The 30-Day Primal Challenge: The First 5 Days

Posted on Aug 1, 2011 under

In the past couple of years I have become very active and lost quite a lot of weight.  Initially, a lot of running and cycling helped me lose about 30lbs, and then a switch about a year ago to more of a gym and cardio mix helped me build some strength.  However, with neither approach have I managed to lose the excess body fat I am carrying.  Despite being lighter overall, I still have about 25% body fat.  I’d really like that to be lower, perhaps closer to the 15-18% range.

A few friends of mine had mentioned that they’d had some great success by adopting a more “primal” lifestyle, so I started to research the subject.  I picked up the book “The Primal Blueprint” by Mark Sisson, which was a good read.  It is quite a hard read as it contains a lot science, but it certainly helped me understand how the body functions, and how this should be considered when choosing and buying food, eating, and exercising.

So, last Tuesday (26 July), I embarked on a 30-day Primal Challenge, which is actually 10 challenges, covering food, exercise, sleep and sun.  For full details of the challenge, see the 30-day Primal Challenge page at Mark’s Daily Apple (the site that accompanies the book).

I started the challenge at 25% body fat, 13st 4lbs (that’s 186lbs or 84.5kg for those who use other measurement scales).  I don’t have a goal, other than to see what difference the 30 days might make to my weight, my body fat percentage, and my general feeling of health.  After 5 days, I thought I’d summarize the challenge and note down how it is working for me so far against each part of the challenge.  There are 10 parts, and I’ve borrowed or paraphrased these from the Mark’s Daily Apple website.

Challenge #1: Eat Lots Of Plants And Animals
This one has sub-parts: eat vegetables, fruits, nuts/seeds, meat and health fats, cook at home, eat clean (organic, grass fed), limit your carbohydrate intake.

I’ve found this difficult to adjust to, for a couple of reasons:

  • Lack of food variety: since I started this without much warning (I’m that kind of guy sometimes!) I hadn’t shopped to support this kind of change.  We had a good amount of appropriate food in the house, the variety wasn’t great so I’ve tended to repeat a lot of meals already.
  • Balancing Calories and Grams: I’m supposed to limit intake of protein and carbs, I found myself reaching the grams allowed of each before I’d eaten enough calories.  I was quite hungry the first two days.  It seems to be getting better, but I need to look at some examples from others to see how they are balancing the two.

That said, the food I have been eating has been delicious, and the Big Ass Salads for lunch are great!  I cannot complain at bacon and eggs for breakfast either…

Challenge #2: Avoid Poisonous Things
This means avoiding the obviously poisonous things, such as fast food, chips and crisps, cookies, soda and fizzy drinks, candy and sweets etc.  In Primal parlance though, this also includes grains, pasta, rice, beans, bread and vegetable oils.

I think I have managed this very well, although I’ve certainly considered having a massive pizza and a diet coke a couple of times.  And I am not sure how I’ll live without bread…  If this approach works for me, and it is definitely a long-term lifestyle choice not a short-term diet, there are definitely foods I will miss.

Challenge #3: Move Frequently At A Slow Pace
This involves 3-5 hours a week or walking, hiking, light cycling, swimming etc., all at once or in batches.

I walk to the train station and back every day, which gives me 30 minutes a day before I start adding other activities.  In the first five days, I achieved 1.5 hours of walking, and about 30 minutes of running.  Now, for the Primal Blueprint, “Chronic Cardio” is frowned upon (hence this item being at a “Slow Pace”), but I am not quite ready to give up distance running and hard cycling just yet…

Challenge #4: Lift Heavy Things
The main focus here is to literally “lift your body” – do two bodyweight workouts per week.  There are plenty of ideas at as part of their Workout of the Week, but the key is shorter and more intense full body workouts.

This is a slight shift for me from my usual gym workout routine.  I would do more focused sessions, targeting specific muscle groups.  This approach targets the whole body in an intense 30 minute session.  I did 1 of these sessions so far in the first 5 days.

Challenge #5: Sprint Once In A While
Just move… very fast!  One sprint workout per week, which can be done in as little as 10 minutes.  I am yet to do a sprint in the 30-day challenge.

Challenge #6: Get Adequate Sleep
Here, the challenge is simply asking you to get enough sleep, the amount of sleep you know you need to feel refreshed and energized.  For me, that is about 8 hours, but of course that will vary by person.  I’ve slept well for the first 5 days.

Challenge #7: Play
“Play” for stress-reducing effects and to get you moving without realising it.  The Primal Challenge asks participants to take part in four “Workouts Of The Week” during the month.

Challenge #8: Get Adequate Sunlight
Sunlight == Vitamin D.  Vitamin D is good.  Get 15 minutes of sun exposure each day.  I have definitely done this so far, just by walking to work.

Challenge #9: Avoid Stupid Mistakes
This simply equates to listening to your body during the challenges.  Pain during exercise?  Red skin in the sun?  Signs you should stop; pay attention to what your body is telling you.

Challenge #10: Use Your Brain
Your brain needs exercise too.  During the month, identify an intellectually challenging thing in your life and take the first steps to actually doing it!

So there it is.  The 30-Day Primal Challenge summarized, along with my comments about my own experiences from the first 5 days.  I’ll write further updates as I go through the challenge.