Athlete Profile: Craig O’Hanlon
We have several members who have recently had or will soon have their one year anniversary of training with us at Tacoma Strength. I would like to thank and congratulate all of you who have been with us for a year or more.
Craig O’Hanlon had his one year anniversary last week. I’ve been talking with Craig about summarizing his thoughts and experiences this past year. I sent him a few questions that I had about his transformation. Calling it a transformation makes it sound like I’m about to sell you something, but Craig really did transform over this past year.
In this write up, we focused on Craig’s health improvements, but it is worth noting that he is far more physically capable than a year ago. Rope climbs, handstands, pull ups, and 350 lbs deadlifts are just a few of the things that Craig can do now that seemed out of reach for him a year ago.
Below is our conversation:
Since January of this past year (2011), you’ve made a lot of changes. What was it that inspired you to make those changes?
Two main factors inspired me. First, I received an ultimatum from my doctor for a whole slew of medical issues I was facing, most of which were self-inflicted. Then I saw some photos that were taken of me during Christmas 2010. Those photos pushed me past the tipping point between knowing I needed to make changes and actually starting to make the changes. It wasn’t so much my size in the photos that inspired me, but more my sallow, puffy, blotchy looking skin, unhealthy looking hair and the dark circles under my eyes.
Okay let’s give everyone a baseline here. In January 2011 what was your weight, what were your cholesterol numbers? What was your blood pressure? Any other indications of poor health that you had at that time?
Before I joined CrossFit and adopted a Paleo lifestyle, my weight was 270, my blood sugars were moderately high at 140, and my blood pressure was sky high at 180/135 with a resting heart rate of 84. My blood pressure had been a bit high 140/95 for the last few years, but it seemed to skyrocket during 2010.
My total cholesterol was relatively low at 185. My triglycerides were very high at 383, and my HDL (the good cholesterol) was pretty low at 28.
I was experiencing consistent pressure, swelling and pain in my arms, my digestive tract was painful all the time and I was experiencing phantom shooting pains in my legs. I was also experiencing numbness in my face, jaw, hands and feet, and constant ringing in my ears.
I was tired all the time, sleeping very hard and snoring a lot, but not feeling rested when I would wake up. I was experiencing severe night sweats that then started occurring in public – somehow my body had lost the ability to regulate temperature very well.
In addition, I was also experiencing headaches, dizziness, and cloudy blurred vision and the eczema I had suffered for 18 years was getting worse. Plus, I had severe canker sores all the time and chronic nosebleeds every day.
The doctor ordered tests including blood labs, a CAT scan and MRI to rule out cancer and Multiple Sclerosis. Those tests came back negative which was actually more concerning to me as we still didn’t have a label for everything I was suffering from.
After the results came back, the doctor wanted to take a wait and see approach and asked me to come back in March 2011. If my blood pressure, cholesterol and sugar tests hadn’t improved by then, I would be put on high blood pressure medicine, a cholesterol lowering drug and a sugar reducing pill for pre-Type II Diabetes. Not a great prognosis for a 41 year old person.
Once your doctor gave you that ultimatum, what did you decide to do? Did you have a plan or were you just kind of hoping for the best?
It was the start of the holidays, so I did absolutely nothing! I decided I would immensely enjoy Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years and if I was still alive in January, I would begin to deal with my health issues then. I drank, ate and partied at the end of 2010 like it was going to be my last holidays ever – you should have seen the Beef Wellingtons I prepared for Christmas!
What did you finally decide to do?
Ultimately I decided to join Tacoma Strength. The previous November, while waiting to get some medical tests done, I had read an article about a CrossFit gym in Graham. It said crazy people were working out for only 20 minutes and getting really fit by flipping a big tractor tire. The article appealed to me because it talked about getting fit in a short amount of time using your own body instead of a bunch of exercise machines.
In late December, I realized that I had survived the holidays and now needed to deal with my health. Remembering the article, I began researching gyms and found several CrossFit locations close to our house. Coincidentally, I joined Groupon at the same time and I think the first offer I received was for CrossFit Tacoma/Tacoma Strength – it seemed like fate!
After you joined CrossFit, you also joined the January Clean Eating Challenge. What did you need to do to prepare for this challenge?
After my first workout, Leon mentioned they were starting a clean eating Paleo challenge and he thought I should consider doing it. Until that moment, I had never even heard of the word Paleo in regards to diet, and really hadn’t even given any thought to changing my food habits, other than restricting my calories while working out. But I was struck by Leon’s comment that you cannot exercise your way out of a bad diet.
That evening, I attended the group meeting at the Fawcett location led by Lynn Severy, the gym’s in-house dietitian. I wrote down everything she said, and by the end of the meeting, I was hooked on Paleo! It made perfect sense, why hadn’t anyone talked about this way of eating before?
After the meeting I purchased Wolf’s “Paleo Solution”, Cordain’s “Paleo Diet”, and also his “Paleo Diet Cookbook”. By Saturday I had read all three books. The challenge didn’t officially start until Monday but I think I had already cleaned out the pantry and was off all gluten, legumes and grains by Thursday after our initial meeting.
What about your family? Were they on board? Were they supportive?
They were very supportive. We made a plan, that their breakfasts during the week would be a mixed bag of regular and Paleo dishes. The kids’ lunches would be traditional brown bag school fare, but all our dinners in January would be 100% Paleo. That allowed me the freedom of eating 100% without any problems. Another thing we decided to do was to cook straight out of the Cordain cookbook; a new meal every night, with no substitutions. We committed to making every recipe just the way it was printed in the cookbook, leaving nothing to chance.
What types of foods did you have to avoid and what was the hardest part?
By definition, the Paleo diet avoids, wheat, gluten, corn, grains, legumes, dairy, soy and sugar. So, all those traditional American diet items were out. In addition, almost all processed foods (things in boxes) are gone as well. Due to some of the health issues I was trying to fix, like high blood pressure, I also completely wiped out all salt, alcohol and coffee.
The hardest part during the challenge was probably no pizza, coffee or beer. At home, we would have a stuffed Papa Murphy’s or Cloverleaf pizza at least once per week. I had never been decaffeinated and was a 3-4 Starbucks per day drinker, and usually on Fridays and Saturdays you could find me parked on a bar stool at the Parkway or Spar imbibing in a glass of a heavy chewy Northwest Microbrew with nachos.
By the end of the third week of the challenge, the cravings had completely subsided. I was feeling much better and the weight that I was suddenly easily losing was making it very easy to just say no to the urges.
You ended up being the winner of that challenge. What did you win and how much progress did you make in that first 30 days?
I didn’t set out to win, even though we all knew there was a cash prize as incentive. I just set out to lose some weight and give a Paleo lifestyle a try. I started January 1 at 270, but had managed to lose about 10lbs on my own before cleaning out the pantry and starting Paleo. I started the challenge at about 260, and finished the 30 day challenge at right around 230, so 30 lbs in 30 days is a good estimate. I don’t remember the specific inches lost but my waist went from a tight 44+ down to around a loose 38 by the end of the challenge.
More important than the weight or inches lost, was that almost 100% of my health problems had subsided during the challenge. I remember being off my 3 stomach medicines by the end of the first week. I was still pretty big, but I felt great, better than I had felt in years.
I was the top male in the challenge, and my prize was around $500. I bought an iPad.
You didn’t stop there. Did you continue on with this way of eating without any cheats or did you allow yourself to experiment here and there?
The rewards I was experiencing on Paleo far outweighed the risk of eating any of my former favorite foods, and I wasn’t really missing them anymore. I stayed 100% strict Paleo until after the May Clean Eating Challenge ended. In June, I began meeting with Lynn, the dietitian, just to make sure everything was going okay with my continued weight loss. We decided to adjust some of my CrossFit workouts and to add some healthy high fat dairy back into my diet. At that point I added coffee back in as well. Since June, I have continued to eat an almost 100% clean Paleo lifestyle. At the October Clean Eating Challenge, I gave up coffee and dairy again, focused on 9-11 hours of sleep per day, and I gave up TV as well, just to see what sort of differences I noticed. It has been just over a year now, and I still eat as close to a 100% Paleo/Primal lifestyle as possible.
What are your weight loss and health marker improvements for the past year and what other types of changes did you notice or perhaps what did your family notice?
Here are my totals for 2011: I went from 270 pounds down to 188. My waist went from a tight 44 down to a 32. My shirts and jackets went from a 2XL to a Medium. My shoe size decreased from an 11.5 down to a 10.5. My blood pressure decreased from 180/135 to 116/64 with a Resting Heart Rate now of 54. In May 2011, my Doctor, did a second retest of my blood. My blood sugars were steady at 90. My total cholesterol dropped from 185 to 157, my Triglycerides dropped from 383 to 56, and my good HDL cholesterol increased from 28 to 49.
100% of the health problems I listed above evaporated completely during the January clean eating challenge. Turns out I didn’t need a $5000 MRI test, but just needed to eat healthy and get some exercise. The biggest change that I have noticed is my energy level increase and my new found desire to do active rather than passive activities now. The biggest changes my family has noted are that I no longer snore and I am no longer an aggressive angry driver. Apparently stress and poor health manifests itself in odd ways.
What is cavemanbistro.com how many followers/subscribers do you have?
As a classically trained French chef, I created cavemanbistro.com to showcase interesting creative recipes that are also Paleo and clean. In addition to the recipes I am also highlighting links and articles for topics closely related to Paleo such as CrossFit and MoveNat; locavoring and sustainability; urban farming for crops, chickens and bees; sous vide cooking; as well as helping debunk health myths. Cavemanbistro is a place to park that knowledge. I can also be found on Twitter (@cavemanbistro) and most often on FaceBook at facebook.com/cavemanbistro. At last count, there are over 1500 healthy Paleo, CrossFit people following from around the world following my posts and recipes. A lot of the followers are from Austin, TX, London England and many parts of Australia.
I am amazed by how far Craig has come, but I shouldn’t be. These should be completely typical results for just about everyone who walks in our doors and to be fair I can name several people who have had similar results. So what is different about these people? If you are someone who has had similar results, what were your strategies? From my perspective, I see people who are able to set realistic goals for themselves and then have the patience and persistence to do what is necessary to achieve them. Showing up consistently is huge, but we only have you for an hour a day. You have 23 hours left in that day to screw it all up, so taking responsibility for your own issues is crucial. Get the help you need. Take a cooking class, get counseling for your psychological issues with food, read books, ask questions, do whatever you need to do. It has to be important to you or you won’t do it. If looking and feeling better isn’t crucial to you, then find something that is.
By Leon on Thursday, January, 12, 2012