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!

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.


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. 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
  2. :) :) :):) :) :):) :) :):) :) :):) :) :):) :) :):) :) :):) :) :):) :) :):) :) :):) :) :):) :) :):) :) :):) :) :):) :) :)
    …this is what it’s all about. SOO00 happy for ya, stranger and primal sister!

    DThalman wrote on July 31st, 2011
  3. Very inspiring! Thanks for posting, Alison.

    Jeanmarie wrote on July 31st, 2011
  4. Great story, I teared up a little when reading this due to Alison’s strong convictions. Also I don’t care about the photo – from what I gather this was not a triumph over weight loss specifically but rather a hormone condition.

    Pam S. wrote on August 1st, 2011
  5. Congrats!! I’m so happy you found primal living and that it’s working so well for you!

    dani wrote on August 1st, 2011
  6. Very inspiring story Alison!!! Primal/Paleo saved my life too!! You GROK!!!

    Tim wrote on August 2nd, 2011
  7. Hi Alison

    Thank you so much for sharing your inspiring story. I very much hope other PCOS sufferers find your post and are inspired to try the Primal diet.

    I’m so glad you are finally healthy and by the sounds of it very happy.

    Best wishes


    kim wrote on August 2nd, 2011
  8. As a woman with PCOS who is just starting out on the Primal lifestyle, this article nearly brought me to tears. To know that someone else with PCOS was successful mean the world to me, and now I know I’ll never have to *manage* my condition, but that I can also beat it down and mop the floor with it. Thank you so much for your inspriation!

    Elysia wrote on August 4th, 2011
  9. Mark,

    I’ve read countless success stories on your website, all from people who have been on the ‘paleo’ diet for a relatively short time span. This tells us nothing about the sustainability of this program.

    I’ve read similar accounts in regards to a wide range of fad diets – veganism, raw foods, isagenix. I’ve read countless horror stories that resulted after prolonged periods on these diets as well.

    I think you owe it to your readers to re-contact at least some of these people and discover how they have been able to maintain the paleo diet. I would love to see a post of non cherry picked ‘sustainability stories’ on this website.

    Here’s mine incase you are interested:

    I personally had the same experience when I first experimented with the paleo diet. My health quickly took a turn for the worse, however.

    All sorts of inflammatory conditions set in – terrible sinus inflammation, joint pain, inflamed skin, frequent fevers. I also started getting weird infections I’d never experienced before. And no longer could I brag about never getting sick.

    I alo experienced a lot of hypothyroid symptoms – cold hands, low body temperature, fatigue.

    I also lost all exercise tolerance.

    All of those symptoms virtually disappeared with a major reduction in my protein and fat intake. Rice, potatoes, ample fruit, unbleached white flour and pasta brought swift improvements in my health.

    Roberto wrote on August 7th, 2011
  10. I continue you to eat as much animal products as I desire. Unencumbered by dogmatic thinking, that turns out to be far less than what Grok supposedly ate.

    I call my approach “listening to my body”. Imagine that, eh?

    Roberto wrote on August 7th, 2011
  11. Brought tears to my eyes Alison. Good for you girl.

    Brooke wrote on August 8th, 2011
  12. I’m forwarding this article to a close family relative who has been struggling with the same ailment as you, Allison. Thank you for submitting your very encouraging story.

    Julie wrote on August 9th, 2011
  13. WOW!!! I have PCOS as well and since being primal for only two weeks I have people contantly tell me they see a different in my skin and hair, nails. It’s amazing to know all it takes is the right foods and some exercise. I also love crossfit so I can relate to this story in so many ways. I never took the medications because I just couldn’t see myself having to do that for the rest of my life. I am now all about primal and love this site=)

    Sylvia Jimenez wrote on August 19th, 2011
  14. Great job! I too have dealt with pcos for years. Since eating mostly primal (I do eat sprouted grain bread occasionally) since January i have ovulated 3 times! After going almost a year with no period.

    I am not surprised though, lower Carbs diets have been promoted by many “cysters” and leading edge reproductive endocrinologists since the late nineties. I have found this lifestyle the easiest to maintain.

    I do still take my metformin because my body was so out of wack, but I imagine in another 30 lbs lost I should be able stop it.

    I am in the medical field and am saddened by your md’s reaction, but not surprised as nutrition courses are not required. I do disagree though that eating primally cures pcos. It manages it and treats it non pharmacologically by preventing the genetic predisposition to the insulin resistance from manifesting.

    Julie Ferguson wrote on March 31st, 2012
  15. Ugh. Pcos sucks. I just got the official diagnosis and can’t help but feel discouraged that it took 12 years of irregular symptoms for doctors to figure it out. I have been battling weight since I was 16 along with hot flashes and depression. I started the PB in September and although it’s the only diet that helped me lose weight without extreme measures, I was still discouraged to lose weight much slower than others… And stop all together at 7 weeks. I am st a cross roads. Mda has cured my ibs, but metformin has promised a regular life. I think I have to try it.

    Moe crocka wrote on May 13th, 2012
  16. Hey Alison,
    I know you might not see this one year later, but if you do, please reply , I would like to purchase the books for my niece who now has severe pcos and I would really like to help her! My email:

    Jackie wrote on August 20th, 2013
  17. I am almost 39, divorced, no children, devastated in mind and body by PCOS and recurrent miscarriages. I am hoping it’s not too late to recover my health and lose the weight that I have been carrying around for 30 years, hopefully meet someone and have children before menopause ruins my chances. If primal doesn’t work for me, nothing will. I am sick of being obese, sick of having facial hair where it shouldn’t be, sick of being so ashamed of my body that I don’t like going out in public.

    Belinda wrote on October 13th, 2013
    • Belinda,
      I wanted to encourage you on your journey. Keep listening to your body, cleaning up your food choices. Your cravings are just that and may mean you need to increase your fat intake or perhaps salt. I for one needed to do some major “mind over matter” work when it comes to fat intake, it just seems like it’s wrong (all that propaganda of conventional wisdom of low fat, low cal is the road to happiness and health that gave me 30 extra pounds) to go ahead and eat enough of it. However, it really isn’t wrong, now I have no problem adding a tablespoon of butter and one of coconut oil to my coffee every morning because my body needs it. I’m glad you found primal eating and just wanted to encourage you to do the best you can to eat clean, read labels and cook some good food! Throw out all the bad food that has been hold you back. (and oh yeah, that 30 pounds is history!)
      Get up, get dressed up and hold your head up girl, you are on the right road. Glad to have you in our group!

      2Rae wrote on October 13th, 2013
    • You’re not by yourself my friend. I don’t have PCOS, but waited to get married and finish graduate school before thinking of having kids. Now I’m 40, got married 9 months ago, and had a miscarriage 7 months ago. I feel the same way you do. I am insulin resistant, so my doc put me on metformin, which is a medicine that my cousin takes for her PCOS. Like you, I’m hoping that my primal diet will help me conceive and then not miscarry. I just need to kick the Splenda though. I was using Stevia prior to conception. When I got pregnant the doctor told me to stop taking Stevia and take Splenda. He said there were no current research studies on how pregnant women react to Stevia, which I found strange. How could taking something man made while pregnant be better for me than something natural like Stevia? Well anyway, I kept using Splenda and had a miscarriage. Not sure if they the two are related, I just found it strange. Well I’m off topic, but just know you are not alone and I will keep you in my prayers.

      Jackiemarie wrote on October 13th, 2013
  18. I love this story! My friend shared this story with me after I explained my recent doctors visit to confirm if I have PCOS. I must say, I feel like this is the story if my life! I am still waiting on test results, but I was looking for something to help change how I eat so I could have an easier time getting off this extra weight I put on after going off birth control. I love that i have some to relate to and I thank you so much for sharig your story. I has inspired me to make some much needed changes in the way I eat!

    Katrina wrote on October 27th, 2013

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