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!
I’ve been holding off on writing up any “success story” about myself even though I have met and even surpassed my weight loss goals with Primal eating and the Primal Blueprint Fitness plan.
That is because this journey, for me, has been much more about regaining and maintaining my health for life. Looking good in a swimsuit is just a side benefit.
Five years ago, at the age of 45, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, a fast growing invasive bugger that surely would have killed me without medical intervention. Over the course of two and a half years, I had eight surgeries and six rounds of chemo. That is a lot of time with a lot of enforced inactivity and the pounds just piled up. Chemo also does a number on your thyroid function which didn’t help any.
And then there is the psychological aspect of being seriously ill. The feeling of, screw it, I’m going to finish the pizza if I feel like it. I have cancer. A few extra pounds are the least of my problems.
As it turns out, those extra pounds were a major problem. When I asked my oncologist what I should be doing to help prevent a recurrence, his first words were a no-nonsense, “You need to lose weight. Extra fat cells are a source of estrogen which can trigger cancers such as this.”
That was the kick in the pants that I needed to start doing something about the problem. But where to start?
I had always been an active, healthy kid and young adult, into surfing, backpacking, hiking, swimming and even taken a detour into bodybuilding in my 20’s. My diet had always been the health food version of CW, lots of veggie and tofu stir-fries with brown rice, never the SAD at all.
A few pounds had crept up on me as I passed 40, but during my illness I ballooned up to a size 16 and 210 lbs. I am 5’10” but that is still too big.
Note my chin’s evil twin and the tank top strap disappearing into squishy stuff.
I tried white knuckle calorie restriction and got nowhere. A friend had some good results with Atkins so I started looking into lower carb eating and came across several interesting articles about ketosis as an adjunct to cancer treatment.
In addition to battling cancer, I have also had a seizure disorder since college. I had also been doing some research into the ketogenic diets that have worked so well for many with epilepsy.
At Johns Hopkins they are using something they call the “Modified Atkins Diet” or MAD in the treatment of epilepsy with excellent results. This spurred me to look further into Atkins, but I was dismayed by all the fake ingredients in the bars and shakes you supposedly need to do their program.
So, both my cancer research and my epilepsy research were pointing me in the same general direction as I went looking for an all natural alternative to Atkins.
On the way to Primal I stopped off for a while with the book called “Diet Evolution” by Dr. Stephen Gundry. Its induction phase is basically the same as Primal and it worked beautifully. I lost 30 pounds like falling off a log. Gundry explains about neolithic/paleolithic dietary changes and that made a lot of sense to me. But then Gundry goes on to “evolve” the diet further back in time so that you are basically eating like a gorilla, only veggies with a protein garnish and then he re-introduces grains. At that point it stopped working, surprise, surprise. That’s where he lost me and I went looking again.
So this was my long and winding path to Primal. I thought I had found the holy grail. I lost five pounds in the first week, in hindsight probably water weight due to ditching the dairy and soy.
I was already grain and sugar free and had always been a big fan of lots of veggies and salads all my life. Primal just gave me “permission” to embrace all that evil animal protein and fat. And I did, with a passion and with excessive portions.
This is where I would like to say to all newbies around here: READ THE BOOK FIRST before you listen to forum advice. In The Primal Blueprint there is an entire chapter on portion control and calorie targeting. Much of the forum “wisdom” however said to chuck your scale out the window and just eat your bacon and be happy and the pounds would fall off magically.
Guess what. Didn’t happen. I gained back those first five plus five more and then read the book and realized I needed to cut portion sizes and get my calories under control. I think Taubes got part of the story right. There are good calories and bad calories, but even with just good ones, too much is still too much.
I dialed back on all that yummy fat and increased my lean protein intake while cutting overall quantities of food. The scale started moving again and kept going down for another 35 pounds to 145, five pounds under my goal of 150 and a size 6 when my goal had been an 8.
Since then I have put on a few pounds by taking a cruise, and taken them off again the same way, Primal with sensible portion control. All in all I have been maintaining here quite easily.
Every time the subject of calories comes up on the forum, people seem to square off into two extreme camps. One side is the “It doesn’t matter what you eat, only how much you eat” strict CICO approach. In the other corner there are is “CICO is bogus, you can eat as much as you want as long as you eat the right things.”
And then there is me saying wait a minute. Why does it have to be either the quantity OR the quality of the calories. I think it’s BOTH. Eating the right kind of foods (Primal) makes it easier to restrict the quantity of food without feeling like you are going to faint from hunger.
The people who say that you can just “eat when you are hungry, stop when you are not” don’t get what it’s like to have a completely messed up metabolism. When you can’t just “listen to your body” because it’s telling you lies about how much to eat, you need to impose some control on the situation from the brain down.
Now that I am at a healthy weight with a well functioning thyroid, I can listen to my body and trust what it’s saying. It’s wonderful.
Last year I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro and it was pretty easy. My knees don’t hurt anymore. I don’t get puffy ankles like I used to when I was heavy.
Then a couple of weeks ago something wonderful happened for me. I had my five years post cancer check up including mammogram, bone density scan, and blood work.
The mammogram was clean and the post chemo osteopenia I had is gone. My thyroid is healthy again and I have healthy levels on all the vitamins and such.
This all-clear was the news I was waiting on before calling myself a success.
I want to shout out to all the people out there who have suffered an accident or illness that has put them way deep in the hole of despair mentally as physical health spirals out of control. I know how you feel. But, please don’t give up on yourself. Yes it is hard to battle back from the bottom of that hole, but it is SO worth it.
I am so glad to be to be healthy again.
Sure, there is scar tissue. I don’t care. I’m alive.
These undies (NSFW – scroll to last post in thread) were something I bought for a cancer fundraising campaign when my size 16 behind would never have fit into them. Now cancer can kiss my size 6 behind.