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

A Family Affair: Mother, Father and Sisters Go Primal and Reap Benefits

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!

real life stories stories 1 2Hi Mark!

Every Friday, I take my obligate study break and read each week’s success story, hoping one day that I could be featured. I am still a work in progress. It seems as if every day I find a new thing to lament. But reflecting back on this year, I must say that I’ve come really far and would like to share my story with the world.

I’d been overweight for most of my life. I weighed 70 lbs at age 3. There is an infamous picture of me in my kindergarten graduation cap and gown at that age (my parents started me in school early) that hangs in my parents’ living room. My chubby face is dead-center, with cheeks so plump, my eyes look forced shut. Every year, I dreaded getting weighed. I hated seeing my doctor write down ever-increasing numbers. Then, it became the rule to get weighed at school. The teacher would announce everyone’s weight as they stepped off the scale. The first time they instituted this rule, I was 9 years old and in the fifth grade…and weighed a whopping 125 pounds. My weight steadily crept up until I got to my heaviest of 175 at age 15. Mind you, I am very short. During this time, I was 5’2”, so every pound of weight gain immediately made itself known on my slight frame. When I saw that 175 I lost it. I made a resolution to lose the weight no matter what.

And I did. But in the most unhealthy way imaginable. I decided that I would eat 500 calories a day and work out for 2 hours each day, on top of that. I attended an elite preparatory school on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, where we had chefs cook our breakfasts, snacks, and lunches. The cafeteria abounded with homemade rolls, carrot-ginger dressings, pies, tons of ice cream flavors, croissants, rich buttery sauces, rice, pasta, anything your heart could desire and your mind could think of. It was a culinary heaven. But when I decided to embark on my 500 calorie quest, I stuck to water and fruit. Day in and day out. Dinner would be low calorie hot chocolate made from a processed mix and water with toast. I took “Advanced Fitness” as my gym class in school, and would diligently walk on the treadmill for 30 minutes at the highest incline I could stand and then do 30 minutes of weight lifting. I even stuck to this during the holidays, doing at home workouts and eating just salad. In just 5 months, I lost 55 pounds. I was a frail-looking 120 pounds. But seeing that number made me so happy.

I remember going to a lake house my uncle and aunt had rented for a weekend getaway for our family. I hadn’t seen them in about 6 months, and when I stepped out of the car, their jaws dropped. I, initially, was happy to see this response. But their eyes told the truth. My uncle and aunt, both doctors, looked worried, shocked, and even somewhat disgusted. “Why’d you lose so much weight?”, they asked. “Don’t you know how you can mess up your body, your hormones, doing all this unnecessary stuff?”, they yelled. But I didn’t care. I was thin and proud.

I maintained this weight loss almost effortlessly through junior and senior years of high school and then as a freshman at Yale University. I ate whatever I wanted, worked out, and gained about 5 pounds, but felt this was a “healthier” weight for me. Then magically, I weighed myself during my sophomore year of college and weighed 135. Then during junior year, 150. I was so scared that the weight I had lost was coming back. So I embarked on yet another weight loss journey, this time turning to Insanity at-home workouts and low carb dieting. In just two months, I went back down to 125. I started senior year looking and feeling great.

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The first pic is me during junior year of college, when I had regained most of the weight I had lost at the end of high school, weighing around 150. The second pic is me at 125-130 right after college. Still eating low carb without any worry about the nutritional qualities of my food. Smaller but still noticeably skinny-fat/without much definition.

Or so I thought. Ever since I had lost weight the first time, I’d have pesky issues bothering me. I noticed I had long sideburns. Then I noticed hairs on my chin. Then sprouting up in the middle of my cheeks! I noticed that my periods were extra long and heavy, lasting 10 days. I remember sitting on a toilet for about two hours on the second day of one of my periods because the flow was so heavy my sanitary napkin was soaked within 5 minutes. I also remember the immense pain associated with my periods. I’d be curled up in a ball on the bathroom floor asking God why he was punishing me. More than a few times, I had to be taken to the hospital. Then my periods started coming irregularly, to the point where I sometimes had two per month. And my skin was horrible. Constant breakouts, not just of the superficial, pustule kind, but the achy, deep, cystic ones too. My skin was oily and slick. Constant picking at my skin left a mottled mix of raw skin, scars, and hyperpigmentation on my face. I was wearing makeup to school to hide these issues every day. I cried (man, I cried a lot when I was younger) about not being able to show my true skin and be myself. I didn’t socialize much and didn’t want to be seen in public. I often wished I could be reborn without all these weight and skin issues.

When these symptoms first started creeping up, at around age 16, I saw an endocrinologist and was diagnosed with PCOS. Ultrasound revealed that my ovaries were riddled with tons of tiny cysts. My only treatment option at the time was birth control. I tried it for a year and stopped because I saw no progress. During college, I finally worked up the courage to see a dermatologist and was immediately put on a plethora of things that she claimed would fix my skin: topical antibiotics, oral antibiotics, topical retinol, topical corticosteroids, the works. Every 3 months, I’d be trying new antibiotics because nothing seemed to work. It was a costly and frustrating time. My self-esteem was at an extreme low. Even though I had worked my weigh back down to 125, I felt like I was a mess. Here I was, graduating with Honors from one of the best colleges in the world, and I felt like my world was spinning out of control. I had lost the weight, but nothing was fixed. That’s when I realized that it was all about health and not about weight.

The week before I began my first year of medical school at the end of August 2012, I happened upon the Whole30 website. I immediately clicked on the Testimonial tab and scrolled down the list. No more acid reflux, uh huh. No more acne, ok, maybe I this might work for me. Then I scrolled down and saw testimonials for PCOS! I decided then and there to embark on my first Whole30. It was scary. I was used to the low carb life, but no beans or dairy, and I could actually eat sweet potatoes? I convinced myself that because my body would be working as it’s supposed to, my body could handle more nutrient-dense sources of carbs. And I went all in. Acne vanished. Skin lesions healed super fast. I happened upon your website and incorporated more Primal-based ideas of exercise, taking on heavy lifting, walking, and sprinting. My body fat melted. My muscles popped. From body-fat estimates, I started out at 25% and am now sitting at around 17%! I weigh around 135, which still in my mind is a bit too high, but fit into size 4 dresses with ease. I even managed to grow 2 inches! I felt, and still feel, like a new person! And this past spring, I had another ultrasound done and guess what? No cysts. And my periods come like clock work, and only last a few days. The cramping pain associated with them is much less severe, and I have noticed, darn-near unnoticeable if I stick to strict Primal. My facial hair has also reduced drastically, but because of my hair quality, I am prone to ingrown hairs. This issue, however, is being handled with holistic approaches to health (and electrolysis). I newly discovered Stefani Ruper, of Paleo for Women fame, and am now even more committed to this lifestyle for the long haul.

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Me now!
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Me now without acne!

More than beating my PCOS, I am especially thankful for this lifestyle because of the effect it has had on my family members. Seeing how much my health has improved, my mother, father, and sister have all embraced this lifestyle with success of their own. My mom, once a diabetic with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and overweight has now gotten rid of all but one of her medications and has lost 30 pounds. My father, who once suffered from chronic pain and obesity, has lost 50 pounds and now routinely takes 4 mile walks whenever possible and is prone to turning on the radio at home and dancing like a mad man. My sister, who was starting to show signs of PCOS and who gained 50 pounds in just two years while at college, is now the leanest, meanest machine I’ve seen. I’ve even gotten one of my close college friends on track and we regularly update each other with the best Paleo recipe we’ve tried that week or our new favorite Paleo/Primal blogs.

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My father at his heaviest, and my father now.
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My sister and mom at their heaviest.
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My sister and mom now.

I’m still working on getting rid of the hirsutism, and my new goal is to get a six-pack, haha. But I now recognize that even though I am a work in progress, I have made progress and I am not broken. Turning to the Paleo/Primal lifestyle has been the greatest thing to happen to my loved ones and me.  Now, I can’t wait to be a primary care doctor and spread this message to my future patients!

Thanks, Mark! Couldn’t have done it without you!

Janelle

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. Congrats to the whole family! I’m happy for you. Having support and supporting paleo family members is essential for a change of life.

    You guys look awesome and happy! So glad for you!

    Morex wrote on January 17th, 2014
  2. This must be the happiest ending story I’ve seen here, wow! What a terrific (and sensible!) family you have and what a wonderful contribution you have made to your family’s health. You are going to be one hell of a fine doctor, in your honor I take back every negative comment I have made about doctors on here:)

    Your story has really brightened my day. Congratulations on all your accomplishments and best wishes to the entire family!

    Bayrider wrote on January 17th, 2014
  3. Always awesome to see these.

    BFBVince wrote on January 17th, 2014
  4. Wow, Janelle, not only do you radiate health, but your positive energy has already transformedyour family– I can only imagine the wonders you’ll perform as a physician! Your story gives me hope!

    Paleo-curious wrote on January 17th, 2014
  5. Really enjoyed this post – and what a lovely family.

    Mary wrote on January 17th, 2014
  6. Incredibly inspiring! Thank you again!

    Ara wrote on January 17th, 2014
  7. I’d really like an update on you and your family in about a year, to find out how things have progressed. You look great now, even without a six-pack.

    dragonmamma wrote on January 17th, 2014
    • I was just thinking about how my “where are they now” post would be. My goals are: 1) keep up eating along Primal guidelines 2) get down to around 16% BF 3)FINALLY get rid of my facial hair. One big thing that’s happened since writing this post is no more ingrown hairs!! So the next step is to have NO facial hair at all. And my father is now doing at-home bodyweight workouts from the Primal Fitness Blueprint and hopes to gain some muscle and lose an additional 20 or so lbs. My mother and sister are happily maintaining.

      janelle1122 wrote on January 17th, 2014
  8. Very inspiring Janelle!! Reminds me of when I began eating and living primal and everyone thought I was nuts! Then they started seeing the results and before long my family started following along and the changes have been awesome.

    Thanks for the great post and congrats!

    Ian McAuslin wrote on January 17th, 2014
  9. I want you to be my doctor! Well done on all counts!

    Dana wrote on January 17th, 2014
  10. Yes, that realization that you are *not* broken feels so good! Congratulations!

    em wrote on January 17th, 2014
  11. Janelle, Just imagine how happy you must have made Mark Sisson and the whole Daily Apple team! I would guess they are grinning, ear to ear, knowing the role they played in backing you up! You look absolutely fabulous. and you have found your mission!!

    maidel wrote on January 17th, 2014
  12. Excellent! You are beautiful from the inside out! Keep up the good work!

    Molly wrote on January 17th, 2014
  13. why was my comment deleted? I’m merely curious as to why the post’s have these great sounding stories, but haven’t the before and after photo’s to back them up. Yes, I LOVE this story. I wish my family would also go primal with me, its changed my life, shed 50 pounds and kept it off for over a year. I would just love to see great before and after pictures. To me, the mom looks exactly the same, but the newer picture is of much higher quality than the before picture and it goes from full body shot to only pretty much a headshot. The first before and after pics are great, even going a little to far maybe with the pants being so low, cheers! But the other family members photo’s really need work.

    Dave wrote on January 17th, 2014
    • As I said in reply to you, which I see was also deleted, my story isn’t about the before and after pictures or weight loss. It’s about the HEALTH that I gained and the KNOWLEDGE I gained and will disseminate to my future patients. Moreover, the pictures of and story about my family were an addendum. If they want to tell their own stories separately, I’m sure they would provide “better” before and after pictures. Mind you, my mother lost 30 lbs and is maintaining effortlessly. You can clearly see that her face looks thinner. But congrats to you for your own Primal success. I can’t wait for your story to be up here, with flawless befores and afters.

      janelle1122 wrote on January 17th, 2014
  14. I greatly admire your success, Janelle. Also, congratulations on getting your family on board. Particularly amused by what you said about your father “dancing like a mad man”. My father suffered a seizure in November of 2012. I moved to be with him and try to help him rehabilitate. Cooked for him every day, 80/10 “prileo”, but after a month of that, he rebelled and went back to his daily Honey Nut Cheerios with low fat milk and toast for breakfast, and mac and cheese for lunch. Additionally he suffers from GERD, and almost daily doses of Prilosec for ten plus years. His “cure” was to raise the head of his bed 3 inches, but since his doctors did not mention nutrition (other than advising him to avoid spicy foods), I could not convince him his super high carb intake was an issue. SO, pass along my regards to your father, together with my respect and admiration, for being open-minded and taking action.

    Warren wrote on January 17th, 2014
    • Thank you so much! It’s really frustrating how little a role nutrition plays in the advice most doctors give to their patients. Perhaps trying to change one thing at a time instead of going full on Prileo would make your father more receptive? For instance, make him a healthy dinner and let him have his Honey Nut breakfast and mac and cheese lunch. Then, after about a month, make the lunch and dinner healthy. Then, basically work your way up to him eating ‘real food’ at all meals. I actually just learned about this technique, called shaping, in my neuroscience class yesterday. It’s like taking baby steps towards changing another person’s behavior.

      janelle1122 wrote on January 17th, 2014
  15. Congratulations! Your story is very inspiring. I’ve been paleo for over two years now, but I’m starting to have similar menstrual issues to the ones you had. Subconsciously, I think of paleo as being a panacea, but I suppose it still can’t solve all our problems.
    It’s so wonderful that you’re going into medicine, too. I would feel so much more confident in my doctor if he or she were paleo, or at least understood the lifestyle.

    Natalia wrote on January 17th, 2014
  16. Janelle,
    Congrats on your Primal journey and your medical career. I have been Primal for 4 years and at age 53 have never felt better. My yearly labs one month ago showed a HS CRP of 0.00! I can attribute this to only one thing-my Primal lifestyle. As you probably have learned in Med School, inflammation is now felt to be at the root of many diseases from DM, HTN, CAD, CA not to mention general well being. I am also a physician but am an Orthopedist/Sports Medicine physician . I am very selective but passionate when I introduce patients to the Primal lifestyle. Successes stories are the norm! As a PCP you will be in a unique position to influence/educate patients on REAL health. As I’m sure you learned already, BS articles in the mass media (recent US News and World Report article on Paleo diet) are what patients see. Your job is to educate patients on sound science and let them know that the science-illiterates in
    the media and Washington DC are (to put it kindly) morons. Grok On!

    Rick Weidenbener wrote on January 17th, 2014
    • Oh wow, those are some excellent labs! Yeah, when I tell my classmates that I eat a Paleo diet, they often roll their eyes. But I know from reading the hundreds of success stories that it is a sustainable, healthy lifestyle with more benefits than one can count. I’m sure even your own patients who have heard you out about this lifestyle have seen less joint and/or muscle pain. It’s really amazing how much nutrition can affect every system of our bodies!

      janelle1122 wrote on January 17th, 2014
    • My recent CRP was 0.03. I was shocked…and pleased. Grok on, indeed!

      Julie Schneider wrote on January 19th, 2014
  17. Amazing how challenges are the springboards toward a better life. Fantastic story!!!

    Linda A. Lavid wrote on January 17th, 2014
  18. What an inspiring story! Congratulations, I’m SO glad you found the answer.

    Cathy Johnson (Kate) wrote on January 17th, 2014
  19. You made my day! good on you and you give us all inspiration.

    Carlton wrote on January 17th, 2014
  20. Janelle,
    I waited until the end to post a comment, because as it turned out, just about everybody already said what I wanted to say. I am so very proud of you for sticking to your convictions, and not listening to CW, but to your own body for answers.

    I’m almost 70 years old and would love to have you as my doctor. Any chance you’ll move to Arizona???

    I love, love, love that last pic of you (Janelle – After) — you look SO absolutely confident and have that attitude that you are going to totally kick ass. Watch out world – Here. She. Comes!!!

    And I can’t comment enough on how happy I am that your beautiful family is on board, as well. All the very, very best to you – I know you’re going to be a success!

    PrimalGrandma wrote on January 17th, 2014
    • Wow, thank you so much, Primal Grandma! Love that name; and I bet you’ve been making great strides in your Primal lifestyle too! It’s comments like yours that show what a great, supportive community this is. And it makes me want to stick to this lifestyle even more! And thanks for the comments about my last picture; I just realized that my glasses are slanted in it, oops lol.

      janelle1122 wrote on January 17th, 2014
  21. So great to see a future doctor who actually understands human nutrition! I wish there were more of you!

    PaleoDentist wrote on January 17th, 2014
  22. Wow, I definitely was not expecting such an amazing pour out of congratulations and well-wishes. This is an amazing community! I hope my story has inspired some of you, especially anyone battling PCOS. It’s a rather frustrating disease, but through a nuanced N=1 approach to this lifestyle, it becomes way more manageable.

    janelle1122 wrote on January 17th, 2014
  23. Great story! Thanks for sharing =)

    John B wrote on January 17th, 2014
  24. Beautiful!!!!

    Melanie Pittam wrote on January 18th, 2014
  25. It’s so awesome that you’re going to be one of the informed doctors and truly help people! We need more doctors like you out there!

    And yes, the ever elusive six pack… that is also my “goal”, but just so I have something to work towards – I have found great health and feel wonderful, and it sounds like you have, as well!

    It’s so great that the family’s on board as well!

    meg wrote on January 18th, 2014
  26. For your painful periods etc try raspberry leaf tea. Halves the pain and the mess

    Marie wrote on January 18th, 2014
    • I’ll definitely try that. My last cycle, I tried parsley tea and while it resulted in no pain at all, it didn’t taste that palatable. So perhaps raspberry leaf tea will be better! Thanks!

      Janelle wrote on January 18th, 2014
  27. What a beautiful story! You look amazing. Keep up the amazing work and good luck with med school!

    Caroline Kelly wrote on January 18th, 2014
  28. Hi Janelle, great story and thank you for sharing!

    You mentioned wanting to get down to 16% body fat. Why are you aiming for that particular body fat percentage? Is there an optimal body fat percentage?

    Angel wrote on January 18th, 2014
    • That’s how low I had gotten last year before I started incorporating more carbs to help my type II PCOS. While the carbs have given me lots of energy, better sleep, a super regular cycle, and for some reason much better moods (probably from the serotonin), I have gained some body fat. So I’m currently trying to balance feeling great with also looking my best.

      Janelle wrote on January 18th, 2014
  29. i love this, the whole darling family!

    Joy Beer wrote on January 18th, 2014
  30. Wow, your patients will be so lucky to have you!

    Natalia wrote on January 18th, 2014
  31. Congratulations Janelle! You look healthy and happy. The world needs more doctors that actually understand the effect food has on the health on her patients!

    Brittany wrote on January 18th, 2014
  32. Then, it became the rule to get weighed at school. The teacher would announce everyone’s weight as they stepped off the scale.

    What the heck? Why? How is it the school’s business what kids weigh?

    Erik W wrote on January 18th, 2014
    • Right? That was such a scarring experience. Even though I was years younger than my classmates, I was visibly bigger than and having everyone hear how much I actually weighed made it much worse.

      Janelle wrote on January 18th, 2014
      • *than them

        Janelle wrote on January 18th, 2014
  33. Yippee Yay !! ANOTHER PRIMAL DOC !! I’m glad you’re already teaching some classes to diabetic patients, and trying to help start classes in nutrition for med students. Maybe after you graduate, in addition to your practice you can teach classes in nutrition at some med school to help keep the ball rolling. Congratulations to you & your family, and we are thankful for you!

    Glenda wrote on January 18th, 2014
  34. Janelle,

    Thank you very much for your testimonial. As a 4th-year medical student (D.O. So I’m a “quack” ;), your story is particularly inspirational to me. As you know, it can be difficult to adhere to a paleo/Primal lifestyle during medical school – with the endless studying, long hospital shifts, and the resistance of our peers, who believe they have the answers (because they learned them in med school, of course!) Thus, one can feel quite socially isolated under these circumstances. However, your story gives me hope that we will continue to make headway in our profession, and that one CAN continue to live paleo/Primal (as much as possible) while pursuing a career in medicine. I frequently accuse medical students (and docs) of being very knowledgeable, but apparently lacking in wisdom – which is knowledge combined with judgement. All arrogance aside, you are a refreshing exception to my indictment, as you have demonstrated the ability to think for yourself/”outside the box”. Your hard work and persistence will pay dividends, now and in the future. BTW, you and your family look fantastic! Glad you feel and function likewise.

    Drew wrote on January 18th, 2014
    • Thank you so much! It is really hard to sit in classes that barely address nutrition and to hear conventional wisdom being taught to us, to then teach our patients. But I never shy away from educating people about the way I eat and exercise. I’m known as the health nut in my class, and I’ll take it. I just can’t wait to teach my own patients about the Paleo lifestyle and encourage them to take their healths into their own hands!

      janelle1122 wrote on January 24th, 2014
  35. This is great! I have PCOS as well and really struggle to lose even an ounce (nevermind that my motivation disappears at the drop of a hat.. sigh).
    But this was really inspirational. To know that maybe my PCOS symptoms would get better if I went a bit stricter with primal, it’s just what I needed to see.

    Anyway, congrats on your newly found health and so glad your family and friends are on board :)

    Lisal wrote on January 18th, 2014
    • I have found that with PCOS, it truly is a N=1 experiment. Going strict Paleo/Primal gave me the fastest results, but tweaking to get rid of my final symptoms has been the most frustrating/enlightening. What works for one woman might not work for the next but definitely strict Paleo/Primal is the best way to start. Check out the Paleo for Women website if you have time. There’s some really great stuff there.

      janelle1122 wrote on January 24th, 2014
  36. Super story, and as someone who has paid the price for my doctors’ predilection for antibiotics instead of health, I am so pleased you’re going to be the exception to the medical machine we have in this country.

    You go, girl!

    Bear wrote on January 20th, 2014
  37. Wow Janelle you and your family are powerhouses!!! So awesome!!!

    Katie wrote on January 21st, 2014
  38. Congratulations! That’s awesome, and I think it probably makes being Primal a lot easier with the whole family coming around!

    Justin Stowe wrote on January 21st, 2014
  39. Wow!! You look great, but what’s even better is that your whole family was willing to try it! You’re beautiful, it was great to read that your acne was healed–as a former sufferer, I know how wonderful it feels to finally escape that prison! Congratulations on graduating with honors from Yale–SUPER impressive!

    Ashley wrote on January 21st, 2014
    • Thanks! Getting rid of my acne was by far the most amazing thing. I always thought I was going to be stuck on a constant rotation of topicals and antibiotics. But eating real food has fixed the unfixable!

      janelle1122 wrote on January 24th, 2014
  40. You rock I’m going to show you’re story to my wife and hope it sticks.

    tad snyder wrote on January 22nd, 2014

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