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28 Mar

My Story of Paleo and Personality 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!

Is it heretical in a sense to dare say that one’s personality could change to such an extent that one can shift from introvert to extrovert? Did I simply fall prey to the American ideal of extraversion which judges and belittles introverts? Am I simply an introvert who learned to put on a strong extroverted front for the world? These doubts run through my mind all the time when I experience myself these days as discontinuous from the person I was before finding paleo. My story is different than the majority of, still inspiring, people who have lost weight and made great progress towards many physical ailments. My story is physical too, but much more psychological. It begs the inquiry of how much the personality can change once the body and nervous system are functioning optimally.

As I grew into late childhood and early adolescence, I became extremely socially anxious and introverted. I remember simply not feeling right much of the time on top of this growing social anxiety. I remember some amorphous gut problems improved when I ceased drinking milk in second grade because my father had done the same at the time. But this did little to curb an extreme introversion and anxiety that grew and grew until I felt completely enfolded inside myself, as if there was a wall between myself and others in conversation. I talked in a very monotone fashion, giving people one word answers or grunts. I made my teachers insane by seeming to be a brilliant thinker but doing as little as possible to pass each class and never studying. I seriously did not care about grades. School didn’t seem to address the fact that I didn’t feel right. To sum up my adolescence, it was difficult and unrewarding.

When I hit young adulthood I began to open out of the shell I felt I was in and attempted everything I could to counter my personality. I went far away to college, partied and had a brief period of heavy drinking and other things. All of which only made things worse. Then I worked for the emergency services as an EMT and then a paramedic. This was extremely difficult, as I had to learn to pry myself with force outside of my inner world to be of service to the outer world, but I persevered and little by little began to become that “external person” that I always wished I could be.

Now I have heard of many introverted types who seemed to be more at peace with themselves and eventually find their niche in life that fits their personality. This was never me. I never felt like myself. There was always this sense that I had this dormant vitality that I was after but could never get at. It tormented me throughout my 20s that I could not find the energy and vitality for life that I felt was my birthright.

Two other developments occurred in my young adulthood. First, I became interested in weightlifting, fitness and nutrition. It’s too much to get into but I towed the line of lower fat, especially super low saturated and anything animal fats since I was about 18 to 28. I have always been skinny with a lean and pretty ripped body of which I was never happy with because I wanted more mass. In quick summation, I am forever grateful for the ancestral health fitness paradigm for changing the way a truly fit and healthy male is seen, as opposed to the unrealistically large bodybuilder ideal. I have been cured of a poisonous body image brought on by the mainstream gym culture.

The second thing I found was an interest in self-help and psychology. I ate up everything I could on ways of changing oneself. In 2007 I had an interesting peak experience which led me toward the meditative and contemplative world as well as the psychological. I researched and practiced everything I could on eastern and western approaches to change. I had many shifts and changes, but to my dismay my health began to take a downward turn in my early to mid 20s.

I began experiencing these debilitating “fatigue spells” as I would describe them. It was like being hit by a tsunami of a brain fog and feeling like I was drowning underwater for up to a third of my day at times. It truly felt like being poisoned. My mind couldn’t function, even when I was working with patients in emergency situations. I felt severely anxious, and it felt like my personality would contract inwards and I had no resources to deal with anyone or anything. Everything felt like an irritation. I played with health a little bit, but not enough. I was eating nothing but lean meats, veggies, whole grains and the like. My fats consisted of peanut butter, mayonnaise, and canola oil. I felt bloated and fatigued after just about every meal.

By the end of this, I went to see a gastroenterologist who said that I may have had intestinal overgrowth and wanted to scope me. PPIs did absolutely nothing.

Just before this, I had a partner on the ambulance who put on Fatheads at random on Netflix. Like so many others I was floored by the lipid hypothesis and went on a saturated fats binge, before ever beginning paleo at all.

Many people have noted feeling more energy and a sense of well-being on whole foods diets, but it hit me like a sledgehammer. I felt this heat go through my entire body. I became what would be called in psyche jargon: “subclinically hypomanic.”  I was up for several days without feeling tired. It felt like every nerve in my body was firing at maximum. Every excitatory neurotransmitter seemed to be potentiated: serotonin, dopamine, epinephrine, norepinephrine and so on. This occurred just before a trip to Maui. On my flight back I bought Robb’s book and later Sisson’s and slowly became fully paleo. I didn’t do a 30 day. I slowly worked into it over a summer. The more I cut out wheat, dairy (I’ve never liked dairy anyways), and legumes the more I felt this immense sense of energy and vitality. I also need to note that I worked on fixing my sleep and I shifted my exercise routine to be more along the lines of Mark Sisson’s recommendations.

This was 2.5 years ago and all I can say is that I feel that my nervous system has been reborn since that time. The first thing I noticed was a need to move all the time. I have always been fidgety but it became difficult to sit in one place. I was in grad school at the time and used to imagine hunting with a spear while sitting in lectures. I think that this level of energy was so new that I did not know what to do with it or how to express it.

I wanted to engage and socialize with everyone. Although extremely independent, something I have mistaken for introversion, I truly began to become more and more energized by engagement and challenge. My mind was sharpened and I became outspoken and had to learn how to temper myself to be more likeable.

THIS WAS MY MISISNG VITALITY!! This was what I was always looking for! I recall these days that before this change, I simply did not have the resources to develop and deal with the stresses of adolescent life. There were many emotional and psychological issues I had on top of this, but I’m very curious to know how I could have handled other issues if I had developed with a functioning gut and nervous system.

I can now explore what made me think I was fundamentally an introvert, or in adulthood: an ambivert. When I have gone too far off paleo, such as when having much sugar, wheat, or dairy, I feel this inner sense of contracting inwards. I feel depressed and don’t want to deal with others or the world. I just want to sit at home and watch Netflix. It’s like a state of dysphoria that comes over me, and it is accompanied 100% of the time by my gut being bloated and that familiar and dreaded brain fog.

DaveWhen I’m fully functioning I’m like a big ADHD kid. The average person cannot keep up with me. My mind is quick but scattered, but can focus when I need to. I’m now generally fun loving and optimistic.

The last part of my story involves how I had to shift away from my older self to this new version of me in process. I had built up many self-images of myself over the years which had to come down completely. Some things have been a struggle, as I chose a new career path several years before this change based on my old self and now I have to scramble to find something that truly works for this version of me. There were limiting ways of thinking, feeling, and acting that I had to see through. There were things I was doing and not doing that I have had to take a long look at. It is as if I am slowly learning who I truly am and have never truly been myself. How can we truly be the person our genetics and existential situation predispose us to be if our entire system is poisoned, limited? I’ve been driving a car with the parking brake on for 28 years and suddenly it has been taken off. Part of me feels only 2.5 years old and is thus a seed that is slowly germinating as I realize who I am truly meant to be.


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. WONDERFUL! Thank you so much for sharing your story, your sharp perception, and your insights. Best to you!

    Bee-Loon wrote on March 28th, 2014
  2. What a wonderful testimony! Before Paleo, I was negative all the time. It revealed itself in my job performance reviews, relationships, and the way I spoke to myself in my own head. Now, I’m like a different person. My job reviews always note my positive attitude, my patients write me tons of thank you notes (I’m in physical therapy), my co-workers are forbidding me to go elsewhere for a job, and I’m improving on my negative self-talk (which is no easy feat for an American woman!). I was on the way to work this morning feeling grumpy over a couple things going on in my life, and I was able to put the brakes on almost immediately. I thought, “Hey, none of this stuff will matter on my deathbed. It’s a beautiful day, I’m going to a job I love, and I get to make a difference in my patient’s lives. Snap out of it!” And I did. I could never, ever do that before. I can’t believe what a difference this lifestyle has made in my life, and I’m grateful for it every day.

    Jen wrote on March 28th, 2014
  3. Great job. Even after one day of doing paleo (after doing completely opposite the day before) I feel more vitality, self esteem, and see that jump in my step. One thing I would recommend with regard to learning more about your personality is googling the Myers Briggs Temperament Questionnaire which I found to be very very accurate. After repeating this several times over the years, my temperament results are always the same. I wonder if you’re not an INFJ…

    Pylgram wrote on March 28th, 2014
  4. Well done Dave. Great to see your smiling face at the end of your story. I was reading this thinking this didn’t apply to me but was a fantastic read, then realised that I have slipped off the paleo wagon a little of late (70% instead of my usual 90%) and have been feeling bored, and suffering brain fog – keep forgetting things I usual have down pat. Well wadaya know………..most stories have some meaning for us somewhere if we are only prepared to really look!

    Loving that the varied benefits of this way of life are so clearly showcased every week. Thanks Dave for telling us your story.

    HillyM wrote on March 28th, 2014
    • “most stories have some meaning for us somewhere if we are only prepared to really look!”


      KariVery wrote on March 29th, 2014
  5. Absolutely awesome story. I know at least 2 people that could benefit from this story, probably more. Thanks for sharing! My favorite part: “I’ve been driving a car with the parking brake on for 28 years and suddenly it has been taken off. Part of me feels only 2.5 years old and is thus a seed that is slowly germinating as I realize who I am truly meant to be.”

    Ara wrote on March 28th, 2014
  6. Thank you for sharing Dave… I can relate… I really had no goals or expectations when starting primal/paleo other than that it seemed like a healthy way to eat and stay healthy. I was surprised at how much more energy I had, but the most amazing part came after about 8 months when I also stopped eating dairy. In a month or so I felt this strange feeling– I felt happier than I think I ever had. My whole life I’ve had a general anxiety, feeling of apathy, and lack of connection. I felt the same “inner sense of contracting inwards” that you describe. I thought it was just the way I was… but it turns out that there are profound connections between gut health and mental health. “Grain Brain” is a great book regarding this. Mark also recently posted a link to a review study describing connections between probiotics and mental health. In his recent post about soluble starch he also describes how feeding those beneficial microbes increases neurotransmitters. I’m still introverted, but my anxiety, unhappiness, and apathy are profoundly diminished. Every time I eat wheat + dairy I feel that inner contraction coming back though. Thanks again for sharing and congratulations on your new happier life!!

    Lizbeth wrote on March 28th, 2014
  7. Congratulations on the changes you have made. It is wonderful to hear of the difference they have made. However, the title of this article is misleading, and propagates the insulting pervasive belief that there is something inherently wrong with being an introvert. From your description, I suggest you were never an introvert. An emotionally mature introvert is not shy. Introversion is a difference in requirement for external stimulation. Too much sensory overload, as experienced with a lot of people, hustle and events, is draining, and a true introvert will retreat to the rich pleasure of solitude. To have time to think, ponder and read is a luxury introverts look forward to, something that recharges them. Introversion is not fixed with diet, because it is not something that needs to be fixed.

    Emily wrote on March 28th, 2014
    • Funny, I don’t get that at all. I don’t have any pre-conceived notions of “introvert” or “extrovert” (one being bad, the other good). I just see them as different. He seems to just be commenting on how he went from (unhappily) being in one camp, to a 180 degree switch to the other (and then happy). I think all the introverts should feel OK about being so, and cut this guy a break on the excessive feedback on it. Both are fine! He just found happiness in a diet change that ALSO switched his personality over as he got over some roadblocks. This is his language and it’s fine.

      suzanne wrote on March 29th, 2014
      • The point is, he was never in the introvert camp. He was an extrovert unable to thrive due to diet associated physiological factors. It is not ‘fine’ to be this, and it is not ‘fine’ to suggest that this unhealthy state is introversion. Introversion is not low self esteem, low confidence, low energy levels. An true introvert can experience confidence and energy, and still feel his/her best when afforded the clarity of solitude.

        Language matters.

        Emily wrote on March 29th, 2014
        • +1

          roxy wrote on June 22nd, 2014
  8. Gluten negatively affects the neurological system. Read Grain Brain by Dr Perlmutter.

    Lisa wrote on March 29th, 2014
  9. Congrats on finding what works for you but you do genuine Introverts real harm with this.
    I have read the comments and followups but I still find the tone offensive.
    You do a associate what was low self-esteem with being an introvert throughout the story and you do propogate the ‘Introverts have something wrong with them’ view we have to live with. The story needs a rewrite, not a title change.
    You do not have the first inclination to what it is to be an Introvert, the criticism we have to deal with and only be able to relax with the noise of life yelling at you.

    Dave wrote on March 29th, 2014
  10. Based on the comment, though introverts might be the general societal minority, they seem to be the Primal majority.

    Speaking as yet another one myself. Great story. Also great comments on the difference between legitimate introversion and a dysfunction of some kind.

    Miriam wrote on March 29th, 2014
  11. Your story was very well written. I can identify with it as well, the people I encounter now would never believe I was “shy” Thank you for your take on the positive effects of the primal diet.

    Megan wrote on March 29th, 2014
  12. Hi Dave,
    What a remarkable story! Do you have any advice for those trying to ease their way in like you did? I have been on-and-off paleo/primal for a year and have found it very hard to commit when I try to go cold turkey.

    Z.E.S.T. wrote on March 29th, 2014
  13. Dave,
    So proud of you! Thanks for being the inspiration to the family to explore the Primal/Paleo/Whole Foods path these past couple years.

    Kathy wrote on March 29th, 2014
  14. Dave: I feel as though I can really relate to your introvert v. extrovert experience. I would say my introversion is more phasic, in that there are times that I cocoon into a shell, but other times that I try really hard to be more extroverted. My ability to come out of my shell depends to a great extent on my nutrition and exercise. After an intense session of sprinting, tempo running, biking, swimming, skiing or canoeing, there is almost always a transformation of how I feel, especially if coupled with good nutrition. So some may say that is not true introversion, but it sure feels like it to me.

    Warren wrote on March 29th, 2014
  15. I’m glad to hear what a difference going Primal as made for you! I would throw my hat into the ring as one more person who would love to see your story re-labeled as “Paleo Diet Eliminates Social Anxiety” or the like, rather than “changes you from an introvert to an extrovert. If being an introvert vs. an extrovert is where we regain our energy – and truly has nothing to do with how we are able to socialize – then your story has far less to do with that than it does with treating legitimate mental health symptoms.

    Kara wrote on March 29th, 2014
  16. I think this guy cured of dysthymia

    C2H5OH wrote on March 30th, 2014
  17. Dave,

    Thanks for sharing. I can relate to much of what you’ve said, feeling like drowning, fatigue, not having the energy to engage with other people. For most of my life I’ve blamed this on sugar, when I went sugar free for 9 months, my personality completely changed and I found the energy to be the person I always felt I could be.

    Bev wrote on March 30th, 2014
  18. Again, sorry for the title, and I hope my content doesn’t sound like that too. Being trapped inside myself in this socially anxious-depressive fog when I was younger was so negative that I’m only beginning to learn how healthy introversion can be and that it is not the same as the depressive inwardness that I experienced.

    Unfortunately Mark and his staff sometimes take time to get back to his emails. I’ve contacted him several times about this.

    Dave wrote on March 30th, 2014
  19. Having similar experiences for years, your finding and release from the ‘foggy’ brain reminds me at my first time being cut off the grains and sugar. Before, I thought to get insane, always feeling tired and faint. Right after noon, energy was going down and sometimes I felt simply asleep with open eyes while on the job! Each day was a terrible trip. I can’t think, can’t handle an ordinary day. No one believes me, not my firends, not my wife and not even the numerous doctors I consulted.
    What really helped me, was avoiding carbs! My whole life was turning away from the darkness.

    Like everywhere in the world, german doctors can’t believe that carbs (I tried all kind of carbs and they all make me sick) can steal all energy away (because there is no diabetes and BS seems normal). Following a LC/Paleo way, Life is pretty good by now.

    But what is still missing? A name for this disease, a physiological cause and explanation for this plague, that hits some of us so bad.

    So Dave, you’re not alone and for me it’s good to hear from someone who succeeded with fighting against this evil.

    Thorthelm wrote on March 31st, 2014
  20. Awesome and inspiring story! I’ve always been considered “shy”, but I do not feel like that’s me. I want to get out, mingle, meet new people, and experience new things, but I battle with it inside. You described how I feel. I’m starting paleo and gradually going into it but it’s been for other reasons. I’m now hoping to see the same type of changes as well :)

    Stef wrote on March 31st, 2014
  21. I’m appalled that this thread seems to regard introversion as a disability. There is a nice TED talk putting the case for introverts and pointing out just how borish extroverts can be.. If you are an introvert and want to be an extrovert but can’t because of insecurities, then fair enough. Otherwise, the idea that extroverts with their “it’s all about me” attitude and their (often) crass insensitivity to all around them are somehow superior, or embody something we should all aspire to is ridiculous and insulting.

    Tim wrote on March 31st, 2014
  22. Awesome story! Thanks for sharing, Dave, and I’m glad you are feeling so great! I am definitely an extrovert, but my husband is an introvert. We started this way of eating about 2 years ago. Even though my husband never changed from introvert to extrovert, his personality definitely went through a makeover! He went from feeling anxious, insecure, and feeling pretty negative about life to feeling positive, happy, and like he could accomplish anything he put his mind to! I would have always considered myself positive, but I am even more so with a Primal diet! Using the words “introvert” and “extrovert” in your story are helpful to those who may think they are just introverted, when in reality, they are depressed, fatigued, and/or have social anxiety due to poor diet (and not true introverts). And, although, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being an introvert (I happen to adore one), if you are an introvert (or extrovert) who is mentally suffering, a diet change may be the perfect starting point (or cure)!

    Jess wrote on April 1st, 2014
  23. Thank you Dave for your story. I have found the best part of a primal diet for me is the absence of the 10 years of depression that was a constant struggle. I love feeling like me again and having the energy and desire to participate in life. Congratulations on finding yours!

    Stephanie wrote on April 2nd, 2014
  24. Thanks for sharing. This is encouraging me to get more serious about switching to a Primal/Paleo diet.

    Coleta wrote on April 2nd, 2014
  25. I am new to paleo and have been slowly becoming completely paleo over the last 2 weeks. I cut out dairy completely 2 weeks ago, and have cut out sugar, alcohol, and grains this week (as well as stopping the nicotine patch which I used to quit smoking). I have been suffering with mind fog for a year and a half and the doctors can only tell me that my vitamin D is low (i live in NH and work indoors so i do not get as much sun in the winter, but feel only a little better in the summer when I am in the sun), my vitamin B12 is low also so my doctor put me on a B complex vitamin (I have not noticed a mental clarity difference from it) and an MRI showed that I have a 1cm pineal cyst in my brain. They say the cyst is asymptomatic and benign, and is nothing to worry about as long as it doesn’t grow and press on my brain fluid/optical nerve. I have researched this “mind fog” that I have been experiencing so much. I feel like it is borderline depersonalization, where I feel like I am on autopilot most days and have a hard time focusing in conversations (which can affect my work!). My last resort is to completely change my diet. I have stopped drinking soda over a year ago, I drink a lot more water, I stopped smoking and drinking, and now am strictly on paleo. I hope this fog clears because I am really tired of it!

    Jenna wrote on April 4th, 2014
    • Hi Jenna you are definitely on the right track cutting out the grains should significantly improve the brain fog and within a couple of weeks I suspect you will notice it. Some walking or resistance training even basic should help as well. Certainly check out Grain Brain from Dr Perlmutter.

      Best wishes

      Korree wrote on April 4th, 2014
  26. Great Story !!
    Thanks for sharing it .
    Same thing happen to me, only Atkins diet and taking out sugar.
    Thinking about trying Paleo

    Robin wrote on June 9th, 2014
  27. This is a very interesting story and I appreciate the different take that links diet and lifestyle to mental health and happiness. So glad you discovered this and we have the Primal Blueprint to use to better our lives. Imagine if you never discovered this link between food and your mental state, what your life would have been. Gratitude, baby!

    Tina wrote on June 15th, 2014
  28. This entire article irritated me profusely. To present introversion in this way is extremely demeaning, ignorant and incorrect. We live in a society which caters much more for extroverts, as they make up most of the population. Introverts have a hard enough time trying to balance the hectic pace of everyday life with having alone time to recharge without offensive and downright rude things like this being said.

    I am an introvert, I was before I became primal and I still am now. Yes I am physically and mentally healthier and happier, but a change in diet no way alters the way in which we gain energy from the environment. To be honest, it sounds like you were never an introvert – just an unhappy extrovert. Nothing wrong with that in itself, but to label your unhappy and seemingly mentally ill self as just being an ‘introvert’ is very obtuse.

    Again, it is adding fuel to the fire of those who think that introverts need to be ‘fixed’ and ‘cured’ so they become extroverts. Thank you, Dave, for using what could have been a very inspiring and positive story to fuel scorn towards TRUE introverts. FYI, I am somehow balancing the task of being an introvert with having a fulfilling and enjoyable life without flipping my ‘extrovert switch’ as you seem to have accomplished. Congrats!

    roxy wrote on June 22nd, 2014

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