Tired of steadily working away the “freshman 15” over the summer only to see the pounds sneak back on as Mission’s pizza bar beckons and the froyo machines practically beg to be used? Have you ever rushed frantically to the gym after splurging on a tasty late-night treat? Fear no more, fellow students. One of our beloved alumni, Mark Sisson ’75, has discovered the answer to all of these health-related problems.
If you like the idea of having a six-pack when you’re in your fifties, all you have to do is eat, drink and act like a caveman. Well, maybe not the acting part. But every time Sisson reaches for a snack or eats dinner, he makes sure his plate is filled with ingredients likely to be digested by your average Neanderthal, who Sisson playfully personifies as Grok. And the exercise plan detailed by Sisson is remarkably much less strenuous than that of your average cardio junkie or beastly weight-lifter.
The theory behind Sisson’s do-it-yourself diet book, The Primal Blueprint, is that millions of years ago, evolution was hard at work to shape our dietary systems to peak performance with the guidance of the foods that were easily accessible. However, with the arrival of modern civilization, natural selection was driven out of the equation and our evolutionary progress screeched to a halt. Thus, our bodies naturally run best off the foods we ate before the advent of McDonalds or even the dawn of agriculture. So if you’re ready to ditch the grains and the pounds, get ready to chow down on some meat, fish, fowl, nuts, seeds and colorful fruits and vegetables.
I decided to give Sisson’s diet a whirl and see if I could keep it up for a week, even without a kitchen, to make my own homemade Grok-approved food or a spear to catch it for myself.
For my first dinner (before I’d thoroughly explored Sisson’s book and blog), I mistook “eat like a caveman” for “eat as much as possible now while there’s food because I’ll have to subsist on miniscule portions of roots and leaves with a squirrel thrown in here and there FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE!” Needless to say, I wasn’t feeling particularly trim after gorging on pork chops, multiple chicken breasts, a mound of veggies and salad.
Afterwards, I wondered whether I should have eaten everything with my hands. Could humans burn insane amounts of calories by ripping meat off the bone with their teeth? Maybe tearing my lettuce leaves apart with my fingers would give me extra finger dexterity, or should I have thrown a few grunts in there to hasten the digestion process? I came to the logical conclusion that I should study Sisson’s theory more fully, rather than going off the single word “primal.”
After perusing The Primal Blueprint and scrolling through the advice given on Sisson’s website (www.marksdailyapple.com), I began to understand the scientific background that legitimizes Sisson’s diet. Sisson claims that grains, even whole grains, boost our insulin levels and hasten fat production. Strangely enough, eating healthy, natural fats helps us lose weight by making us feel full for longer and boosting our fat metabolism. Any required carbohydrates can be supplied through vegetables and fruit without all the excess grains held in that tasty bowl of pasta or toasted bagel.
As Sisson puts it, no one eats a plain bowl of spaghetti because they enjoy the taste of bland, chewy noodles. They eat it for the marinara sauce and toppings! So, why not substitute the noodles with, say, vegetables or chicken? I was rather skeptical about this statement at first, considering I enjoy digging into a heap of steaming spaghetti as much as the next person but began to change my mind after tasting the delicious zucchini provencal served at Driscoll one night. I was also excited about not having to cut out foods generally considered to be fatty and high in caloric content, like peanut butter or red meat.
After a few days, I adjusted myself to a diet that worked well and didn’t leave me feeling hungry at all. For the new potential Groks out there, Sisson related to me through a phone interview a suggested meal plan catered to a student eating mostly in our dining halls.
Breakfast: Eggs and bacon are ideal. Pancakes, potatoes and cereals are to be avoided as if they contain the plague of obesity. I was a little sad to give up my Cheerios, but at least he didn’t try and pry my bacon from my kung fu grip. In fact, Sisson encourages the intake of the bacon’s fatty meat (and deliciousness). Success!
Lunch: Grab as many burger patties as you want, but skip the bun and fries. If you’re craving a sandwich, try and switch it for the salad equivalent. Instead of a PB&J, try peanut butter on celery sticks. And if you get the 4:00 p.m. munchies, keep a can of macadamia nuts or almonds on your desk to get rid of those hunger pangs.
Dinner: Chicken, fish or red meat, and don’t be afraid of butter! It’s long been the scapegoat of our dieting woes and should be welcomed back into the fold with open arms. Add a salad or mixed vegetables to round things out.
I can’t say I won’t be piling on the oatmeal tomorrow morning now that my stint as a cavewoman is over, but it was certainly interesting to try a diet based on eight million years of evolution, not a fad diet from L.A. As for Sisson’s last words of wisdom, he pleads to “get as much sleep as possible!” I think I might have an easier time cutting out all grains than meeting that demand, but we can always try.