, and that cutting them out of my diet was key to my fat loss journey. But the question was, how many carbs could I eat before they stalled my fat loss.
In early 2011 I eagerly picked up a copy of Tim Ferris’s book, The Four Hour Body. His ‘Slow Carb Diet’ again seemed to resonate with my already held diet beliefs.
The slow carb diet is similar to Dr. Berardi’s Lean Eating principles, except Tim Ferris suggests eliminating all grains and instead eating as many legumes (in particular black and pinto beans) as you want. The rest of the diet is made up of protein and healthy fats.
I followed the Slow Carb Diet throughout February and March and made good progress, dropping a steady 1-2 pounds per week.
The drawbacks were cost, food preparation and….excessive farting.
The Primal / Paleo Way
Towards the end of 2010 I began hearing more and more about the primal way of eating. Getting back to nature and not eating anything that our ancestors would have had access to.
Having been following Lean Eating and The Slow Carb Diet I had already eliminated processed foods and grains from my diet. But what about legumes?
The Paleo diet shuns them due to the fact that prior to the agricultural revolution regular consumption of legumes was not common.
They also suggest that dairy be avoided, something that the two previous diets had said were OK.
The Best of All Worlds
The Wisdom of Crowds theory suggests that if you get enough people to give their opinion on what works, by amalgamating all the answers together you get a solution that is closer to the truth.
I was not interested in getting involved in a long debate over which diet was better and why. I wanted results.
And so I wrote a list of what was COMMON to all the diets.
All three diets suggest:
- Meals should contain protein and healthy fats
- Eat less processed stuff
- Eliminate as much sugar as possible
- Eliminate refined grains
- Eat lots of vegetables
The diets differ in their handling of:
- Whole grains – Lean Eating allows whole un-refined grains such as oats to be eaten in the 2 hour post-workout window. The other two do not.
- Dairy – Paleo suggests cutting out all dairy, the other two allow it in moderation.
- Legumes – Paleo says no, Lean Eating says OK post-workout, Slow-Carb Diet says OK anytime.
My Personal Cocktail
I adopted the similarities immediately. If people were to just follow those rules we would all be much healthier.
The trick is not to get caught up in the differences. Dairy, legumes and whole grains are extras that can be tweaked as necessary. If you are under 10% body fat and insulin sensitive, then adding whole grains and legumes to meals post-workout is not going to make you fat. It may even help you build muscle mass.
Eating cheese, cottage cheese and yogurt is also optional. If you feel bloated or unwell after eating it, then don’t eat it. If you can handle the lactose then eat it.
Focus on the SIMILARITIES. Get those right first, and then you can worry about the differences.
Personally I limit my fruit intake to berries only (maximum of 200g per day), do eat dairy in moderation (the odd 100g of cheese and pot of full-fat greek yogurt two times a week), and eliminate all grains and legumes. The berries and vegetables keep my in the 50-100g of carbs per day range which I find very effective for fat loss.
The transition from a traditional Western diet, loaded with carbs and sugar, to a low-carb, higher protein, higher fat way of eating was not easy. It took several years of struggling to fully adopt the diet.
I would go for a month or two then abandon it. Working 8 hours a day and then having to shop and return home to prepare fresh produce was too much of an effort.
I obviously didn’t want a killer physique badly enough.
But after all that struggle, I now feel as though I have fully embraced it. I no longer have cravings for sweets or fast food. I am learning to cook tasty meals using natural ingredients so that I don’t lapse back into my old ways.
I dream that I will eat this way forever.
I am in better shape that I every have been. I am not ‘ripped’ or super lean. I do not have huge slabs of muscles.
What I do have is the confidence that my current way of eating will help me achieve those goals – as long as I am consistent and never give up.