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

How the 21-Day Challenge Helped Me

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!

Hi Mark,

I’ve been slowly getting my feet wet with the paleo/primal nutritional way of living for around a year now. It started with a better way of cutting the highly addictive sugar out of my diet. Many of those types of diets don’t address the need for higher fat consumption though and they don’t consider behavioral changes that need to be made as well.

If I want to tell my weight loss journey story right, I have to start at the beginning. I was obese my entire life. I remember being called “Miss Piggy” in second grade by classmates. I remember writing to diet and weight loss scam ads in the back of teen magazines begging for help as a preteen. But nothing ever changed and I stayed obese until I moved across the country (away from my family’s environment) and started the process at the age of 26. My entire family is obese, so I have to admit that I didn’t see a lot of hope for losing weight based on lies my Mom shared with us our wholes lives (that we are supposed to be this way).

Naomi - Before

When I started my weight loss journey, it was not the healthiest choice I could have made in going about doing it. I joined a local gym (the first one I had ever stepped foot into) and started doing repetitive cardio before going to work and after work each day (6 days a week). I also worked 8 hours a day on my feet. I tracked everything I ate obsessively and broke down every macronutrient. I strived to eat 1200-1400 calories a day with a 30/40/30 ratio. I wore a heart rate monitor 24/7 to make sure that I expended more calories than I consumed each day. I was preoccupied with becoming my own “biggest loser” and whipping the weight off of me as quickly as possible. And I did. It took me around seven months to go from 285 pounds to 154. On the outside, this appeared to be a great success, but on the inside I caused new problems for myself.

Some problems that resulted:

  1. I was so focused on losing weight and exercising that my relationship failed.
  2. The result of a lifetime of being obese and losing weight very quickly left me with loose skin. I felt defeated that I still was not happy with my appearance even after all of the hard work and dedication. I will never look good naked.
  3. My obsession with tracking food and restricting what I ate caused disordered eating patterns for me. I suffered with bouts of binge eating for the next two years during stressful times. The only way I managed to keep the binge weight off was to go back to restricted eating again and excessive exercise (like running marathons).

In an effort to try to get over my preoccupation with food (especially sugars), I read every sugar addiction book available and even attended Overeaters Anonymous meetings for four months. The meetings were inviting and helpful at first, but then they stopped helping because everyone wallowed in their own self-pity about their addiction to donuts or ice cream. It just made me want to run to comfort food even more. The books were insightful, but the diets they promoted were not. I could not give up all refined sugars and keep the rest of my diet the same.

Around this time, I ventured into the paleo lifestyle and it made more sense to me, but like most people, I was scared to start eating that much fat in my diet (no matter if it was healthy or not). So, I introduced certain ideas from the paleo plans into my life slowly. I started eating more organic meat, avocados, nuts, and eggs. The problem was that I still had grains, legumes, soy, and sweeteners in my diet. After a few more months, I read somewhere that the paleo diet was actually credited with helping some people with eating disorders to overcome them. Maybe this was the golden ticket I was looking for?

I began to realize that living healthy wasn’t just about eating healthy and working out. It was a complete behavior shift. I suffer from Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder (not OCD), so I tend to be perfectionistic and rigid in my way of living anyways. My goal has been to accept myself the way that I am and have more compassion for myself when I fail and allow my life to just flow instead of being scheduled all of the time.

How the 21-day challenge helped me:

  1. I finally gave up stevia in my morning coffee/tea.
  2. I finally gave up my morning oatmeal for eggs.
  3. When I am hungry, I have the mindset now to eat something with more fat and protein.
  4. I stand at my desk now for at least 2 or 3 hours a day.
  5. I take time to myself now to avoid getting too overwhelmed or stressed out.
  6. I ask for help from my fiancé with chores around the house.
  7. I can now do over 40 pushups in a row.
  8. I still cannot do a full pull-up, but I’m getting closer!
  9. I can see my abs for the first time in my life.
  10. I don’t need to obsessively workout.
  11. I’ve started fermenting my own sauerkraut.
  12. I purchased a slackline and use it for fun and entertainment with friends.
  13. I spend more quality time with my fiancé (not talking about food or exercise).

My journey has not been easy. When people ask me how I lost the weight, I could say “With diet and exercise”, but that really discounts all of the physical and mental struggle and anguish I went through because I chose to lose weight the somewhat unhealthy way and I have a personality disorder that controls much of how I behave on any given day. The paleo nutrition plan is simple, which is great because I tend to over-complicate things. It was really hard for me to believe that something so easy could actually work. But I figured that 21 days of eating and behaving this way couldn’t hurt to try.


After a full month of eating paleo, I weighed and measured myself for the first time. I dropped 8 pounds on the scale and am currently at my lowest body fat percentage. Even when I weighed 154 pounds, my body fat was slightly higher than what it is now at 165 pounds. The best part is the difference I could see in my “after” photos this time. I can actually see more definition in my stomach and arms. A friend also kindly pointed out to me that she noticed a big difference also… I’m smiling! I never smiled when I was obese.

Naomi - Working Out

Thank you Mark and the whole paleo community for opening my eyes to an easier way of living my healthiest life (mentally and physically)! I hope to be able to write to you in the future to let you know that the disordered eating patterns have completely vanished (and I’ve gotten even healthier).

Naomi - After



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. AMAZING story!!!

    doghug wrote on March 22nd, 2013
  2. You rock, Naomi. The beautiful smile on your face in the last picture really says it all. Congratulations to you!

    Lauryn wrote on March 22nd, 2013
  3. You’re a wonderful inspiration. I’ve been lurking on this site for a year, I look like your before photos. Your after photos and journey are going to be my starting point. x

    Jenni wrote on March 22nd, 2013
    • Really? I hope that my story really is motivation to get you started, but remember, you are not me. Your story is totally unique to you. Make it a good one!!!! :)

      Naomi wrote on March 22nd, 2013
  4. I don’t mean to sound shallow, but damn you are hot! I’d hit that in a second!

    rotter wrote on March 22nd, 2013
  5. Congratulations! You are an inspiration to many.

    James wrote on March 22nd, 2013
  6. Congrats! Amazing story, you look great, and happy.

    However, I have to say, your fiance shouldn’t be ‘helping’ you around the house. If you live together, it is both of your homes, and he doesn’t ‘help’ with upkeep – he should be doing his fair share, like any self-respecting adult!

    SJ wrote on March 22nd, 2013
  7. I think out of all the pictures, I like the last one with the smile the best.

    Amy wrote on March 22nd, 2013
  8. Congratulations! You look fantastic and have a great smile!

    Liz wrote on March 22nd, 2013
  9. Amazing story!!! And not to diss those that say you went “from pretty to beautiful”, but I saw the first photo and thought “What a beautiful woman!” Then I saw the later pictures and thought “What a beautiful HAPPY woman!!” Congrats to you for becoming a happier and healthier version of you!

    Suzanne wrote on March 22nd, 2013
  10. Another inspirational story about the transformation of body and mind and overcoming considerable obstacles, congratulations! On a side note, I see folks on this site recommending to avoid stevia. I’m curious as to why, it does not raise your blood sugar and is a natural sweetener. I put one packet of a brand that is organic (and the first ingredient is fact is FOS) into my whey protein drink along with green powder, cinnamon and I use unsweetened almond beverage (sometimes add a few frozen berries). I don’t crave sweets, but wonder if someone has a compelling reason for me to stop doing that? I’m 5’8″ and weight 150 pounds, pretty toned for a 60 year old guy but still have a bit of a lower belly, maybe that’s the reason I shouldn’t LOL.

    George wrote on March 22nd, 2013
    • OK, see the answer in a previous post, sorry about that. Makes sense if even a sweet taste can trigger cravings. I’m going to examine my diet, which my family and friends already think I’m too restrictive, to see if I have hidden sugar, I’m sure I do. Lean protein, veggies, leafy salads, berries, olive oil and some nuts are what I try to focus on. I bet I can do even better, good stuff.

      George wrote on March 22nd, 2013
      • Yes you can do better. Add fatty GRASS FED meat. Lean is ok, but why the lean meat?

        Nocona wrote on March 22nd, 2013
        • Well, for one, I’m a vegetarian.

          George wrote on March 23rd, 2013
  11. Love your story, love your smile!

    Rachel wrote on March 22nd, 2013
  12. Amazing and inspirational…you look strong and beautiful:) Thanks for sharing!

    LisaLisa wrote on March 22nd, 2013
  13. Wow-what a transformation! I’m amazed and inspired! Every time I feel lost in the non-primal world, stories like this remind me why we live this crazy lifestyle! You should be so proud of yourself and your megawatt smile!

    Taylor wrote on March 22nd, 2013
  14. Naomi – your mother didn’t know any better, it’s not that she lied to and told you are naturally obese, it’s just that like you had before, thought that’s just how it is.

    The fact that you broke the cycle in your family, they can look up to you with hope and know that it CAN be done.

    Awesome transformation! :)

    Robo wrote on March 22nd, 2013
    • Robo,

      I do not blame or hold hard feelings against my parents for my obesity. Like you said, they did what they knew how to do. And blaming instead of accepting responsibility is an easy way out.

      My family doesn’t look up to me. They are still in their negative mindset and I cannot change that.

      I’ve had to learn to accept that I sometimes cannot help the ones I want to the most. But hopefully I can help others instead. :)

      Naomi wrote on March 23rd, 2013
  15. You look awesome Naomi! How tall are you?
    I have given up all grains without much problem but i still use xylitol as a sweetener, just a tablespoon or so in my coffee. It did not hinder my weight loss from 177 to 157 . I count it as part of my 10% ie 90 / 10 compliance to paleo/primal along with dairy ( butter and a little cream, no milk however)
    I also found tracking my food intake online REALLY help me drop the lbs. It is just habit now…
    Again congrats

    Gayle wrote on March 22nd, 2013
    • 5’*8″ tall

      Naomi wrote on March 23rd, 2013
  16. Naomi. Awesome work. You look like fantastic.

    BW wrote on March 22nd, 2013
  17. Congrats from one Naomi to another. Good thing you have that tattoo on your arm to prove you’re the same person!

    dragonmamma wrote on March 22nd, 2013
    • Naomi,

      Some people still don’t believe it’s me (even with the tattoo)…

      Naomi wrote on March 23rd, 2013
  18. Naomi,

    Congratulations on your transformation and every single effort, tiny or huge, to make the shift and become your smiling, healthy self. You’re so on the right track to reach your goals. You rock, girl!

    Naomi (and respondents Shary and Carrie S.)

    Can you pass along any practical tips for taming the sugar monster? I’ve been Primal for over two years for the purpose of getting my sugar habit under control, and I’m so much better than I used to be. I’m fit and lean and get much better sleep than ever as well. But I still fall off the wagon periodically in a sugar binge and I want to end this, too. Eating high levels of fat and protein doesn’t always work to stop my behavior pattern. How have you curbed eating refined sugars?

    Krispy wrote on March 22nd, 2013
    • I have sugar cravings when I’m tired, stressed, and cold. I always keep an eye out for these factors. You might want to look for the reasons why you binge. Then, manage those factors by taking care of them. If I’m cold, I put on extra socks, drink tea, and wear a sweater. Because the longer I’m cold, the more I will want to seek comfort in food.

      We have to give our bodies what they really want, not sugar. I hope this is a little bit helpful.

      Naomi wrote on March 23rd, 2013
  19. Wow, Naomi. Way to go!

    Aside from your extraordinary body transformation, your face looks completely different from the photo at the top of the post. Just beautiful, and so happy.

    I admire your good efforts and how much thought you put into them. Really clever of you to keep that 21 day challenge list. It seems to yield real-time awareness of changes as they happen, including how good you’re feeling from the process. I think that sort of journaling is just as important (if not more) than conventional tracking, like pounds lost, etc.

    Really good of you to figure out along the way what WASN’T working (like those meetings). I’ve heard so many people say the same sort of thing you did (i.e. that hearing all the self pity and rehashing of people’s problems actually undermined the change process).

    Great story. Carry on. I hope you’ll keep Mark posted on your continuing efforts and that he’ll post them for us to see.


    Susan Alexander wrote on March 22nd, 2013
  20. Wow. I really have to say that it’s truly incredible that you were able to detach yourself from the “reality” your family crea

    Christina wrote on March 22nd, 2013
  21. Naomi, forgive me for piling on. But this is truly amazing! You set such a great example with your open-mindedness, commitment, self-awareness, and positive attitude. I hope that countless others will be inspired by your example.

    Timothy wrote on March 22nd, 2013
    • Thank you, Tim.

      Naomi wrote on March 23rd, 2013
  22. Naomi:

    A few questions for you about mindset ….

    In the comments (replying to Nathan) you wrote about your change in mindset. When did that change occur? Before you got started? Or during the process? Can you compare your old mindset with your new one, and talk a bit about how the change happened?

    Would love to know these things, if you feel like sharing. Thanks so much!


    Susan Alexander wrote on March 22nd, 2013
    • Susan,

      I cannot go into that much detail right now. But my mindset is always changing and evolving. I would like to think that’s part of being an aging individual.

      The start of my new life did not begin with weightloss. It started with an epiphany I had that allowed me to move across country on my own at the age of 25. That was a shift in mindset. Many others followed. Events in people’s lives also trigger changes in mindset. Sometimes, it’s a forced change and sometimes voluntary.

      I cannot list of just one mindset change that has happened to me in the last 5 years. Nor can I list off (on here) every mindset change I’ve had and what triggered them.

      Naomi wrote on March 23rd, 2013
  23. Wow. I really have to say that it’s truly incredible that you were able to detach yourself from the “reality” your family created for you, and pursued this journey to health without them. While it’s admirable of you to wish you could help them, all you can do is show them how different you are now, and how much your life has changed within only a few years. The rest is up to them.

    For your part, it takes such will power to do something like this in a family where everybody is obese. Many people grow resentful, and take your dietary change as a jab against what they eat. Obviously I don’t know how they reacted towards your transformation, but from personal experience I can attest that it takes something more than just good habits to change oneself when you’re surrounded on all sides by everything you are trying to run from.

    Christina wrote on March 22nd, 2013
    • Christina,

      You’re right on target here. :)

      Naomi wrote on March 23rd, 2013
  24. Congratulations…you look amazing! What a great story!

    Kathleen wrote on March 22nd, 2013
  25. Naomi,
    Wow. Great story. Congrats. Your transformation is wonderful.

    I agree with you on the avoidance of all sweetener. I’ve learned (the hard way) that I do better with just the whole food eating experience rather than trying substitutes, gluten food look-alikes, or “paleo friendly” pizza, breads and desserts.

    That you would share your story today is just reinforcement for me as to how important it is to hold my personal truths for myself. (note to mom, “NO, I can’t eat that just to be social.”)

    Thanks for being so inspiring.

    Cindy wrote on March 22nd, 2013
  26. Looking fantastic! Awesome Story

    Bec wrote on March 22nd, 2013
  27. Hi Naomi, you look great!! When I read your story, it hit very close to home. I struggle with sugar, and am still trying to stop, it is really an addiction. I have had success with other diets as well, losing large amounts of weight, and over the years have gotten my weight down from 265 to around between 180 and 200 pds depending on what time a year it is. I was usually exhausted from so much exercise and irritable all the time.
    I have success with eating primal and have felt 100% better when eating primal, but I still seem to fall back into eating sugar in stressful times and when I am angry. When I say I eat sugar i mean by the bucket full in all forms, chocolate bars, donuts, icecream ect.
    Even though I know this is dangerous and will have a negative effect on my health, I continue to do it. Is there any tips you can give me for dropping the sugar habit once and for all?

    Misha wrote on March 22nd, 2013
    • hiya misha! im going through the same problem as you! i know i shouldnt be eating all this crap and yet i still do it and do it to the absolute excess! and i can tell you one thing, its not your fault! i live in a flat w 9 girls who eat absolute crap and my brain sees that every single day. My nose smells toast every single day and my eyes see biscuits, oreos, ice cream and milk chocolate. so how can i have such strong will power as to reject all these foods?? We are constantly bombarded w all this crap its impossible to ignore. with time and practice we can but for that to happen extreme determination and calmness is a must! i reckon support is what i need, in terms of like a health buddy of some sort maybe? :) if you wanna talk to anyone about your problems or even form like a buddy system where we can maybe support each other lemme know 😀

      Rhinaa wrote on March 23rd, 2013
      • Hi Rhinaa, Thanks for sharing, A buddy system sounds great !

        Misha wrote on March 24th, 2013
    • Mischa, Can I suggest, instead of trying to “manage” your stressful and angry times with FOOD — you try to address what are actually psychological states with psychology?! We paleo/primals tend to point out that you cannot manage (physical) hunger with (psychological) therapy; well, you also cannot manage anger and stress with nutrients. (That’s not entirely true, but it’s a place to start in rejiggering your mindset! Broaden your viewpoint to include dealing with ‘mental states’ (psychology) as different-from-but-associated-with ‘brain states’ (physiology) right?)

      Learning some ‘self-calming’ methods such deep breathing, tai chi, affirmations, ‘dealing with difficult people’ training… I’ve never been fond of counting to ten, but hey, whatever works! By finding a method of changing your brain chemicals without using sugar and carbs (to physically change them), you will quite probably be able to stop responding to anger and stress with ingested chemicals! Please start with Julia Ross’s “The Mood Cure.” Marvelous helpful book — that addresses both diet and psychology!

      Elenor wrote on March 23rd, 2013
      • Thank you Elenor, Yes I also think that sugar just adds to my stress and anger, it is a visious circle. When I am eating Primal I am much calmer and happier. I know I can do this, but it also means all sugar behind forever, not even a little.
        I will read the book you suggested, thanks again for the support. :)

        Misha wrote on March 24th, 2013
    • Much like Elenor said, you have to deal with WHY you are stressed (or any other emotion that triggers the eating) first. Some people eat because they are lonely, bored, stressed, etc. Instead of going for food, we should seek comfort in a close friend. It’s human nature to want comfort, love, and belonging. Food only very temporarily provides that (if at all), being around other humans does a better job.

      My sugar addiction was so bad at one point that I got angry that my husband (then boyfriend) would not leave me alone so that I could finish off eating the ice cream that was in the freezer. I was pushing away love for a sugar high to make me feel better. That’s when you know something is not right.

      Naomi wrote on March 23rd, 2013
      • Hi Naomi, I can totally relate to the ice cream story , thank you for your reply and tips. :)

        Misha wrote on March 24th, 2013
  28. what a super success story! You look so happy and vibrant now! Congratulations!

    Sandra Azancot wrote on March 22nd, 2013
  29. This is amazing, how wonderful results, I believe that this post is a “mind change” for a lot of people.

    Thank you

    Wallan wrote on March 22nd, 2013
  30. Day-um! Girl! You went from someone who looked uncomfortable in her own skin to …day-um!
    Nothing is sexier than a beautiful truthful smile that tells the world how beautiful you think you are.

    Jaxon wrote on March 22nd, 2013
  31. That is absolutely amazing! im kinda like you in a sense that i lost so much weight in so little time by over exercising/ calorie restriction and then i lost my period and thought shit! i need to eat! but my mind was still controlling and whenever i would eat the restriction period that came was crucial. I have quite a lotta shit going on now but reading your story just tells me that i will go through it, i will survive and but i must be strong!

    thanks for being such an inspiration, you look like a million dollar baby 😉

    Rhinaa wrote on March 23rd, 2013
    • Be compassionate with yourself. It doesn’t matter how strong you are… you’re going to fail at some point. If you don’t know how to be compassionate with yourself (many people don’t), I suggest reading Brene Brown’s books. Good luck to you.

      Naomi wrote on March 23rd, 2013
    • I’m going to reiterate Naomi’s statement about being compassionate with yourself. About 25 years or so ago (when I was in high school, or maybe junior high), I read an article called “How to Stop Being Your Own Worst Enemy.” I saved it for several years and would pull it out periodically and reread it. The advice boiled down to “don’t be harder on yourself than you are your friends.” When you make a mistake, or slip up, or even fail at something and want to say “How could I be so stupid?” or “I’m such an idiot/failure/whatever,” think about what you’d tell a friend in the same situation. Would you tell your friend that he/she was stupid or a failure or whatever? Or would you tell your friend that it’s okay, everyone makes mistakes, you’re only human, or whatever, and offer words of encouragement? Mind you, being compassionate with yourself takes practice. Every time I said something cruel to myself, I would have to stop and then tell myself what I would say to a friend. It got easier with practice, but it’s still not perfect, I still slip up every now and then, but then I turn around and forgive and encourage myself.

      b2curious wrote on March 27th, 2013
  32. You are an inspiration. I do not have to tell you to ‘keep it up’ because clearly, you got this under control. Way to take your life back!

    Helga wrote on March 23rd, 2013
    • Helga,

      No one has it all under control. I will keep it up though, thank you.

      Naomi wrote on March 23rd, 2013
  33. Thank you for sharing your journey, so much of your story I can relate to…
    Wish I could give you a big big hug, you inspire me and make me feel like I am not alone (and a freak like too often my family and friends do…:-( ).
    Thank you again and keep being strong and much happiness to you.

    Chantal wrote on March 23rd, 2013
    • Chantal,

      *hugs* Life is good. :)

      Naomi wrote on March 23rd, 2013
  34. Lovely….just lovely. Naomi, stories like yours continue to inspire me.
    I’m only a few months into this wonderful world and can’t wait to post my own story down the track.
    Well done!

    Dave Groves wrote on March 23rd, 2013
  35. !!!! beautiful !!! I am showing this to everybody, congratulations !!!!

    wildgrok wrote on March 23rd, 2013
  36. you look amazing!!

    i’m similar to you and am losing weight quickly with chronic cardio. i started at 309lbs and now i’m at 250 (still have a ways to go). i already have a lot of loose skin. did it stretch back over time? did going primal help it stretch back? thanks!

    madi wrote on March 23rd, 2013
    • Madi,

      No, my loose skin really did not go back to “normal” after losing so much weight. Please reconsider the cardio and start lifting weights. Your body will thank you for it later.

      Naomi wrote on March 24th, 2013
  37. Naiomi,
    Congrats! I hope I can say the same one day about the disordered eating. I suffer from binge eating due to obsessive tracking and restriction of my food intake. This started about a year ago and I have gained a lot of weight. It has been very heartbreaking for me because I had starved myself into quite a thin person a year ago. I don’t even like to go in public anymore. I had tried to cut carbs in the past, but did not understand that you had to add the fat. It has been kind of scary, but I have found that I really enjoy bacon and eggs for breakfast instead of oatmeal.
    I hope that I am where you are soon!

    C. Allison wrote on March 23rd, 2013
    • C. Allison,

      Baby steps and self-compassion are the key to overcoming this. You have to first realize you are GREAT just as you are. Once you can truly love yourself, then you will respect your body that much more. I don’t believe in jumping in with both feet when it comes to changing something this big. Changing one small habit at a time is great. I’m so happy to hear your eggs and bacon transformation! I got my husband to make the switch about 6 months ago also and I know he feels better too. :)

      Naomi wrote on March 24th, 2013
  38. WOW!!!!!!!!!!!>>

    Your SMILE is amazing!!!!!!

    You are gorgeous!

    Well done.

    zephaniah wrote on March 24th, 2013

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