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

From One of My Lowest Points to the Best Shape and Health of My Life

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!

Five years ago I was 30 years old, 5′ 9″, and hovering around 210 pounds. I had consistently high blood pressure and cholesterol in the neighborhood of 250 (I know cholesterol numbers should be taken in context, and the context wasn’t good). I was a veritable garbage disposal for any and all kinds of food at all hours of the day or night and never had any interest in reading the labels on what I was eating. I worked at a bar and consumed $50-$60 worth of beer and shots almost every day, smoked cigarettes, smoked pot several times daily, and sporadically (but still consistently) used cocaine and painkillers. It goes without saying that my sleep schedule was nothing short of catastrophic. I always was suffering from heartburn, and frequently gagged or even vomited from something as innocent as a bad smell or heightened stress. Living in Vail, Colorado, I owned all the outdoor gear I could get my hands on, but my poor health and destructive lifestyle prevented me from truly enjoying any of it.

Around this time, I met my girlfriend at the aforementioned bar. Although she was nowhere near the drug-using mess that I was, she was involved in the same late night party scene and was a regular drinker herself. Shortly after getting together, we decided to dedicate ourselves to living better lives. It was surprisingly easy for me to make the commitment, because for the first time in my life I truly cared more for someone else than myself – a motivation I’m sure you’re familiar with.

We pledged to start going to the gym together and not to eat after 8:30 PM, although we didn’t really make any changes to our diet. Hey, it was a start, right? I began spending an hour almost every day on a stationary bike, watching every second tick by, staring at the TV, and hating every minute of it. Even so, I began losing a considerable amount of weight (given where I was coming from, how could I not?) so I kept at it. After all, I’ve always had a fairly high tolerance for discomfort, and I felt that if I let up even a little bit I would slip back into the life and body I was trying to leave behind. I had no idea how I could keep it up though.

The following summer, I dedicated myself to getting on my mountain bike and riding it up mountains for hours at a time, everyday. I also started swimming, eventually working my way up to 4000 meters a day. While this was considerably more fun than sitting in the gym staring at a clock, and I discovered a surprising level of endurance within myself, it definitely became a compulsive behavior. Nevertheless, the weight continued to come off at what became an alarming rate.  My appearance was approaching what I would call scrawny, and my skin remained undefined, pale, and pasty, probably due to my continuing to eat cheap Chinese food and Marie Callender’s pot pies. I still felt a ton of pressure to sustain this enormous load of cardio, and was worried that I couldn’t.

After about a year of that, I was browsing through a bookstore and my girlfriend pointed out Laird Hamilton’s book on the shelf. I’d always been an admirer of his sheer presence, physique, and skill as a waterman, so I decided to buy it. The section on food was an eye opener for me to say the least. In addition to exposing me to information and opinions on food additives, nutrients, local and whole food eating, and supplements, it also introduced me to Paul Chek, who as we all know has VERY thorough, strong opinions on diet, exercise, and life in general. I instantly became more of a label reader, and tried to implement both of their workout strategies. This led to a lot of standing around at the gym, occasionally interrupted by weight lifting. I found this boring, and both Laird and Paul are such genetically and physically talented animals that it didn’t seem realistic to me. That old defeatism reared it’s head again, and I continued with the obsessive, endless riding and swimming.

The improved diet definitely was helping with the appearance of my skin, and the swimming gave me more definition, but I was getting even more scrawny and tired looking, replete with sunken cheeks and dark circles. I still worried that if I didn’t keep up the intensity, I would get fat again. Given that I foolishly believed that I was working out enough to eat as much as I wanted, I was probably right.

Then, on September 25, 2010, during a truly epic mountain bike season, I blew out my knee. Complete ACL, partial MCL, meniscus, and tibial plateau fracture. Needless to say, my greatest fear was realized and all physical activity came to a screeching halt. I had surgery a month later on October 25, and recovery began. In addition to the obvious atrophy to my left leg, my entire body began to soften and deteriorate, and that old defeatism came back, this time accompanied by a decent amount of depression. I began to think I was too old to get in shape again, that 34 was a bad age to try and fully recover from this type of injury. In the back of my mind, I feared my brief stint at being in shape may have been coming to an end, and I let my diet slip a little.

Eventually physical therapy progressed to the point where I could begin exercising again, which meant the spin bike, swimming, and extremely boring exercises targeted at leg strength and flexibility. My heart wasn’t in it, but I forced myself to continue, because I wanted to recover and get back in shape. I still read a ton on the topic of health and fitness, and at one point while reading about nuts, I stumbled upon Mark’s Daily Apple. The line “Primal Living in the Modern World” really spoke to me, not because I had ever had any involvement with anything Paleo, but because I knew right away it meant simplification.

After spending a considerable amount of time in hyperlink wormholes on MDA, I began incorporating Primal eating into my diet, and in a surprisingly short amount of time, I noticed my skin and hair looking noticeably healthier. I made the effort to moderate my chronic cardio and spend more time on low intensity activities, body weight lifting, and functional strength exercises like kettlebells and sledgehammers. Instead of swimming 4000 meters 3 times a week, I started swimming a mile followed by Tabata sprints in the water. I still go on intense mountain bike rides, but try to make it a combination of cardio, sprint, and play when I do.

(Yes, those are both the same person.)

My diet is now about 90% Primal – taking into account occasional chocolate, rye whiskey, and beans – and I think the results speak for themselves. I’m completely and easily drug and pharmaceutical free, and I only have a couple drinks a week. I no longer have any heartburn or other GI issues whatsoever. I sleep soundly at night and awake full of energy. Most of all, I’m in far greater shape than ever before while working out a fraction of the time, and enjoying every minute of it. I no longer have the defeatist fears that I can’t keep it up, because I know I can. It’s a fun, fulfilling way to live and I love it. All aspects of my life beyond health and fitness have improved as a result.

So thank you, Mark, for your astounding dedication to your work and the selflessness with which you share your knowledge – we all appreciate it. The PB helped me go from one of my lowest points to the best shape and health of my life.

I know you love to snowboard, so if you ever find yourself in the Vail/Beaver Creek area, feel free to email me for a few runs, a Primal meal, or a sensible vice or two!

All the Best,

Graham Olson

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! That is truely inspiring, Graham. It really is amazing that those pictures are both of you! What a transformation!

    The Primal way was also a liberation for me – from struggle and suffering with endless cardio workouts and a resulting grumbling lower back!

    Grok on!!

    Milla wrote on October 1st, 2011
  2. Just want to say that your story is inspiring and again shows people there is always a way to a more sustainable healthy lifestyle (that doesn’t need to be a chore or diet!)

    Clearly there is much power in our nutritional and food choices – your journey proves this. I actually reached my lowest body fat % when I was injured and therefore not training by going 90% primal in my diet. Bar my injury, I felt great!

    Luke M-Davies wrote on October 1st, 2011
  3. Awesome story!!! Congratulations:)
    I live in Winter Park, CO for a couple yrs… I know how those little skitowns turn us upside down if we give them the chance. Thanks for inspirational share:)

    charlotta wrote on October 1st, 2011
    • Oh yes–there are 2 ways you can go with your life up here for sure. Glad I’ve moved from one to another. I’ll be playing a wedding at Devil’s Thumb near WP on Monday…Love it over there!

      Graham wrote on October 1st, 2011
  4. Graham, WOW, what a story! You look incredible! & congrats on the engagement!! What a wonderful way to continue your new lifestyle! :) I’m sure your fiancee will be on board in no time…& I can’t wait to read her story when she does!

    Chrissy wrote on October 1st, 2011
    • Thanks! She’s doing great in her own way, I think. She loves her desserts, so I try to make some low-GI paleo versions for her most of the time while I enjoy my dark chocolate.

      Graham wrote on October 1st, 2011
  5. Oh Man this is a great story of success!! It speaks volumes to what I think is so great about MDA and the Primal Blueprint!!

    Its all about taking back control of our lives!!

    So impressive, Graham, to see how you not only changed your health physically but your lifestyle too!!

    Welcome to better health and a better life!!

    GROK ON!!! What a great inspiration!

    Joanne - The Real Food Mama wrote on October 1st, 2011
  6. You look amazing! Congrats on the engagement too!

    holly wrote on October 1st, 2011
    • Thanks, and love the handstand! Love getting the funny looks at the gym.

      Graham wrote on October 1st, 2011
  7. Thanks! Grok on yourself!

    Graham wrote on October 1st, 2011
  8. Greetings from Park City, UT, The GREATEST snow on earth, LOL! Isn’t it funny how moving to a place that has so many fantastic primal health/fitness opportunities right outside the front door (hiking/biking/snowshoeing/skiing/boarding) and yet we let things slip? I certainly did. Discovered this in June and have never looked back, and hiking this awesome fall season more than ever before.

    Keep up the great lifestyle, and congratulations!

    Peter wrote on October 1st, 2011
  9. Great!!!!!!!!

    Blair Taylor wrote on October 2nd, 2011
  10. YAY Graham!!! You look amazing and must feel even better!! (The photos are incredible–you’re right, they don’t even look like the same person!!!) Congrats on all of your hard work!!

    Tonja wrote on October 2nd, 2011
  11. Very inspiring Graham! I know you can keep it up. I agree, those pictures don’t look like the same person!

    Patrick wrote on October 2nd, 2011
  12. Do you know your weight and body fat % in the after picture? I’m 5’9″ 205lbs and am trying to figure out numbers for goals. I understand the point of view that numbers don’t matter but numbers keep my sciency mind motivated.

    Owen wrote on October 2nd, 2011
    • In the after, which is essentially now, I’m around 150. Alas, I have no idea what my body fat % is, but I’m pleased, and I’m not stressing about it. I’m curious though, so maybe I’ll find out.

      Graham wrote on October 2nd, 2011
  13. These stories are important because they show that the ‘primal’ diet and exercise regimes obviously work. Thanks for sharing your story – it’s an inspiration.

    Mark Harriso wrote on October 2nd, 2011
  14. Awesome bro. Thanks.

    Dave wrote on October 2nd, 2011
  15. Thanks for sharing your story Graham. You look great! You’ve been through so much…I love the 80/20 rule….90/10 is great too. :) And congrats on your engagement, that is fantastic!

    Jen wrote on October 3rd, 2011
  16. “I’m in far greater shape than ever before while working out a fraction of the time, and enjoying every minute of it.”

    Says it all.

    Marie wrote on October 3rd, 2011
  17. Graham,
    First off, you look amazing. Thanks for sharing your story.
    Could you talk a little more about how the primal lifestyle helped with drug/pain killer/alcohol abuse? Clearly, you made a decision to turn your life around, and YOU were the solution. But I do wonder about the linkage between healthy eating/exercise and addiction.
    Congrats on your new life and engagement!

    Amy wrote on October 5th, 2011
    • I would say a big part of it was having surgery and being so inundated with heavy pharmaceuticals. It really turned me off to the sensation over time. As far as the primal influence, the more I learn about medications and their dreadful effects, it’s really a no brainer. Besides, when you eat the right food, you feel great all the time anyway. The other day I had a gnarly crash on my mtn bike, after which my knee felt so bruised I was limping for the rest of the day. Decided not to take any advil, though. Next day, completely fine. Re: alcohol: my history shows the negative effects of lots of booze and the subsequent sloshy watery fatness…

      Graham wrote on October 7th, 2011
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    single malt wrote on December 7th, 2011
  19. I love your story! nice work!

    craig almaguer wrote on March 7th, 2012
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