Pragmatic Paleo:

Elsewhere on this site I’ve mentioned another aspect of my life; martial arts, more specifically Chinese martial arts. The study of martial arts has been a constant activity for well over thirty years. I don’t make any claims to greatness, though I think I can make a claim to competence and perhaps a deeper understanding of the subject than many.

Over those thirty plus years my training has varied from intense, painful and exhausting to infrequent, casual and on some occasions downright lazy. But never the less I persisted and over time I came to understand what it was, at least in part, that caused the variation in the quality of my training, it was my more general sense of wellbeing. This general wellbeing reflected in my physical basic fitness, energy levels and perhaps most crucially my self-motivation. I’ll expand just a little on those three headlines.

Basic Fitness: In many ways and by general public standards I’ve always been pretty fit, in particular I’ve always had a good general strength and decent cardio vascular ability. But that general natural fitness comes with a bit of a kicker, I took it for granted and always expected it to be there. For example as a young man in my twenties I applied to join the Police, I rather amazed the PT instructor by knocking out a quick 200 press ups and more inclined sit ups, both sessions ended when he tired of counting before I tired of the exercise.

But over the next six years living a life of constantly  changing shift patterns, junk food and excessive alcohol consumption, not an uncommon trait in Police Officers, my fitness slipped and I gained weight. I found exercise a real drudge and it was undertaken reluctantly almost out of a sense of duty and habit. I came to realise that this was not a lifestyle that was going to be sustainable for me and I moved onto other things. At the time I didn’t spend time in analysing or trying to understand what it was about my lifestyle that had made me feel so much less than I was used to, so much less than I wanted to be.

Energy levels: I mentioned how much harder I found exercise, it wasn’t just that hills seemed steeper, five miles felt like ten or doing press ups the ground seemed further away! It was the physical sense of having fuel in the tank even before I’d started. As I moved through my thirties into my forties, I assumed that this was just how it was. My weight fluctuated by around a stone sometimes in a way that appeared to be quite random, sometimes connected to exercise and sometimes not. As you might expect when I was lighter I found exercise easier, except sometimes it was the opposite I had more energy when I was too heavy (13st). It didn’t make sense and to be honest I just accepted the variation in energy as things just being that way and as I was still fitter than Mr average I didn’t think much more about it.

Self-Motivation: This is perhaps the hardest part to understand and to quantify. How do you measure self-motivation? Willingness to go for a run in the rain, how hard you push when you do go for a run, how many reps with the barbell?  Even with a bit self-criticism in my training diary (yes I keep one) ‘a hard run’, ‘too fast, tired too early’ etc. Doesn’t really nail anything down, maybe I was tired, due to work / sleep or whatever or was I being lazy looking for an excuse to jack it in early? This can be really hard to pin down. Or maybe there’s something bigger at play?

Over the two decades I’ve been involved with physical therapy I’ve been fortunate to meet many people both other therapists and clients. A lot of my clients are involved in sport at some level or another. During a session we’ll often chat about their current training regime and over the years a subject has cropped up with increasing regularity; diet. Now to be clear when I say diet I don’t mean what ‘diet has come to mean; eating a planned way to lose weight. I mean it in the correct  general term what we eat.

It started to dawn on me that I’d never really taken any great notice of what I chose to eat, my diet had varied enormously, sometimes due to small things such as getting a Wok and living off stir fried anything for six month, shift work leading to life on convenience food and ‘microwave magic’ to simply discovering a new dish I liked. When I find a gap in my knowledge, my automatic response is to do research, so I started to do some casual reading around the subject and made a rather shocking discovery; nobody, it appeared can agree on anything to do with diet. Celebrity fads, dodgy science and equally dodgy Government guidelines, which also appeared to be based on some supremely dodgy science! Where to start?

My approach to nutrition is what I have come to refer to 'Pragmatic Paleo'. It's broadly what has come to be known as Paleolithic Diet. This approach emerged almost two decades ago, using the simple logic of what type of food did humans eat during their evolution. Two decades later there is now a lot of independent scientific evidence to support this approach. But we have to acknowledge that everyone is different and we live in a complex civilization which brings challenges, so we have to be pragmatic to make our approach sustainable.

If you need help managing your diet get in touch.


An image of me in 2007, carrying a little weight probably around 13 stone. My weight is generally quite well distributed, with a little 'spare' around the middle!

daoyin Posture

Here in 2012 I'm probably nearer to 12 Stone. It's around this weight or a little lower I'm most comfortable at and I feel at my best, good energy and exercise feels easy.