At the urging of a new friend who started reading my book “The Paleo Dieter’s Missing Link” a few days ago, I’ve decided to post the preface of the book here on my blog. My journey from where I was to where I am was long and difficult and full of setback, disappointments, shady characters and people who were all to willing to push me into accepting less for myself, my life and my health. Here’s how I got from where I was to where I am…
My book, “The Paleo Dieter’s Missing Link” is a book I knew I was going to write for a long time.
In the fall of 2004 I owned a big house with a big mortgage, worked a high-stress corporate biotech job, slept fewer than 5-6 hours a night and had just started an evening MBA program. I drank tons of coffee. Everything about my life was rushed and stressed. Of course, everyone would have expected me to remain healthy despite the schedule and the stress – after all, I was working out all the time, jogging almost daily and eating a “very healthy” diet of chicken breasts, protein shakes, whole grains, protein bars, granola bars, name brand yogurt and taking plenty of vitamins and supplements.
I soon found out I was far from healthy.
After nearly dying from Ulcerative Colitis, I began a long battle with digestive illness, chronic fatigue, depression and a lot of other health issues. Of course, I (at the time) and anyone in the mainstream establishment I knew, attributed my problems to “bad luck.” All the conventional doctors I saw (save for one) couldn’t – and wouldn’t – do anything but medicate symptoms with drugs that usually made things worse or caused other problems. I was told over and over again: “There’s no known cause for your illness and no known cure. All we can do is ‘manage your disease’ with drugs. Diet has nothing to do with it.” I even had the head of Gastroenterology at a major university hospital recommend I eat “bread” because my diet of only raw fruit smoothies and steamed vegetables – which seemed to be making me feel better and reduce the pain of digestion – wasn’t of adequate nutrition and nutrient “deficiencies” might result without bread. Bread…
I also made the rounds to various alternative medical people. All of them proved useless as well and were only interested in selling high-priced supplements or advancing their own dogmatic ideas. None had any answers, but all were more than happy to accept money in exchange for a useless opinion, some tests and some useless bottles of crap that didn’t help or made me feel worse.
I spent years sick and exhausted. My usually boundless creativity and energy were gone. I had all I could do to drag myself in to a job that I hated so I could sit at a desk and collect a paycheck. I still worked out and did Karate, but my training was lackluster and always interrupted for various time periods by digestive problems from moderate to severe. I made more than one trip to an emergency room due to dehydration, anemia and sever inflammation of my intestinal tract. Each time it was the same story: “Diet has nothing to do with it. You’ll need to be on medication for the rest of your life to ‘manage your disease’.”
That’s me, sick and miserable sitting at a desk doing a job I hated. The company I worked for was failing and I was surrounded by difficult and negative people…
My grandfather once said about me: ”Adam is over-confident and over-optimistic, but he usually turns out to be right.” Looking back it was pretty crazy – I stopped taking the prednisone and other crap they were loading me up with, stopped going to anyone for help and began reading everything I could get my hands on and experimenting. I experimented with all sorts of diets, fasting, positive thinking, meditation and everything else that had even a remote chance of helping me. Every so often, I’d show up in an emergency room because things got out of hand. I’d do just enough conventional treatment to get back on my feet and get back to my still-stressful job and resume my dietary research and trial and error.
This was all nearly 7 years ago. It’s relatively easy to talk about, but the day to day process I went through was excruciating. Over that 7 years I examined every aspect of my diet, my past, my goals, my thinking, my friends, my relationships, my work and my life. It was a battle and I was literally fighting for my life. And not just my “life” as in not dying, my life as in having a good one that I enjoyed and actually wanted to live. I have no doubt that the doctors could have kept me alive – but I’m certain the life I would have had under their care would have been a living hell.
I reached the point where I was determined to regain my health and live the life I wanted or die trying. There would be no lifetime of drugs and surgeries and emergency rooms and gastroenterologists who could barely speak English. They all told me I would die if I didn’t take their medications and do what they told me. They told me that nothing I did with my diet or lifestyle would help. It was a risk I was willing to take. Life on my terms or death, those were my options. At times, I really didn’t care which one it was.
Things began to really turn around in 2008, even though I was working yet another stressful and miserable corporate job and still had plenty of negative people and situations in my life. I was doing relatively well on a diet of meats, fruit, vegetables and goat yogurt and had been eating that diet for years. I was still far from healthy, though. At this time, I still thought my training days were over. I was too tired and too out of shape to want to do much of anything. I used to be big and strong and fit and live in the gym. College, then corporate life and then illness changed all that. I had lost all of the muscle and strength I built from a lifetime of weights and training. And now, the diet I needed to be on to stay healthy wasn’t anything like the one I “needed” to be on to get strong and train again. Or so I thought.
Like most, I was deluded by marketing and mainstream nonsense. I thought there was a specific diet you ate for each health problem, a diet you ate to build muscle, a diet you ate to burn fat, a diet you ate for psychological health, a diet you ate to run marathons and on and on. Special diets and special supplements. Like everything else in our modern world, everything was specialized and fractionated as far as I could tell. Something Paul Chek’s work helped me realize is that there’s a basic, foundational way to eat for health – and that health is a foundation you build on for specific needs. Eating to heal a digestive illness may have been my priority at one time, but it was entirely ignorant of me – and of our culture in general – to think that the diet that healed my digestive system wouldn’t be the diet that would help me achieve strength and performance or psychological health or any other goal I had. Certainly the application of certain principles or foods might change, but a healthy diet is a healthy diet regardless of goals or specific circumstances.
A healthy diet is a healthy diet and is universal.
Let me say that again in a different way:
There are solid, unchanging principles that make up a diet that is healthy for humans. This is a fact. There is a right and a wrong way to eat.
Yes, there is latitude within the context of “what is a healthy diet to eat” and there will be differences and variations depending on goals, individual health, tolerance for certain foods, genetics and a million other details, but the question of what to eat is not as complex as many would like us to believe. In fact, science tells us – with absolute certainty – what is healthy for us to eat and what is not healthy for us to eat. It’s just that the science that tells us this isn’t medical science. The science that gives us the answers to the questions we ask about what to eat is anthropology and the related disciplines. To see our way to a healthy future we need to use science to look at the past.
The idea of this diet vs. that diet, the 1000’s of diet books, the experts and doctors and pundits and arguments and conflicts on The Dr. Oz show and most everything else within the commercial diet landscape are nothing but distracting nonsense, bullshit, hype and manipulative marketing efforts.
Evolution tells us how to eat and how to live. History shows us what we were designed to eat and how we were designed to live and history shows us how we’ve declined as a species the further we’ve drifted from what is natural to us. The future of health and of medicine is in this evolutionary concept and it will someday be the commonly accepted way to understand and treat health and disease.
“All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”
– Arthur Schopenhauer
Everything changed for me in 2009 when I read Randy Roach’s book “Muscle, Smoke and Mirrors. Volume I.” In this outstanding history of bodybuilding and Physical Culture, Randy showed the diets and nutritional philosophies of the strongest and healthiest from the 1800’s and early to mid 1900’s. This is before modern medicine was what it is now, before marketing and medicating symptoms were what they are now. The early strongmen ate the things we eat now and consider “Paleo” in many instances.
For the first time, I was aware of athletes who were capable of moving weights I couldn’t have dreamed of in my best training days – and they were doing it long before anabolic steroids, “advanced” protein shakes and bars, pre-workout drinks and stimulants and all the equipment “advances” we’re told we need to be strong and be healthy. Many of these men drank raw cow or goat milk, ate foods straight from the farms they were grown or raised on and practiced a lot of the “strange” things I read about in many of the very fringe books I was reading about health and healing. Many of them fasted, they obsessed about food quality. Many avoided grains. Most avoided alcohol. This is the first time I really saw the connection between eating for health and eating for strength and performance.
I also saw the connection between lifestyle and health or the lack of it. Once I started making these connections, things started to really pick up momentum and change in my life. I quit jobs and ended relationships. My friend Chris Wright-Martell let me start training clients as a strength coach out of his school, Modern Self-Defense Center in Middletown, CT. He had a few kettlebells at the school and I started using them. I got hooked. A few months later I got certified as Kettlebell Teacher by Steve Cotter and Ken Blackburn from the IKFF. I started training harder and feeling better.
It wasn’t too long after this that I found my way to the CrossFit community when I taught a kettlebell seminar at CrossFit Relentless. I became good friends with the owner, Merle Mckenzie, and he encouraged me to get into CrossFit. I did. And that’s when I came full circle. CrossFitters were eating Paleo and doing it for performance. I started following Robb Wolf’s work.
In 2005 all my friends and coworkers wanted to know when I would be able to eat “normally” again. Girlfriends were annoyed and frustrated because there was “something wrong with me” that kept us from taking day trips to Sturbridge Village to eat fried seafood and ice cream. They wanted to stay out all night and drink in loud clubs and I wanted to be home sleeping at 10pm – because there was “something wrong with me.”
Today, I’m healthy. I’m happy. I live in the tiny beach cottage in Old Saybrook, CT that my great grandfather bought for the family as a summer home. I run at the beach. I feel good. I eat good local foods. I do yoga in the yard in the sun with humming birds flitting here and there. I go to bed early, I get up early and I lift heavy things in a little barn behind the house. I write constantly. I actively avoid negative people and places and practices. There’s nothing “wrong with me” anymore…
And this is me NOW (Summer of 2011) – Strong, happy, healthy and doing what I LOVE…
Me and my great friend Carrie.
In truth, there never was anything “wrong with me.” There was – and still is – something wrong with a culture where health isn’t a priority, foods we’re told are healthy by “experts” aren’t, disease is rampant, lifestyles are out of control with stress and strife and no one will look at the facts, tell the truth, drop the politics and create change. Misinformation in the diet and health fields is ubiquitous. Almost no one tells the truth. Almost. Change is coming and there will be many established power structures that suffer and disappear when it does.
The “Paleo Dieter’s Missing Link” is my contribution to creating change in the way we think about health and diet and the way we eat and live. Some of the things I say in the book are risky and unpopular. It’s a Paleo diet book but, as I’ll show you, Paleo is a diverse diet genre. It’s not a single diet made up of black and white principles to follow without question or individualization. I’m not here to make friends. I’m here to help you understand Paleo and related approaches in a way that they’re not typically presented or explained. I want to empower you to make your own decisions, ask your own questions and find your own answers. I want to make connections and integrate knowledge from different places and different historical periods. I want to help you understand health and diet on a much deeper level than it’s currently presented.
I had to understand diet, health and lifestyle to heal and live again. I understand it on a very deep level because of the stakes I was playing at. I had to because I couldn’t have turned that mess of a life I was living around any other way. Many people still don’t get me or my lifestyle or my diet, but that’s really OK. I don’t care. I’m living my life the way I want to live it and that’s what’s important. I’m living life on my terms…