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Sophomore Primalist: Tackling the Hard Stuff
Urban Primalist
As a sophomore primalist, it's time to tighten the screws.

In my last update, One Year Primal: What's Easy, What's Hard, I mentioned some challenges that I still faced in perfecting the primalist lifestyle.  Writing that article turned out to be just the prod I needed to tackle those challenges head-on.

Learning to Sleep

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Don't be a cold grasshopper.

So much in life depends on self control and the ability to defer gratification.  Would you rather have a treat today at the expense of tomorrow, or two treats tomorrow at the expense of today?  This simple variable of time preference, memorably portrayed in Aesop's fable of the Ant and the Grasshopper, directly determines our success over time.  In the summer, it is tempting to live the life of a carefree grasshopper, but winter always arrives to punish the grasshopper's shortsightedness.

In a modern reprise of Aesop's fable, the Stanford marshmallow experiment, children were offered a single marshmallow, but promised a second marshmallow if they could resist eating the first one for a certain length of time.  In follow-up studies, the children who managed to hold out for the second marshmallow demonstrated higher academic achievement and "increased competence" generally.

And so it is with sleep.  Do you choose to stay up late into the night, eating, drinking, and making merry as if tomorrow never comes?  Or do you choose to let the moment pass, knowing that you'll be happier for it in the inevitable day after?

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Perhaps this new book might be of assistance.

I'm humbled to say I've had to learn the hard way to forego the marshmallow of staying up late.  In mornings after skimping on sleep, I always regretted it as I dragged through the day.  The previous night's entertainment, so captivating in the moment, didn't seem worth it at all.  But when I followed my body's natural rhythm, falling asleep between 8 and 9, I never regretted that choice in the morning.

Beyond the mere health benefits -- and there are many -- I found that proper sleep can be entertaining as well.  When I get 10-12 hours of sleep, I'm always rewarded with interesting dreams.  When paired with fasting, the dreams become downright fascinating.  Indeed, this is now my primary motivation for extending fasts beyond 24 hours -- the anticipation of dreams that are coherent, memorable, and utterly mind-blowing.  I'm not the only one to notice this effect.  Frederic Patenaude fasted for 23 days, observing that as his physical energy declined, his mental clarity increased, producing amazing dreams in the process.  Of course, this makes good evolutionary sense.  When the food supply stops, the mind seems to realize it's time to get its act together, clearing the mental fog to brainstorm a solution to the crisis.

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For pirate abs, observe Pirate Lights Out.

I've also noticed that when I miss my body's natural sleep time shortly after dusk, my hormones go haywire, I start craving carbs and inevitably wind up tossing and turning for hours when I finally do go to bed.  So now I regularly hit the sack around 8pm, a time I refer to as "Pirate Lights Out" in reference to the rule espoused by Captain Black Bart.

Eating Primally, Organs and All

A 100% primal diet is probably impossible in the modern world.  It is unlikely (though much to be desired) that one would ever find oneself persistence-hunting megafauna across the unspoiled savannah, munching veggies and herbs along the way, making the kill and tucking into some fresh liver before carving up the goods and bringing them home to be roasted over the campfire.  It is also uncommon to find oneself standing in a frigid stream, whacking salmon with a sledgehammer and eating the poor devils raw on the spot (though I wouldn't turn down the opportunity).  In light of the difficulty of escaping to some forgotten, primordial corner of the earth, this web site was created for urban primalists.  So our goal is incremental progress.

I knew after writing my last update that it was time to take the plunge and eat some organs -- raw organs.  I decided on grass-fed bison as my source.  But which part?  Liver just looked sloppy and huge.  Pancreas looked all gooey.  Brains are just scary!  And I knew that, psychologically, there was no way I could bite down on a testicle.

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It's just a wafer thin.

So I settled for bison adrenals.  They were too small to give much offense.  I also knew that as an urban dweller and a bit of a stress junkie, my adrenal glands get a daily thrashing.  One of the signs of adrenal exhaustion is difficulty getting up in the morning, and I certainly had that symptom, even when I did get to sleep on time.  Furthermore, adrenals are known as a concentrated source of B and C vitamins, as well as DHEA, that crucial precursor to steroid hormones which I can't seem to get enough of.

So I stopped by my friendly local raw foods dispensary and picked up a nice, vacuum-packed pair of adrenals.  I took them home and laid them gently on a small china plate.  They looked like sad little miniature kidneys, a bit bloody with congealed yellow fat.  Not the sort of thing to set my mouth watering, but I was grimly resolved to get the job done.  I popped one in my mouth and crunched down on that sucker.

It was not very tasty, but it wasn't unimaginably awful.  It had a musky, beefy flavor that clung to the back of my throat, sort of like I imagined a kidney might taste.  I took a few swigs of veggie juice, and that took the edge off the flavor.  I kept on chewing, and the inital crunchy texture slowly gave way to a gummy mass of connective tissue.  Then I popped the other gland and repeated the process.  It wasn't so bad after all!  I went for a well-earned walk around the block, enjoying a novel, primal alternative to chewing gum.

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I envy your skull cleavage, Bob, but you and I both know that Subway isn't health food.

The next morning, I did feel a bit more energetic getting out of bed, but the effect faded after that.  I kept up the pace of one adrenal a week, and found I was waking up more easily each following day, my chronic muscle tension starting to subside.  I discovered that by eating bacon at the same time as the adrenals, the musky flavor was no longer noticeable and my digestive system was more engaged, leading to even better results the next day.  I recently upped the dose to two per week and it seems that all signs of adrenal exhaustion have gone away.

Not bad for my first foray into organ munching.  I'm still not sure what to try next, but I know that I'll be enjoying raw adrenals for a long time to come.

As for non-primal treats like maltitol-flavored chocolate, I discovered that by going to bed early, I completely killed the urge for sweets.  I barely touch the stuff anymore now that I observe Pirate Lights Out.  No way I'm giving up my primal pumpkin pie, though; that is an utterly delicious treat, and I enjoy scarfing it once a week while watching The Biggest Loser and heckling the trainers.  Stay tuned for my recipe.

Ten Ways to Mitigate the Desk Job

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Suicide by cubicle.

Make no mistake: sitting all day is highly unnatural and unhealthy.  Recent research shows that even daily exercise can't negate the ill effects.  There are three major problems: neuromuscular pathways fall into disuse; catabolic hormone activity drops through the floor; and bad postural habits and nefarious chair designs cause gradual deformation of the spine and starve the vertebral discs of nutrients.

Beyond that, the environment itself is all wrong, with weird-spectrum light, powerful electromagnetic radiation, and toxic fumes like cologne and perfume (I'd rather inhale anyone's unwashed body odor).  Such a broad assault demands a broad response, so here are some of the tips I've developed to deal with the occupational hazards of working in an office.

1) Skip lunch and work out instead, preferably outdoors. Primal diet makes fat burning easy, so skipping a meal is no biggie. I go for a light jog interspersed with walking and sprinting, punctuated by shoulder and back exercises such as push-ups, pull-ups and handstands. Staring at the blue sky and breathing fresh air are great antidotes to the stifling miasma of most offices.

2) Don’t rely on the back of the chair. Rather, sit forward so your core actively supports your upper body, keeping your muscles gently engaged.  Correct posture is essential: as Esther Gokhale recently reminded me, when sitting you should imagine that you have a tail, and your hips should be tilted forward, sticking your butt backwards a bit and allowing your tail to hang loose behind you.  Never "sit on your tail" with your pelvis tucked forward.

3) Chair-assisted lumbar traction. Place your palms on the armrests and raise your body into a dip position, with the tips of your feet touching the floor. Hold this position while you thrust your hips back and forth, side to side, and in circles. This is great for the L5-S1 vertebral disc, that Achilles’ heel of office workers everywhere. The vertebral discs don't have blood vessels and rely on motion to draw nutrients and eliminate waste. Just don’t let your co-workers see you doing this.

4. Ab squeezes. At random times while seated, tighten your core, attempting to pull your navel towards your spine. Clench hard for several seconds. This helps counter atrophy of the abdominal muscles and is another way to protect your back.

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Your author totes the essentials to PrimalCon 2011.

5. Take advantage of every opportunity for physical exercise, such as climbing stairs, lugging around boxes of copy paper, and doing push-ups and squats when alone in an elevator.

6. Drink water constantly. Not only will it help you stay hydrated in an HVAC environment, which is important to spine health and so much more, it will also provide plenty of incentive to take those crucial bathroom breaks.

7. Fidget. Tap your toes, swing your legs. This is a great way to stave off stiffness and keep your metabolism from sinking into hibernation mode.

8. Work standing.  I can't get away with a standing workstation, but I do try to do as many other tasks as possible on my feet.

9. Take active vacations. There are lots of possibilities, but allow me to insert a shameless plug for PrimalCon, an absolute can't-miss event for the health-conscious everywhere. Mark Sisson and a whole pantheon of primal gods and goddesses will nourish your mind and body over three days, an experience more restorative than a month-long vacation just about anywhere else. Readers of this very web site attended and found it much to their liking!

10.  Invest properly.  Win the lottery.  Or just keep your expenses below your income for a very long time.  Just because you can survive an office doesn't mean you need to spend your whole life in one.  As Pat Morita once observed, "best block: no be there."

Still a Student

It surprises me how much I still have to learn after fifteen months of primalism.  For every new answer, several new questions arise.  But this is to be welcomed; there is never any need to weep for a lack of worlds to conquer.  We humans are living things, and the mandate of all living things is to grow or die.  I hope to be growing for a long time to come.  Thanks for growing along with me!

Got your own tips for dealing with the hard stuff?  Send me an email at timothy at urbanprimalist.com and clue me in!  I'm just a long-winded sophomore and could use a few more good ideas.

All text copyright © 2010-2013 Timothy Williams