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Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
21 Dec

100 Days of Change – My Transformation Story

It’s Friday, everyone! And that means another Primal Blueprint Real Life Story from a Mark’s Daily Apple reader. If you have your own success story and would like to share it with me and the Mark’s Daily Apple community please contact me here. I’ll continue to publish these each Friday as long as they keep coming in. Thank you for reading!

Note: Andrew experiments with Intermittent Fasting. While IFing is an effective tool for many people, it is not a required component of the Primal Blueprint. As Andrew says, YMMV (your mileage may vary).

I’m nearly 56 years old and about four years from retirement. I have been training for retirement by building skills and habits for things I want to do when I retire, and at the same time I’m training for my eighties. Health care is on a path to crisis for people my age, and I figure the only way to survive the health-care crisis is to not need it. I came up with the 100-days idea because I figure it takes about three months to make a real change in oneself, and I had several real changes I needed to make. I choose to think in days, because change-making is a daily commitment.

My first 100-day objective was simply to get more active and build strength. I was 230 pounds, it was late July 2011, and I began a weight-lifting/cardio routine coupled with low-carb/Primal Blueprint diet. After 100 days I was much healthier and 220 pounds. I wasn’t strict enough with the calorie restriction, so despite eating more Primally I didn’t lose all that much weight. I did lose fat, but gained muscle.

Andrew - September 2011

The second 100 days began in November 2011, and my objective was to become a better Nordic skier. I skied 108 days between mid-November and the end of March. I went from being a floundering spastic to being able to ski with most of the better skiers in my age range, but I never had their speed or endurance uphill. My weight didn’t change much, but again I had not embraced the caloric restriction idea. Low-carb is important, but I think that at some point you have to eat less if you’re going to lose weight.

The third 100-day objective was to get myself to a healthy weight and be prepared for intense XC ski training at the beginning of the next ski season. At that time I wanted to be firmly under 200 pounds. I set my sights on losing another 25 pounds and starting trail running and mountain biking to help with my conditioning.

Running has never been my thing because of lower back trouble. Running made it so painful I figured I just wouldn’t be able to do it. I was wrong about that of course (more on the back pain later). Trail running turns out to be a lot easier on my back than road or treadmill running.

I began alternate-day eating in April this year at 220 pounds. I took a real interest in Nordic skiing (both classic and skate) last winter and I happen to live near an excellent Nordic ski facility, which transforms into an amazing XC running and single-track biking facility when the snow leaves. This is my playground.

My program for the summer was to eat only within a 4-hour window every second day, and run or ride 4 to 10 km 4 or 5 times per week. For 10 weeks I followed the ADE program without faltering and then began to relax a little, going to one meal a day for a week, then back to alternate days for a while. I was still eating a lot less, but as I approach a healthy weight it becomes less important, and sometimes it seems to work better eating a smaller amount once every day.

I took the word fasting out of the alternate-day program because I think fasting is more than skipping a meal, or even several meals. Not being a scientist or nutritionist, all I have is my own body for a lab and my own experimentation for evidence. Some things I have proven sufficiently to guide me, other stuff I’m still testing. As such, you should consider this anecdotal and your mileage may vary!

I believe there are three phases of hunger as follows:

  1. Psychological demand to eat. You can ignore this. All you’re doing is messing with your mind.
  2. Physiological demand to eat. You can ignore this too. Now you’re messing with your digestive system and it tells you about it.
  3. Physiological need to eat. Don’t panic, but pay attention. This is the zone where real changes take place in your body. This is what I consider fasting to be.

Physiological need is quite a different matter from the demand phases. It kicks in late on day 3 or maybe day 4 of a fast. In my opinion, before that time all you did was skip a meal or two or three. I’m not suggesting that phases 1 and 2 are easy; in fact they are the most difficult.

Eating carbohydrates means you have to address phase 2 regularly. As such you get into phase 1 and 2 urges regularly. I think that to make caloric restriction work more easily you need to get over the carb addiction. That might take two weeks, but I consider it essential to a positive caloric-restriction program.

I have tried this both ways and it is one of the things I consider fact. YMMV.

Food as a reward, particularly desserts, baffles me. You work hard at keeping your cravings under control for a week or two and then reward yourself with the very things you know to be the cause of all your troubles. It doesn’t make any sense! Say you painted your house and worked very hard for a couple of weeks to make it the pride of the neighborhood. Would you graffiti bomb the place as a reward? No, you think that would be stupid.

I want to mention my experiments with artificial sweeteners. I have proven to my own satisfaction that they sabotage a diet. I have done this in a couple of ways. I have been eating low-carb (about 50-100 grams/week) for many months. My hunger urges are totally under control.

As a test I rinsed my mouth out with sugary-sweet iced tea and spit out the drink without swallowing any. Within 20 minutes I was craving food in the worst way I’d felt in months! Then a few days later I mixed up some artificial sweetener in water and repeated the mouth rinse. Same reaction! I was suddenly craving food like I hadn’t felt since the last test. I did this test a couple of times, which is not sufficient for any real scientific research, but I found it compelling enough. My hypothesis is that the taste buds catch a hint of sweet and trigger an insulin reaction. I figure the artificial sweetener fools the system and you get a shot of insulin in anticipation of a sugary ingestion coming in.

So, if I’m right, you need to stay away from sweet-tasting things. Anything that causes insulin to be secreted from the pancreas will lower your blood sugar and make you feel hungry. That’s my theory, and again YMMV.

I seem to work out best when I’m hungry. I have the most energy just before my meal. If it has been 40+ hours since my last food, I have power to burn. I ride up the hills without stalling, I make quicker decisions and reflex actions, and I often want to go longer than I have time for. For the last few months my most sluggish rides and runs have been right after a meal, even a small one.

I would like to summarize the concepts and ideas that helped me through the last three 100-day programs, and will help me through the next one.

  1. Marry Smart. A supportive wife makes this kind of thing so much easier!
  2. Get off of and away from carbohydrates and sweet-tasting foods. This makes missing meals a lot easier.
  3. Don’t drink calories. Stick to water and tea or coffee. Juice, milk, beer, booze – all poison. If you can’t live without your beer, realize that it is going to make this whole thing very difficult.
  4. Plan some physical activities for non-food days. You will have at least a couple of hours to kill while you’re not shopping, cooking, eating, and cleaning up.
  5. Reschedule your life without mealtimes. This may be the biggest benefit of alternate-day eating – free time!
  6. When you get hungry on a non-food day, exercise or, if it’s late, go to bed. It will pass.
  7. Don’t reward yourself with foods that don’t fit the plan. Cheesecake and ice cream are always bad choices while you’re working on your weight-loss goals.

My next 100 days are about fixing my back troubles. I realized at some point that I can have a sore back whether I sit around or get out and do things. In choosing to be as active as my back will allow I’m now running into a bit of a problem going as far and as hard as the rest of my body and mind are anxious to. I’ve decided to take on the main thing that has been holding me back for all these years. Now I know that 100 days is not all that long, and I can fix things if I keep my attention on them. I’ve been to a sports physiotherapist and I have a course of stretching and strengthening exercises to do. I do them eight times per day. I’ll check in with physio regularly and do exactly as prescribed. I don’t expect any program to succeed unless I do the work and follow the plan. At the end of this 100-day period I’ll be into a new ski season, and a different 100-day objective.

So far I’ve stayed with the programs I laid out for myself. After just finishing the hardest 100 days yet I look back at the beginning and remember how I felt, how hard it was getting my butt up those hills on my bike, and how slowly and painfully I ran. I weigh somewhere south of 195 puonds now and I have reset my target weight to 185. At my height and frame size I don’t think I could be considered overweight at that point.

I could be saying “I wish I’d done that” but instead I’m saying “I’m glad I did that.”

Andrew - August 2012


You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. I appreciate your comments and experiments regarding artificial sweetners. I think you are right although for a long time I resisted this idea! I have found that upping my fat intake has helped me and my sweet cravings have really gone and I am rarely using the artificial sweetners anymore! I like your 100 day approach, I might try it!

    Jenny wrote on December 21st, 2012
  2. love the idea of 100 day goals! working on one thing at a time! sounds like you have a lot of persistence so congratulation! also i agree with you on the sweets/artificial sweetners idea. I have type one diabetes and I find that (unless my blood sugars go low from injecting too much insulin) I tend to crave sugar a-lot less than the normal person… probably because my body produces no insulin.

    Sarah wrote on December 21st, 2012
  3. Wow! Just wow! Inspiring and nicely done!!!

    Wendy wrote on December 21st, 2012
  4. Congratulations! I really enjoyed reading your story. It gave me some good ideas about fasting and goal setting. I like the 100 day idea. I agree with your observation about health care on the path to crisis. I am an RN and I regularly tell friends of mine that they need to do ALL that they can to get and stay healthy, and their goal should be to not NEED any medications, and to stay OUT of hospitals. You are an inspiration by what you have done. Happy for you.

    Nurse Nic wrote on December 21st, 2012
  5. Good thinking on your part. Breaking down the process makes it easy to focus on the task at hand which, in turn, simplifies the job of learning and understanding what you are doing. I will say too that I was surprised to see the guy that hid underneath the other fellow. A remarkable change. Congrats.

    Txomin wrote on December 21st, 2012
  6. A heartfelt thank you to all who commented and all of you who read my 100-Days essay. I enjoyed writing it and I have enjoyed the transformation process. Today, following the comment board has been a thrill and I appreciate all the kind words.

    I had a strategy from the start, which, in broad stokes, was to shake off the weight so I could be active, and then keep the weight off by staying active. In doing the things I a, [assopmate about (skiing in winter, mountain biking in summer)and going at them with enthusiasm, I think my body is right-sizing. I’ll end up with a body that is best suited to those activities.

    I’m off to grok the night away. Thank you, and a very happy holiday season to all.

    Andrew wrote on December 21st, 2012
  7. Oops .. That should read “In doing the things I am passionate about …”

    Andrew wrote on December 21st, 2012
    • But I really liked “assopmate”!

      Gingerzingi wrote on December 22nd, 2012
  8. Very well done Andrew!

    You’re Age 56 going on40!

    I’ve found that I need to keep running….at least three 6 mile runs per week to keep from adding weight…even with a paleo meal style and some white or red wine!

    Go2goal wrote on December 21st, 2012
  9. Congrats on your success. Admire your self-experimentation and ability to accept what works with your mental and physical attributes. I avoid all sweets. I call them “poison” and I refuse to take poison into my body.

    Eager to hear about the next 100 day challenge to yourself.

    Cindy wrote on December 21st, 2012
    • Congrats to you. I found that I naturally have reduced my eating window over time, basically IF from night till usually around 1-3PM the next day. I’m slimmer than I’ve ever been with nothing that feels like deprivation to me now. I think that there is some benefit to going whole hog to get to a set point where you want to be. I find it easier to stay where I am now even with some food indescretions at this point after being fairly strict for 3 years now. I tend to think if you’re “broke” going whole hog till your fixed might be the quick and dirty way there. Hopefully that makes some sense. Also many suggestions on the back issue and I want to also throw a couple ideas out there. Read Stewart McGill and Pete Egoscue, two authors who have some interesting things to say on the matter. Both that I’ve found helpful.

      Kim wrote on December 21st, 2012
  10. Andrew.
    You look unbelievably good, fit older men are the most gorgeous IMHO.
    Please do some research on the outstanding Russian Scenar device for back trouble. I suffered at the hands of every conventional means of treatment for a back back for about twelve years. Massage and Rolfing (they call it the Rolls Royce of massage) were my favourite till I found out about it earlier this year, but I tried all the rest at least twice too. Massage made the pain manageable, but nothing but the actual device has begun to address the source. (I certainly don’t work for them, but I possibly would if I didn’t have so many interests already). It’s as massive a breakthrough in my life as primal eating has been, and were I the sort to stand on a street corner with a sandwich board, Primal life and Scenar for HEALING (not managing) pre-existing damage would be almost all I’d go on about.
    I wish you the very best for your 80’s and beyond.
    : )

    Madama Butterfry wrote on December 21st, 2012
  11. Another fantastic n of 1 success story. Be proud Andrew as you are Master of your Metabolism. Looking liberated…..internal and external peace.

    “Marry Smart”…….love this as I share in the sentiment comforted by my Grokette exploring together.

    Grok on :-)

    Paul Grosenstein wrote on December 22nd, 2012
  12. I can’t put my finger on it, but i found this success story to be an overwhelmingly inspirational transformation. Probably, the before picture reminds my of my father and the potential that still slumbers inside of him. Have to get him on the right track.
    Thanks for sharing your story.

    Binx wrote on December 22nd, 2012
  13. Wonderful motivational tale!

    However, I come back to the n=1 thing and especially YMMV. It could just be because I’m the weirdest, most abnormal human about food that exists (well, maybe, exists this side of autistic children!) but I do not find any food or sugar cravings to be sparked by “sweet.” (I have never drunk soda or alcohol — burns my tongue.) I use (liquid) splenda in Wyler’s version of koolaid — and do not have cravings. That ‘sweet drink’ and water (and my morning mug of coffee with a bit of heavy cream and some (unsweetened) almond milk — and ‘cookie-dough-flavored” splenda syrup) are all I drink. I don’t crave sweets, I don’t even crave carbs (my actual downfall… I’ve never been a sweet-eater — but pasta? OH! As Dr Mike says; face down the carbs!)

    That said: your tale, Andrew, motivates me to try 100 days without. Well, without the drink-mix. Can’t give up the coffee… Well WON’T give up the coffee! A few years ago, I did wean down and cut out coffee for several months following Mile Eades “6-Week Cure for the Middle-Aged Middle” — of which I have one)!

    And let me second (third?) the recco for Esther Gokhale — her stuff has made a HUGE difference in my back pain/tiredness. And it’s easy to do!

    Elenor wrote on December 22nd, 2012
  14. I had a such a visceral reaction to the after photo — such a change in not just appearance but vitality. Awesome!

    I am a natural IF’er and don’t have a sweet tooth (don’t hate on me) but I have my own vices. I walk the fine line between being an overly-restricted lunatic and understanding the danger of the slippery slope.

    What really sets this story apart is Andrew’s strategic and analytic approach. Really connected with that personally.

    My other personal ps is that I’m looking at 20″ of fresh snow and horrible, self-taught nordic ski skills! Perfect timing – thanks!

    Juli wrote on December 22nd, 2012
  15. You’re totally Awesome, Andrew.

    Love how you approached the whole transformation as an experiment. I believe all change should be treated just like that.

    You’re very smart to prepare for the upcoming years. So many people in your age group have the same basic look as you in your before photo – heavy, puffy, overfed, sedentary, almost always with way too much abdominal mass.

    You’re right – you have to actually DO SOME STUFF to turn that around, and it takes some serious experimentation to figure out what stuff will work for you.

    Very cool the way you’ve experimented with IF. I did as well, and found it was the worst possible thing for me. My body/mind read the absence as food as famine/stress (and responded accordingly). That’s how it is for some people, especially women (Mark did a post on this).

    I also like your sweetened tea experiment. I think your theory is correct, and, to add to it, I know from my own experimentation that sweets make me want more sweets – because of dopamine. You might be interested in the great book “The End Of Overeating” by David A. Kessler, MD (the gist of which is that highly palatable foods, especially sweets and bad carbs, make our brains crazy for more – they cause a dopamine release that feels good, and our brains start to crave more dopamine).

    You also might like the book “Younger Next Year” by Chris Crowley and Henry S. Lodge, MD. The version with the yellow cover is generic and mostly for men; the version with the pink cover is for women. It lays out in very entertaining detail what happens in our bodies and brains when we eat well and exercise (and when we don’t).

    Great story! Really well done. Carry on.

    All the best to you.


    Susan Alexander wrote on December 22nd, 2012
  16. My response to pics was: “WOW!”

    Thanks for sharing and way to go!

    spicegirl wrote on December 22nd, 2012
  17. ‘floundering spastics’ of the world….don’t stand for it anymore!

    bunya wrote on December 22nd, 2012
  18. The “food as reward” paragraph was so perfectly right and well said, I don’t think you could say it any better. I also absolutely agree that artificial sweeteners cause unwarranted hunger. I definitely noticed this in myself.

    You are truly an inspiration to me. I think this transformation story hit me more than any other I’ve read. I’m about to embark on a one-year strict clean eating experiment with plans to throw in additional 30 or 90 day challenges relating to other aspects of my health (exercise, sleep, etc..). I think I’ve reached a point where I just don’t see the point in not doing everything I can to feel and live as optimally as I possibly can every day. But, I’ve felt nervous about it, like maybe I’m insane or something to do this. After reading your story I feel ready to totally embrace it. Thank you for sharing!

    Casey wrote on December 22nd, 2012
  19. Looks to me like your wife chose the ‘right partner’. Congratulations to you and your wife — the journey is never solo and we need supportive, loving people around us. You look 20 years younger and you are way hot! Congratulations. /Lu

    Louisa wrote on December 22nd, 2012
    • Andrew’s wife here — I definitely did choose the right partner! Andrew is an inspiration and an example to me every day…and yes, definitely way hot! :)

      Anne wrote on December 22nd, 2012
  20. Andrew – congratulations!

    Your transition has been inspirational and I was intrigued to read about the driving rationale and strategies. I especially like the idea of the 100 day programs – this seems like the right amount of time to begin an effective change while thinking of it in terms of days and not months seems very manageable. I plan to follow your example in the New Year!

    All the best,

    – Eric

    Eric Scott wrote on December 22nd, 2012
  21. I have fixed chronic back pain in hundreds of clients. I am a certified Rolfer. It is mazing for chronic back pain ,look for one in your area. A Rolfer restructures the entire body bringing it back to alignment. Google it and find a good practitioner you won’t be sorry. Some people think it is painful, like a deep massage, but paleos find it feels good cause we have very little muscular inflamtion. Great success story!

    Karen wrote on December 22nd, 2012
    • Hm. My rolfer didn’t fix me, but he helped a lot for the time I was seeing him and the thousand two hundred I paid him. After the ten sessions he expected me to be fixed so wouldn’t help me anymore.
      Rolfing is still massage, not healing.

      Madama Butterfry wrote on December 23rd, 2012
  22. Enjoyed the article and can relate so well – in my mid fifties and started a fitness quest about a year and a half ago and today am in the best shape of my life – thanks for sharing your story

    cemar wrote on December 23rd, 2012
  23. Try a rolfer for your back pain..I suffered for years going to a chiropractor….one trip to the rolfer and I’m almost pain free.

    cory wrote on December 24th, 2012
  24. Congratulations and thank you for the inspiration. Not having grown up around snow I needed someone to show me that you can get into XCC skiing and skate skiing and become accomplished not just floundering at a later age.

    I have always been an athlete though and for a long time one with back pain. sure I did exercises, chiro, etc etc. Ironically the one thing that cured it for good was an out there approach that I tried because I was desperate. Try John Sarno “Healing Back Pain” If that is your problem then it is a quick heal and truly liberating. You may have to think of something else to do with the 185 days.

    Thanks again

    Jay wrote on December 24th, 2012
  25. Great story!

    I love the 100 day idea. I’m in the midst of my own self experiment right now with ketosis. Day 14

    bjjcaveman wrote on December 25th, 2012
  26. I’m so pumped to see your amazing progress! As you mentioned back troubles, I would suggest looking into Jesse Cannone’s book 7 Day Back Pain Cure and his website at Healthy Back Institute. I wish you continued success as you go forward.



    Kenneth I wrote on December 26th, 2012
  27. I think you are right about insulin being triggered by tasting something sweet. I always get real hungry after drinking a diet coke. I have also read this somewhere else but I can’t remember where.

    I also have another reaction which is just the opposite. I live in Seattle and frequently walk around Green Lake (3 miles). Sometimes on my second lap I get real hungry and hit the wall. If I pull out a peice of hard candy and suck on it the hunger goes away even though I am consuming less than ten calories. If you are already hungry when you taste something sweet maybe you don’t get the insulin trigger.

    Randy Stimpson wrote on December 28th, 2012
  28. Thanks for sharing what worked for you. I have to admit eating sugary stuff (including fruit) has sabotaged me quite often. Congratulations on your achievement!

    Lyn wrote on December 28th, 2012
  29. Your artificial sweetener experiment totally fascinated me…and your conclusions made perfect sense. I am continually shell-shocked by the before and after pictures, including yours. Even a person’s face looks completely different! Thanks so much for sharing in such detail, Andrew. Its been encouraging and challenging!

    Becca wrote on January 10th, 2013
  30. Great story! Also, very jealous of those Spyridons! (:

    Daniel G. wrote on January 16th, 2013
    • Don’t be jealous, get some! The Spyridons are excellent for trail running – superb gription!

      I have several pairs of VFFs and these are my favorite for outdoors. I think they have had a very positive effect on my health overall. They make me want to go trail running.

      Andrew wrote on January 25th, 2013
  31. I’m 59 and I also am concerned about the future of our health care system and the state of Medicare. So your reasoning in this area really resonated with me. I am in my first 100 days using Paleo/Primal and I have lost 18 pounds.

    In previous weight loss attempts, I either used the “starve the beast” approach or I tried the “run the beast until he dies” approach. Neither one is sustainable.

    This is the first time in my life that I have focused on what I eat. WHAT A DIFFERENCE!! And it is very sustainable and very simple.

    Your whole story really resonated with me. Thank you for sharing it. Keep On Keeping On.

    Jeff wrote on February 23rd, 2013
  32. Hi Andrew ~ I read your story a year-to-the-day it was first posted (12/21/2013) and so admire your self-evaluations and self-discipline in pursuing your goals.

    “Food as a reward, particularly desserts, baffles me. You work hard at keeping your cravings under control for a week or two and then reward yourself with the very things you know to be the cause of all your troubles. It doesn’t make any sense!”

    I need to work on this issue myself – ice cream being my downfall. Not sure I can go 100 days without it but I’ll give it a go for 30 – right after the New Year.

    Yours was another jaw-dropping, night-to-day, transformation. Good job, sir!

    Grok On!

    Darlene, San Francisco, CA wrote on December 21st, 2013

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