Primal Plunge Results – The Basics

I intend to break down this analysis into several parts starting with the Basics (things I can measure at home with minimal investment in equipment), and moving on to metrics involving bloodwork, specifically Blood Glucose, Thyroid Function, Lipids & Inflammation, and Hormones.  I started the Plunge about 4.5 years after a major dietary shift following a Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis diagnosis, and two years after quitting alcohol consumption for good.  It’s been a journey, and as you will see the journey continues.

Primal Plunge Results

Primal Plunge Results – Detailing the Basics

Going in my goals were as follows:

  1. Improve Body Composition (<10% Body Fat)
  2. Improve Strength-to-Weight Ratio
    • >= 12 Pullups
    • >= 50 Pushups

As you can see in the graphic the results were on the whole quite remarkable, especially given the fact that I had already been on the health journey for over 4 years.  Dramatic improvements in weight and body composition were seen; improvements I had not thought possible.  Blood Pressure was improved.  And while dropping 12% of my body weight my strength-to-weight measures improved on average over 40%.  I’m not at all disappointed that I didn’t reach my stated objectives in terms of their absolute values, in fact I’m over-the-moon happy with the outcomes.  Let’s get specific.

Body Composition

Seventy days into the 90-day Primal Plunge I was trying to figure out how to slow the weight loss; I was already down over 20 lbs.  It was in doing this research that I came across the work of Simpson and Raubenheimer regarding “the Protein Leverage Hypothesis,” which I wrote about in the Blog post “The Protein Leverage Hypothesis – A Key Piece of the Nutrition Puzzle.”  In hindsight I think “protein leverage” was the reason why I was able to lose weight so quickly and effortlessly, while also able to slow the weight loss effectively “on command” by reducing my protein intake.  Read that post for more details.  Let’s put it this way; if you are not consuming enough protein you will be fighting your biology to lose weight.

Primal Plunge Before Pictures

This first image is a composite of my “Before” pictures; not bad I thought, though I was at the low end of “overweight” with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 25.6.

Of the 23 lbs lost 18 lbs was fat; I feel pretty good about that, but every pound of lean body mass lost is one that I will try to put back on.  Lean body mass, muscle in particular, is in effect a big metabolic organ.  Retaining muscle mass as we age is crucial.  It seems I am recovering from strength workouts more quickly now, so I may add add a second day of Primal Essential Movements (PEMs) to my weekly calendar, while retaining the Sprints and low-level aerobic exercise, in an attempt to rebuild that muscle, and more, while staying lean.

At completion of the Plunge I was at a BMI of 22.6, well within the “normal” range of 18.5 to <25, and 10.9% body fat, within spittin' distance of my goal.  I've since settled into a comfortable and seemingly sustainable level of 11-12% body fat. [/av_textblock] [av_one_half first min_height='' vertical_alignment='' space='' custom_margin='' margin='0px' padding='0px' border='' border_color='' radius='0px' background_color='' src='' background_position='top left' background_repeat='no-repeat' animation='' mobile_breaking='' mobile_display=''] [av_textblock size='' font_color='' color='' av-medium-font-size='' av-small-font-size='' av-mini-font-size='' admin_preview_bg='']

Strength-to-Weight Ratio

Having already achieved “mastery” of squats and planks before the Primal Plunge, I set as my targets mastery of push-ups and pull-ups. Pull-ups have always been most challenging for me, together with grip strength, and that again proved to be true.  And while the absolute gain of 4 pull-ups from a baseline of 5 seems small, it is still an 80% improvement in relative terms.  I got closer to mastery of push-ups while “only” improving by 23% from 35 to 43.

Personal Records were also attained for the Squats and abdominal Planks, at 100 and 5 minutes respectively, so on the whole I’m pleased with the results.

It will take an on-going and consistent approach to achieve the Push-up and Pull-up strength-to-weight objectives.


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Primal Essential Movement (PEM) Mastery Levels

Cardio-Vascular

There were only two measurements in this category, Blood Pressure and Resting Heart Rate (Pulse).

Blood Pressure

“High blood pressure, or hypertension, is the most important risk factor for premature death, accounting for half of all deaths caused by cardiovascular disease and 13.5 percent of all deaths each year. It affects 26 percent of the population worldwide, and one-third of the population in the U.S. Nine in ten Americans are expected to develop high blood pressure by the age of sixty-five. With this in mind, it’s no exaggeration to suggest that keeping your blood pressure under control is one of the most important things you can do to extend your lifespan.”

Kresser, Chris. “Pills or Paleo? Reversing High Blood Pressure.” Chris Kresser, Last Updated on May 1, 2019, Link to post (chriskresser.com/pills-or-paleo-reversing-high-blood-pressure/?fbclid=IwAR3rV2Z5VEHI6WRmbhitmTW7s2ebhiuiR9yijDelCclEyI5NCO9j58NqABY).

Usually hypertension is defined as blood pressure above 130/80, and is considered severe if the pressure is above 180/120.  Of course we are not interested in being anywhere close to those numbers, and so having started pretty far south at 112/78, I’m more than happy at having moved the needle even further in the right direction to 102/74.  The first number, the higher of the two, is the “systolic” pressure, the peak pressure when the heart pumps, the second is the “diasotlic,” the pressure with the heart at rest.  It has been thought that the diastolic pressure was the more important to health, but according to WebMD, High Blood Pressure: The First Number vs. The Second Number, “an accumulation of recent findings shows that the systolic reading is as — if not more — important.”  The side effects of the usually drugs used to treat hypertension are nasty, so if you are close to being diagnosed with hypertension, or have been, I encourage you to read the Kresser article cited above.

Resting Heart Rate (Pulse)

One lesson learned during the Plunge is the apparent impact of Sleep on Resting Heart Rate.  I say “apparent” because “correlation is not causation,” but so far as I’m concerned it might as well be in this case.  I’ve also noted this negative correlation in my weekly Cronometer reports since the Primal Plunge; negative correlation in that as Sleep goes down Resting Heart Rate goes up.  In the charts below, see how my RHR trends higher after Apr 1, as my Sleep hours trend lower.

Resting Heart Rate versus Sleep

As a result of learning this lesson I don’t see the increase in RHR from 56 at the start of the Plunge to 60 at the end, as some sort of chronic condition.  Rather I see it as a symptom, an indicator that I was not managing well in an acute sense one particular lifestyle factor, Sleep, towards the end of the Plunge.  But of course it goes well beyond the fact that lacking sleep resulted in one of only two marks on my score sheet that were not Green; as Mark Sisson points out,

“Sleep is key, essential, absolutely downright necessary for our basic physiological operations – with special support for neurological performance, endocrine balance, immune system functioning, and musculoskeletal growth and repair.”

Sisson, Mark. “The Definitive Guide to Sleep.” Mark’s Daily Apple, March 24, 2010, Link to post (www.marksdailyapple.com/the-definitive-guide-to-sleep/).

It’s funny, in a not funny sort of way; I talk to a lot of people, some of them clearly not healthy, and they often are proud to tell me that they can get by perfectly well on as little as 4 or 5 hours of sleep.  Uhhh…no.  The proof is in the pudding, a lot of which is hanging around their midsections.  Sleep!  This is harder than you think.  First of all there is the whole notion of “sleep hygiene,” which is to say having a place, conditions and time that support good sleep.  Mark’s post cited above is a good place to start, with links to other articles as well.  Something I’ve learned since I started using the FitBit, is that just because you are in bed does not mean that you are asleep.

The image from my FitBit app shows a breakdown of my sleep last night.  First thing to notice is that I was actually awake 15% of the time, and that for men my age, being awake 12-24% of the time is “typical.”  Wow.  Last night that meant that I was in the bag for 9 hrs 29 min to get 8 hrs 2 min of sleep; I went to bed at 9:02 pm and woke without an alarm at 6:31 am.  Like I said, sleep is not as easy as it seems.

Now I’ll be first to admit that I’m not doing as well at “sleep hygiene” as I might, though I’ve always thought I was pretty good at getting enough sleep.  I can do better, and it’s highly probable that you can, too.  Dr Kirk Parsley, ex-Navy SEAL and sleep doctor to the SEALS, has this to say,

Sleep and Benchmarks - FitBit

“I challenge you to make sleep your number one priority for one week. Put aside any preconceptions you might have about sleep—particularly if you’re that type-A person who has a number of hot irons in the fire (career, family, athletics, etc) and cuts back on sleep to make time for more—and make getting a long, deep night of sleep your number one goal of each day for seven days, and see what happens.

This is what I want to happen and expect to happen: That you’ll be happier, healthier, faster, stronger and smarter. I want you to see that sleep is one of the best ways Americans can support their trademark work ethic. I want you to see that real, consistent sleep is required to achieve maximum productivity. Because I promise you that if you’re cutting sleep in the name of being more productive, it’s not working.”

Parsley, Kirk. “Sleep your way to optimal performance in just 7 days.” Robb Wolf, October 14, 2015, Link to post (robbwolf.com/2015/10/14/sleep-your-way-to-optimal-performance-in-just-7-days/).

Primal Plunge Results – Summary of the Basics

Lots of Green, one Red and one Yellow metric; these are some of the things you can see and measure easily.  When I first looked at my “After” pictures I was underwhelmed, but then I looked more closely.  Definitely leaner in the abs, especially the serratus anterior and external oblique muscles which are seen in the side view.  Also leaner in the upper back, which together with my waist right at the belly button level, are the places where I store fat first and where it comes off last.  A lot more visible vascularity especially in my arms.

Primal Plunge After Pictures

Overall I’m very pleased with the results relative to the goals I had set for myself.  “Your mileage may vary.”  If you are interested in learning more about the Primal Plunge, I wrote two blog posts on the subject, PRIMAL PLUNGE – TOTAL PRIMAL BLUEPRINT IMMERSION and PRIMAL PLUNGE – PRIMAL LIFESTYLE: WHY?

The Plunge is intense, both for me in its offering and for participants.  I do not currently have the program on the schedule, but if you are interested, please reach out.  Meanwhile I am running the 21-Day Primal Transformation (PTx) monthly, starting the first Monday of each month; call it your “quick start guide” to all things Primal.

Next up in this series I will be discussing the impact of the Plunge on my blood glucose, insulin resistance and thyroid markers.

All the best,

John