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

I Am Now Leaner and Stronger Than I Have Ever Been In 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!

As a kid I was always a physical fitness derelict. While I loved hiking and walked everywhere I could, I did not enjoy sports (I was clumsy and had poor coordination) and hated gym class. From the age of 10, a macaroni-fueled spare tire was a constant companion, sometimes rather large, other times deflated, never gone completely (till now!). By the time I was a senior in high school (1975), I was not so much chubby, as skinny-fat.


When I turned 18, right before I went away to university, I discovered running, which I did off and on until I turned 41. I started weight training when I was 22, Nautilus, which I also did for a year, and then started up again in 1982 with Nautilus workouts until I finished grad school in 1988.

My life changed dramatically once I started teaching full time and driving everywhere. In 1990 or thereabouts I started running again, no more than 3 x 10K per week, and joined a local gym. In 1994, because the gym where I had been working out was closing, I switched to what turned out to be a better gym, learned to do exercises with free weights and began to research diet regimens. I was also a major consumer of supplements of all kinds. It was while I was learning about weightlifting in the mid 90s that I discovered the Zone diet. What persuaded me, besides the biochemistry angle, was that Barry Sears’s family medical history and mine had one crucial feature in common: both our fathers died young of heart attacks (my dad was 52). I managed to do OK on the Zone diet, as long as I tweaked it (not enough protein; I kept losing muscle mass). The downside: when it was time to eat, it was time to eat. Zone-hunger made me a grouch.


In 1997, I moved to Norway permanently to be with my partner, and continued my diet and exercise regimen there: Zoning, plus weight training 3-4 times a week, and running 8-10K 2-3 times a week, with stationary bike for cardio in the winter (at 39 I was too old to take up cross-country skiing) and Body Pump once a week. By 1998 I was in the best shape of my life till then.

However, in 1999 (at the age of 41), I had a setback that began my “lost decade”. I suffered an acute psychotic episode (from which I recovered quickly), followed a month later by a severe clinical depression, triggered by a “translation job from hell”, which lasted from July until October 1999. As a result, I began to take citalopram (the antidepressant of choice in Norway at the time), in addition to 2.5 mg olanzapine (as a mood stabilizer, even though at the time this was an off-label use). I stopped taking olanzapine in November 2001, but after I stopped taking citalopram in March 2002, I had another psychotic episode and was put back on 2.5 mg olanzapine, which I took until May 2010.


In 2000, my partner and I moved to a suburb of Oslo, where we drove more and where the gym was no longer within walking distance of home. I worked out intermittently, but had a crappy diet, because thanks to the meds I stopped caring. As a result, we both put on a lot of weight, and by Christmas 2005, I weighed 85 kg and was fairly bloated. I had already decided during a trip to California earlier that fall, that our car-centric suburban life was not only not sustainable, but literally killing the both of us. We eventually found an apartment in town that was located within walking distance of both our jobs (for me a 35 minute brisk walk one way) and moved back to town on March 1, 2006. Just from that change, I lost 10 kg in about six months. I joined a local gym, and attained what I considered to be fairly good results. I was Zoning again, but the tire persisted. The Zone didn’t seem to work the way it did when I was 35 or 40. Was I just getting old?


In October 2009, I read about a book called The Primal Blueprint on 2Blowhards, one of my favorite blogs. Hm, I thought, sounded intriguing. So I ordered the book (from your website, not Amazon). I found the evolution-based approach convincing, and I started eating and moving according to Primal principles. It wasn’t long before I began to see amazing results. However, what I did not know till I Googled it a year later, was that my meds were actually keeping me fatter than I otherwise would be, given my 85/15 adherence. It turns out that the reason those who take olanzapine gain weight (and eventually become type 2 diabetics) is that the drug inhibits glycogen formation in the liver. This means that any glucose that is not needed for fuel will be stored as fat only, in an unattractive location. I did not need to read any further. So, in consultation with my doctor, I tapered off the meds over the course of May 2010, and have been meds-free ever since. Once my metabolism could heal completely, Primal principles really began to pay off.

Thanks to my 85/15 adherence, I am now leaner and stronger than I have ever been in my life. I also notice the benefits of lifting heavy things and sprinting on my mood and personality (the additional testosterone my body produces beats “happy pills” as a mood elevator hands down). Other people have begun to notice too.

I recently became Facebook friends with an acquaintance from grade school. One day I had boasted on my wall that I was able to do 5 sets of 5 reps of 70 kg on the bench press, which is my current body weight, something I could never do before. His comment: “I never thought I would say this, Norman, but I think you could kick my ass.”

Thank you, Mark, for helping me to discover my inner kick-ass underwear model! I am absolutely convinced that this is what 53 is supposed to be like.

October 2009

May 2011

September 2011

December 2011



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. Brilliant story, well done Norman and good luck with the rest of your journey!

    Love the comment about you being able to kick ass btw. Just remember – with great power comes great responsibility :)

    Oh and FIRST! Enjoy your Friday y’all!

    Cat wrote on January 27th, 2012
  2. Hell Yeah, Norman! Underwear model ftw!

    Bruno wrote on January 27th, 2012
  3. Wow, awesome story. Love Fridays! You had me at your first sentence — As a kid I was always a physical fitness derelict. LOL I can relate to that. Mostly due to peer pressure that it wasn’t “cool” to like physical activity, I avoided it in my MS and HS years as much as possible. Two years of PE were required in HS but I managed to only take 1 and with lackluster participation. It makes me sad that I missed out on a lot, socially and physically by doing that. Thankfully as an adult I’m getting out and doing things I always secretly wanted to when I was young. :-)

    You look AMAZING btw. Love the fb comment from your friend. Congrats on finding your true self!

    Jessica wrote on January 27th, 2012
  4. Wonderful story! I’m still laughing at the ending!

    Nicely done, Norman!

    Anne wrote on January 27th, 2012
  5. HOLY. MAMA! Norman — Wow wow wow! I agree with Jessica–what an awesome start to a thoroughly readable and humorous account. Inner Underwear Model. I’m glad your grade school FB friend knows that you can kick his a** and admitted it! Just loved this. Fridays rock.

    Joy Beer wrote on January 27th, 2012
  6. Wow! Great job Norman. I am impressed. And congrats on learning about your meds and how they effect your health. As an RN, I see too many drugs that are over prescribed. Most patients take them willing without investigating them thoroughly first. So good for you and keep up the great work.

    Michelle wrote on January 27th, 2012
  7. Awesome transformation, congrats! Those pics at the end speak volumes.

    Ande wrote on January 27th, 2012
  8. Dayum! That sure is the picture of happiness and health at 52.

    Lex wrote on January 27th, 2012
  9. Interesting perspective for a Friday Real Life Story highlighting the mental benefits of great health and fitness! I can imagine that switching countries would have added greatly to your stress level during the hard times. Way to go taking control and overcoming! So impressive! :)

    Beth wrote on January 27th, 2012
  10. Awesome story Norman, congrats. I love this line as I can completely relate to it

    “From the age of 10, a macaroni-fueled spare tire was a constant companion, sometimes rather large, other times deflated, never gone completely (till now!).

    Still working on getting rid of mine completely, but I’m starting to see abs!!

    PN wrote on January 27th, 2012
  11. You look like you’re having so much fun taking pictures in the mirror! That made my day right there. Isn’t health a wonderful thing?

    Peggy The Primal Parent wrote on January 27th, 2012
  12. Gratulerer, Norman!

    I’m also in Oslo – we should start a meet-up! :)

    Laura wrote on January 27th, 2012
    • Gratulerer!

      To bad I am in Stavanger! Wish we could get a meet up going here!

      Fonda LaShay wrote on January 27th, 2012
  13. You look fantastic! I love the idea of finding one’s inner underwear model – lol. Very inspiring!

    Jess wrote on January 27th, 2012
    • I loved that line as well :) And you succeeded, for sure! You look great!

      Alyssa wrote on January 27th, 2012
  14. Oh, boy! Yet another story I am forwarding my hubby! I hope that eventually he would get inspired!

    leida wrote on January 27th, 2012
  15. Wow, great job…I’m 51 so this definitely a motivating success story for me. I’ve had great success, but still working on a little bit of that spare tire…very slow progress as I approach my goal. Also great to hear, once again, how primal living can take the place of meds for various maladies. Awesome.

    So here’s the usual request…how about a quick overview on your specifics, i.e. workouts, frequency, and what (and how much) you’re eating?

    Thanks for sharing your story, and congratulations.

    Peter wrote on January 27th, 2012
    • Thanks! Click on my link and I’ll respond in a private e-mail. A) this is not my website and B) I don’t want to bore people with the minutiae of my diet and exercise regimen….

      Norman Robert Spencer wrote on January 27th, 2012
      • Thanks…I looked but the “contact” me link is not live…maybe I need to have a blogger account to access that. In any case…if you choose to share any details on your lifestyle/program, I can assure you that nobody hear would be bored, and in fact would eagerly read it. And not to speak for Mark, but I do believe he’d be happy to let you share the building blocks to your success here on the site :-)

        In the end…the elements of living primal are all spelled out here on MDA and Mark’s books. But I know most people enjoy hearing about real life applications of those principals…especially to attain the healthy lean look that you have at the age of 53! Thanks for proving that it’s never to late!

        Peter wrote on January 27th, 2012
        • I heartily second Peter’s request – at 53 and struggling with the remaining spare tire, I’d love to hear more details as well…

          John wrote on January 27th, 2012
        • Agreed!! Specifics are always helpful :)

          Alyssa wrote on January 27th, 2012
        • Agree!

          Age 59 and would like to hear more, too.

          rarebird wrote on January 27th, 2012
  16. Such an inspiring story! Thanks so much for sharing, Norman.

    Nichole wrote on January 27th, 2012
  17. Way to go Norman!!!! Congrats on your accomplishment! I hope sometime this year I can discover my inner Sports Illustrated swimsuit model!

    Pattymary wrote on January 27th, 2012
  18. I love Fridays on MDA! :)

    Amazing progress and a great story Norman!!!

    Carla wrote on January 27th, 2012
  19. WOW! That’s extremely awesome! I totally understand the macaroni spare tire thing as a kid. I’m still holding onto it, but your pics have convinced me to keep trying! Congrats on your success!!

    Caleigh wrote on January 27th, 2012
  20. this one was great! cheers to you, sir.

    jakey wrote on January 27th, 2012
  21. Woohooo! Well done!

    But why is 39 too old to start cross-country skiing?! I love cross-country skiing!!

    gilliebean wrote on January 27th, 2012
    • agreed – I’m about the same age as Norman. I didn’t start snowboarding until age 44 :) I love xc & telemark skiing too. telemark is my main snow love.

      peggy wrote on January 27th, 2012
      • I would love to try telemark someday!

        gilliebean wrote on January 27th, 2012
    • True! I started at age 51 w no probs. I’m skate-skiing now and faster than most of the younger people in my class (I’ve been about 90% primal for about 10 years and I’m sure that makes a BIG difference).

      Also, x-c skiing is a great sport to take up late in life as it’s quite low-impact and can be as challenging or as gentle as u like.

      MissJelic wrote on January 27th, 2012
      • PS and you look AMAZING, Norman! Very inspiring!

        MissJelic wrote on January 27th, 2012
    • I just started learning to x-c ski last year, at 53! Never too late…

      Elsa wrote on January 28th, 2012
    • 39’s not to old to learn skiing. I started learning downhill skiing (definitely more risky) at 36, and I was quite obese when I started learning. Skiing is a huge motivator for me getting in shape – I know my extra weight isn’t helping my knees, and I need to keep my knees healthy for turns!

      Alice H wrote on January 29th, 2012
      • I agree. I am 40 and feel more balanced since being barefoot the past 2.5 years. I planned to ski and snowshoe this year, but every time the snow falls, it’s gone the next day. Maybe next year.

        Sabra wrote on February 4th, 2012
  22. Great story Norman! Now go and inspire others to live Primal!

    Primal Toad wrote on January 27th, 2012
  23. Now that’s an amazing 53 year old body!

    Sharon wrote on January 27th, 2012
  24. Whoa! I love hearing stories about people who’ve kicked meds. Makes me smile. Congratulations, Norman.

    Alison Golden wrote on January 27th, 2012
  25. Congratulations and thanks for sharing your story. This is definitely what 53 should look like! You look awesome!

    Cathy wrote on January 27th, 2012
  26. I too have had ups and downs, truly an inspirational story. I have been on medication as well, which most women are on (birth control-depo provera) for 14 years =( by the 31st of this month I will be off for good and I can’t wait till my body gets back to normal and starts burning fat for fuel versus storing it. I know my primal way of eating will get me where I want to be fast =)

    Virginia Williamson wrote on January 27th, 2012
  27. @ Norman- I take xanax and wondered if it too inhibits glycogen formation in the liver. I wasn’t able to find any information. Where should I look?

    julie wrote on January 27th, 2012
  28. Wow, awesome transformation, congrats on your success.

    Arty wrote on January 27th, 2012
  29. I love Fridays! Norman, congratulations! It is so wonderful that you healed yourself! I love stories like this.

    Michele Lauren wrote on January 27th, 2012
  30. You look fantastic Norman, congratulations! At 52 and 54, my husband and I feel great and look pretty darn good too. At a recent social function, people we had not seen in years couldn’t stop commenting how young we look. This thing works, y’all, and works at every age!

    HillsideGina wrote on January 27th, 2012
  31. Yay for getting off the meds… and looking fantastic!

    Becca wrote on January 27th, 2012
  32. Great story – and great comments, too! Could say “ditto” to so many of the comments.

    I hope that you and Laura do have a “meet up” in Oslo. I bet you could share local sources of primal foods and more. Isn’t Norway a great place for cold water fish and berries, plus more?

    And, I agree with gilliebean about wondering why 39 is too old for cross country skiing. Maybe your less fit 39 year old self passed – but what about your more fit 53 year old self?

    My husband is first generation Norwegian -American and its his stated goal to make cross country skiing his primary hobby when he retires at age 66. I remind him of this fact when we discuss his joining me in the primal lifestyle – and I plan to share your story/pictures with him to show him the benefits of making the change. So, thank you for that!

    So glad that you shared about the mental health aspects of your journey. I love seeing people disregard the so-called stigma around mental health/psycho active drugs. The brain (and mind) are as much our being as any other part.

    The Primal Blueprint diet seems to have benefits for the mental status as much as the fitness part. So far I have only focused on the diet and a few lifestyle changes but the exercise part is slowly coming into play. Yet, I notice that I am already less irritable, calmer, more stable, and engage differently with others.

    rarebird wrote on January 27th, 2012
  33. I look forward to every Friday so I can read another great success story! Congratulations Norman on changing your life!

    Tracy Seman wrote on January 27th, 2012
  34. I’m so happy for you Norman! You are a great confirmation that meds aren’t always what they’re cracked up to be–AND that getting older can be mean getting better, not worse. In your case, waaaay better :-) Congrats on the new healthy happy you!

    Marianne wrote on January 27th, 2012
  35. You look great. Good for you. I’m PBing my way off of meds too.

    rabbit_trail wrote on January 27th, 2012
  36. Way to be, Norman!

    Emily Mekeel wrote on January 27th, 2012
  37. Thanks for sharing your story Norman – you look great!

    I also was on the Zone diet for awhile, and I lost weight, but I always had to add extra carbs, otherwise it felt like my blood sugar was too low – I’d get irritable and have difficulty concentrating. I also didn’t have any luck losing weight on the Zone diet the second time around.

    I know now that some metabolisms are more flexible than others, and that’s probably why I always seem to need extra carbs (because mine is not very flexible). Here’s a great blog post at about metabolic flexibility and how to regain it.

    Angel wrote on January 27th, 2012
  38. Yay for American Primals with Norwegian Partners in Norway! Felt like I was the only one!

    Gratulerer med din suksess!

    Fonda LaShay wrote on January 27th, 2012
  39. Wow norman It is tough to battle depression and through this, you made the best of the situation. Kudos my friend!

    Jacky Lau wrote on January 27th, 2012
  40. Inspiring story — just one question — were you kidding when you said 39 was too old for cross-country skiing?

    Page wrote on January 27th, 2012
    • What I meant was that 39 was too old to take it up. Learning to cross-country ski in Norway, by no means a flat country, is not as easy as people think. Nobody who has lived here more than a year has not seen Norwegian toddlers on skis without poles learning to balance on rather steep slopes. You need to be a “native skier” if you want to ski safely into your 50s and 60s. I know too many foreigners who learned to ski “as a second language”, but who suffered severe injuries from falls once they had to “think”. I have nothing to prove, and I will not risk say, breaking my arm, for no good reason. I keep myself fit enough (wouldn’t you agree?), so I wait for the snow to melt, so I can enjoy hiking season.

      Your mileage may vary, of course. I have skis, and have even been complimented on my form (Nordic Trac!) but keep to frozen lakes and other flat country.

      Norman Robert Spencer wrote on January 27th, 2012
      • Thanks for the explanation. Sounds wise. Btw, my husband’s plans to cross country ski into his senior years involve manicured trails, flat land, and frozen lakes in Michigan. And, that hobby is in lieu of his motorcycle hobby. Relative risks, IMO.

        rarebird wrote on January 27th, 2012
      • I get that! I live in Park City, Utah, and just started x-country skiing 2 years ago (at 49 years old) and definitely keep to the flats…getting up even a little speed on those skinny little classic skis (and even harder with skate skis) is really intimidating…and I can see getting hurt.

        I just went for 90 minutes this afternoon for the first time this winter…and am feeling some muscles I forgot were there!

        Peter wrote on January 27th, 2012

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