George Bryant – Marine, Caveman, Cook, and Inspiration
Jonathan: Hey, everyone. Jonathan Bailor back with another bonus Smarter Science of Slim podcast. Got an awesome individual with an awesome story to share with you today! He is the CEO of Civilized Caveman Cooking Creations as well as the bestselling author of Caveman Feast. He is the founder of the website Civilized Caveman Cooking and he is a man whom I also respect because he has been in active duty in the United States Marine Corps since July of 2002. George Bryant, welcome to the show!
George: Thank you for having me, Jonathan. How are you this morning?
Jonathan: Hey, I’m doing really, really well, George. You have a fascinating, fascinating journey and story regarding diet and exercise. Can you take us through that?
George: Yeah, of course I can. I’d love to. I’ll just warn your readers to get a chair and sit down and hold on for the roller coaster we’re about to experience. Just a little brief history. Like Jonathan said, I run the website with the tongue-twisting name of Civilized Caveman Cooking Creations, which kind of started out as a mistake, so I will lead into that from the beginning.
I just was recently medically separated from the United States Marine Corps after twelve years of service due to some injuries that I sustained on deployment which were interlaced with my weight loss journey and a few concussions from traumatic brain injury and whatnot. I tried to join the Marine Corps in July of 2001 and I was 16 years old, turning 17, and I was extremely overweight in high school. I had a pretty sedentary childhood, even though I’d play sports and whatnot. I didn’t have much family support when it came to those things, so everything I did was kind of on my own. I would have to walk myself to school or any after-school sports. I’d have to work to pay for myself, so I wasn’t really a fit-in with family problems and social services involved in my childhood. It was hard with bullying and social pressure and a lot of that led to weight gain and not knowing much better since we never ate family dinners or anything, so I was relatively overweight most of my childhood and I tried to join the Marine Corps because I needed a reason to get out of Boston. It was a very dark hole for me to stay there and fall in the footsteps with some other family stuff, so I wanted to make a difference and leave.
I tried to join the Marine Corps. I walked in the Recruiting Office and I got locked out and it was horrible. It was probably the most humiliating thing ever – just being told that you couldn’t do it, you were too fat, you wouldn’t make it, blah, blah, blah. Well, I really wanted to leave and that desperation kind of kicked in and I worked extremely hard for about a year to get down to the weight to where I could ship to boot camp and my recruiter worked with me and I was finally able to join. Once I joined the Marine Corps, it kind of started my rollercoaster of weight loss. I got down to about…. I’d say in high school, I think I remember wearing a size 40 pants; 40-42. I’m only 5’7”; 5’7.5” on a good day. I was pushing 200-215 lbs. most of the time. We got me down to about 180 to ship to boot camp and they’d let me go and then off I went. I did my boot camp thing. I graduated first out of 1,000 recruits, which was great, and I got down to a soaking wet 153 lbs. of ‘wet noodle’, I would like to say.
I started my career in the Marine Corps. I started training. I joined the Marine Corps in 2002 and I was doing the standard run a lot to stay in shape, be the ‘fastest guy in the Marine Corps’ thing, and then in 2003, I found out I was getting ready to deploy to Somalia, and it was only supposed to be for seven months. In 2004, I left and it ended up being for just over thirteen and a half months. While I was there, there was really nothing to do, minus work, so I started bodybuilding and I got into amateur bodybuilding and lifting and just, literally, eating and lifting, and I got myself up to about 220 lbs. That was all fun and great and hunky-dory until, it was on my 21st birthday in Somalia, I had both of my legs explode. I had exercise-induced compartment syndrome that was exacerbated by the amount of weight I was carrying on my frame. Pretty much what happened was, I was running to a helicopter at the end of a mission and my legs felt like shin splints and I ran through them because I didn’t have much of a choice and all of a sudden, my legs went numb – and that was the last thing I remember. When I woke up, both my legs were actually ripped open and all the pressure was pumped down to my foot and the compartments in my calf and they had nowhere to escape, so it just keeps pushing more blood down and pushing more blood down until eventually the fascia and the compartments in my leg burst and tore my skin open.
I got medically evacuated. I had six surgeries over the course of six months and spent just over twelve months in a wheelchair, when then pursued with eighteen months of physical therapy. Over twelve months in a wheelchair, 220 lbs of muscle turns to 260 lbs of fat relatively quickly when you are completely sedentary and you’re pumped up on a PCA pump and pain pills for six months. That’s where I became my heaviest that I had ever been in my entire life.
When I was getting ready to start physical therapy, I was 260 lbs, just miserable, and didn’t really want to do anything. Then I met this really awesome physical therapist – a very young woman, she was very active, triathlete, did Ironmans, and I pretty much envied her. She put me in my first pair of Vibram, back in 2005 before anyone knew what they were – my little five finger shoes. I started my rehabilitation on my legs. They had told me that I would never walk again, I would never run again, I would never be able to play sports, I would pretty much just be confined to a cane or crutches for the rest of my life which I didn’t like that answer.
We spent about eighteen months working together and we used my therapy as a platform to train for me to do my first-ever triathlon. After eighteen months, I got to a point where I was all set and able to do these things and my first trial run. I remember doing a Sprint Triathlon. I did it. I came in 53 minutes and I placed third in my age group and I was hooked because it was great. I was throwing it in everybody’s face that told me I couldn’t do it again, that told me I’d never be able to walk again, and here I was – full recovery, kind of really pushing the boundaries and doing the thing. I spent about two years while I lived in Hawaii, doing triathlons. I did the Honolulu Marathon and then I did a half Ironman and it was fun and it was great.
Then I moved to California, stationed at Camp Pendleton, and I was getting ready to deploy to Afghanistan again and I stumbled across these crazy people doing this thing called CrossFit – which was a whole other realm of insanity, in my opinion – and I was introduced at it a couple of weeks before deployment. I deployed to Afghanistan and started doing CrossFit out there. I was on post one day and I stumbled across Robb Wolf’s book. For people who don’t know who Robb Wolf is, he’s a bestselling author of The Paleo Solution, the original human diet which is the principles and the food lifestyle that I kind of follow. I just try and eat a minimally-processed, no-grain, no-legumes, and no-dairy diet. I stick to what’s in season – fresh fruits, nuts, seeds, meats, vegetables; pretty much what a caveman with modern technology would’ve eaten. So, I stumbled across this book and I was hooked. Having an entire life of a journey rollercoaster of weight loss, I was like, “The principles in this thing are just too easy to make sense!” Like, “there’s no way that I’m going to lose weight and I’m going to feel better that I’m going to get any of that by eating this Paleo diet or like cavemen. There’s no way! You’re not going to tell me that doing my carb-loading or eating my chicken breast and broccoli isn’t going to be the same as this and I’m going to get success with it.”
I stayed in Afghanistan for about eight months and I tried to do the best I could, eating Paleo principles out there, but not knowing or not being able to control what foods you get or when you get food or when you’re out of the wire on a convoy for 48 hours and you don’t have food – it’s kind of hard out there. I got back to the United States in March 2011 and I’m like, “I’m going to do this Paleo thing. I’m going to do it fulltime. I’m going to give it my all and see what happens.” I was about 180-185 lbs. I took 30 days off, didn’t workout, and I just went Paleo. I was amazed because at the end of the 30 days, I had the first six pack I’d ever seen in my life. I didn’t even think one existed on my body. It was ridiculous! I thought I woke up and I got airbrushed in the morning or I fell asleep with lines on my stomach, because it was just insane to me. No working out. I was eating as much steak and pretty much bacon as I wanted, loaded with some vegetables, and I felt better, I had more energy, all my allergies went away, my migraines were reduced – everything was just amazing! I was like, “Wow, there’s something to this!”
That’s when I thought of the website. I’d never heard of a blog. I’d never taken a food photograph. I had never cooked. Period. I was a Dominos ‘large pepperoni with Ranch dressing’ kind of guy in my previous fat days. So I was like, “I need to figure this out. I don’t know how to cook, I don’t know how to do any of this. How am I going to stay accountable? If I start a blog, I have to write on it every day. I have to tell people what I’m eating or tell myself what I’m eating.” It was accountability for me. So I started the website and I would literally take iPhone photos of my meal and I would go on Google and watch YouTube videos and figure out how to dice a vegetable or how to cook an onion or even as simple as how to properly hard boil or cook an egg and how to grill chicken breast. You name it, I learned it off YouTube and Google with my $40-a-month education from Google University. That’s where the website was born.
Fast forward two years. Now, I am a professional photographer. I’ve done a cookbook. I’m working on other projects right now. I get two million views a month on my website and people come, make these recipes that I come up in my crazy head that they think are delicious, too, and I’m the happiest and healthiest I’ve ever been and I’ve managed to do it just by simplifying things and sticking to a few basic principles. It’s had a huge impact on my life all around. The weight rollercoaster is gone. The hormone dis-regulation is back in check because I don’t have any mood swings. I don’t get sugar cravings anymore.
Most importantly and something I mentioned on my website a couple of months ago, which you may have read and we could probably link in the show notes, was that I was bulimic for twelve years. That’s a hard pill to swallow when I tell people. You see this bald, tattooed, muscular guy now that was an active-duty Marine for twelve years and I have to tell them that my entire career, I was bulimic. Paleo for me, and this whole health journey and transformation, was the key to my success. I don’t want to say ‘beating it’ or ‘overcoming it’ because I feel like it’s something that is always going to be with me, but I love myself more than I ever have.
I’m more comfortable with myself than I ever have been and I’m willing and ready to share my story with people so they can understand that they can take control of their health and their life and be happy and not be constrained to the prison that we like to label with food where you have to eat every 2-3 hours or you have to eat this many macronutrients or micronutrients or anything that confines you to making it a stressful situation, which in turn, we all know increases your cortisol and all that bad stuff. So, I’m just out there, willing to share my story to anyone that wants to listen or ask me questions, and trying to make a difference in the world.
Jonathan: George, we certainly appreciate that because it is an amazing story. I want to dig in to, right at the end there, you mentioned that this seems like such a simple approach. Just eating these things found in nature. If it’s found in nature, it’s good. If it’s not found in nature, generally speaking, you should avoid it. Why did that empower you so much? It’s so simple but it seems like it unlocked you – not only physically, but emotionally. Why do you think that happened?
George: Yeah. That’s actually an amazing question because…. It’s funny when we do a lot of this self-reflection thing and you think about things and you go over your life, when you’re trying to figure out where to go next, and I’ve thought a lot about that.
I think it’s because for so long, starting at such a young age, I was there to fend on my own and you jump on to bandwagons and cliques, especially when you’re impressionable to young kids. When I wanted to do sports in high school, I jumped on whatever the football players were doing. Whatever they did in the weight room, I did. Whatever lift they did or whatever running program they did or however they ate…… I remember football days, like, every Tuesday, we’d go out to Old Country Buffet and it was ‘eat as much as possible so you had energy for the game’ on Thursday night or whatever – stuff that they convinced you to do.
Then, I joined the Marine Corps. The Marine Corps, I credit to my determination, my drive, my discipline, and sparking the fitness bug in me because it was my job. For twelve years, it was staying in tip-top peak shape so I can deploy to anywhere in the world on a minutes notice. So, they kept me keeping my 3-mile time under 18 minutes and being able to do 30 pull-ups and all that fun stuff, but it was always so complicated. You would go to these classes and I used to work at Gold’s Gym as a personal trainer and I used to shove down the nutrition advice about eat whole grains and do this and portion this out and have this huge sugary meal after a workout and all this stuff and it was so confusing and there was so much conflicting information out there for so long that it really just became a stressful situation and I never enjoyed food anymore.
I think that a lot of people get away from it because if we were to go back…. Let’s go back to Jack LaLanne – what an awesome dude, what an amazing role model, inspiration for so many people for so many years! He had it right. He was eating fresh food, whatever he could get from a farm or a farmer’s market, whatever, and just doing bodyweight workouts at home. I mean, that guy was mastering that stuff like 60-70 years ago. When you go back to beforehand – before genius marketers existed and before supplement companies existed and before subsidized food existed and it was really simple – like, the food that you got, you either grew or you went to your local farmer or your farmer’s market or your butcher shop and you picked it up.
The cases of the things that we have running rampant these days, like type 2 diabetes or cancer or inflamed every other condition that is autoimmune-based out there, didn’t have the prevalence that it does now. When you really take a step back and look at it, every single commercial you see, every single billboard you see, every time you walk in the grocery store, it is designed to sell you certain products. There’s a science that goes into laying out a grocery store. I mean, you walk in and things are where they are for a reason because there are genius people that study the layout to figure out how to get you to buy what they want you to buy and that’s why they’re designed the way that they are. It shouldn’t be that way. You should be in control of your own health and your own food choices. No one should tell you and no one should convince you, whether it’s consciously or subconsciously.
For me it’s like, I don’t want someone telling me what to eat or how to eat, whether they’re doing it directly to my face or through subliminal advertising or marketing. I want to be in control because my body is what’s going to tell me how I feel or how I’m doing without particular food or that particular lifestyle of eating. Once I kind of realized that I wasn’t in control for so long – I was eating Lean Cuisines or I was buying chicken breast because someone else did it or I was eating a jar of peanut butter because someone told me it would make me bigger or I was drinking chocolate milk post workout because someone told me I needed sugar and protein and bone health and all this other stuff and – when I removed what everybody else was saying and I started listening to my body, it was just extremely empowering, and it was the most success that I ever had with any eating style that I’ve ever adopted and I felt better than I ever have and it was the easiest thing there and it was just really removing all the outside influences and taking a logical grounded approach to it.
Jonathan: Wow, George, I think you hit the nail on the head there! It seems like – correct me if I over-simplify this – but it seems like there was really two components. One, was the core message of just eat things found in nature. It’s simple and one that is as applicable in any context. It’s not like you need to think differently when you’re in the grocery store versus when you’re out with friends versus if it’s Tuesday or Thursday or Wednesday or Saturday. It doesn’t matter. If it isn’t found in nature, you’re going to try to say, “Nope. I want to eat something that is found in nature.” So, that is just simple and it’s applicable everywhere. Then, because that’s so simple and because it’s so intuitive and fortunately because it has so much science backing it, when you actually start to apply that and when you take ownership for applying that and you see those results, you start to build this cycle where you maybe gained some self-confidence, and then it’s a virtuous cycle that just perpetuates itself and propels you to create amazing websites in two years.
George: Yeah, it’s crazy, but I mean you’re directly nailing it. You go to these Paleo things, these Primal things, you’re friends of all the people in the industry and the same people I am, but we all hammer the same things and we try and get the messages across to people. One of my biggest things is people don’t understand that digestion doesn’t start in your stomach; it starts in your brain. People don’t understand that and they don’t correlate the stressors in their life and the lifestyle that they lead and how it has a negative or a positive impact on their health and the way that they use and operate with food. The simplification of all this stuff is making it easier for me to make food choices and making it easier for me to cook meals, but it’s also keeping me in a very, very rested, digested state of life to where I am optimized to get my food and my body is optimized to get the most out of it by running around in this increased cortisol fight-or-flight mode where my body is just sending it to vital organs and processes in my body and the rest is getting flushed out and it really is the simplification of it all that has this huge dramatic rolling effect where the snowball started and everything just kind of grew in exponential manners around it that it was nothing but positivity.
Like, it started with “Yeah, let me eat simple” and these simple things helped me create simple recipes and these simple recipes helped me feel better. Now that I feel better, I can better tackle my day. I don’t have brain fog anymore. I don’t crash in the middle of the day. I don’t have dis-regulated glucose. I’m not getting sugar spikes and insulin resistance. I have more energy to work out and I don’t have to work out as often because I feel better and I’m sleeping better and my allergies are gone. Once you start feeling like a million bucks like that, like you said, the self-confidence just goes through the roof and you just become this proponent for health and these awesome lifestyle choices that you don’t even realize you’re doing. You’re evangelizing just from walking around and being a testimony to taking control of your own health and I think it’s absolutely amazing and I support it all day.
Jonathan: George, it’s so important to really hammer home those two very related things we’ve been talking about and that’s – one; once you do achieve success, certainly that helps to feed the system and to perpetuate further success. But if the system you’re trying to use or the diet or the exercise program is stressing you out, it if is complex and it is making you feel bad, it is literally counter-productive even if it is causing you to temporarily eat more nutritious foods. If it is this dogmatic, very stress-inducing thing, it is negative.
I think maybe that’s what’s so appealing, what we’re talking here, about taking this simplified approach which is just ‘eat the way we ate before we had all these problems’. It intuitively makes sense because billions of people have eaten that way and not had the problems we’ve had and if you can just trust… It’s hard. There are all kinds of science, you and I know that, but, as you said, we get bombarded with marketing day in and day out that at some level, we just have to trust that this cannot be complicated, give ourselves the permission to live a life of simple health and fitness if we can just trust and execute on ‘if it’s found in nature’, basically eat that, and if it’s not found in nature, meaning if someone has diddled with it, be cautious. Right?
George: Exactly. It’s no different. A lot of people with parents like to take things into their own life in consideration. Like, if someone walks up to you and they’re like, “Hey, try this.” Or you’re sick and you’re like, “Hey, I don’t feel good” and they’re like, “Hey, take this pill.” You’re not just going to take the pill. You’re going to ask them what’s in it, what it’s for, where they got it. I feel like more people need to do that with their food because people will just blindly walk into grocery stores and buy these things that are boxed and packaged and lasts for two years on your shelf and they never really ask ‘why?’ to know what’s in it. It’s no different. I mean, you could be getting poisons in food just like you’d be getting poison with medication. If people think about it like that, because your food for your body is your fuel.
I tell people all the time. Like, if you were to go put oil in your gas tank of your car, it’s not going to run. If you pour sugar down there, it’s not going to run. If you pour water down there, it’s not going to run. So, you take care of your car because it gets you from A to B every day. But yet, we ignore and we don’t understand our own vessel which gets us through the day for the 16-18 hours that we’re awake and we don’t fuel it like we’re supposed to. When you’ve got to pee, you pee. When you’re tired, you go to sleep. When you’ve got to sneeze, your body sneezes. Yet, we ignore the signaling that our body provides us when you’re hungry. A lot of people ignore it because marketing tells you to only eat at certain times of the day; or when you’re not hungry, you force yourself to eat because someone told you to eat every 2-3 hours; or when you’re hungry, you stop eating because someone said that you’re eating too much.
It’s really mind-boggling to me how we can listen to everything else that our body tells us, but the one thing that provides us fuel to make it every day is the one thing that we don’t trust and don’t have the confidence and the instincts in our own body’s ability to trust. That’s one of the things that I’m trying to bridge the gap with people. You’ve got to take a common-sense approach to it. You can’t listen to your body half the time and then ignore it the other half of the time.
Your body gets sick because it’s telling you it’s fighting a disease or an infection or something, so you start healing yourself, whether it’s drinking kombucha or making bone broth or going to see a doctor. Yet, when you’re hungry, you don’t eat and you ignore it and what do you think you’re doing to your body? You’re suppressing its natural ability to tell you what’s going on and what’s wrong and you’re messing with the system. I think people need to take the same approach to their health and their bodies, regardless of whether it’s sickness or whether it’s hunger or whether it’s signaling to sneeze or allergies. They’re all tied to your body and you need to really, really be honed and connected to that.
Jonathan: George, it’s very clear that you have spent a lifetime thinking about and embracing and really just reflecting a lot of dietary and lifestyle and emotional wisdom and I appreciate it. We can hear it in your voice and certainly everything you’re saying. I couldn’t say it any better, so I’m not even going to try to. What’s next for you, George?
George: Yeah. My website, like I mentioned earlier, it started as an accountability measure for me and I’ve realized over the past two years, and especially recently, that I have this ability to touch hundreds of thousands of people just teaching them how to make really, really good food which kind of gateways right into their health and I just want to keep doing what I’m doing. I love my fans. I love my website. I love my social media. I run everything by myself. I don’t have assistant. I don’t do anything. I just am glued to my phone every day because I love interacting with people. I love the emails that I get. I love the comments on Facebook I get. I love all that stuff because people are just empowering themselves, which are then empowering others to kind of attack this journey – whether it’s getting off their diabetes medication or reducing the symptom of epilepsy or reducing the symptoms of their child’s autism or anything like that. It just fuels me to keep going.
So, I’m literally just going to keep working as hard as I can to get more recipes out there and more tips and tricks out there and more how-to’s to teach people how to cook and get a bigger social media presence and I just share everything I can with people, whether it’s coupons or free stuff or giving them away KitchenAid mixers or grass-fed beef or gift certificates, just to keep them excited about this and to keep the ball rolling in a healthy direction. On my horizon, it’s really just to go full-board and go full-time on this website and just keep it going.
Jonathan: George, I personally am very excited to see that because you are an extremely passionate and extremely wise individual. Folks, if you haven’t seen George’s website, please do check it out. It is Civilized Caveman Cooking.com and also on that website, you can check out his cookbook which, George, I believe is titled Caveman Feast. Is that correct?
George: Caveman Feast. Yeah, just a quick plug for that one. It’s an e-book. It’s 215 recipes right now, but once you buy it, you get lifetime updates for free. My goal is to make it end up being about 500 recipes or so. I’m working on an update right now to which I’m adding 20 more and that’s going to get e-mailed out to everybody that’s already bought it, so the price isn’t going to change; the value’s just going to keep going up and up and up.
Jonathan: Well, George, I feel like we’ve got a little bit of a connection here because I hear in your voice – and this is certainly something that wakes me up in the morning – that this is about much more than nutrition and exercise at this point. It’s about literally saving lives and you are a perfect example of how taking this simple and sustainable and scientific approach really did save your life. Is that fair?
George: Yeah, that is 100% bullseye! That’s why I’m so passionate about it. It’s because my own testimony – myself – is the fuel that keeps me going and it’s kind of hard for me to package it sometimes and not come off. So, dogmatic or crazy, crazy Paleo guy running around – because it has had such a profound impact on my entire life that I am just so excited about. I mean, I don’t want to sell anything, I don’t want to package it. I just want to give it to people. I just want to share my excitement. I’ve found that just sharing my story when asked and leading by example is the best gateway for people and eventually, once that ball starts rolling and they dip their toe in the water, they eventually want to dive right in, and hopefully we can just keep spreading that message.
Jonathan: Absolutely! Being that change you want to see in the world is certainly the most potent form of encouragement one can provide and I also would encourage our listeners to hear what George is saying and to go check out his website and to use that as fuel to realize that this is again about so much more than just that number on the scale. Once you can transcend that and think about this more in terms of rediscovering and saving your life… Right now, George, it doesn’t seem like this is a struggle for you. It seems like you want to do it and you love it and I believe that is part and parcel because for you, it’s not about the scale anymore; it’s about being the most glorious George Bryant you can be, and that will get you up in the morning. Worrying about what the daggone scale says, will not! What do you think?
George: Exactly! You are 100% correct. It’s funny. I actually posted a photo on my Instagram two days ago that said I never step on the scale because the scale doesn’t measure sexy. I think that is the best quote I’ve ever heard because you can’t let a number dictate how beautiful you are. A scale doesn’t measure your character, it doesn’t measure your morals, and it certainly doesn’t measure how beautiful you are as a person inside or out, and the best thing I ever did was get rid of mine. I couldn’t tell you, even within 5 lbs, how much I weigh, because it just doesn’t matter. I feel amazing! Just by chance, when I feel amazing is when my body is the least stressed, and it gives me the leanest look I’ve had or feel or stronger than I’ve been, but it really is just an example of how healthy I am on the inside and my body is showing me that on the outside. I mean, you nailed it right on the head. I can’t say it any better, so I’m just going to give you a plus one on your statement because I’m not going to reiterate what you mastered.
Jonathan: Well, thank you, George. Well, folks, hopefully you’ve been inspired by George here on this call and hopefully you’ll go get educated and empowered by George again at his website, which is Civilized Caveman Cooking.com. George, thank you for all that you do, all that you represent, and for sharing your time with us today.
George: Oh, thank you so much for having me, Jonathan. I appreciate it.
Jonathan: Listeners, thank you so much for joining us. Remember, this week and every week after – eat smarter, exercise smarter, and live better. Talk with you soon.
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