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. You look great Norman! I’m sure looking great makes you feel great, and vice-versa. Congrats on getting off the meds too!

    Patrick wrote on January 27th, 2012
  2. Hey, Norman –

    Great blog post on your blog (below)!


    Obese children eat too much “healthy food”

    That’s exactly what I have discovered for myself as well. I rarely ever ate junk food, especially sodas. Was always health conscious. Was a vegetarian in my younger years – lots of “healthy” soy and whole grains, of course!

    Well, discovering primal eating “late” in life is better than never! I know that I won’t take it for granted.

    rarebird wrote on January 27th, 2012
  3. These weekly stories are what have pushed me to embrace the lifestyle. Sidenote… i am 43 hrs into an unplanned fast … feast or famine!!

    What is Paleo wrote on January 27th, 2012
  4. *wolf whistle* =)


    mixie wrote on January 27th, 2012
  5. Wow, you look amazing!! It’s funny that you said your suburban life was killing you. I JUST was talking to a couple of coworkers at lunch about this.

    I live 10 miles from work. My spouse and I drive to work (separately) every day. Therefore, I almost never see my best friends anymore, because they live very close to my office, and I just don’t want to drive out on my day off.

    One of my coworkers said “it’s 10 miles, you are so spoiled”. I didn’t want to get into it, but I was thinking later “no, it’s you who are spoiled by cheap gas and cheap cars and cheap housing!” Believe you me, if I weren’t pregnant, I’d still be biking to work 2x a week too!

    Marcia wrote on January 27th, 2012
  6. …………….YOU GROK…>>>>

    Dave PAPA GROK Parsons wrote on January 27th, 2012
  7. Norman! How nicely you have grown! Such a beautiful man.

    TruckerLady wrote on January 27th, 2012
  8. Hello Norman, you look great! I am 50 and started the lifestyle change 30 days ago. I tried to email you for more info of your regimen etc but was unable to find a email link on your site. Can you help with that? Thanks

    Patrick wrote on January 27th, 2012
  9. Looks like you discovered the fountain of youth.

    primalzen wrote on January 27th, 2012
  10. Way to go, Norman!! Really impressive. And yes, I believe and hope) this is the way 53 is supposed to feel.

    Keep “kicking ass!”

    fritzy wrote on January 27th, 2012
  11. What a wonderful job of finding yourself and being the best that you could be! I just love it when us “old” folks can prove that age isn’t a deterrent to getting healthy and looking good.
    Thank you so much for sharing and all the best to you – please keep us apprised of how you are doing!
    Congratulations and I’m so glad you’re here on MDA to share with all of us.

    PrimalGrandma wrote on January 27th, 2012
  12. Congrats Noman for 53 you look great keep it up.My wife late 60s and I early 70s have been Primal/paleo for 6 months now and loving the lifestyle and the health benifits.

    Lachlan wrote on January 27th, 2012
  13. All I can say is HOLY CRAP!!!! Pardon my french!

    Kristin Smith wrote on January 27th, 2012
  14. You look GREAT Norman! WOW! You are so inspiring!

    Kristin Smith wrote on January 27th, 2012
  15. By popular request, my workout and diet regimen.

    First, I walk to work and back (the return trip is gently uphill, so that I work up a sweat on the way home in the summer). I alternate between a 4-day split routine and the 3-day-a-week split always-squat routine Mark recommends for building muscle. Before each weight training session, I do an Art De Vany-style warm-up on a stationary bike (1 min easy, 1 min hard for 6 min). I also do stationary bike sprints, but only for 10-12 min (30 seconds all out, 3:30 easy).

    I eat real food, freshly prepared, and let my satiety signals tell me when to stop eating. Since my metabolism has healed, I have added potatoes back to my diet, with no ill effects. But I give gluten grains a wide berth. Since I always work out in a fasted state, I will not have breakfast until around 11:30 today (Saturday).

    Norman Robert Spencer wrote on January 27th, 2012
  16. What I love about your story, Norman, is that it illustrates that we are never too late to achieve fitness. 53? You look 33! Thanks for the inspiration.

    Rachel wrote on January 28th, 2012
  17. Congrats Norman, and to all of you who are older than me, especially the moms. I’m 35 and it is really inspiring to hear of all of your health and success. Sometimes us harried 30 something, sleep deprived, parents of young kids need the inspiration of our “elders” to keep us on track. At least I do. You all remind me to make sleep a priority, Primal foods the norm, and especially, to enjoy and follow the spontaneous nature of playing with two boys aged 3 and 5. I’ve been primal for about 2 months now, after following a “clean diet” prior to that. One thing I noticed today especially, I have remarkably more patience with my kids and hubby than I did prior to primal. Norman, mentioning your mental improvements was enlightening – this primal things isn’t all about looking good naked. While my husband holds his head over the kid noise and mischievous activity, I am calm and able to handle my kids with a patience I never knew I was capable of, and my boys are very very very energetic and busy. I wouldn’t have them any other way. Neither would my husband, but it gets to him a lot quicker than it gets to me. So thank you Norman, and all you other PBers for showing me that the best is yet to come!

    LizS wrote on January 28th, 2012
    • More patience on the primal diet. Exactly!

      rarebird wrote on January 28th, 2012
  18. Way to go Norman!!

    You look awesome now. Amazing photos. As for the others, you look good in them, except for the one in 2005, when you look a bit like an old man.

    A lot can happen in a few years (as your FB friend noted).

    Interesting, what you wrote about the Zone. My own take on the it is that the principles are pretty sound, but they hardly comprise a lifestyle (and, as Mark has noted, it’s too low in fat). And Sears, for his part, is a ridiculously unclear writer. No wonder Rob Wolf and the Crossfit community have spent years trying to clarify his ideas.

    It’s great that you found the PB, and really admirable that you tried it out and persisted with it to this great result.

    Way to go!

    Susan Alexander wrote on January 28th, 2012
  19. Congratulations on getting off the medications. That’s great!

    Jim Purdy wrote on January 28th, 2012
  20. Interesting read! Congratulations from Quebec!!

    Félix wrote on January 28th, 2012
  21. Bad ass story. Loved it. Well done Norman.

    BW wrote on January 28th, 2012
  22. Great work! What an inspiration for us to keep working! Thank you

    Suzanne wrote on January 28th, 2012
  23. Wow what a transformation!!! more inspiration to keep going with my health and fitness goals and gain more muscle. Can’t wait to be a lean machine!!!

    Sarah wrote on January 28th, 2012
  24. Way to go!!!! Hubba Hubba!!

    Kari wrote on January 28th, 2012
  25. Thanks for an inspiring story. i am 57 and needed the encouragement your success provided.

    paul w wrote on January 29th, 2012
  26. Wow, love to see it! I have been Primal/paleo for 3 weeks now and feel GREAT! I don’t obsess about food, don’t binge, and have tons of energy. I moved to Primal/paleo for longevity and health…I have been a fitness junkie/clean eater for a few years since my weightloss of 75lbs…but found myself still bingeing, exhausted, not sleeping, emotional, depressed…then the epiphany! Going Primal…check out my stories at but be patient. I’m 52 and not too tech-savy so I will be developing it as I go!! Rock on Primal lifestyle!

    Jennifer Falter wrote on January 29th, 2012
  27. I love the story! The only thing I found puzzling is that, Norman, you find 39 “too old” to take up cross-country skiing! Wow! My aunt was in her 80s when she began, after hip replacement surgery.

    Aili wrote on January 29th, 2012
    • It depends on the terrain. Norway is not flat. I cannot afford a broken arm or a dislocated shoulder.

      Norman Robert Spencer wrote on January 29th, 2012
      • Well, Norman – your comment about 39 being too old to start cross country skiing looks a bit like waving a red flag in front of a bull. LOL Oh, well. Like you said, you have nothing to prove and your fitness plan doesn’t need to include high risk activities. That would be a bit like Chronic Cardio…just because Grok could run fast when he needed to doesn’t mean he would benefit from running fast for hours every day. I’d bet that if your life depended on it you could ski cross country.

        rarebird wrote on January 29th, 2012
        • I’m sure I could. When I lived here in winter and spring 1994, I did a fair amount of cross-country skiing. My form on flat terrain was very good for a beginner, and I had no problem skiing uphill. It was controlling my speed going downhill that gave me trouble. Plus my glasses frosted over.

          Norman Robert Spencer wrote on January 29th, 2012
  28. IS THIS REAL LIFE?! Holy cow, Norman!! Amazing transformation!!! You are a stud!

    Chrissy wrote on January 29th, 2012
  29. Thank you so much for your courage and inspiration. I am just starting and am 56, very overweight, sickly and depressed. I will keep trying now

    Noel wrote on January 29th, 2012
  30. A fantastic story Norman. To hear the triumph over mental illness is so inspiring and a testament to this way of life. I can never understand people’s desire to take meds over good clean food.

    Chris Armstrong wrote on January 29th, 2012
  31. I love hearing success stories such as this one. Well done on your achievement and keep it up.

    Neil | Butterfield wrote on January 29th, 2012
  32. strewth mate…..bloody nightmare you must have gone through….

    firstly; gutsy and very humble story you told…..your humility is defining you more than your body….but youve done a wonderful thing mate..

    shared it…..

    well done bloke!

    zephaniah wrote on January 30th, 2012
  33. Truly inspiring. Amazing what the human body can achieve even after tough times.

    Ste Kearns wrote on January 30th, 2012
  34. Great story and even greater results, I am looking forward to finally getting a copy of this book.

    Diet Minded wrote on January 30th, 2012
  35. Congrats, Norman!

    I sent your story to my relatively-newly-primal 53-year-old husband to reinforce his (already quite high) motivation.

    As a half-Norwegian American living in Quebec, I can recommend snowshoeing as a safe alternative to cross-country skiing on hilly terrain. It is a great work out and the new snowshoes with crampons handle hills and ice with ease.

    I took a look at your blog, and I have to ask: exactly how many languages do you speak and how did you acquire them. As a fellow translator, I am impressed by the diversity of languages that show up on your site.

    And I encourage you to start actively blogging again. Every post was interesting and I would happily read more.

    Chica wrote on January 31st, 2012
    • Funny you should mention snowshoes. We have really good snowshoes, which is how I got from the road to the cabin back we still had it, though it helped to have a very strong little dog to help pull me uphill (1.5 km, 150 meter ascent).

      I have always been interested in languages; my current project is Czech, my ancestral tongue on my mother’s side. I have gotten far enough to be able to order at a restaurant, chat with cabin crew and read the financial pages (the same stuff I deal with every day at work). Otherwise my languages are for the most part Germanic (variations on a theme), some French, Spanish and Italian, and Georgian (a long story), smatterings of East Asian languages. That’s it.

      I have decided to blog about my Czech ancestry. The Czech emigration was not documented by novelists like the Swedes (Moberg) and the Norwegians (Rølvaag). But I am an essayist, not a novelist, and as we know, essays are the perfect genre for blogs.

      Norman Robert Spencer wrote on January 31st, 2012
  36. I emailed this to a co-worker who is around the same age, starting to work out and eat healthy again, and he ordered the 21 Day Transformation immediately after reading. He now displays the book at work for others to look at, gain knowledge and enjoy. Great story. Truly inspirational.

    Don:Knee wrote on February 1st, 2012
  37. Great to hear that you have got your health in order. It is so important to be healthy, especially in today’s times.

    Wade | Wellness wrote on February 2nd, 2012

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