Tuesday, August 4, 2009

30 Day Primal Challenge - Its DONE!

Well, today marks Day 31 of my 30 day challenge! I'm here to report that I stuck to it, and emerged at the other end with zero cheat meals. As many of you readers already know, Mark Sisson is hosting an official 30 Day Challenge that started just a couple of days ago, and hopefully some of my info and observations will prove useful to those just starting out on this same journey.

As you'll recall from my previous posts, I was already a fairly strict Primal eater, but subscribed whole heartedly to the 80/20 rule. When I cheated, I REALLY cheated, and it was roughly 4-5 meals a week. The experiment was to see what would happen to a fairly Primal eater if he or she cut out ALL cheat meals. Is there a point of diminishing returns where I would see little to no net results? Or would I go, as Mark put it on his website, from a "healthy Grok to toned, alpha Grok." I liked the sound of being an Alpha Grok, so thats what I was hoping for, and I'd argue that it occured.

The First Few Weeks
This was TOUGH. It took the first week at least to wrap my mind around the idea of not having the freedom to allow myself even ONE non-Primal cheat meal. It was tough to restructure my life so that I wouldn't end up cheating, and in this beginning portion my resolve was sorely tested indeed! With so little invested, it would have been very easy to rationalize that I would re-start the challenge NEXT week, after succumbing to some treat. Luckily I was able to stay strong and get through this.

The Midpoint
At this point it started to click. I had made some changes to my shopping and notified enough friends and family about the challenge that I could respectfully decline any offered grains or sweets without causing offense. People who didn't know me well often thought this entire thing was strange. "What, you're going on some kind of diet? You're already skinny!"

Rather than calling it a Health Challenge, which sounds melodramatic when its self-imposed, or calling it a diet, which has negative connotations, I took to calling it a 30 Day "Cleanse," a word that has taken root in popular culture and earned my smiles and nods from people instead of confused and worried looks. Beyond that, I had trouble calling what I was doing a "diet" since in our culture the word seems to imply something temporary, and this is how I've been eating and will continue to eat for the rest of my life, only with infrequent concessions once the 30 days are completed.

Another observation: anyone who is interested in nutrition and fitness has those moments of worry where you feel guilty for a spectacularly intense cheat meal, or moments where you worry that perhaps you've cheated too often and are on that slippery slope towards "letting yourself go." Granted, for the most part these concerns are unwarranted but its there now and then. It was kind of nice to realize that I had NOTHING at all to feel guilty about. There had been ZERO cheat meals, and every single bite of food I had taken was moving me closer to my fitness goals, not away.

The Final Stretch
At this point it all had clicked and come together. I was no longer craving those things I had given up, I was eating plenty of food, truly enjoying my meals, and I noticed looking leaner and feeling better and happier. It was no longer a challenge, but rather a lifestyle, and not a difficult one to stick with.

One thing I'd like to emphasize is that this Primal lifestyle is enjoyable. This is not a stoic monk's existance of self-abnegation and punishment. I eat until I'm satisfied, and I enjoy truly delicious foods. I engage in activities that make me smile, and my diet helps provide me a body that allows me to continue smiling.

The Results
Cold hard numbers-wise, there hasn't been much change. I weighed in today at 135 lbs, and sadly I've remained 5'5 (haha). However, I am stronger than I've ever been right now thanks in great part to my Enter The Kettlebell training program (thanks Pavel!), and visually I believe that I've gotten leaner. Can the increased leanness and static bodyweight mean I actually gained lean muscle mass during this challenge? Check out the pics below and judge for yourself:

Side-on View

Please disregard the profusion of towels behind me. :)

Back View

I believe whatever new back development I've experienced has been due to the vicious kettlebell swings swings and snatches done in the Enter the Kettlebell program.

Front View

Here is where you can most see the fat loss. It isn't ridiculously dramatic, but then again I didn't expect it to be. However I think you can see increased definition in my abs and obliques. It MAY, however, just be my imagination and seeing what I want to see.

Note that this is the same bathroom with the same diffused lighting as in many of my other posted photos, so a side by side comparison is possible

My Tool of Choice

I use the kettlebell for 99.9% of my training. It may not be for everyone, necessarily, but for me nothing beats it in terms of results and convenience.

And Finally...the side by side...what do you think?

<----- Before After ----->


  1. Wow you can definitely see a difference! I agree with your thoughts about cheating. I did no cheating for months and it was great to not worry I was "letting myself go". I need to get back there quick! Thanks for sharing your results!

  2. Thank you very much! While I believe I will allow myself the odd cheat meal here and there, the fact that I was able to lean out further just by eliminating my few cheat meals tells me I should try to keep the cheats to 2-3 meals a week.

    It's pretty easy to stick to, once you get the hang of it.

  3. Definitely see it. You look great. Great job on your challenge!

  4. Thanks AT22! I'm glad I took the plunge.

  5. Awesome post Jerry! And awesome results! For a super fit guy to get leanER definitely speaks for eating primal AND no cheating. Would have been interesting to your bf% done with callipers or on a scale, but you can definitely see the changes. Nice work! Think you'll go back now? :)

  6. Hey, Cath!

    Thanks for the compliments. As far as "going back" I have already cheated twice this week, haha. I don't want to cheat as often as I WAS, but I also think its important to be flexible and be able to enjoy a "cheat" meal every now and then with zero guilt.

    I was eating non-primal stuff 4 or even 5 times a week. I want to keep myself to 2x a week, 3 at the very most. If I can do that I'm confidant I can maintain this ratio of body composition.