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

I Didn’t Just “Manage” My Condition, I Beat It, and Wiped the Floor With It

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!

real life stories stories 1 2

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.

Sincerely,

Alison

UPDATE – 09/12

Hi!

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.

Alison

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. Your story brought tears to my eyes. I was diagnosed with Type II a few years ago at a relatively young age. It was a slap in the face as I thought I was following a healthy lifestyle and on the surface looked healthy. (Although I’d suffered from the same terrible dips in energy you describe that always made me think something was wrong).

    I threw in the towel and accepted defeat rather than taking the bull by the horns as you did. Your story has inspired me to stop being a victim and take control of my health.

    Shema wrote on July 29th, 2011
  2. Wow!
    Just wow. Keep it up, and keep spreading the word.

    Turbo Kelly wrote on July 29th, 2011
  3. Wish you had shown us some pictures of before and after.

    Kerry wrote on July 29th, 2011
  4. Just a great story Alison!

    It’s so nice to see that others have had similar results when going primal. I am certain that I was suffering from undiagnosed PCOS, with migraines and VERY irregular cycles for nearly 16 years. I found it astonishing that the month after my transition to the primal lifestyle, it returned and has been like clockwork ever since. Now if only my sister, who has been diagnosed with PCOS, would be a little more open-minded, I think it would definitely benefit her. Maybe I will send her a not-so-subtle link to your fabulous success story! :)

    Heidi wrote on July 29th, 2011
  5. Alison, this is ME!!!!! Omg, I’ve been reading up on primal, started it, then got the stomach flu and could only eat soft carbs to keep my energy up. But now I’m better and I know I need do this. I’m 29 and I bet I’m an infertile wreck by now! PCOS is so frustrating and doctors just wanna shove all kinds of nasty pills into us! Not any more!

    M wrote on July 29th, 2011
  6. Super invigorating to hear of such amazing results. Congrats Alison.

    I’ve noticed that my eyelashes are growing like crazy. Is that weird or what?

    Melissa wrote on July 29th, 2011
  7. So very happy for you Alison!!

    FoCo Girl wrote on July 29th, 2011
  8. Thanks for the story, my little sister (14)has PCOS and has a lot of these same issues.

    Irregular menstrual cycle’s, goes through the good and bad spells, and gets sick a lot of the time when she shouldn’t be. (Like having colds in the summer) I forwarded this link along to her in hopes that she reads it.

    I hope that your story will help her and others.

    G wrote on July 29th, 2011
  9. What a story…it brought tears to my eyes.

    Naomi wrote on July 29th, 2011
  10. Same story. I am now eating between 50g and 100g of carb a day and lifting a lot of heavy things and slowly but surely this weight is coming off. I lost 7 lbs last month. I have 40 more to go–sigh. But, at least now I know what works for me and what doesn’t. Jogging around for 5 years and doing Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers as my docs recommended was NOT IT!

    Rebecca wrote on July 29th, 2011
    • Most awesome. congrats to you!

      Patrick wrote on July 29th, 2011
  11. Wow – such a great outcome! Thank you for taking the time to share this. An inspiration to many – and Mark, you have been the impetus for all this! I am so very grateful for your enthusiasm for spreading the word. Life Changing!

    Lori Taylor wrote on July 29th, 2011
  12. Awesome story!

    Dana wrote on July 29th, 2011
  13. Thankyou for sharing. I am planning to wipe the floor with my spondyloarthritis (autoimmune arthritis associated with gut issues, which is treated with a low starch diet ie a natural healthy diet lol), and your story is inspiring. Give me a year and maybe I’ll have my own!

    K wrote on July 29th, 2011
  14. Inspiring story but the photos are what I really look forward to each Friday! Can you give us some, Alison? It would be the icing on the cake (or the coconut oil on the free-range eggs!) for this wonderful story!

    Anne wrote on July 29th, 2011
  15. I’m so happy for you Alison. Thanks for sharing your story with us.

    Charlotte wrote on July 29th, 2011
  16. Got goose bumps when you turned the corner and I knew how it was going to end…Grok always wins!

    Ham-bone wrote on July 29th, 2011
  17. Well done, Alison! Such a great story. Despite all that happened, you’ve been open to new things, and you’ve given them a try – long enough to see and feel the good effects. And then you kept going with them until you transformed your self in so many ways. There are a lot of people out there who won’t give Primal a try, and won’t walk into a CrossFit gym. I admire you for doing both and so many other things. Thanks so much for sharing!

    Susan Alexander wrote on July 29th, 2011
  18. I can never stop saying how motivational these stories are every friday. I love them and it gives me the motivation to help others to make the transition to a healthier lifestyle. I willingly give my time to help others get healthy. Keep putting them up Mark because it is what everyone loves to see.

    Chris Tamme wrote on July 29th, 2011
  19. Awesome, I can feel the power of you taking control in your words. I am so happy for you and you are very inspiring!!

    Cindi wrote on July 29th, 2011
  20. Alison, what an inspiring story. I am only 7 weeks into primal but notice a big difference already, especially emotionally. I got adenomyosis in my 40’s and wish I knew then what I know now because I believe it was due to hormonal imbalance and am hoping that my thinning hair will recover. Good for you, trying until you got it right!

    marika wrote on July 29th, 2011
  21. Alison, this is so cool! Freedom is what it’s all about, and I’m so happy you found it. It’s amazing how fresh and energetic your body feels once you rid it of all the crap we fill it up with! Congratulations! Live it up!

    Nick wrote on July 29th, 2011
  22. Wow!

    I agree with one of the previous statements – one of the most inspiring success stories I’ve ever read!

    Congratulations! Amazing what listening to your body can do :)

    primalprairiecupboard wrote on July 29th, 2011
  23. Pics or it didn’t happen

    JForce wrote on July 29th, 2011
    • Not everyone is comfortable putting pictures of themselves on the internet.

      Stop being an asshole.

      Uncephalized wrote on July 29th, 2011
    • I find this to be a curious response. What could be her motivation for not telling the truth? What would be her gain. Maybe she just doesn’t want to show her face. Hopefully, she could care less if you believe her or not. I certainly wouldn’t care what you think.

      John wrote on July 29th, 2011
  24. Thank you so much for sharing this story. It made me very emotional because I am currently fighting this health battle myself. I was diagnosed with PCOS as well, and want to use the primal way of eating to overcome this disorder instead of meds. Right now I have been on the primal diet for almost 3 weeks. Already feeling better, but I know it will take awhile to feel the full effects! I started a blog about it in hopes that one day I can help others get through this naturally, and give hope to people that they can overcome this just as you have! Thanks again!

    Natalie wrote on July 29th, 2011
  25. HOORAY and thank you for sharing your amazing story!!!!!!!

    Dawn wrote on July 29th, 2011
  26. WOW!!! great story. AMA Blahhh!

    Dasbutch wrote on July 29th, 2011
  27. Thank you for sharing your story! The best thing is that you listened to your body and never gave up trying to feel better. It’s just like something deep down inside told you that meds were not the answer and you listened, educated yourself, most importantly kept an open mind and made it happened! Hopefully your post will be forwarded to lots of gals with PCOS or it’s symptoms and they, too, will keep an open mind and at least try they way you did.

    I have to admit my favorite stories are the ones that prove the doctors and CW wrong and we seem to be getting lots and lots of those lately!

    All the best to you, Alison!

    PrimalGrandma wrote on July 29th, 2011
  28. OMG!!! your story has alot of elements that I can relate to!!! When menstration hit me it hit me hard and I just wanted to die. I have alot of the clasic symptoms of PCOS. However, they have gotten alto better since switching to primal.

    primal tree top wrote on July 29th, 2011
  29. So happy for you! thanks for sharing.

    Shelley C wrote on July 30th, 2011
  30. Amazing story, Alison!

    Reading these each week continues to inspire me, I just wish some of the people in my life would at least listen… The biggest issue with two of them (two of my best friends) is helping them understand that grains/fat switch – both friends are following Weight Watchers, one of whom has been doing so for about 15 months and lost something like 80lbs (his goal is 100), for the last couple of months he’s been yo-yo-ing around the same weight (putting on a couple of pounds then losing them again, but not actually losing weight anymore) and he’s frustrated… I’ve tried to explain Primal to him, that his carb intake will be stopping him losing more weight, is messing with his energy levels and insomnia and joint pain and, and… you get the idea, but no he says he’ll stick with what he has been doing cos he’s got this far… the other friend has been following WW for a couple of months and just had a heart attack. His doc is INSISTING on a low fat (well low everything really by the sounds of it) diet… I just cringed… I know I can’t make them do anything they don’t want to, but I get frustrated cos I care and worry about them, and I know from even just these few last months Primal the difference it makes… Maybe I’ll forward them a few of the best stories (including this one) – they probably won’t read them, but at least I tried, and they might just look around the website…

    Jo wrote on July 30th, 2011
  31. Great story Allison, thank you for sharing, I hope to share my story some day.

    Brenda wrote on July 30th, 2011
  32. Good for you. Doctors, almost a swear word in my book. You took control and figured it out for yourself. Right on sister. Thanks for motivationg us.

    Dave wrote on July 30th, 2011
  33. What an inspirational story…Thank you for sharing Allison!

    Billy wrote on July 30th, 2011
  34. Fantastic!

    This: “He advised I get back on meds and switch to a low-fat, low-protein diet” is just INSANE.

    Cecilia wrote on July 30th, 2011
  35. Alison, your story made me cry. So glad to hear of your success.

    Christine wrote on July 30th, 2011
  36. Alison – wonderful story – thankyou so much for sharing. A great issue to discuss especially with the PCOS link to syndrome X inflammation, linked to heart disease, diabetes etc

    I was diagnosed with significant PCOS (via a scan) about 10 years ago when my staple vegetarian diet was lots of rice, pasta, oats etc. Since then I’ve done lots of yoga, shiatsu, acupuncture etc and followed a paleo diet for a couple of years (but not particularly well as I was too hungry & bored by it) and then primal for the last 6 months (not hungry/bored anymore!).

    At a recent scan, there was absolutely no sign whatsoever of PCOS (the technician’s didn’t believe me when I said I had been diagnosed with it – I think they thought I was making it up!). My cycle for about the last 4 months has been wonderful – totally regular, virtually no PMS, short and (guys turn away now) a flow with the most wonderfully vibrant & healthy colour! It’s almost nice to get my period. This is in total contrast to 10 years ago when I would have pmt for about 2 weeks and it turned me into a monster.

    I have lost weight and am becoming leaner but am still definately curvy (although maybe lean curvy is a good look?!). I need to lose about another 25lbs as the fancy scales said I was 30% body fat.

    My problem is that my skin still isn’t quite normal. It’s still oily with lots of blackheads and pimples and my hair is still greasy(& I’m 43!). Heck even my ears get really greasy. I’m wondering if it will all clear up as I continue with primal or if I should cut out remaining dairy (which is just a few yoghurts a week, butter for cooking and milk in daily tea). Would IF help? Any supplements that would help, as I’ve obviously still got an issue with those androgens.

    Any ideas anyone? I thought I should have outgrown greasy grotty teenagers skin by now.

    Debs wrote on July 30th, 2011
  37. Would love an update pic!

    Either way, congrats. Its liberating, no?

    xo

    taratootie wrote on July 30th, 2011
  38. I found Mark’s Daily Apple a couple weeks ago and have been considering going Primal. Allison, your post caught my attention because… well… it’s very simillar to my own experience. My medical history reads something like this… major weight loss, menstration loss, major weight gain (but still no period), enter the pill, OK for a while, hair loss (all of it!), cycles of weight gain/loss and binging, all the while chronically deficient in iron and B12 and terribly fatigued. Over the last few years, I have also developed some terrible stomache/digestion symptoms (I’ll spare you all a description). Unlike you, I never got an accurate diagnosis. My latest diagonis was celiac disease, but that, like all the others, has proved inaccurate. I have always eaten quite well and excercised regularly. As a result, my condition is manageable but my life is far from normal. The possibility that a purely Primal lifestyle could eliminate my symptoms completely is earth shattering. After reading your post, I think I will go Primal whole heartedly. Here’s hoping I will be posting a simillar success story in the coming months.

    Sam wrote on July 31st, 2011
  39. As a fellow PCOSer, I’d like to complement Alison’s story with a few of my own observations.

    PCOS often calls for the most stringent version of Primal diet. For many of us with PCOS even Mark’s Big-Ass salad may be too much carbohydrate in one sitting, or even in a day. Given that PCOS is caused by insulin resistance, one has to be in constant awareness of blood sugar impact of their every meal. My blood glucose meter has become my best friend, as Dr. William Davis of Heart Scan Blog explains so persuasively.

    While for some, a Primal diet may be an ultimate solution, for others it will only minimize the symptoms of PCOS. Primal diet and Primal living will make you feel great, get you lean and strong, improve blood test results, reestablish regular cycles … but many will still NOT OVULATE despite having regular periods. And if you do not ovulate, you do not have PCOS under control with plenty of negative consequences, including infertility.

    This leads me to my final point. If PCOS has ravaged you for years and you have developed full-blown insulin resistance with sugar spiking in response to even moderate carb intake, and if your hormonal system got so out of balance that you never ovulate and your ovaries do not make any progesterone, then you must not be afraid to give PCOS a lethal blow by augmenting your Primal diet with properly dosed medication (lower dose if you are eating Primal). Metformin is well-studied, long-used and highly effective at increasing insulin sensitivity, while bioidentical progesterone (brand Prometrium, or compounded) could help reset ovulation. Dr. Jerilynn C. Prior (M.D., Professor of Endocrinology and Metabolism at the University of British regarded by many as the world’s foremost expert on progesterone,) has a handout on how to use progesterone for PCOS treatment.

    As Mark himself has eloquently stated, while describing Dr. Emily Deans’ attitudes to use of medications on her blog ‘Evolutionary Psychiatry’: “That’s Primal in a nutshell, really: taking advantage of all the unique benefits of both modernity and tradition when they make sense”. PCOS is a highly complex and stubborn condition, especially when left unaddressed during puberty, and while eating Primal is a cornerstone of the treatment, it may not be enough for many. So, if your PCOS isn’t wiped out by the diet alone, as Alison’s was, don’t get discouraged and don’t quit eating Primal. Learn about your insulin, check your hormone levels, and give metformin and progesterone a fair consideration. Taking a medication when it’s prudent to do so, does not constitute a “betrayal”of Primal living, or a personal failure, since Primal diet alone can’t be a silver bullet in many cases. This combo of traditional/modern approach may not make for some misty-eyed reading, but it can deal a blow to a depressing condition that is PCOS.

    Daria wrote on July 31st, 2011
  40. :) :) :):) :) :):) :) :):) :) :):) :) :):) :) :):) :) :):) :) :):) :) :):) :) :):) :) :):) :) :):) :) :):) :) :):) :) :)
    …this is what it’s all about. SOO00 happy for ya, stranger and primal sister!

    DThalman wrote on July 31st, 2011

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