Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...Tell Me More
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, Carrie, and Bees,
This letter is long overdue, but the recent article you posted on the Weekend Link Love made me want to share my experience with a Primal lifestyle and PCOS.
I was an active and skinny kid, generally healthy except for some seasonal allergies and a tendency to pick up every single cold that went through school. My family attributed it to a crowded public school, and I took all kinds of immune-supporting herbs that seemed to help for a while. Add to that, my diet was pretty awful: I subsisted on pasta, breads, and sugary stuff. Again, it didn’t strike my family as being too out of the ordinary. All the kids I knew ate that way, or worse. My diet and health were never connected and never any cause for concern.
By the time I was fifteen, it started to alarm my family and doctors that I hadn’t yet developed a regular menstrual cycle. I was also physically underdeveloped. I didn’t break 100 pounds until my sophomore year of high school and had no hips, breasts, or any markers of puberty. The only sign of any hormonal change was a wicked case of acne. A quick trip to the gynecologist with some blood work confirmed a hormone imbalance and a testosterone level three times the healthy range for a girl. Not good. Not good at all. I got put on the pill to straighten things out.
Instantly, I was having regular cycles. Within two months, all the missing “parts” exploded out and I looked normal for a girl my age. My acne cleared up. Finally! The drawback, however, was a scorching case of depression (I nearly failed out of school that year), a huge weight gain (something like thirty pounds) and constant migraines (several storms a week that disabled me for the rest of the day). Doctors fixed one set of problems with the pill, but brought on a slew of new ones, and my health was (sorry to swear, but I feel it’s the only effective word) a goddamned nightmare.
Doctor’s visits became the norm for the next several years. Dermatologists, gynos, internists, family practitioners, and everything in between couldn’t figure out what my problem was. Still, they had no problem giving me all sorts of drugs for weight control, acne, hormone balances, everything to treat just the outward symptoms with extra side effects. The only one that I felt did any good was migraine medication, which I depended on with my life. I never left the house without my wallet, keys, and drugs. My bag rattled with half a dozen meds. I lived with constant ailments, knowing that I felt awful that day and would feel just as awful tomorrow.
It wasn’t until my senior year of high school that I started hearing about Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. All the symptoms fit and I knew I had it. My mother and I sought out an endocrinologist specializing in PCOS. He recruited some more blood work and after a short interview, determined I did have PCOS. Then the magic combo came: the pill and metformin! I lost a decent amount of weight, my skin cleared up, everything seemed cool… for a while.
During college my health would turn on a dime. I’d be fine for a few months, and then everything would fall apart. For seemingly no reason, too, I never felt there was a correlation to activity, meds, diet, anything… I felt out of control. My body was self-destructing and there was nothing I could do about it. The doctors and drugs continued since I just kept getting sicker and sicker. The worst part hit after my junior year: huge stress plus a break from some of the meds brought on hair loss. SIGNIFICANT hair loss… I was 21 and GOING BALD. I could deal, mentally, with the stress and the bad skin and the weight but hair loss?? Aah! I knew I had to make changes, but… didn’t. Not for a few more months. What a bad idea. I sat things out until graduation, when I moved home.
With college stressors out of the way, I decided to take time off and focus on my health. I tried all the SAD ways and fad diets and heavy exercise (running, which wrecked up my hips with bursitis and isolation weight machines, which made me weird-looking and bulky). I managed to drop a lot of weight, 150 lbs to 120 lbs, and a decent amount of hair grew back (not all of it, just enough) but I felt awful. I was tired, weak, and still felt like I was “swollen”… I was thin but I looked odd. My face looked almost swollen and my body felt bloated and inflamed all the time. I couldn’t recognize myself in photos, it was so severe. Good ole skinny-fat.
Someone recommended the GI Index to me and it made a lot of sense… Insulin secretion was my big issue with PCOS, so a low-insulinogenic routine clicked. It was easier than other diets but still left me with a huge calorie deficit (cue sugar-binges). However, in the book I was reading, the author was joking about how we evolved on low-GI foods and if we could all eat like cavemen, we’d be in great shape, but “ha-ha, that’s so silly! We need grains and processed foods, it’s a modern world after all.”
This was the greatest possible thing anyone could ever have said to me. I remembered that a friend of mine had started something called “Primal” living. It wasn’t impossible to eat like a caveman! All my problems could potentially be over… people out there are doing this “caveman” thing!! A quick search online brought up Marks Daily Apple and I was smitten. The next week was devoted to reading all things Primal. I consulted nutrition journals to make sure everything was lining up right, and no article or resource pointed to grains = healthy, fat = unhealthy. I started eating Primal right away. Lots of healthy fats, proteins, fruits and veg… Relaxed exercise… It was a remarkably quick transition. There was a sudden surge of energy I hadn’t had for years. My skin cleared, weight fell off, and get this: NEW HAIR GREW. I literally cried with joy when I saw my new hairline filling in.
I’ve continued to see the same endocrinologist a few times a year, always with blood work. I decided to experiment. I finished up the pill and metformin prescriptions I had and, unlike other times I’d stopped taking pills, saw no onset of symptoms. I was healthy, alone, with just Primal Blueprint diet and exercise by the time I went to get blood drawn. The results two weeks later confirmed everything: all my numbers were in range. Mark, friends, this has NEVER happened. All the years I’d struggled with my health, tried different diets and exercise, went on and off a million different meds, my numbers had never been even CLOSE to good. And now, without drugs, they were perfect. Absolutely perfect. The doctor was stunned. He didn’t believe me when I said I stopped taking meds and was eating lots of fat. He advised I get back on meds and switch to a low-fat, low-protein diet, but… nah. I’m good. For the first time in my life, I’m good.
It’s been close to a year now that I’ve been living Primal. I’ve experimented with different foods, different intakes, and occasionally indulge with grains (sorry, sorry, I know they’re bad) always in way smaller amounts than I used to, with very little effect on my overall well-being. CrossFit introduced me to weightlifting, which I love and actually have a rack and 300 lb set in my home. Easy walks, jogs, and bike rides are the norm, and hiking has become such a pleasure now that I have the energy to keep up for long hauls. I’m awake during the day without the gross caffeine that used to be the norm, and I sleep well at night. My weight has settled to about 125 lbs with ~19% body fat. My skin is clear, my hair is better, and I can’t remember the last time I had a migraine. I have the mental acuity to get through difficult projects at work and at home, where before I’d get frustrated and punk out. I get regular monthly cycles. I actually grew half an inch (posture? growth? not sure, but it’s cool either way). My body and face lost that swollen appearance and sensation. I feel like I look the way I’m supposed to.
Mostly, Mark, it’s the freedom. I used to feel great one day, and awful the next. The dread of what might happen next, the uncertainty of my day-to-day health, put a grip of terror on my existence. Years of struggle with my health left me questioning my control. I believed doctors when they told me I’d be an infertile wreck by 30, diabetic by 40, and dead of heart disease by 50. It was a losing battle and I had to simply accept what was my fate… My wretched, disease-ridden fate. I was told PCOS was a disease I was born with and would never overcome. The best I could hope for was to “manage” my condition. I hate that word, “manage”. I didn’t just “manage” my condition, I beat it, and wiped the floor with it. I feel great today, and I’ll feel great tomorrow. Knowing what caused PCOS, and learning how to change those patterns, has completely changed my life. I don’t fear my body. I don’t fear tomorrow, or the coming years. There are no more limits. I am Primal. I am free.
Mark, you haven’t changed my life… You’ve made it possible. You shocked my ignorance of the human body and started a wonderful quest for health and knowledge that I’ll carry with me and share with others forever. I can’t thank you enough.
UPDATE – 09/12
Just wanted to share some good news, regarding my success story from a while ago (PCOS, I didn’t just beat my condition, wiped the floor with it). I recently revisited the sonogram doctor who initially diagnosed me with PCOS. Back in the beginning of this journey he had told us I have a fatty liver, and guess what? Four years after the first sonogram, no more fatty liver! There were 0 indications on the abdominal sonogram of FLD. The ovarian cysts are still there (grr) but this is a HUGE step, and my endocrinologist is super excited about the prognosis.
Many thanks again, all the best to you.