Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
20 Apr

A Beer Drinker’s Primal 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!

When I was a kid, I was husky – that is what my mom told me. I was always a little chunkier than my siblings and most of my friends growing up in the 60’s. Because of that, I always had to watch my weight and what I ate. Gaining weight has always been easy for me.

Over the last 30 or so years, I have been a somewhat health conscious adult and lived largely by convention wisdom (CW) guidelines. I have always been physically active, fit, and pretty healthy. I rode a motocross bike up until I was 35 and played roller hockey to age 49. I rode mountain bikes, played racquetball, skied, learned to snowboard when I was 43, and would run 3-5 miles, 2-3 days a week. My dad ran the Boston marathon in his 50’s, so I guess he imparted a strong sense of fitness on to me. Keeping my weight down was always a challenge and something I worked at.

My weight stayed fairly constant, between 165 and 175 lbs, during that time. (I am 5’ 9”) My diet was pretty good I thought, eating bread without butter, potatoes without sour cream, oatmeal without sugar, cereal with low-fat milk; whole grain was king, fat was evil. I owned a bread machine and made my own whole wheat breads and pizza crusts. I was lucky not to have any medical issues, life was good.

I also have always been a beer lover and 20 years ago I started home brewing beer. Beer, after all, is low-fat, so no worries. I drink one or two beers a day during the week and twice that on weekends (if I am good.) I became a connoisseur and love to try all the different beers of the world. I get to travel worldwide with my job and I always seek out beers I have never tried before while out of the country.

After turning 45 or so, I started getting severe heart burn. My doctor put me on meds (of course) but I didn’t tolerate them, giving me the runs. I switched to OTC Pepcid type and that worked somewhat. I also at that point started to slow down a bit – less running, less hockey, less energy. And big surprise, my weight started to climb. When I turned 50, December 2009, my weight was the highest ever at 182 lbs. Not too terrible, but heading in the wrong direction and I didn’t feel like I was able to control it as I could in the past. I had to work really hard just to stay level, but I was running out of gas. Quitting hockey didn’t help. I was 50 and getting fatter. I had to make a change.

Here I am on the right at age 49, and with the rest of my family and playing bocce, Ocean City, NJ summer 2009.

In March 2010, I decided to try a low-carb diet, Atkins style, which I tried before in my 40’s with pretty good results, but never able to stick with it. Soon after starting, I was searching the internet for the carb content of certain foods and somehow came across The content was unbelievable, and I soaked it up. It all made so much sense to me. I knew Atkins was on the right track, but the Primal Blueprint was the course correction I needed. I became hooked on the information and to the community support, especially the success stories. I love MDA because everything you need is on the site. I eventually bought two PB books, more out of sheer gratitude towards Mark, than pure necessity. I also like the fact that Mark personally answered my emails, not once but twice. And he posts lists of other great websites that are, in reality, his competitors (18 Underrated Blogs…). Who else does that?

The idea that this is a lifestyle clicked with me. Atkins was a short term diet and the results don’t last once off it. (Duh!) People often ask me about the differences between Primal and Atkins. With Atkins, you don’t fundamentally change your eating habits; you substitute low-carb products for what you normally eat.  Low-carb bread, low-carb ice cream, low-carb snack bars etc, all loaded with fake factory ingredients and sugar alcohols. Over time, you drift back to the real crap and end up back at the beginning. With Primal, you learn to eat real food and you learn to like real food. You learn why the crap food is crap and you lose your taste for it. You make a real fundamental change and you understand why.

When I started Primal, I decided to see if it would work while maintaining my beer drinking/brewing hobby. After all, I really like beer and couldn’t see giving it up permanently, and besides, there was that 80/20 principle. I guess you could say I wanted my beer and drink it too. So I dove into the Primal Blueprint diet and was pretty strict, except for the beer, which I knew would add an average of 40 grams of carbs a day.

For exercise, I started hitting the weights 2 or 3 times per week and doing sprints or HIIT on most Sundays. Over the past two years, I learned a lot about fitness. My lifts have progressed and are now mainly from the large compound muscle groups, squats, deadlifts, bench press, military press, rows, pull/chin-ups, and dips. I use an upper/lower split routine giving my muscles 5-7 days rest between workouts per the book Beyond Brawn (which was linked from LeanGains which was linked from MDA). Last year I got a pair of Saucony Hattori running shoes which at 4.4 oz, are great. I got my 100 meter down to 15 seconds and I am now able to do 19 dips and 10 full pull-ups.

My diet is pretty simple. For breakfast it’s a shake with whey protein, a raw egg, greek yogurt, cottage cheese, flax meal, some berries or pumpkin and fish oil. Lunch is usually a Big Ass Salad with whatever leftovers I have from dinner, some cheese, peppers, carrots, oil, and vinegar. Dinner is meat or fish, some veggies and a salad, and of course, a beer. We usually try to cook extra meat for the next day’s salad. Dark chocolate is my dessert, and nuts, coconut, jerky, or cheese make a great snack. I also have a great recipe for pumpkin bars that are good for traveling or as another snack. Planning ahead is absolutely the key for diet adherence.

The first few months following the Primal Blueprint did not produce much in the way of weight loss. I was probably gaining muscle at the same rate as the fat loss. I had to tell myself to “stay with the program,” knowing it was the right thing to do. Finally after two months, the scale started to move. I lost 22 pounds on the scale in the first 16 months to what I consider my “ideal” body weight. This is the weight I easily maintain. This is not the fastest change, but it was relatively easy compared to other diets I have tried. The beer may have slowed down progress, but that’s OK, it’s my cheat. Besides, what’s the big rush? As long as I am on the right path, heading in the right direction, why make it harder than it is.

So here I am at age 52, two years Primal, and at my lowest weight since I can remember. My heartburn is gone, my eczema is much better, and just got a new 15 year term life policy with a super-preferred rating. My blood pressure is typically 110/70 with a resting heart rate under 60. Not a huge transformation, but I feel like I am in the best shape of my recent life with much more energy. I find that the longer I have been Primal, the easier it is to stay with it. Plus, while I have cut down on beer a little in exchange for red wine, I have not given it up.

I wonder how bad beer really is. It is slightly sprouted (malted) and fermented and does not contain the barley germ, husk, or bran… Maybe a blog post, Mark?

I am still currently active with hobbies and sports including biking, cross-country skiing, downhill skiing and snowboarding, volleyball, golf, and I’m thinking about playing roller hockey again.

I am very passionate about this lifestyle and I tell anyone who will listen to me about it. Many of my friends and coworkers have gone Primal with great success. My wife started eating this way at dinner time initially and has eventually become more Primal over the last two years. She too has had success with weight loss.

Finding MDA was like finding a magic chalice on the beach. My wish for great health has come true. Thank you, Mark Sisson.

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. Agree with you about Atkins diet. Although I love Atkins because it helped me lose weight in 2004 AND it taught me i can go without bread(and fruit for short time). Also Atkins eventually got me here to Primal/Paleo. Where it is ok to give up grains/legumes permanently and eat ‘real’ instead of using low carb products” . Without Atkins/low carb i don’t think i would have gotten here.

    Gayle wrote on April 20th, 2012
  2. Awesome story! I’m genuinely happy for you that you’ve been able to continue with your passion for beer brewing. Before PB, I was an avid yeast-bread baker.. experimenting with long fermentation techniques, shaping and scoring methods, sourdough, etc. It was my primary source of stress relief.

    Then I discovered that all the joint pain I’d been feeling for the past 3-4 years (sometimes leaving me bedridden.. at age 26) was a gluten intolerance. So yeah, dealing with the loss of my identity as a bread baker has been the hardest part of this journey for me, and I’m still not fully there. But a pain free life is worth it.

    Anyway, that had nothing to do with you except to remind you to really enjoy that beer! Have one for me. :)

    Also, you know you’re doing something right if you’re 52 and a 26 year old thinks you’re smokin hot. Rock on!

    Stephanie wrote on April 20th, 2012
  3. Mmm, beer… I have been working on swapping beer for red wine (no hard swap mosty of the time!) but there are plenty of social situations when everyone is drinking pints of beer and to ask for red wine instead makes you look odd. And we all know about the necessity of sharing mind-altering substances as an important part of social bonding with our fellows… so how bad is beer?

    Simon wrote on April 20th, 2012
  4. Congrats on your success. I agree wholeheartedly that Mark and MDA are a class act!

    Susan wrote on April 20th, 2012
  5. Wow. Great story. Love it.

    Ashley wrote on April 20th, 2012
  6. Add me to the list of people who just bought the book to support Mark. This website is fantastic. Thank you Mark!!

    Meesha wrote on April 20th, 2012
  7. Dude you look great!! Awesome story!

    Tony wrote on April 20th, 2012
  8. Great story! Love your attitude about the beer and the speed of your weight loss – having good health is a means, not necessarily an end in itself. I live primally because I think about food less, “diet” less, exercise smarter (and less), and as a result have more energy and vitality to be active with my family, friends, church, etc. Also, since my diet is so routinely rock-solid-nutritious, a beer or desert with friends is no big deal at all. Thanks for sharing your story!

    JonMarc Grodi wrote on April 20th, 2012
  9. Great article, thx for the share. I also love beer but have been trying to substitute beer intake with (home brewed) red wine and some scotch on occasion.

    I would also really like to hear Mark’s take on brewsky!

    Yuri wrote on April 20th, 2012
  10. I also love craft beer and drink it a lot. I know it’s probably not the best thing. However, if you are not eating any other grains, legumes or sugar, you are still probably way ahead of the standard American diet.

    Daryl Jensen wrote on April 20th, 2012
  11. Nice story, and really nice pictures 😉 I love the 80/20 spirit, and the questioning about beer. Congrats sir!

    Marion wrote on April 20th, 2012
  12. Congrats man! I also am a primal eater who likes his craft beer and is planning on working in the craft beer industry once I graduate school this May. Mark I am wondering if you could write a post about beer within the primal diet and its effects? Thanks.

    Zach wrote on April 20th, 2012
  13. Great story. If a blog post about beer comes up I’d like thoughts on hard cider, mead, and fruit wine. I’m a home brewer myself and count those as part of my “20” but have been curious of other people’s experiences and thoughts.

    Sarah wrote on April 20th, 2012
    • I would have hoped mead was OK if you make it with just honey and ferment it to dryness?

      Simon wrote on April 21st, 2012
  14. Awesome job, dude. I just started so we’ll see how it goes (I’m 43).

    Todd wrote on April 20th, 2012
  15. Hey, I love pumpkin and bars–recipe post, please???

    You look awesome and am sure you are feeling even better!!!

    Tonja Pizzo wrote on April 20th, 2012
    • I posted it early, see top of page two’s comments

      JoeBrewer wrote on April 20th, 2012
  16. Wow – very inspirational !! I especially love seeing great results with people over 40 :)

    Tammy wrote on April 20th, 2012
  17. Very inspirational! I also have a food hobby–I have become nearly obsessed with learning how the how to and the actual making and baking of sourdough bread. It has been therapy to me. I hate to give it up entirely, so have been baking and giving away the baked goods. We eat a little of it here and there.

    Julie wrote on April 20th, 2012
  18. You look so ripped! The best part about your success is that you didn’t have to give up something you love to get good results.

    I often feel feel apologetic for my inclusion of sugar alcohols. I guess that can be my 80/20.

    Anna wrote on April 20th, 2012
    • I include some sugar alcohol as well(Xylitol)and dairy sometimes too. So I would say I am 90/10 Primal

      Gayle wrote on April 20th, 2012
  19. Great story! I, too, love beer. A beer post would be great!!

    Anastasia wrote on April 20th, 2012
  20. I’d like to know how bad beer is too…it’s a necessity in our house :)

    Cat wrote on April 20th, 2012
  21. Atkins led me to Gary Taubes which led me to Primal, but I always say that I can sum up where Atkins let me down in three simple words “Atkins Bake Mix”.

    Beer is a big part of our lifestyle. We’re growing hops for a local craft brewery, and hope to start home brewing too. So I would like to see a post on beer.

    Denise Zapf wrote on April 20th, 2012
  22. Great story and congrats!!! When I was cycling I could eat and drink anything I wanted and not gain an ounce. But I quit cycling and kept eating and drinking -I gained 50 lbs in 6 months. I’ve since gotten back down to 180 (well, fluctuating between 175-185) and learned my lesson.

    JtC wrote on April 20th, 2012
    • Why’d you quit riding?

      karl wrote on April 22nd, 2012
  23. Wow! What a great story. You look incredible and are such an inspiration to me! Well done and good on you!!

    Deb wrote on April 20th, 2012
  24. “With Primal, you learn to eat real food and you learn to like real food. You learn why the crap food is crap and you lose your taste for it. You make a real fundamental change and you understand why.”

    That is this website in a nutshell and why I send so many people this way.

    Great job, you look great!

    wendy wrote on April 20th, 2012
  25. I would love that pumpkin bar recipe if you want to share :-) I’m just starting my journey.

    Kerri wrote on April 20th, 2012
    • OOOps, sorry. Just read through the comment and noticed you already shared. Thanks!

      Kerri wrote on April 20th, 2012
  26. You look hot!!! I find myself straying sometimes and I’m so happy these great success stories are here to keep me motivated!!! Great Work!!!

    Kat wrote on April 20th, 2012
  27. Oh, you’re killin’ me! I also am a huge beer lover. We have so many great beers in the Pacific NW. I got pronounced diabetic about 3 months ago. I’ve taken my A1C down with PB, but I’m probably going to have to give up my beer! Stupid nurse today tells me, “Well, you can drink ‘lite’ beer once in a while…” I looked at her and said, “I’d rather drink Bactine than ‘lite’ beer!” Hoist a few for me!

    PrimalPotter wrote on April 20th, 2012
    • I was diagnosed Type 2 May 6 of 2010 and age 41. A1C was 16, BG was 518. Weight: 315 I’m now ~165, A1C 5, Avg BG 92. I’ve only been primal since Jan 1 2012, but I attribute almost all of my getting off the meds to primal eating and exercise. You CAN have beer, but you have to have it with something else. Moderation in all things! Hope to have my own Primal Success Story published soon. BTW, also in PNW and you’re right! Too many good beers to count!

      tcady wrote on April 21st, 2012
      • ACK! Sorry, weight right now is ~265. Not 165. I’m not that awesome yet.

        tcady wrote on April 21st, 2012
  28. What an Awesome transformation story! Thank you so much for sharing, keep up the great work!

    lisa wrote on April 20th, 2012
  29. Awesome! Not a ton of weight and you look WAY different!

    Richard Jones wrote on April 20th, 2012
  30. Thank you for sharing your story here. Beer has been the one thing that has been limiting my boyfriend from really embracing the PB lifestyle and now I can show him you story. You look amazingly fantastic by the way and your wife is one lucky lady. :) Oh and I will be trying out those pumpkin bars this weekend. YUM YUM~

    sapphiric wrote on April 20th, 2012
  31. Wow, this could just as easily been my story, although I’m not nearly as far along. I’ve been homebrewing for a few years now and I had the same concern when I started.

    I’m not entirely sure, but my guess would be that beer has a couple of things going against it. The first and probably worst characteristic is that it has gluten. You can mitigate that somewhat in a couple of ways. One way of course is to brew with gluten-free ingredients such as sorghum syrup although most sorghum beers are pretty mediocre (one exception is St. Peters which is a phenomenal english beer but I digress). Another method is to use a product called Clarity-Ferm from White Labs which you add with the yeast at the beginning of fermentation. The enzyme will bind to the gluten and drop it to the bottom with the rest of the trub and spent yeast. Charlie Papazian did this in an issue of Zymurgy and reported that using an EZ-Gluten test he was under 20ppm. Here’s a reference:

    The second negative characteristic of beer is that it generally contains a lot of residual sugar. This is especially true for higher alcohol beers and styles such as sweet stouts which have sugars (such as lactose) that cannot be fermented by the yeast. I’m not entirely positive, but my guess is that the lowest carb beers are generally the sour styles from Belgium such as Old Brown (Oud Bruin), Flanders Red, or Lambics as they have bacterias present in the beer (such as lactobacillus) which can ferment the complex sugars that the yeast cannot.

    So ultimately you may want to pay attention to the types of beer you decide to drink. My tastes have changed over the years and I stick to the lighter beer styles such as pilsners, and the sour beers, but mainly because that’s what I like. One thing I noticed lately is that after eating primal for about 6 months now, I’ve noticed that I have trouble drinking more than a couple of beers without feeling a little off. I don’t plan on stopping my beer drinking, but I have reduced it quite a bit and have gotten more selective about which ones I choose to drink. Quality not quantity I guess. :)

    Great story, and good luck.

    Ryan wrote on April 20th, 2012
    • In addition to the sugar, alcohol is 7 (useless)calories per gram.

      Michael wrote on April 20th, 2012
    • Well, down here in Australia we actually have a “zero carb” beer that is brewed (if they are to be believed) only using water, barley and hops … as real beer should be. How they achieve 0g carb with 0.1g of sugar is a secret……ok, it isn’t the greatest tasting beer in the world…but Its better than much of the commercial rubbish and better than any low carb beer I’ve had.

      Curious to know the non primal aspects of this type of beer. Obviously there is sugars from the alcohol…

      If curious check it out

      farsonic wrote on April 20th, 2012
  32. Beer is good for you.

    dave wrote on April 20th, 2012
    • Agreed … look at my Avatar and the grace with which I handle the big stick, powered by beer!

      WildGrok wrote on April 20th, 2012
  33. YEAH! First off, your physique for someone in his early 50’s is killer. Second, as a fellow craft beer lover and one-time homebrewer, THANK YOU. I have really limited my volume and frequency, but I believe there can still be a balance. (I just picked up some Deschutes Chainbreaker and SN Torpedo tallboy cans for a weekend away snowboarding with friends.)

    Thank you Mark for this great post, and congrats Joe on the amazing lifestyle change while still not completely foregoing what you love. :o)

    66 wrote on April 20th, 2012
  34. OMG I am sooooooo happy to read this. I live in Sonoma County, which, while it is definitely Wine Country, what a lot of people don’t realize is that it is BEER COUNTRY too!!!

    We have some of the most amazing beers brewed right here and I just adore it. I kept telling myself “but you’re just going to have to learn to go without it.” It makes me so sad because I adore the Russian River brews, Lagunitas, Bear Republic, Lost Coast, Anderson Valley…sigh.

    But this MADE MY DAY! This shows me one CAN live a successful Primal life and have their beer, too. Granted, it needs to be in moderation, but I’m so happy to know I don’t have to give it up altogether.

    SarahT wrote on April 20th, 2012
    • Thanks for your comments. Yes those breweries are some of the best in the country. I have tried to recreate RR Pliny the Elder with some success,though not as good of course. Pliny the Younger is epic on the east coast. If a bar gets a keg, they sell raffle tickets for 10 oz glasses, crazy.

      joeBrewer wrote on April 20th, 2012
  35. Congrats Joe! You look amazing, keep it up. Primal rocks!

    mars wrote on April 20th, 2012
  36. Thanks for sharing your story – very inspirational! You’re proof that we don’t have to give up everything we love (and who doesn’t love a nice cold beer??) when balanced with a healthy Primal diet and lifestyle. You look fantastic and I’m sure you feel it too! And I totally agree – finding MDA was like finding a magic chalice for me too. Congrats and keep up the good work!

    Jo wrote on April 20th, 2012
  37. So, I’m one of the friends turned onto the Primal Blueprint by Joe. I’m down 14 lbs since July 2011, an absolutely amazing result. My wife is down about 7 and has gone from pre-diabetic to no worries (she had appropriate weight levels, but bad genetics, her brother died of diabetes at age 42.) We’ve found the new way of eating easy and delicious. I have loved the work out training videos – squats, pullups, etc too. Thank you Joe and thank you Mark.


    John Duffy wrote on April 20th, 2012
    • love PB fitness!

      mars wrote on April 20th, 2012
  38. Great story. You look awesome.
    I’m curious to know how many others out there got over their acid reflux issues by eating primal.
    I used to buy the big three pack of prislosec at Costco. I couldn’t get off the stuff. But the last time I bought it was a month or so before I started eating primal two years ago. I don’t ever get heart burn anymore. It stopped completely and abruptly. I still have some Prilosec hanging around. Anyone want it?
    Is this common? Did anyone else lose their acid reflux disease by eating primal?

    Nancy wrote on April 20th, 2012
    • I was almost at the point of going to something like Prilosec before primal. I was taking 4-8 tums a day. Now maybe one at most a week.

      jeff wrote on April 21st, 2012
    • Hi Nancy, It seemed like I just might have been single-handedly keeping tums in business a couple of years ago. Went primal – no more heartburn. Just gone. I kept the tums in the cabinet “just in case” but never had to use any then threw the rest out after several months. I believe my brother, who went primal just after I did, had the same experience.;)

      Chris wrote on April 21st, 2012

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