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!
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.
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!