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!
I should have been happy, I was sitting around a dinner table at a restaurant enjoying a martini with my step-father and talking with the rest of my family. I reached for another roll (I skipped the butter of course) but before I could even take a bite I was lightheaded, dizzy to the point that I had to leave the table. In the bathroom of the restaurant I almost passed out – I had no idea what was wrong with me. What I didn’t know is that I was bleeding inside, and the amount of bleeding was significant. The next day after my morning throne time I noticed that the entire bowel movement was blood – this repeated three times that morning. After a long night in the hospital and a halfhearted diagnosis of “bleeding ulcer” I was discharged and told to see a specialist. The pain and sickness wasn’t new, neither were the intense headaches, but everything was getting worse.
I was at the end of a six year military enlistment and had been unable to pass the physical requirements that year; nobody, including myself could figure out why. About six months before, I was running 15+ miles a week and living in the gym. Now I couldn’t run the required two miles in the allotted time, it wasn’t even close, I had to stop multiple times during the run just to catch my breath before soldiering on for another few hundred yards. I felt such immense shame but it was just the beginning. At the age of 28 my health was collapsing – only a year prior I was in great shape and very active. Below is a photo of my girlfriend (now my wife) and I about a year before I started getting symptoms.
My energy levels, strength and endurance had been collapsing steadily for months – the only other change in my health at the time was intense abdominal pain. After further misdiagnosis my frustration was growing; I couldn’t live the active lifestyle I was enjoying prior to this sickness and the feeling that this was the way I was going to have to live my life was leading me into a deep depression. Weight started to pile on and my physical, emotional and mental health was collapsing. Something had to give.
Finally something did give, my appendix. I woke up in the middle of the night with a sharp pain in a new spot. I knew almost instantly what this was and woke my fiancée (now my lovely wife) and through clenched teeth, told her I needed to go to the ER. At the ER check in I told the nurse what I believed was the problem and then sat to wait for close to an hour. When I was taken in the doctor ran some confirmatory tests and told me what I already knew – appendicitis. Prior to surgery they needed to run blood tests – and this is where it hit the fan. The doctor returned to my room and asked me if I had been “wounded” lately. When I asked for clarification he suggested stab wounds, gun shots or severe lacerations as possible causes for the 7% hematocrit reading he got from my blood samples (normal levels for men are in the 40-50% range).
Amid growing concern I received multiple transfusions over the course of the next several hours before the surgeon went in to remove the pieces of my now ruptured appendix. This entire situation led to several meetings with a new GI specialist. During these meetings over the course of the next few months I asked repeatedly about potential dietary causes to which the only response was – you tested negative for Celiac-Sprue. Eventually we arrived at a diagnosis of Crohn’s disease. This diagnosis led to a feeling of bitter relief. I was relieved to “know” what the cause was even if it meant that I was stuck with this horrible condition for the rest of my days. At the very least I knew what had been causing my health to steadily deteriorate for the past 4-5 years.
The next few years were spent trying different ineffective medications and closely monitoring my bleeding induced anemia – on a good day I could get a reading in the 20-25% range, still a long way from normal. My activity levels continued to decline, and the resulting depression, inflammation and sedentary lifestyle were causing my weight to balloon and my attitude continued to deteriorate. The extra work my heart was having to do to pump my anemic blood faster and harder was leading to blood pressure problems which caused the doctors to prescribe additional medications to alleviate this symptom.
It was a discussion with a gluten sensitive coworker that caused me to revisit the idea that this could be dietary. She described her symptoms prior to eliminating gluten and they mirrored my own – I began to do some research into gluten free living and at roughly the same time my wife suggested I look into this “paleo” diet. There seemed to be a wealth of information available about this particular gluten free lifestyle so I set out to build an exceptionally rigid paleo nutrition plan – I would find out for sure one way or another if this was something I could control myself. It was during this time that I discovered MDA and The Primal Blueprint.
The principles set forth in The Primal Blueprint simply made sense to me. I am a biologist by education with a hobbyist’s interest in evolutionary biology. It would seem this lifestyle was tailor made for me – if by name alone! By this point I had been paleo for a couple of weeks and was already seeing promising signs. Sure, weight was coming off but what was more important to me was the way I was feeling.
It took my body about three to four weeks to “feel” adapted. Eating clean like this was causing all sorts of changes for me. I noticed my ability to taste the subtleties in food was becoming stronger. I attribute this to the absence of all the processed garbage which was creating “noise” for my taste buds. Without all the noise I could enjoy the taste of the food that these additives and their accompanying outrageous sugar and sodium levels had been masking all this time. Other physical changes manifested themselves across an entire spectrum of benefits ranging from dry skin on my elbows going away for the first time in years to the holy grail of my quest – absence of abdominal pain. The inflammation and bleeding had stopped. It is something we obviously take for granted, the ability to eat a meal and not double over in pain. After living that way for years, to not feel gutshot every time I eat is incredible, it still defies description.
Energized by these positive developments I began to exercise, slowly at first – just 20 minutes at a time on the treadmill. I began to up this amount as my strength began to return. It was at this point that I knew I had made the first correct decision about my health that anybody had made in years. From this point on, every small change I made to get myself more in-line with a Primal lifestyle was yielding benefits and they were all complimenting each other. My exercise routine changed from 20 minutes on the treadmill to 30 minutes of outside running, to running longer distances 4+ times a week (bordering on chronic cardio) to my current routine of HIIT days alternating with heavy lift days with shorter runs, swims and hikes thrown in for good measure. I was weighing myself every day, but more to develop an understanding of my body than to monitor weight loss – which was occurring at a steady pace.
My entire attitude and outlook on life has been altered by this lifestyle. The gift of being able to challenge myself physically has been returned to me, and it isn’t a gift that I intend to squander. I’ve developed an addiction to obstacle racing! Here is a picture of me crossing the finish line at the 2013 Spartan Beast world championship race in Killington Vt. For perspective – only 8 months prior I was 115 lbs heavier and so anemic I couldn’t ascend a flight of stairs – my heart would pound so hard that it shook my torso. This race was 12-14 miles long up and down the mountain all day with 40+ obstacles.
It is almost a year to the day since my first steps down this path, although to be perfectly honest my weight hasn’t fluctuated in months. I just had to wait to get my physical results before I submitted this, I wanted the data for that side by side comparison.
It is easy to focus on what I lost during a period of change like this (115 lbs, an array of worthless medications, and frequent headaches) but it is far more valuable to focus on what I gained – energy, confidence, health, speed, strength, vitality and youth; like a phoenix born from the ashes of my prior life.
Sitting down to write this story brought in to stark focus exactly how long and challenging this period of my life has been. Undiagnosed for years, misdiagnosed for even longer – I lost nearly a decade of my most vital years (28-37) because I wasn’t confident enough to make my own decisions about my health. No more, my vitality is mine to control. I know this lifestyle has its fair share of critics and doubters and while I have a hefty repertoire of arguments, counterarguments and even my own openly expressed data sets (see above) I don’t engage in debate. If there is anything this experience taught me it is that there is nobody with a bigger stake in your well-being than yourself, and it is up to you to not only make the change, but to commit to it. It isn’t easy – but it is simple.
It is wonderful to know, that when people do finally reach the point where they know a change is required – there is a wealth of information and a supportive community here at MDA waiting to help them through the metamorphosis. This is something I hope to provide as well with my own upcoming blog dedicated to Primal living. Thanks for reading!