Chasing a dream relates to every aspect of our lives, not just career pursuits. My dear friend, Heather Van Horn, and her friend, Leigh Gust, reminded me of this when they launched their new “primal lifestyle” blog, The Prime Pursuit. These remarkable women aren’t just health nuts with tons of time and unlimited resources, they are army wives, busy moms, and CrossFit trainers; they are living examples of what it means to pursue all aspects of your life – including health and well-being – with passion. Today they join us to share what it means to go primal…
Q: Welcome, Heather and Leigh. Please enlighten us, what exactly is “primal living”?
Heather Van Horn: To me, primal living can be summed up as real food, real fitness, and real life. It is the opposite of what main stream society tells us is correct, it consists of the food our ancestors used to hunt and gather prior to the agricultural revolution, it is comprised of natural functional movements that allow us to be faster and stronger at any and all tasks throughout life, and it is striving to better ourselves in all areas in a world that can be busy, messy and imperfect.
Leigh Gust: The primal lifestyle means keeping life as simple, basic, and healthy as possible. In the gym, this means executing a workout program that prepares and equips you for everyday life. In the kitchen, this means fueling your body with food that lays a foundation for superior health and performance. We eat and exercise based on our inherent needs. This sometimes means going against the current societal pressure to have our food and gym time to be cheap or fast or conform to any fad.
Q: When I go to the gym, I like to go to spin class, use the elliptical, or unwind with yoga and Pilates. How is “primal fitness” different from other exercise regimens?
HVH: We believe that fitness should be functional, fast, fierce, and prepare you for anything that life might throw at you. It shouldn’t be biased toward one type of movement or sport, but rather encompass a wide variety of functional movements that can ready you for any type of sport. I think there is room for yoga and spin class if that is what you truly enjoy, but it shouldn’t be the main focus or source.
LG: The heart of Primal Fitness is functional strength and endurance. Functional means that it should apply to life. The time you put into exercise should have measurable, observable results, and those gains should apply to everyday life.
Most gyms provide equipment that impose isolated moments, i.e. quadricep extensions, lat pull downs, or bicep curls. But these don’t have an application in day-to-day living. For example, there is no necessity to be able to pull something down slowly toward your lap while it is resisting and trying to rise quickly back up in the air. (That is, a lat pulldown.) It does, however, make sense to lift something heavy off the ground (a deadlift) and set it on a shelf above your head (a clean and jerk.)
Ultimately, we avoid decrepitude by building our strength, endurance, and overall capacity through this kind of functional fitness. Additionally, this kind of regimen maximizes the time you put in at the gym: the high-intensity metabolic conditioning with strength-building compound movements offers a much bigger bang for your buck then 45 long minutes on a treadmill or stepper.
Q: I couldn’t help but notice a wealth of delicious, albeit slightly unusual, recipes on your website. What are the tenets of a primal diet?
HVH: The easiest way I describe it to others is “real food.” My kids will have a question about a certain food and my husband and I will ask them, “did it come from an animal or does it grow on trees?” If the answer is no, then it is probably a good idea to reconsider. You should basically strive to eat a lot of good quality meats, fish and poultry, a wide variety of veggies, high quality fats from nuts, seeds, and natural oils, fruit (the lower on the glycemic scale the better), and some high quality/full fat dairy products in moderation. In turn, you should avoid chemically altered fats and oils, processed/packaged/preserved foods, processed sugar, artificial sweeteners, grains, and legumes. The object is to put quality foods into your body that are not going to disrupt anything (i.e. cause inflammation, spike your blood sugar, cause your pancreas to go into overdrive secreting excess insulin, etc).
LG: We eliminate artificial fillers and preservatives from our diet. Our focus is preparing meals and snacks from fresh foods that are found in nature: meats, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds. We avoid all grains, most forms of dairy, legumes, processed sugars, and chemicals of any kind. Through research and personal experience, we have seen that our health, performance, energy, recovery, and other food ruts or hang-ups, have improved dramatically. These foods fuel our bodies so that we can thrive. And, this food is not boring. It goes far beyond a chicken breast and steamed broccoli. We are still enjoying pur food and all of its rewards.
Q: How did you get interested in the primal lifestyle? Are your families into it too?
HVH: My husband and I were first introduced to the concept through my brother-in-law who was put on a similar yet stricter diet by a naturalist doctor after suffering from Crohn’s disease since he was a young teen. After a year on the diet he is now symptom free, pain free and most importantly – medication free. It spoke volumes to us that the typical American, high carb-low fat diet could be doing so much damage. By eating the foods we were originally meant to eat, our bodies can function at their best capacity possible.
That was Christmas 2010 in Santa Barbara, CA and on our drive home we devoured Mark Sisson’s The Primal Blueprint and started our primal journey the first of the New Year. It was a challenge at first with three small children, but we purged our pantry, fridge and freezer, educated our little ones about healthier choices, and started learning to cook and bake in a whole new way. While we always strive for 100%, we do our best to make well-intentioned yet practical choices with the 80/20 principle. Our kiddos linger somewhere around 70/30 after you factor in play-dates, pizza day at school, and quite frankly–just being kiddos!
LG: I got interested in the primal lifestyle in 2009 when I was beginning my journey with primal fitness through CrossFit. I was having trouble with my strength and getting through hard workouts. Due to stress and pressure to be skinny, I was trying to eat as little as possible to get by. But I really wanted to be strong, and to feel strong. Additionally, I was struggling with some mood-disorder issues that were easily exacerbated by my poor diet. Excelling as an encouraging wife, high-energy mother, and progressing athlete requires a high-quality diet. It will not add up any other way. You can imagine how my husband was completely supportive when I decided to give my diet the overhaul. He was deployed at the time, and committed with me to eat the same way over there. We have never looked back.
Our kids eat primally probably about 70 percent of the time. They always eat what we eat for dinner and snacks. For the most part, the kids are primal for their breakfasts and about 50 percent of their lunches. They are happy with that, and I try to reinforce the idea of balance throughout the day.
Q: What are you hoping to accomplish with your new blog, The Prime Pursuit?
HVH: Our goal is to share everything we have learned on our primal journey and inspire others to look past what has become “the norm” and take charge of their own health and fitness in a new way. We hope to especially reach out to other moms and talk about what it is like to be a primal mom in the real world that is often busy and challenging.
LG: I would like to be evidence that this lifestyle is within reach, manageable, and effective. I also want all our readers to focus on improving–or priming– their character. This means refining our thoughts, words and actions. As we said in the “Living in the Prime” menu, our character and spiritual fitness is foundational to our enjoyment of life. It has to be exercised, strengthened and fed. I hope that people not only enjoy eating cleaner and exercising more efficiently, but that they walk in the direction of becoming a stronger person.
I want readers to feel equipped, rather than walk away feeling not good enough, or defeated. Everyone is at a different place in his or her life. So, I want it to be a guilt-free zone. I hope people see it as tool, or a source of inspiration to live in the prime of their lives.
Q: What is your prime pursuit (in all meanings of the term)?
HVH: My prime pursuit is to never be past my prime so that I can be doing max effort dead lifts at 89 with my grandkids. I want to keep my total body wellness and fitness in check, strive to get faster and stronger everyday, fuel my body in a way that will not damage it, and encourage my family to do the same.
LG: My PRIME pursuit is the same. To continue to eat well, become stronger, and refine my inner character. Some days are better than others. We are all in this together.
Q. What advice would you offer to someone who is thinking about starting the primal lifestyle?
HVH: I just did a post on this today, in regards to starting your primal food journey. The very first step should be to read and educate yourself on what it means to eat primal/paleo through sources like Mark Sisson’s The Primal Blueprint or Robb Wolff’s The Paleo Solution. For me, knowing the science behind why sugar and grains are harmful is what sold me and made the next step much easier, which is to purge your pantry, fridge and freezer and re-stock with primal food choices. You also have to decide if you are “all or nothing” or “one step at a time” type of person. If you like to take change slowly, then start with making one meal a day primal and go from there. Lastly, an important thing to remember is that there is no “perfect” way. This particular lifestyle suits me and my family, and we have all seen tremendous gains in different areas. You have to do what suits you and yours, but I would challenge you to give it a good try. You might find the same benefits, and never look back!
As for fitness, it took me a while to convince myself that I didn’t need to spend countless hours in the gym or run myself into the ground (literally!), but what made me never look back at my old ways were the results. I was faster, stronger, and leaner than I had ever been in my life through a combination of CrossFit and Primal Blueprint Fitness. So, my recommendation would be to let go of your old routines, and trust. Trust that true fitness will come when you vary your regimen with a fierce combination of strength training, gymnastics movements, and cardio-respiratory endurance (primarily in the anaerobic state).
LG: Regarding Exercise: Don’t get stuck in a rut, challenge yourself with intensity and variety. Combine types of work: sprinting (or swimming, biking, rowing) PLUS gymnastics (maneuvering bodyweight) training, PLUS weightlifting. This basic foundation of fitness will equip and prime you to apply it to the activity of your preference, i.e. organized sports, distance running, etc. If you want to take part in the weightlifting exercises, you must visit https://www.ryderwear.co.uk/collections/shoes to find suitable shoes.
Regarding Food: Have confidence in your decision! This is so doable, but you have to give it a fair shake. The rewards of energy, health, and strength are far weightier than any perceived cost. At first, the change will certainly feel different, if not uncomfortable. (I even had to take Tylenol and Excederin for the first week of my journey as I weaned off the “crack.”) But after a good three to four weeks of eating this way, I never looked back. Also, you may have to change your perspective on why you are eating differently. It is not about being skinny. Its about wellness.
Don’t dwell on the future circumstances either. Give yourself some wiggle room!! We have to live! Yes, there will be Christmas, and birthday parties, and the Super Bowl. On special occasions, indulge in something that is REALLY worth it! Enjoy your glass of wine, your bowl of ice cream, or your slice of pizza. Then move on. There will always be another opportunity for a treat. But in the day-to-day life, in the comfort of your own home, know that you are feeding, fueling yourself with the best nourishment possible.
To learn more about primal living, visit Heather and Leigh’s blog, The Prime Pursuit.
Are you chasing a dream? If so, I’d love to hear from you!
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WOW, GREAT INTERVIEW, IT BELONGS IN A MAGAZINE, PROUD OF YOU BOTH…KEEP UP THE GREAT WORK EDUCATIONG US ALL 🙂
You ladies are exceptional and I am so proud of both of you! This is definitely inspiring. I am looking forward to learning and reading more about this lifestyle! Great article!
Thank you for sharing your stories and experience on your journey to cleaner eating and lifestyles. Being a Catholic homeschool mother of 8, I devote all of time & energy to God and raising my family the best way I can through faith, virtue and education in all aspects of my life. If I’m not right in mind, body and spirit, I cannot offer the best of who I am to them. My children, husband and I incorporate a mix of athletics and daily activities into our homeschooling days which has allowed us to maintain health, strength and endurance which in turn has benefitted other areas of our life. For my personal cause though, I am looking to reduce and eliminate refined sugars and starches from my diet as I believe that it will improve my gastrointestinal problems I’ve endured numerous times over the course of a few years. It’s becoming a running joke in our family now that ‘Mom can’t eat when we go on vacation or out to restaurants!’ After one call to 911 while our family was vacationing at the beach after dining out at a restaurant, and another instance when my husband had to rush me to the E.R. at 2 am during our Anniversary overnight get-away. (thankfully we were only 1 hr away) This resulted in a 4 day stay in the hospital due to 2 tied up blocks in my small intestines which would’ve required surgery had it not untied itself. The doctors couldn’t explain the cause only that I should be careful about what I eat. There’s a more particular reason for that I now believe. It’s in my best interest to improve the ways that I eat and more importantly, to eliminate harmful ingredients that can be causing the stomach issues. Recently, I have begun to reduce breads, sugar and foods containing gluten to find that I’m running around wondering what else is there to eat. How funny it is when we get in a rut with something, it’s hard to change course. I have to get past the stumbling blocks and remember the foods that are in their most natural state are best and just find ways to mix them up and change the routine so that it doesn’t get boring. Your recipes will help tremendously. I am curious though if you can answer me a question. Would I be getting intestinal upset and abdominal pain when I avoid those ingredients for a few days and then consume them on another day? Would that be consistent with the symptoms of gluten intolerance? I understand that neither of you have the medical training to give me any specific diagnosis, I only request your best suggestion and advice from your personal experience. I will continue on my new quest for cleaner eating and a purer choice of foods. Any comments you wish to share would be appreciated. Many blessings for the success of your blog. I’m truly inspired!!
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