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

Failure Isn’t a Setback, It’s a Catalyst for Change

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 2Growing up in Orange County I was always active. As a kid I was always at the beach, on my bike, or on my skateboard. Summers I’d be outdoors from sunup to sundown and usually hot and sweaty from all the activity. My family didn’t have a lot of money so unlike a lot of my peers I grew up without an Atari, Nintendo, Sega, or Gameboy. When we went on drives, I actually looked out the windows and observed the world around me. I was always tan and can’t remember ever being overweight. In high school I ran cross country and track. I didn’t set any records, but I was always in the top percentages. I ran Mt. SAC all four years of high school and I remember my senior year it was raining so bad that it was shoe-sucking-mud the entire 5K. Add a few obstacles into the equation and you had the equivalent of a Marine Corps Mud Run. There were no records set that day by anyone, but I did manage to finish the race first, only because I had spent the previous 3 months running sand dunes. I thoroughly enjoyed the outdoors. All through high school and until I was about 23 I’d hike Big Bear and Lake Arrowhead and the famous Bridge to Nowhere outside of Asuza. I was either hiking or backpacking at least one weekend a month for many, many years.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was blessed with a fast metabolism. In a nutshell, I could eat whatever I wanted when ever I wanted and it seemed to have no affect on me. Soda, beer, Starbucks, steaks, fried foods… if I saw it, I ate it. Within two years of high school I was into my current career in the IT field. The one new thing this brought to my life was sitting on my butt for 8-12 hours a day, though I was active enough that this didn’t have much affect on me. Around age 23 I discovered billiards and started spending hours and hours playing nine ball. Sure I was standing a lot, but it’s still pretty inactive and I drank a lot of beer when I wasn’t shooting. Downtime was no longer hikes and camping but instead a few hours of playing pool. I got married to the most beautiful woman on earth at 25 and shortly after things started to change, though so gradually I didn’t really notice. But suffice it to say that lots of sitting on my butt at work combined with lots of cuddling during movies combined with date nights combined with less outdoorsy activities combined with a standard diet of Starbucks, Hamburger Helper, and Tyson’s frozen dinners started to take their toll.

Eventually we moved to Florida. My IT career continued as did my being sedentary most of the day. The family’s eating habits remained the same. My metabolism started to slow down and my outdoorsy activities became fewer and fewer. Add a few kids into the mix and some restless nights and things took their toll. Yet somehow I remained oblivious. In my mind, I was still an 18 year old. In June of 2010 I got the itch to head outdoors. There’s a really great section of the Florida Trail that goes through the middle of the Ocala National Forest. I planned out a 7 day trip: 3 days in, 1 day to chill, and 3 days back out. I planned for this trip for about 2 months including buying a bunch of new backpacking gear. In August I headed out. The goal was to go about 12 miles per day (2 miles per hour, 6 hours a day with plenty of time for breaks, to make camp, etc). I made it 5 miles into the first day and couldn’t go any farther. I made camp, ate, and slept for probably 12 hours straight. I was hot and had no energy. The next day I pushed on but only made another 2-3 miles before I had to stop and make camp. My body literally would not go any farther. I decided to hike out the next day and I couldn’t even do that. Halfway through I had to stop, pitch my tent to get out of the sun and sleep for 2-3 hours before I could continue on. I got home that night… 4 days early… with my tail tucked between my legs and making excuses about bad weather to my family. In hindsight, there were a few problems: heat, humidity, me, and my pack weight. I’m 6’ 2’’ and have the build of being more towards the thin side. From age 17-25 I was always in the 170-180 lbs range (thin, sometimes cut, but not very muscular). When I set out on the failed trip I was 245 lbs, horribly out of shape and packing a 65 lbs pack (including food and water). Humidity was high and the temps were in the 90s and I was simply not conditioned for that kind of exertion in those kinds of conditions.

But I refused to let this failure be a setback. Instead it became a catalyst for change. I refused to let my own weight and lack of physical fitness to keep me from something I enjoyed so much. Plus, I had two daughters that were getting old enough for hikes and such and I didn’t want them to miss out because I was fat. In an age of RSS feeds and iPhones and instant news and updates and digital everything there’s something so refreshing about the outdoors and I wanted our family to enjoy that together.

Before HotAndFat

Changing out my backpacking gear was the easy part. With a bit of money and some googling, I was able to get it to a base weight of 25-28 lbs not including food and water. With food and water, I can do a 3-5 day trip with 35 lbs or less on my back. Quite the savings in weight from my old 65 lb pack weight.

Changing me was a bit more difficult of a process. Through some googling I discovered a concept called “fat packing” wherein people use a multi-day backpacking trip as a tool to reset their metabolism and encourage fat burning. From the forums there I found Mark’s Daily Apple. In hindsight, I didn’t realize how bad I’d allowed myself to become. A typical day for me looked like this: wake up at the last possible minute after snoozing for at least 30 minutes… shower and head to work… stop at Starbucks for a sugar and caffeine loaded drink… commute for 45 minutes… sit on my butt all morning working… at lunch either go back to Starbucks for another sugar and caffeine filled drink and maybe a pastry or down a 20 oz soda and bag of chips from the vending machine… keep sitting on my butt… around 3 pm drink another 20 oz soda and another bag of chips while still sitting on my butt… off at 5 pm and commute for 45 minutes… home around 6 pm for a late dinner of Hamburger Helper or something similarly high in processed carbs and fats… eat two overly large servings… sit and watch some TV… have an overly large dessert and lay in bed watching TV… eventually fall asleep around midnite or 1 am… toss and turn from heartburn… pop a Tums… sleep til 7 am or so and snooze for 30 minutes… then repeat day after day. Weekends were about the same only I slept in later, stayed up later, and typically ate out for a huge brunch and something similar for dinner. All this repeated day after day, week after week pushed me from being tall and skinny and 180 lbs to tall and fat at 245 lbs.

At this point I knew about MDA, but I hadn’t really given it much of a read. Instead I relied on my “conventional wisdom”. I decided a change was needed and I made that change starting in January of 2011. For the first week I did nothing but evaluate. I got the LoseIt app for my iPhone and tracked everything I ate and drank for one week. I knew I wasn’t eating right, but what I learned shocked me. I was consuming between 5000-6000 calories a day and 80% of it was from dinner and dessert all between 6-11 pm and immediately before bed. I made three immediate changes: 1) I started walking daily, 2) I started eating three meals a day, and 3) I started eating lots more fruits and veggies and *healthful* grains. I was not eating Primally. I was eating according to CW, but the changes worked (at least initially). I calculated that I needed 2800-3000 calories a day to survive, so I restricted myself to 2200-2400 calories per day for the first six months. Another big change I made was to change the *focus* of my meal. Instead of meat being the main course and everything else a side dish, I made veggies the meal and everything else a side. For example, instead of a 12 oz steak with a side salad, I had a big salad as my main entree with meat on top; think chicken caesar salad or a “beef and blue” salad. I ate lots of grains… oatmeal for breakfast, whole grain bread, etc. And a lot of what I ate was still processed or low quality, but it was still a change. For the walking I started with just a mile and added about ½ mile a week.

After 3-4 months things were a lot different. I was eating oatmeal and berries and bananas for breakfast and a salad for lunch. My wife was on board and started making dinners that didn’t come in a box (roasted whole chickens, fish, made-from-home meals). I was walking 3-4 miles a night. The one thing that never changed was Starbucks. I continued consuming the sugar and caffeine laden drinks once or twice a day. But with all the other changes including calorie restrictions, walking, and eating three times a day I was down 25 lbs. About this time I started jogging. It was simple at first… just ¼ mile. I’d walk for 1 mile, jog for ¼ mile, then walk the rest for a total of 4 miles. Every week or so I’d add another ¼ mile, but keep it at 4 miles total. By December of 2011 I was down to 195 lbs (50 lbs in 11 months), running 3-4 miles a day 3-4 days a week and walking 4 miles the other days. My wife and daughters were walking with me most of the time and we enjoyed a few local hikes. Unfortunately, I had also plateaued. I had gone as far as conventional wisdom could take me.

In February of 2012 two things changed: 1) I discovered The Primal Blueprint (and started reading articles on MDA) and 2) we moved to North Carolina which put me back in a place with mountains and trails similar to what I had enjoyed in the mountains of California (only without all the smog). In all honestly, Florida was just too hot and humid to really enjoy a good hike, not to mention it was flat. I read The Primal Blueprint twice and realized I was doing a lot right, but still missing quite a few things. Don’t get me wrong… the conventional wisdom had its benefits, but I realized it was probably more of the walking and running and calorie changes than it was the foods I was eating. I was still around 195 lbs and still had a ring of fat around my belly. I was definitely more in shape, but I also had lots of gas, restless sleep, and frequent colds and flus. Exercise-wise I had more endurance, but I wasn’t where I wanted to be and while I had burned a lot of fat, I hadn’t built much muscle.

So starting around June or so of 2012 I decided to go fully Primal (well close anyway… I still indulge on some cravings here or there). The first thing I did was to change my running. I didn’t want to veer into chronic cardio. I now run 10-15 miles a week, 2-3 times a week, but never for more than 45 minutes at a time and always at a slow pace. I added in a full set of body weight exercises (pushups, pullups, bicycle crunches, back-ups, dips). About nine months ago I added in other resistance training (lifting heavy things) and sprints. I pretty much dropped all grains including the rice and oatmeal I’d been eating almost daily (I still cheat with the occasional cookie or brownie or brown rice pasta). I upped my calories back to normal. Some days I consume as few as 2000, but if I eat 3000 in a day I don’t sweat it. I eat my body weight in grams of protein a day (roughly 180-220 grams per day) and I get my protein from all sources: beef, chicken, turkey, fish, eggs, pea and rice protein powders, etc. (Just a note on the protein powders: I discovered through trial and error that I am allergic to both casein and whey as well as lactose intolerant. I’m good with cheese and yogurt, but not much else. I mix the pea and rice powders to get a full amino acid profile). I typically fast once a week and try to restrict my evening meals such that I there’s at least 12 hours between my last meal and my morning exercise. I’ve long had a desire to put on some muscle, so I do eat 5-6 meals a day, but over the course of a day I’m getting around 200 grams of protein, 70-100g grams of carbs, and 120-150 grams of fats. Over time the Starbucks finally went away. I still have coffee daily, but now it’s Americanos or iced coffees or homemade coffee with coconut oil. At one point, I actually dropped down to 173 lbs (very thin for me), but having increased my proteins and fats and calories I’m up to 182 lbs and I know it’s all muscle as my body fat percentage continues to drop. I also make it a point to fight being sedentary these days. When I’m at work I take a 3-5 minute break every hour and stretch and walk up and down three flights of stairs.

After Uwharrie 32314

In the end the changes have paid off in more ways than I can count. I no longer have restless sleep. I haven’t had a cold or flu in over 18 months (this is my second flu season where everyone I know got it except for me). I have energy throughout the day (no more post lunch carb-crash induced naps). I feel great. My skin looks better. I can see muscle growth in my arms and thighs. I have veins bulging that I’ve never seen before (not even in high school). But best of all, the changes have paid off with regards to my love of the outdoors. Late last September my oldest daughter and I did a local hike that had us going up a ridgeline with 3500 feet of elevation change in a little over 2 miles of distance. I had about 20 lbs of gear with me, but we both literally flew up the trail. We weren’t winded at all. In all we did 8 miles up and down eating primal snacks all along the way. Then, this past November a group of guy friends decided to do a section of the AT the week before Thanksgiving. This time I had 4 5lbs of gear including food and water. But if felt like nothing. We covered about 12 miles a day and 3 summits including Mt Rogers (highest peak in Va.). On all three summits I was able to go non-stop straight up the mountain and not be winded at the top. Most of the other guys either lagged severely behind or made it just behind me, but severely winded and needing to rest. This then led to “how’d you do that” and my turning them on to eating and living Primally and MDA. icon smile Weather permitting we have another trip coming up in three weeks and plans to do overnight hiking and camping (no car camping for us) at least once a month from March through October.

But perhaps the biggest improvement is being seen in my wife. For as long as I’ve known her she’s had a sweet tooth and has always griped about gas and bloating and this pain or that one. For the last two years or so I’ve been trying to encourage her to give Primal a try. She’s seen the changes in me and it encourages her. Her heart is there, but the willpower isn’t always there, especially when she starts craving sweets. It’s hard to give up what you love. She has definitely gone full bore into rejecting processed foods. Most of what she eats now is unprocessed, whole foods. If it’s a processed food (example: peanut butter), then she goes for as few ingredients as possible. She’s reading labels now and making better choices in regards to her hair care and skin products as well. But there’s still the sweet tooth and a love of grains. But with these come the inevitable gas and bloating and discomfort. Recently she’s been learning more and more about the damaging effects of grains and excessive carbs and sugar. She has switched to a primarily gluten free diet and is already feeling the benefits. She’s definitely on her way and each little change she makes has a benefit to her. She’s not a fan of backpacking like I am (she prefers not carrying a pack and having access to a real toilet), but she’s definitely up for hiking and camping which brings the whole family together and let’s us enjoy the outdoors and the lack of cellular reception and nature around us.

After HangingWithDaughter

James

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. Great story, James. As a fellow IT’er, I relate to your journey. Grok on!

    James wrote on April 18th, 2014
  2. Excellent documentation of your journey and transformation, kudos to you James! I’m an IT consultant and not in a posistion in my work environment to be able to use a standing desk or sit on an ab ball. I try to get up and walk for a while periodically and take a longer walk at lunch, but you’ve given me a good idea. My knees at my old age are not in great shape but I think I can do a few flights of steps here and there, I’m going to start trying that today, right now in fact, thanks for the tip.

    George wrote on April 18th, 2014
  3. Thanks, for sharing, James.

    Your journey sounds similar to mine. I was never a hiker, but I was active throughout high school and college, being on the tennis team and serving in the Air Force ROTC.

    But when I was out, done with that, and into a sedentary life I continued the same see-food way of eating and went from 6’1″ 185 to 6’1′ 240 within a couple of years.

    The difference is the primal way is not what got me back down to my pre-sedentary weight. I three month hospital stay did it for me.

    Later on I found the primal way and found it easy to not add back on the weight.

    I also have three young kids, and I don’t want to go back to the way I was. I want to keep up with them long into my years.

    C L Deards wrote on April 18th, 2014
  4. Ya know… nationals for masters track are in Winston-Salem mid-July this year. There aren’t a ton of people in your age division, but it’s a lot of fun!

    Moshen wrote on April 18th, 2014
  5. Great job James. I could relate to so much of your journey. Having the mate come aboard is always fantastic.

    Nocona wrote on April 18th, 2014
    • Have you tried out the conflicting lifestyle relationship?

      Zach rusk wrote on April 18th, 2014
  6. Keep up the fantastic work! Love that extra stamina!

    ria wrote on April 18th, 2014
  7. I can relate to your wife’s struggles as yummy breads and sweets were, are still, my nemeses. It took me a full reset to learn about myself and the cravings, I’d recommend she do either the 21 day Primal challenge or a Whole30 challenge. It will really help unlock the hold that those cravings have and afterward it’s a little easier to satisfy the craving without making the worse food choice.

    Alex wrote on April 18th, 2014
  8. I went cold turkey on the sweets, for the sake of my fetus while I had gestational diabetes. I thought I would be sad and miserable. Maybe I was, but I was surprised at how soon it was over. Like an addiction, once you are out of the withdrawal phase, the cravings subside. I’m glad I had the motivation to do so at the time (for someone else). It might have been harder if the stakes had not been so high.

    Anna wrote on April 18th, 2014
    • wow how impressive! it makes me cringe to see pregnant women eating complete junk for the sake of satisfying cravings. I myself have never been pregnant (yet), and I don’t know what it’s like, but for the sake of your unborn child, I would imagine that would be enough motivation!

      Erin wrote on April 18th, 2014
      • Ok, so I’m not a woman, but… its important whenever you have a craving… whether because you’re pregnant or for other reasons… to stop and ask yourself what you’re really craving. So often we go for the ice cream or the cookie or the candy bar. But in reality you’re dealing with a thought-picture scenario. What your body really wants is protein or carbs or a vitamin or mineral such as potassium, but our body has learned that Snicker’s bars have carbs, etc. I like to stop and think about the food I’m craving, then see what’s in it. The other night I was full from a good meal, but craving a steak. Turns out I needed iron. An iron pill fixed the issue (though had it been a bit earlier in the evening and I hadn’t just ate… I woulda had the steak… nothing wrong with a steak). Cravings are typically your body’s way of saying “I want this or that”, but due to associations, we end up eating the Snicker’s bar or the pint of ice cream due to what’s in them. Of course, we then end up ingesting a lot of bad things as well…

        Andrew D. wrote on April 21st, 2014
        • Interesting Andrew – I find a lot of the time I’m just bored; If I just take some water and go and do something it goes away, but I’ll think on your point next time I get a craving.

          WelshGrok wrote on April 28th, 2014
  9. Great story, James. Thank you!

    granny gibson wrote on April 18th, 2014
  10. Congratulations and great job! I bet it feels awesome to have all that weight off and the increase in strength. Best of all, you are healthy and a great example for your kids!

    Corey wrote on April 18th, 2014
  11. Great job! Glad you are enjoying yourself! I’m glad your wife is starting to come around too… It can definitely be hard at first (especially, when you can’t imagine living without bread, etc!). Small, gradual changes work better than 1 drastic one for me too.

    Sara wrote on April 18th, 2014
  12. Great story, James. Now to move all the way to the dark side and go ultralight on your backpack trips!

    Diane wrote on April 18th, 2014
  13. Have to hit the bottom before you get to the top. Keep it up!

    Dr. Anthony Gustin wrote on April 18th, 2014
  14. Awesome story James. Love love love the great lesson your kids are learning. About problem solving, questioning conventional wisdom, getting outdoors, eating good clean food…. so many good things. Great work.

    And tell your wife from me, I thought gas, bloating and heartburn were with me for the rest of my days, and was carrying antacids everywhere I went. Then I cut out the grains and said goodbye to gas! It is over 2 years since I gave grains up so I reckon I haven’t had heartburn in that long. Decided nothing tastes as good as being well feels, so I stuck with it. And that’s just one of the many benefits.

    HillyM wrote on April 18th, 2014
  15. What an encouraging post! A lot of people view failures as a negative in their life. Great example of learning from a failure is learning to walk! You would fall a lot, and you would consider it bad… But in reality if it weren’t for all those setbacks and get back ups, you wouldn’t have learned to walk! I’ve always seen the positive to every negative thing! Your mind is a very powerful thing! Use it wisely and not negatively!

    Thomas wrote on April 18th, 2014
  16. Like your wife I have a serious sweet tooth problem. I was able to find a super high quality 70% dark chocolate orange bar (with different varieties also like coconut chocolate) and one or two squares really does the trick now (three if it’s a real emergency!)

    I would never ever ever have believed that I could be the one who could refuse cookies or brownies or cupcakes. But I can. Sure it took awhile but I totally can. And every once in a while I allow an indulgence of high quality, locally made ice cream. THat also keeps the cravings at bay….knowing I’m not denying myself everything.

    Jeanne wrote on April 18th, 2014
  17. James, welcome to North Carolina. Great personal journey back to fitness. Youth allows a lot of bad habits to develop unfortunately. I think most of us here can relate to that. As far as getting your wife camping you mentioned her preference for a conventional toilet: I’d suggest you look into a portable bidet. It can make all the difference in cleanliness. They’re cheap and on Amazon.

    haroldcrews wrote on April 19th, 2014
  18. Awesome story! I’m so glad you found your way back to doing things outside that you love. Your daughters will always remember your hikes together :)

    JennF wrote on April 19th, 2014
  19. I too was able to take up my old sports again after going paleo! I’m also working on getting the hubster on board, though what he eats at home is 90% paleo already since I do the cooking! Hearing about your family being active together gives me great hope for my own future family and the hiking we’ll be able to do now that I’m healing! Keep up the great work :)

    meg wrote on April 19th, 2014
  20. Awesome work James! You look like a real cave man in the next to last picture. Grok on!

    Michael B wrote on April 19th, 2014
  21. I loved the last picture James. Sounds like you are doing a lot of good things.

    Vanessa wrote on April 19th, 2014
  22. Great story, James!

    I’d been trying to convince my mother to go gluten-free and paleo for a few years to cure her bloating and digestive issues, and finally she’s diving into it (only after my Uncle was diagnosed as a celiac, which I’m pretty sure all three of us are) with gusto.

    Sometimes it takes a while, but it’s always rewarding when family members finally get on the party wagon. :)

    Olive wrote on April 20th, 2014
  23. Nice work, man. Thanks for sharing. Your whole family will reap the benefits and your kids are very lucky!

    Tina wrote on April 21st, 2014
  24. Very inspiring and encouraging story. Thank you for sharing. I have a LLLOOONNGGG way to go, and it’s so helpful to know that others have actually succeeded!
    Thank you,
    Maryjean

    Maryjean Gregory wrote on April 23rd, 2014
  25. James: Would you say looking back that the transformation was easier than you though tit would be?? Your story sounds a little like career sales / territory managers. We sit in front of computers, sit in cars, sit in meetings with clients. 20 years to put on a 100. Then in less than a year, 75 gone. I will be writing my own story in August and showing off my new Grok tattoo to mark my 1 year accomplishment.. Every story I read like yours motivates…Thanks.

    Steve Blake wrote on April 23rd, 2014
  26. great .. thanks for this James. I relate to all aspects of this – fast metabolism, attempt at conventional wisdom weight loss (I managed to stop gaining, but totally plateaued as well – how do I spell that?? ) addiction to coffee drinks, IT work, and now just needing to go the total reboot I think. Time to get serious. Thanks for the story. Great to see how well it worked. I guess I query the grain thing off and on sometimes – but if I can find the replacements for it throughout the day I think I’ll be set.. Anyway. Kudos again! and thanks Mark for posting! encouraging. :)

    Anna wrote on April 23rd, 2014
  27. Fantastic story and success. Well done!

    I have a question for you. I just turned 60 years old this month, and to celebrate my husband and two sons will be hiking up Yosemite Falls trail and then later we will tackle Half Dome. What can you suggest for Paleo snacks along the way?

    Thanks.
    Andrea

    Andrea wrote on April 30th, 2014

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