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

Healthier at Age 44 Than 24: How I Lost 115 Pounds and Turned My Life Around

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!

Dear Mark,

I am 44 years old. I am a critical care clinical pharmacist. It is my job to follow current medical guidelines in regard to providing ~30% protein – 30% fat – 40% carbohydrate intravenous nutrition to patients and modulating macro and micronutrients based on their respective clinical situation. For over 20 years I have been well aware of the exact macronutrient composition of what I was personally “supposed” to be taking in, and exactly what I was actually taking in…down to the gram. During my 30s, I was extremely frustrated that I couldn’t ever figure out why I ate what I ate.

All my life I was a big eater, I loved all foods. I had a significant sweet tooth and it was clear that I enjoyed chocolate and desserts much more than the average person. I am 5’11”. I was about 185 pounds in high school. As a teenager I was never considered thin, but I had very fast sprint times, I played most high school varsity sports, I played club baseball in college, and walked on our Division One golf team (and they let me stay).

In my first two years of college my weight went up to the 230 pound range. I was able to get back down around 200 pounds my third year by becoming a gym rat – intense weightlifting and StairMaster most days of the week. My weight cycled again after college and I was able to drop the weight by spending a lot of time in the gym and racquetball court, and I also did a lot of mountain and road biking. I also followed the conventional wisdom and did a great job at eating a low-fat diet.

I worked a few years in community pharmacy, and in hospital pharmacy for four years. In 1996 I went back to grad school two years, maintained a half-time job, spent a lot of time exercising, and a lot of time eating out. During those busy, fun years, I didn’t sleep much and I was able to maintain fairly good fitness from a strength and cardio perspective; my waist size was 36 or 38 depending on the clothing brand or style.

AJoe - Before Primal few weeks after grad school and we were married, my wife started an intense post grad pharmacist residency while I worked full time. We lived in a wonderful resort community and really only had time to work long hours and experience all the great restaurants. Exercise basically stopped that year and my waist size quickly went up to 42 inches. A year later we moved to Houston, Texas for my critical care residency – again, long work hours and an abundance of fantastic food, little to no exercise and little sleep yielded a 46 inch waist in my early 30s and my weight fluctuated from 240 to 280 for the next ten years. My energy levels fluctuated severely. Sporadic dieting and exercise would bring it down a few months here and there. I never looked into Atkins since it was high fat. I never consistently stuck to one diet or exercise regimen – all I was certain about was that whenever I craved a specific food, whether it be a cheeseburger, crème brûlée or lasagna – my mind fixated on it until I ate it. More was better – like I was always hungry, even though my stomach was full. Restricting foods or calories in general left me in a state of craving that could only be satisfied with eating the food I craved, albeit temporarily. This was more and more frustrating, and scary, as my health was seemingly slipping away…I would frequently discuss with my wife that the only way for me to drop 50 pounds was to drastically cut my caloric intake for years and start training for a marathon, which seem insurmountable. In 2009 and 2010 my weight went over the limit of most scales – I estimate that I was well over 320 pounds – my Levi’s jeans waist size was 50 inches and my shirts were size 22 neck or XXXL; depending on the brand or style, most were uncomfortably tight.  Despite the lack of formal exercise, I maintained decent strength with frequent yard work or unusual projects lifting heavy things. It was hard work, but I was able to enjoy my stand up jet-ski each summer, even though it was not made for a guy my size.

My health the past 13 years has been a roller coaster ride. I had hyperlipidemia, elevated liver enzymes, several sebaceous cysts surgically removed, extremely severe acne (dermatologist treated 30 years), GERD, irritable bowel, and frequent strep throat. I had several extreme febrile episodes of unknown diagnosis. I did have viral meningitis in 2007 and then significant migraines followed monthly for years. I had the best health care experts in the world review my issues. Luckily, nothing ominous was ever found. The migraines and febrile episodes waxed and waned. I learned to get used to it. I frequently felt fatigued and just wanted to collapse when home from work; I had poor sleep for many years – I attributed it to being 40 and overweight. I also had significant joint pain and stiffness in my shoulders, neck, ankles and knees – again I attributed it to getting older, being overweight and past injuries.

Joe - Pre-Primal Joe - Before Primal

I tried many different approaches to weight loss and maintaining exercise and became more perplexed and frustrated when it didn’t work or my interventions made me feel worse. In September of 2011 Gary Taubes came and spoke at my workplace. Had Gary not come to present his book I probably would never consider low carb diets or read his books – after the talk; however, I immediately read his books. I was sold on trying low carb when I learned of the Banting Diet – I could still have red wine! Plus, I thought it would fail either from a disease reason or lack of weight loss – like the dozens of other diets that “failed” me. I discussed with my fantastic family physician and he mentioned he had several patients do well on low carb diets. He said he would check my labs every four months while I experimented with a low carb, high protein, high fat diet.

By November 2011 I was maintaining ketosis and enjoying it. I followed the Atkins Induction Phase recommendations strictly and scoured the web for other ideas. Whenever I craved something I immediately ate meat, cheese or salad – I seemingly was ingesting something hourly the first few weeks – most days I had several thousand total calories, I enjoyed steaks, chicken wings and salads with full-fat dressings. I came across when researching low carb options. Since then it has become one of my mainstays of nutrition, exercise and overall well-being.

Joe - Post-Primal Joe - Post-Primal Joe - Post-Primal

My energy, sleep quality, every aspect of my health and day to day feeling, is as good or better now at age 44 as it was when I was 24. Everything…yes, EVERYTHING – and now I am spending 80% less time “exercising”.

When others ask me, these are my highlights of why I will continue a Primal, nutritional ketosis lifestyle, and why I recommend others try it:

  • Incredible, deep, restful sleep – my sleep improved early on before I lost much weight; now I usually get up without an alarm and I feel great.
  • Constant stream of energy throughout the day, regardless of the timing of my last meal…I usually fast 12 – 20 hours several times a week, usually before exercise – I recently did three hours of powerlifting and bicycling after a 20 hour fast…just to see if I could – I felt great.
  • Mental focus consistent through entire day regardless of meal timing.
  • I lost 115 pounds on the scale in about a year, but more importantly, I have lost over 12 inches off my waist size; I am back to the same college and high school clothing size.
  • My headaches/migraines are gone! I’m off medicines for them. The relief of living without headaches makes everything better and this alone would be enough for me to recommend Primal.
  • I can still enjoy wine with friends – I stopped drinking beer and mixed drinks with carbs, but continued red wine with meals and whisky or wine on social occasions.
  • Neck, ankle, hip, and knee joint pains have disappeared – they went away rapidly, before most of the weight loss – makes me think that the inflammation was due to diet more than wear and tear from carrying extra weight.
  • Acne and oily skin has decreased 95% – never this close to normal ever in my life.
  • Years of scaly, cracked feet have completely resolved spontaneously; a massage therapist accused me of having a pedicure and exfoliation and having the best feet she has seen on a 40 year old man – I had not done anything other than shower.
  • My shoe size has decreased – I was size 11eee or 12 all my adult life. Now I’m 11 regular.
  • Two golf ball size sebaceous cysts on my back spontaneously dissolved in a few weeks.
  • Triglycerides lowered from very high levels down to 50 now.
  • LDL and small LDL particle size falling from very high to normal.
  • HDL from 30s to the 60s with low amount of exercise.
  • Fasting glucose from high 90s (pre-diabetes) down to low 80s (normal).
  • I had elevated ALT and AST most of my adult life – now liver function tests are normal.
  • For over 15 years I had episodic gastric reflux, stomach distention and constipation – this has completely resolved.

The majority of my 100 pound weight loss occurred while I was not exercising at all. I started exercising recently in the fall of 2012 (AFTER most of my weight loss). Despite plateaus of staying at the same weight for many weeks at a time, I have continually decreased my clothing size each month – I continue to gain strength, vascularity and muscular definition.

Joe's Primal WifeP.S. After hearing me rave about this constantly, my wife agreed to try the same diet with me – she didn’t need to “diet” from a weight loss standpoint – she has been a size 6 all her adult life and even at 39 years she wears many of her college clothes. Upon starting, she surprisingly had many weeks of “carb withdrawal”, even having cravings of things that she would not normally eat, just due to the “smell of sugar”. Together, we increased our fat intake from snacks to curtail her carb cravings. We would put almond butter on prosciutto; we would put grass fed butter on top of liver pate and cheese. These high fat treats went well with our daily salad and wine. Now, after 15 months low carb, she has lost about five pounds but more noticeably, she has changed composition: going from size 6 to size 2 (or zero in some brands), increased her muscular tone, definition and vascularity without “formal exercise” and her skin has never been softer – it always feels like it was recently exfoliated, but she does nothing special to care for her skin. It is quite enjoyable to be on a high fat diet along with my wife and see only positive results for each of us.

P.P.S. I have shared my notes with over 100 people and dozens have started Primal, low carb lifestyle in response. Many first and second degree friends, and friends of friends, are enjoying success also – some to the tune of +50 pound weight loss. I have begun to share my notes and ideas on my blog:

People that have not seen me for months and/or years cannot believe their eyes. The science remains elusive to them yet they have to “see it” when they look at me. There is hope for many and I’m grateful to have been part of what I think can be a transformation in the prevention of disease and suffering for the masses. Grok on!

Joe - Post-Primal

Thank you, Mark – Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!

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. Good job J. Lovely. Your family will benefit in so many ways, you should be very proud of your self. Good luck with spreading the word!

    Vanessa wrote on December 6th, 2013
  2. Wow man! I’m so happy that you were so successful. I’ve never tried to go ketonic, but now you’ve encouraged me to also!

    Patrick Larson wrote on December 6th, 2013
  3. Great stuff. Well done

    wpj wrote on December 6th, 2013
  4. Great story and congratulations :) So happy you can spread the news through your profession :)

    Jerri Heaton wrote on December 6th, 2013
  5. Beautiful story and amazing results – what a great inspiration you are to all around you and now everyone who comes to/stumbles upon this site (as so many seem to do!) Grok on!

    Grokesque wrote on December 7th, 2013
  6. Amen on the Atkins comment. The “Good Doctor” gets vindicated at every turn.

    Charlie wrote on December 7th, 2013
  7. WOW….truly inspirational …keep it up …keep inspiring people. GREAT work on spreading the word. Grok on

    Malcs wrote on December 7th, 2013
  8. Does anyone have insight into how to get started. I am not a vegetarian BUT I think I am a ‘wheatatarian’. I know that’s not a word but you get the drift. I have the palette of a 5 year old – macaroni and cheese, cheeseburgers, pepsi, bread, cereal, etc. I have been indoctrinated over the past 20 years or so that meat and eggs are bad, fruit and veggies are good. Just tried meat, eggs, no carbs for a week. My digestion cleared up immediately BUT I was SOOOO hungry. Just went back to ‘my’ diet yesterday – stomach is in an uproar. So the problem is, I just did not know what else to eat since I don’t like very much. So – can anyone shed light on how to get started without being so very hungry? BTW – I do not need to lose weight (10 pounds but who doesn’t think they can lose 10) BUT I need to be healthier and lose the spare tire around my waist.

    Karyn wrote on December 7th, 2013
    • By the way Mark – you look GREAT!

      Karyn wrote on December 7th, 2013
    • I think I found what I’m looking for right on this site – I am brand new here and jumped without looking first. I believe this site will save my life – literally. So thankful I found it – now back to exploring!

      Karyn wrote on December 7th, 2013
      • It’s all here on the site, Karyn! Keep reading and looking and good luck! Try Mark’s “Big Ass Salad” if you feel hungry… Adding lots of vegetables to the meat/eggs/salmon/butter I was eating was a huge help. I also found treats I loved like unsweetened coconut on a partially frozen mashed banana with a little coconut milk… Whatever works for you!

        Stick it out awhile and you will never be hungry and never go back! This is the first holiday season (I say “Merry Christmas” but by “holiday season” I mean from Halloween to New Year’s) that I haven’t gained weight or felt bloated… And I have every assurance I will continue to feel great. Google website for Nom Nom Paleo for some great recipes!

        Celestia wrote on December 7th, 2013
        • Thank you so much. I have found a bunch of great stuff on the site but will look for Big Ass Salad! :) The comments I’ve read are all so encouraging. I’m going to do this!

          Karyn wrote on December 7th, 2013
        • No video for Big Ass Salad and no written instructions – darn. BUT still doing this!

          Karyn wrote on December 7th, 2013
      • Karyn, If you’re looking for ideas for a Big Ass Salad you can start on youtube — search on youtube for Mark Sisson 2 Minute Salad. Or you can search youtube for Mark’s Daily Apple.

        Not sure when the salad went from 2 Minute to Big Ass but at least it’s a start on some ideas for you.

        Also, there’s more than enough stuff here on MDA in the recipes.Good luck, lady!!

        PrimalGrandma wrote on December 7th, 2013
        • Thank you – found it on YouTube – looks yummy and I will try it very soon

          Karyn wrote on December 7th, 2013
    • I find soups & stews are really helpful, especially this time of year. Start with some homemade bone broth, add vegs & meat to taste– very satisfying and super-nutritious. My family enjoys stew with kale, sweet potatoes & sausage, broccoli soup (blended) with cheese, curried carrot soup… really the possibilities are endless. I often start with onions slow-fried in bacon grease or butter & build from there with whatever’s in the fridge!

      Paleo-curious wrote on December 7th, 2013
      • GREAT idea on the soup – particularly now.

        Karyn wrote on December 7th, 2013
      • I have always loved beef stew. I add sweet potatoes now instead of white. I am single so I freeze a lot of soups/stews for later – seems to make them better in the long run.

        Leal wrote on December 7th, 2013
    • I would start with making sure to eat enough meat and fats. I also love all the things you listed. When I want a cheeseburger, I cook the patty(s), cover with cheese, place on a plate with tomato, onion, lettuce, pickles, condiments – just no bun. I eat fruit and veggies but am trying to limit my fruits so that I can lose weight. All changes take time to get used to. As you can already see by the week that you were low carb, your stomach/digestion were better. Perhaps it would be in your best interest since you are not looking to lose weight is to change one meal for a week or two, then the second meal for a week or two, then the third meal. See how that goes for you. Of course you mentioned not liking very much – I (unfortunately) like way too much. There are still some things that I have to try several times before I can eat them regularly. Keep trying, try new foods.

      Leal wrote on December 7th, 2013
      • Thanks for that encouragement. I WILL try new food and who knows, I might like it! :) And that is a great idea about changing one meal per week at a time. Now that sounds like something I can easily do.

        Karyn wrote on December 7th, 2013
      • I know a lot of primal/paleo folks don’t use cheese. I’m more low-carb than directly paleo/primal. I use “american” cheese from Costco (they used to have a way-way-better swiss / american-style but quit carrying it {frown}) I used to make “cheezits” by cutting the slice into … you know cheezit-sized bits, and microwaving on parchment paper on a glass plate. (One minute on high, rest for 5-10 seconds, one more minute on high, et voila! Tasted SO much like cheezits!) And cutting up two slices = just 2 carbs. And WAY more filling than wheat-based “snack crackers.’ Happy with just two slices instead of a whole box!

        A few days ago, I decided to try microwaving a full-sized slice — and it turned out softer and not crunchy like the cut-up little ones, and a bit flexible. Actually makes an EXCELLENT hamburger bun! Both delicious and NOT crumbly/crunchy.

        Elenor wrote on December 7th, 2013
        • I found a recipe for sweet potato pancakes in Practical Paleo. It was shown being used as a bun for a burger. Thought that was interesting. I am not going 100% paleo or primal – cutting out the fast food, processed foods, gluten and sugars but will continue to enjoy milk products sparingly. Since you are eating cheese, I have found that a small pile of grated parmesan on parchment and baked in the oven until slightly browned around the edges then let rest makes a great snack “cracker” but low in carbs as well. I make then occasionally (can’t make them often as I eat all of them! Will try your American cheese idea.

          Leal wrote on December 10th, 2013
  9. So amazing!!!!

    Carrie Spencer wrote on December 7th, 2013
  10. Great stuff! As a fellow pharmacist who just got back into the field (retail pharmacy), I wonder if you find yourself at odds when dispensing statins and ‘sugar’ pills and ACE’s and ARB’s and diuretics…..

    Barney wrote on December 7th, 2013
    • As a pharmacist whose life was ruined by statins, I was wondering the same thing. I either get in trouble or feel like a liar.

      Greg wrote on December 11th, 2013
  11. This is a great story and I applaud the writer for his accomplishments. What a wonderful gift to give your children!

    It has got me thinking a great deal about VLC eating. I know there are strong feelings that it may not be right for women. I would love to see this addressed, although it probably has been, maybe just a link to get there.

    So my question specifically is, is VLC eating more beneficial for men than women? If so, why doesn’t it work as well for women? Thanks!

    Laura wrote on December 7th, 2013
    • Thank you,
      I think women may have different experience when starting but overall benefits the same once in ketosis several months or more — search this site or the forums to learn more — there are specific discussions on this topic.

      Joe wrote on December 9th, 2013
  12. You remind me of Hank from “Breaking Bad.” Ever heard that before? Anyway, congrats!!

    Bob Crason wrote on December 7th, 2013
    • No, Hank is a good cop, but probably wouldn’t work out as a pharmacist that does tabata squats twice a week!

      Thank you

      Joe wrote on December 9th, 2013
  13. Way to go fellow primal stand up rider! Only 5 more months til lake season.

    Dan wrote on December 7th, 2013
    • Thank you

      Stand ups are the ‘primal pwc’
      Like a 75 hp wakeboard
      Great exercise — I swim after it a lot and end up doing dozens of pull ups.
      No boat
      No rope
      I like regular pwc also but I have taught my kids that it’s not fun until you get really wet.

      Joe wrote on December 9th, 2013
  14. Truly inspiring. I also have over 100 pounds to lose but the key thing that I want out of primal eating is health. I do want to look good and get the weight off though.

    Thanks for the success stories

    Leal wrote on December 7th, 2013
  15. The Big Ass Salad is like Elaine’s Big Salad, you know a salad in a big bowl with lots of stuff on it.

    I also like this story a lot. You look really strong, like you could be a natural strongman or powerlifter. Might be worth looking into.

    Diane wrote on December 7th, 2013
    • Thank you,

      Love Seinfeld and big fat salads.

      I actually started squats and dead lifts this year – they are magically synergistic with this diet; low perceived exertion with great strength gains. Had several months off after surgery in February — I ruptured biceps tendon turning a malfunctioning doorknob. My workout details are on my website — primal blueprint is the backbone of my plans — physical therapy for arms and shoulders due to injuries.

      Joe wrote on December 9th, 2013
  16. I laughed at the “almond butter on prosciutto”. I’m amazed that your sebaceous cysts disappeared. I had a similar size one on my back, that I had had for years, decide to become infected. It took a couple weeks of very painful thrice weekly dermatologist lancings before being able to have it cut out. I have heard other paleo/primal success stories where people have gotten rid of fungal and yeast skin conditions, of which I now think (thanks to Doug Kaufmann and his Know The Cause web site) causes the cysts. His suggested food protocol is similar to primal/paleo.

    Ellen wrote on December 7th, 2013
  17. Wow, could have written this myself. Took a quick look at your website and the links (Taubes, Attia), exercise BBS, even the dates. it was strange to see my own experience so closely paralleled. Great job!

    Michael Trumper wrote on December 8th, 2013
  18. This is by far my favorite success story to date! You did the research and “hacked” your own biology. Very inspiring! Thank you for sharing your story with us!!

    Goddess wrote on December 8th, 2013
  19. OMG! The before and after picture with the kids is IMPRESSIVE! to say the least. I wish you a long and healthy life, great changes for you and your family.

    Carola wrote on December 8th, 2013
  20. Dude, I just want to high five you for the excellent results!!! Great Job!!

    Dave Rittel wrote on December 8th, 2013
  21. “Healthier at Age 44 Than 24: How I Lost 115 Pounds” Love your title, and those hilarious big jeans photos.
    Well done man.
    I can only claim “healthier at 46 than 43” :(

    Now … when your doctor mentioned several patients doing well on HCLF … did you not think to strangle him for holding back the one strategy that could save your life?

    Ulfric Douglas wrote on December 8th, 2013
    • Thank you,
      I was happy my doc was operating outside the box – we both knew the medical teaching and current guidelines were the antithesis to low carb, but since conventional attempts repeatedly failed, it seemed end reasonable to try low carb with close monitoring. His few patients before me were only short term, short lived trials.

      Joe wrote on December 9th, 2013
  22. Congrats on your results! Very inspiring indeed!

    Wes wrote on December 9th, 2013
  23. This is a great inspiration for all the people who think that if they are above 40 and can’t lose weight.

    Keep up the good work … It’s really an inspiration. Keep up the good work

    Payal Bansal wrote on December 9th, 2013
  24. Great job! You look really happy

    Colleen wrote on December 9th, 2013
  25. This is totally inspiring. He and I were almost exactly the same size. Seeing his success tells me I can do it too! Thank you for sharing your story!

    Plugger wrote on December 9th, 2013
  26. Boo-YAH! That is EXCELLENT!! Congratulations on your fantastic new health and thank you for sharing. Had to laugh about the improvement in the skin on your feet. That was one I hadn’t heard before! Grok on, brother.

    Tina wrote on December 10th, 2013
  27. Thank you for this, Joe! As an RN, I have dabbled with the low-carb lifestyle and tried to do the research. Your inspirational story has clarified most everything for me! My pre-Atkins blood work is a perfect model of yours, pre-Atkins. I am now ready to change…Again, thank you!! I needed this…

    Melissa P wrote on December 11th, 2013
  28. Thanks so much for sharing your inspiring story. I lost 80 pounds many years ago, and only wish I’d understood that primal, Atkins, Weston Price, whatever you want to call it, was the literal answer for those of us suffering from obesity at any age. Sadly the newer food pyramid exhorting us to eat carbs and avoid fats and meats confused the whole diet issue for me over the years. I managed to maintain my weight but it was extremely difficult and I never felt well. I had almost no social life; my life revolved around keeping my weight off. I lost the weight through modified Weight Watchers, by the way, which was a primal kind of diet; I left out the bread and fruit. If I’d stuck with my original diet maintenance would have been much easier. As I added carbs and the lovely whole grains, maintenance became harder.

    Anyway, it’s sad that Dr. Atkins didn’t live to see his diet vindicated. There was never a dangerous Atkins diet. It’s profoundly sad that this man was telling us the truth about healthy diets, especially for the overweight, and he was vilified for it.

    Debbie wrote on December 11th, 2013
  29. Seems a good place to put this. Doing Atkin’s (will continue into palelo). Have been medicated for colesterol for years, 30# down on Atkin’s, suggested that my doctor check my blood, now that I am eating about three eggs a day, and feeding on meat. All my colesterol levels are within range, and the first time they have ever been propery ordered. Amazing.

    Greg wrote on December 15th, 2013
  30. You have had an amazing transformation. It will surely inspire many others to follow suit. Thanks for sharing.

    Nicole wrote on February 21st, 2014
  31. This story was a real inspiration! I started going Primal this week (the start of Lent) by giving up alcohol and adopting primal. I suspect this is the first Lenten “sacrifice” that I will keep long after Lent is over. Thanks for the awesome narrative!

    Kevin F. wrote on March 7th, 2014
  32. So inspiring!

    Shola wrote on June 11th, 2014
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