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

Friends Were Blown Away with How Different I Look

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!

Hi Mark,

You recently received a letter from my husband, Nick Bencivenga, and I thought that it’d be nice if you heard my side of the story too. We love your website and going Primal was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made. We have great results but more importantly we feel fantastic. As a newly married couple, we are excited to set up such a healthy foundation for ourselves and whatever future family we may have.

I come from a large Italian family and learned how to season and roll meatballs by age five. Food has always been at the center of my family life – rich, creamy, overly indulgent, delicious food. Few of my family members are thin or in shape, but they all know how to cook unbelievably. I grew up learning how to cook all sorts of cultural cuisine, from Italian to Greek to Japanese to fine French dining. Decadent deserts were some of my favorite things to prepare, and all my main recipes were always prepared with pastas, rices, or potatoes as my very heavy base. I did always use a large variety of vegetables in my meals, however, which later became a blessing when turning Primal.

I was always a little bit chubbier than my younger brother or sister growing up. It frustrated me being the oldest, shortest, and heaviest. Despite terrible allergies and asthma I had a relatively good level of exercise through high school though. I played on the varsity girls’ golf team all four years of high school was the team captain of the team for three of those years.  Since I grew up in Southern California, I would train at least 5 days a week for the entire year since the weather was so great. I wasn’t heavy by any means back then, at 5’3″ and 118 pounds, but that started to change quickly after moving to San Francisco for college in 2003. I stopped exercising and indulged in all the foodie fanfare San Francisco has to offer (and oh, it has so, so much). By the time 2006 rolled around, I had gained over 15 pounds. Then I went to study abroad in Budapest and travel Europe for 6 months. I ate my way through Europe and gained another 15 pounds in 6 months. I crash dieted my way down to 130 again and proceeded to eat and drink my way through the last year of university. I would indulge and gain weight and then force myself to diet until I’d get down to 130 again and then start all over again. It wasn’t very healthy behavior at all but I believed that I was “healthy enough”.

When I met Nick in the fall of 2007, I started cooking for him pretty quickly. It’s one of the perks of being around me – I love making food for my friends, I love having friends over to laugh and drink and eat. Nick lived with three other guys and I would cater to their favorite tastes – fried, greasy, heavy, rich meals that usually had meats laden with bread, cheese, sauces and pastas. We ate a lot of processed and fast food after our copious weekend nights out in the city and I never bothered with organic meats or produce because I was broke and uneducated. I stopped bothering with my dieting and steadily gained weight. My allergies and asthma were getting worse and worse. I relied on medications for both just to function.

A picture of Marie the day after Nick proposed.

Nick and I became serious together and in 2009 made the decision to turn out lives upside down and move to Korea to teach. On a trip to say goodbye to family back East, Nick proposed to me. It was the happiest day of my life at that time, and yet when I looked at the pictures of that day I couldn’t help but see how big I had become and be upset. I was ashamed of my size 12 clothes. I had stopped weighing myself almost 6 months before then because I didn’t want to become depressed or fixate on my weight. When packing my bags for Seoul I had to weigh myself at home to see if my bags were over the weight limit before going to the airport. I couldn’t believe it – the scale read 157 pounds. I was disgusted with myself. I thought about my parents’ constant struggle with weight and began to despair that I was going to be faced with a life just like that.

When we got to Korea I decided that it was time to do something about my body…but…what? First I made the decision to cut rice out of my diet. That was a pretty bold and difficult decision to make considering I had just moved to Asia. But I stuck with it strictly during our year there, and even though at the time I didn’t know the true meaning of doing such a thing, it immediately helped. Korea doesn’t have bread in their daily routine and by cutting out rice I had eliminated a good portion of grains that I had previously relied on. Nick and I began to use a stationary bike 30 minutes every night after teaching and I would try to make a low fat, medium protein, and moderate carb diet for us and cut out butter and most cheeses (again, easy to do in Korea because cheese was crazy expensive!). I was making us mostly vegetarian meals or only very lean meats – we later learned we weren’t getting anywhere near enough protein! We vacationed in Thailand that Christmas and I was so pleased with how much smaller I was – I had lost maybe 8-10 pounds and it was making me feel a lot better about myself. I still had a long ways to go though and Nick and I really ramped up after our return to Korea.

In March of 2010 Nick and I started the 60-day Insanity workout, which is an extreme high cardio work out series created by the same company as P90X. We threw ourselves into the program and pushed ourselves to the limit. I constantly watched Nick excel and lose weight quicker than myself – he was more physically active than I had ever been and his weight loss was noticeable right away – and it helped motivate me to push myself harder. I had farther to go to reach the point we both wanted, and I wanted to get to where he was, but I wasn’t. I still had a fair amount of pudge on my belly and on my thighs, on my arms and around my hips that I just couldn’t get rid of. As an experiment, we cut out sugar for a month and again, Nick’s results were clearer than my own. After the month was up though, we quickly went back to our precious sweets.

Our contract completed in Korea and we spent 5 weeks traveling through Southeast Asia and India. During our 25 days in India I was ill from the food for 21 days. I returned to the states sick and skinny – 125 pounds. It was an unhealthy 125 though and I was soon back up to 135 pounds after getting back into meals with my family. Nick was biking and engaging himself in a strenuous gym regimen and getting really toned, while I was having a hard time motivating myself to get to my gym. I didn’t like working out in a gym and I felt that Nick had left me behind in his body transformation and that I just wasn’t going to get as fit as he was. My new work environment was incredibly stressful and while I was doing my best to stay skinny (at this point, we had our wedding approaching and I was being very careful not to gain weight so I’d fit in my dress), I couldn’t stand the monotony of using a treadmill or weight machines. I continued with our low fat, moderate carb and protein diet, and had begun buying only organic, local farm produce, but hadn’t completely switched to an entirely organic kitchen yet.

It was around this time that Nick first started reading Good Calories, Bad Calories, by Gary Taubes and started nitpicking me about our diet. Then, the fateful day came when he was directed to MDA by a friend on Facebook – and our lives changed for good. I was lectured, forced to read articles, blogs, and books, and our only discussions were about food! At first I wasn’t convinced, but I started to change our diets because it was what Nick wanted and I love him. But the more he talked about it, and the more I read on my own, the more I began to believe he was on to something. And so, I began to consciously change our diets over to a Primal way of life. We eat big, heaping cuts of juicy meats and use bacon grease for everything. We cleared out our pantry of everything bearing gluten, soy, or processed anything. We ditched legumes and made the somewhat expensive switches to organic and local everything. The cost of almond butter hurts my feelings and my wallet, but makes my body feel great.

At the same time, Nick and I discovered rock climbing at a local indoor climbing gym and we fell in love. Excitedly we became full-time members and began climbing 5 days a week. Finally, a gym routine that didn’t feel like going to the gym! We ride bikes 3 miles each way to get to the place, and then solve puzzles with our bodies and our strength for an hour to two every night. The first week, muscles I didn’t even know I owned ached and let me know I was using them in new ways. The mental stimulation really helps with motivation – I don’t get bored at my gym now, every night I literally climb until my muscles can’t take it anymore. And I love it. I feel like a strong girl Grok conquering mountains, haha. Nick does too, and the activity has only brought us closer.

The conclusion of our story to date is quite happy. I’m down to 123 pounds and feel HEALTHY. I wear a size 2 or 4. Nick is always telling me how great I look, and at our recent wedding some of our friends who hadn’t seen me in a while were blown away with how different I look. I feel like I look great and I feel awesome. My allergies and asthma have all but disappeared – I’ve cut down my allergy medication from twice a day to once every five days, and I haven’t used an inhaler in over 3 months. I love the way we eat and I feel good about what I put into my body. I find that cooking Primal is fun and challenges my cooking skills. I love making egg muffins or having Nick make Primal bars (we put dried blueberries in ours!). I learned how to make “cheesecake” out of cashews, dates, and walnuts – Nick and I never feel like we are missing out on anything. I truly feel like the Primal lifestyle has taken a hold of us – we care so much more about what we do with our waste, where we purchase our food, and how we can help our friends and the world around us. I know we will continue to live like this, because it suits us so well. We tell everyone we know how we’ve changed our lives, and enough of our friends are open-minded enough to listen and start making small changes to their own lives. Thank you so much for all of your guidance, Mark. We both hope that we can inspire others to eat and live Primal!

Marie Bencivenga

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. Wow, did I really beat Toad to the comments!?

    Chris wrote on July 22nd, 2011
    • Sure did! I’m busy figuring out a budget. Moving on with life.

      No worries… my blog ain’t going anywhere. Its becoming more special to me daily!

      Primal Toad wrote on July 22nd, 2011
      • I am studying to be a CFP if you need help with a budget. I am leaving for vacation today with no computer access. I’ll check back in a few weeks.

        liberty_1776 wrote on July 22nd, 2011
  2. Great job! you look amazing

    bradley wrote on July 22nd, 2011
  3. Just what I was thinking!! :)

    Way to go Marie! I’m so jealous you two took this journey together – my husband is still convinced that I’m killing myself by eating like this…

    Laura wrote on July 22nd, 2011
    • I live with my boyfriend and he actually loves eating primal. Besides bread for an occasional sammich he actually sort of naturally eats primal naturally. He even made me a zucchini quiche the other night. Love it!

      Smokin’ hot, Marie!

      Primal Recipe wrote on July 22nd, 2011
  4. I love how confident and happy you look in your “after” photos. Really beautiful. And congratulations on your marriage, too!

    Sylvie wrote on July 22nd, 2011
  5. so inspiring, I think I’ll go to the climbing wall this weekend. congrats on your journey together!

    Real Food RD wrote on July 22nd, 2011
  6. I’ve been waiting for your story, Marie, all week and I wasn’t disappointed. Great story, great results, great writing!

    I can relate to having to throw out all the thinking about food you had growing up. It’s not easy. So can you share your cheesecake secrets, please? :-)

    Alison Golden wrote on July 22nd, 2011
    • I was wondering if she had a blog or was going to write a cookbook. It sounds like she is an amazing cook & I can use all the help I can get!

      Keira wrote on July 22nd, 2011
      • I’d also like to get the “cheesecake” recipe. That sounds really interesting. Perhaps you can post it in the MDA forums?

        Daria wrote on July 22nd, 2011
    • Hi! I actually found the gluten-free, dairy-free, and soy-free cheesecake recipe from this AWESOME blog:

      I don’t have my own food blog yet, but I have a lot of my recipes written down…maybe I should!

      Thank you all for your positive responses to my success story! I am feeling the love, and it feels GREAT. THANKS!

      Marie B. wrote on July 22nd, 2011
      • Marie!

        I just want to thank you for posting that link to my blog- thank you! anytime you want to do a guest post on anything you would like, please let me know, I’d be honored! :)

        Alea (

        alea wrote on July 24th, 2011
  7. Marie:

    Really enjoyed your story. You look do great. Your happiness is so apparent that it jumps off the screen.

    Your progression is interesting: your love for Nick lead to being open to something new, and that lead to believing in it and doing it, and really enjoying it.

    What you’ve done is great for others to see. Thanks for sharing.


    Susan Alexander wrote on July 22nd, 2011
  8. What a transformation! You look so sweet and happy. You deserve every bit of your success!

    Peggy The Primal Parent wrote on July 22nd, 2011
  9. Side note to readers:

    This morning I started recording a 30 day challenge I’m doing in the Primal Journal part of the Forum.

    I’m following the macronutrient balance for “Kelly Korg,” as outlined in Chapter 8 of Mark’s book, adjusted for my height and weight.

    If anyone feels like doing this with me, or something like it, it would be GREAT to have some company!

    I’ll be posting details every day in the “Primal Journal” section, including recipes.

    Hope to see you there. :-)

    Susan Alexander wrote on July 22nd, 2011
    • Wait, what?! So you are going to experiment by eating the KORG macronutrient ratios?

      I have considered eating sad for a week or so… but I wouldn’t mind eating primal/paleo foods with just more carbs to see what happens.

      I would eat more fruit…

      I mean, I for sure won’t die and would probably do pretty well.

      Can you post a link here? Mark will approve of course. Or Aaron…

      Primal Toad wrote on July 22nd, 2011
      • Todd:

        Here’s the link to my thread in the forum:

        Hope you’re up for experimenting with me – even if you do your own thing. :-)


        Susan Alexander wrote on July 22nd, 2011
        • Thanks Susan! I’ll check it out!

          Primal Toad wrote on July 22nd, 2011
        • Oh, I thought for some reason you were doing it backwards! When you said Korg I thought about the other way as in you were going to experiment eating a lot of carbs!

          Lol. My bad. I wish you a lot of luck on your journey!

          Primal Toad wrote on July 22nd, 2011
        • I thought the same thing Toad.

          Keira wrote on July 22nd, 2011
    • i’m there. been wantng change.

      Dasbutch wrote on July 22nd, 2011
    • Susan, I did the same last month and it REALLY worked! I am 49 years old, very active triathlete and paddler and at a plateau with weight. I wanted to lose 7 pounds in a month. And by following this plan, I lost 7 pounds in 3 weeks. I followed Mark’s plan which required me to really lay off the training. I did not get tired or massively hungry. In fact, the weight came off really easy.

      wendy wrote on July 22nd, 2011
      • Wendy: Thanks so much for writing and telling me that. Sounds like we’re very much alike. Good to know your outcome. I’m one day in so far and enjoying the process. Susan :-)

        Susan Alexander wrote on July 22nd, 2011
  10. Marie, you look great! And I’m so glad you FEEL great, too! Keep it up, girl!

    Anne wrote on July 22nd, 2011
  11. Wow, what a transformation. You look awesome. Do I see a 6-pack? Holy crap!

    Primal Palate wrote on July 22nd, 2011
  12. You look great, Marie! And it’s very intriguing that your asthma has been “cured”.

    Daryl wrote on July 22nd, 2011
    • After a heartfelt conversation with my brother the beginning of March, he switched to a primal/paleo diet. As a life-long sufferer of asthma (he’s 47) he noticed a change within the 1st week. In less than a month he was sprinting & playing; so ecstatic about how his lungs felt.

      to Marie: NICE GUNS!!!

      peggy wrote on July 22nd, 2011
    • It’s the gluten. If I cheat and eat too much gluten, I can almost instantly feel the effects.

      Jocelyn wrote on July 22nd, 2011
    • I’ve been Primal for about 10 months now. I no longer wheeze when the pollen count gets high or I exercise outside. It feels great!

      Fritzy wrote on July 23rd, 2011
  13. Awesome transformation. I love reading these stories.

    Chris Tamme wrote on July 22nd, 2011
  14. Yes, please please please share the cheesecake & Paleo bar recipes; those are two things I’ve been dying to make but haven’t been able to find anywhere! I started my weight loss journey with P90X and Insanity, too, and lost some weight, but still had a good bit of fat after, as well. I’m still in the process of losing my last 5-7%. You look beautiful & glowing in your pictures & I’m so happy for you & Nick! You seem like a wonderful couple – and a hot one now, too! 😉

    Chrissy wrote on July 22nd, 2011
    • Kudos on your journey, I’ll agree with everyone else that you’re looking good.

      And PLEASE share the recipes!!!

      Jim wrote on July 22nd, 2011
  15. I’m glad to hear about your asthma symptoms all but going away. I’ve had the same experience and I just bring my rescue inhaler with me more out of habit than anything else. The last time I used it was while bowhunting and I tangled with a bunch of stinging nettles. Other than that no more daily inhalers or pills.

    Gene wrote on July 22nd, 2011
  16. Congrats, girl! You look amazing! I think it’s so wonderful you care so much about what you’re eating and want to encourage other people to do so as well!

    dani wrote on July 22nd, 2011
  17. Great story, was looking forward to hearing it after reading Nick’s last week. My husband and I went Primal together a little over a year ago while doing P90x (we did Insanity beore that, ugghh!). It’s so great to have a partner who helps to motivate and inspire along the journey. Oh, I second the request for your cashew cheesecake recipe : )

    Amanda wrote on July 22nd, 2011
  18. I have also been waiting all week for your story, and I was not disappointed! Way to go! Yours and your husband’s stories are some of the most inspirational I’ve read because they remind me so much of me and my husband. Thank you so much for sharing and congratulations!

    Sarah wrote on July 22nd, 2011
  19. It is lots more fun with like desires involved. if two or more believe so it will be. (a whole lot easier) you both look great…keep going. Rah! Rah!

    Dasbutch wrote on July 22nd, 2011
  20. Wow, your story is amazing! When two people have and follow the same passion, the results can be amazing. And I have to second Amanda’s request for your cashew cheesecake recipe!

    Dennis Blair wrote on July 22nd, 2011
    • cheese cake! cheese cake!

      Dasbutch wrote on July 22nd, 2011
  21. Great job and congratulatiosn Marie! You look fantastic :)

    Primal K@ wrote on July 22nd, 2011
  22. Please post some of those recipes… awesome story. I have a child with asthma right now and my wife nor I have any family history of asthma. I am convinced his asthma is linked to processed foods & gluten. My other 3 kids have no signs. It seems like the primal lifestyle relieves people of their asthma symptoms

    Bubbe wrote on July 22nd, 2011
  23. I can sense your happiness and you look so healthy! What a great transformation and inspiring story to read, congrats.

    katie wrote on July 22nd, 2011
  24. emma wrote on July 22nd, 2011
    • ahhh, Thanks!

      Dasbutch wrote on July 22nd, 2011
      • I’m thinkin swap maple syrup for the agave & maybe addin some bacon :)

        peggy wrote on July 22nd, 2011
        • mmmmmm bacon!

          Tonja P wrote on July 22nd, 2011
  25. WOW! You look fantastic! Thank you for sharing your story with us. I really like your suggestion about rock climbing too! Been trying to find a good exercise that my husband and I would both enjoy … thank you for the inspiration!!!

    Heidi wrote on July 22nd, 2011
  26. Looks like rock climbing is becoming official primal sport discipline :)

    Great and very healty and exciting sport! Just leave the gym for winter and enjoy the nature in a wall as long as weather allows.

    Bostjan Remyc wrote on July 22nd, 2011
  27. yeah the cheesecake recipe would be awesome! you guys have both done amazingly. i’ve been looking for something more mentally involved than anything “rep” related. i feel like a hamster. the way you referenced climbing as a puzzle to solve is brilliant and precisely what i’m looking for. now to find a mountain…or a gym….

    Daniel wrote on July 22nd, 2011
  28. Such an inspiring story!! You have made a great change for you life and that of your little family of two and beyond that!!! I see so much of myself in your story and that just helps me stay the course!!! Even when my Big Italian family is trying to shove pasta down my throat!!

    Keep up the changes you have started!! I too love cooking and I think the Primal life is so fun!!

    Grok On!!

    The Real Food Mama wrote on July 22nd, 2011
  29. This really inspired me today to just keep trucking!

    Thank you so much! :)

    Pandaglam wrote on July 22nd, 2011
  30. Congrats!

    Another asthma and allergy sufferer here. It’s gotten better though not completely gone. I have food allergies and seasonal too.

    Lia wrote on July 22nd, 2011
  31. Several other times on this site I’ve seen Gary Taubes book referred to as “Good Carbs, Bad Carbs”, when the title is “Good Calories, Bad Calories”.

    Brian wrote on July 22nd, 2011
    • Brian…oh my gosh you are TOTALLY right and I am bummed I made such a silly slip up!

      Marie B. wrote on July 22nd, 2011
  32. What a wonderful story / transformation. Motivates me to get on the PB workout bandwagon and perhaps a switch to organic.

    Pam wrote on July 22nd, 2011
  33. This is so inspiring! My BF and I just went Primal and I hope that we will both be as successful as you guys were/are, you look amazing! <3

    Meg wrote on July 22nd, 2011
  34. So the climbing and biking is pretty much all you do for workouts? Nice results!

    Amanda wrote on July 22nd, 2011
  35. Wow! what an awesome transformation. That just goes to show you what a healthy lifestyle can produce for your body.

    Well done.

    Fitness Guy wrote on July 22nd, 2011
  36. Sei bellissima! Chi ha bisogno di pasta, comunque?

    John wrote on July 22nd, 2011
    • Grazie! Now the only spaghetti I eat is spaghetti squash, haha :)

      Marie B. wrote on July 22nd, 2011
  37. You look amazing! But to lose the weight AND almost get rid of the allergies and asthma, that’s really something.

    Ruth wrote on July 22nd, 2011
  38. Wow, amazing job! It’s true, once you realize how good you can feel while being Primal, there’s no reason to stop!

    Lee wrote on July 22nd, 2011
  39. Hey Marie! Way to go, you look fantastic and it’s obvious you feel fantastic as well! If Almond Butter is hard on the newlywed budget, it’s super-easy to make at home provided you have a food processor! Just toss in some (roasted or unroasted) almonds and some salt to taste and grind away. Keep doing that for long enough, and voila, Almond Butter.

    zj wrote on July 22nd, 2011
  40. Congrats to you both! You look amazing. Was that first picture taken outside of Fort Collins, CO? Looks just like Arthur’s Rock.

    FoCo Girl wrote on July 22nd, 2011
    • No, that was taken in the Badlands of South Dakota. Nick proposed at Mount Rushmore while we were camping and visiting family, and we spent some time hiking…I could barely breathe climbing up that rock!

      Marie B. wrote on July 22nd, 2011

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