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Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
24 Jan

My Entire Attitude and Outlook on Life Has Been Altered by This Lifestyle

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 2I 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Before
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After

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!

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. Hi,

    My name is Nizam from Malaysia.Congratulations on your success.I’ve only been primal for about 3 months and I’ve down around 10 kgs or around 20 pounds.I never felt this great before..

    I never miss to come here every week as success stories fuels my strength to keep moving on with this lifestyle in a country where rice and grain are the staple food.

    Congrats to Mark and co. for all your hard work and dedication.

    You guys are the best…

    Nizam wrote on January 25th, 2014
  2. I needed a story like that today…you look like Grok with a haircut ! Thank you!

    Steve B wrote on January 25th, 2014
  3. I am one week in. Still sedentary. Waiting for my machine to be delivered. I had a wake up call and started to do some research. Discovered Paleo, then Primal. Decided on Primal. Waiting for the book. I am an overweight 58 year old woman who has a TON of life yet to live. I appreciate your story AND your ability to write well. I also appreciate knowing it took about a month to really turn it around in how you felt. My taste is more appreciative of real flavors. That is the only change I am noticing just yet. Don’t own a scale so am not going crazy about numbers, but my apple belly hasn’t changed yet bc my pants are fitting the same. I found your story very encouraging. Thank you.

    Buster wrote on January 25th, 2014
  4. One of my friends has Crohns. She has had it since she was a teenager. She had a flair-up recently and can not get better. Her specialist has referred her to another specialist at the Cleveland Clinic. I have made mention to her before about ditching grains- no interest. Funny thing- she posted on Facebook about seeing this new specialist and a few other people chimed in, asking if she had tried a gluten-free diet. No response. I would love to send her this article, but she is putting so much faith in doctors and medicine, that she won’t consider this. I’m hoping one day (soon), she will realize…

    “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.”

    Heather wrote on January 25th, 2014
  5. Your story brought me to tears; I can only imagine the pain you were going through and to find relief and a new outlook on life just makes me so happy for you and yours. Cheers to your new health and happiness!

    Rachel wrote on January 25th, 2014
  6. This is the most moving MDA success story I’ve read. It is just incredible – and I’m wondering what your doctors’ reactions have been?

    I have a history of obesity; I lost 80 pounds over 25 years ago – but never felt well or energetic. I was always dragging; I’d literally will myself to walk and walk – this for years! It’s only now with this type of diet – and I’m 58 – that I’m feeling something resembling normal energy.

    Unfortunately, I can’t get my body truly thin; I’d have to be starving, and that’s no good. But, like you I know I’ve found the right way to eat, and having decent energy is enough, is a huge gift. A little chubby is okay. Congratulations. Your story is incredibly inspiring, and I look forward to reading your blog – I hope Mark will provide a link to it when it’s up. Wonderful!

    Debbie wrote on January 25th, 2014
  7. Congratulations to you on your health makeover. And, you look great,too. Nothing is better than feeling good.

    Mountaingirl wrote on January 26th, 2014
  8. I’m curious… what is your Hct running these days?

    I’m a lab rat… clinical testing in a hospital(would have FREAKED out seeing a 7 Hct on a man your age!).

    I see lab results and read diagnoses/histories and totally want to go to the patient’s bedside and just hand them a card with the MDA website. Or a copy of Primal Blueprint! It kills me that SO many patients coming through the doors will not learn of any of this.

    Amazing transformation! Congrats!

    k.c. wrote on January 26th, 2014
  9. Scary how often I hear of people who get a negative test for coeliac but still get their health and life back by cutting out gluten altogether …… albeit against their doctor’s advice! It can be quite a challenge but also very liberating to go against the establishment and take responsibility for your own health.

    Good on you and thank you for taking the time to share.

    kate wrote on January 26th, 2014
  10. It is a rare doctor that will look to dietary changes to help a medical problem. I have only met two, and, of course, they are into Paleo and CrossFit themselves so they practice what they preach. I wonder why it takes hitting rock bottom to make the change. Why can’t more people read up about Primal/Paleo and make the change BEFORE they get to this point? Very sad, but kudos to all of the Friday MDA game-changers! You inspire us all.

    Claire wrote on January 26th, 2014
  11. That’s awesome, congrats on the transformation!

    Jim Petzke wrote on January 26th, 2014
  12. It’s a sad commentary on health and health care in general when young people are given a handful of medication and treated like they are decades older than they are because being obese and sick in your twenties is considered normal. Great post and congrats!

    April wrote on January 26th, 2014
  13. Quick note on the blood test. There is absolutely NO way you would be alive with a hematocrit of 7%. There is No Way. You would be dead. You most likely had a hemoglobin of 7 g/dl. This is still very dangerous BTW. Hematocrit is roughly about 3 x your hemoglobin so most likley it was ~21%. Which is again dangerously low. Often time medical professionals will show an “H&H” which is a hemoglobin and hematocrit. Though they are very similar they are different lab values. But love the story nonetheless!
    Source: I’m a APRN

    MeeA wrote on January 26th, 2014
    • 7% was what I was told when I was hospitalized with appendicitis. It was a single measurement followed immediately by 3 transfusions and a week long hospital stay. Regular readings after this event were in the low 20s. I am positive it was not a hemoglobin reading.

      Primal and Proud wrote on January 27th, 2014
      • Apologies for any confusion, my comment info must be different on my tablet.

        Meea, I’m actually happy you brought this up. I was trying to understand the timing of that reading. Would it make sense that somebody who was at 20% already who then had their appendix burst could drop that low? That was the only time it dropped that low, the readings for the following months were in the low 20s.

        Dave R wrote on January 27th, 2014
      • I had a hematocrit of 7 too (decades ago now). I wore a Holter (cardiac) monitor for 24 hrs, and had lots of tachycardia. I was still teaching tai chi three nights a week and working (a desk job) every day. {shrug} I was beyond exhausted and the thing that finally drove me to the doc was climbing a hill after class panting my lungs out and my poor heart was pounding so hard it was trying to jump out of my chest. I’m sure a part of it was hypothyroidism (which I only learned about some 20 years later) and, of course, my diet was crap! (mostly pasta with butter and grated cheese with either burger or {wince} soy hotdogs cut into it. I’m not sure a 7 hematocrit is necessarily a death sentence; but fer shure it’s VERY unhealthy. Whether someone that low is dead or merely close to incapacitated may depend on the person…

        Elenor wrote on January 27th, 2014
  14. What an inspiring story! Thank you so much for sharing.

    Mindy wrote on January 27th, 2014
  15. great story! very inspiring

    n/a wrote on January 28th, 2014
  16. Fantastic story. Your “debating” style is precisely the same as mine. When I say paleo has worked wonders for me and others argue that it’s a weird fad, my response is always the same: if a grain-intensive diet is working for you – if you are as lean, happy and healthy as you want to be – hooray for you! Keep it up! It never worked for me, so giving it up was a worthwhile experiment.

    perelmanfan wrote on January 28th, 2014
  17. Love it! Congratulations to your renewed health!

    valerie v wrote on January 29th, 2014
  18. Thank you for posting your story. It gives me so much hope. I have been reading this site off and on for a year dabbling in this. Your story is the tipping point for me. My doctor appt. today was an annual check-in for my hyperthyroidism which is “under control”. I feel like crap, am incredibly lethargic and have gained 30+ lbs since I have been “regulated”. I am done and want to feel better!

    My journey to wellness begins with this post. Thank you again.

    Linda wrote on January 29th, 2014
  19. Awesome story man! Thanks for spending the time to share it with everyone. Even though I do not have any of those problems you were having, it was still very inspiring.

    BT wrote on January 29th, 2014
  20. I love this story!! I love your line that “it’s not easy, but it’s simple” this is so true!! I struggle every day, but know it will get easier.

    Naomi wrote on January 29th, 2014
  21. Wow! I have tried half heartily tried to live Primal, but I’m inspired by this story. Doc tells me I’m borderline diabetic so I’ve decided to stop playing games and venture 100% in living the Primal lifestyle. I’ll keep you all posted.

    Old School Runner in Nashville TN wrote on January 29th, 2014
  22. Beautifully written and inspiring story! Was looking for a name….

    Consuelo wrote on January 30th, 2014
    • Whoops, should have included one. Hi, I am Dave :)

      Primal and Proud wrote on February 10th, 2014
  23. Beautiful, well-written story with a happy ending and good pictures! What could be better?

    joey wrote on January 31st, 2014
  24. A very AWESOME and every more INSPIRING story to continue to embrace this lifestyle. When I first started last July I didn’t fully grasp the true benefits if you follow the way. I just recently finished the 30 day Paleo with all gusto and honesty and I’m proud to say I’m went from a size 20/22 last year to being able to wear size 16 Petite in slacks and jeans. The feeling is awesome and I owe it all to my Chiropractor, Dr. James Matthews, who first introduced me to Paleo. I’ve made strides I never thought possible. Will be able to handle a knee replacement redo healthier and lighter next month. Thank you. I have read the Primal Blueprint and will be reading up on the Primal 90 Day Journal and 21 Day Total Body Transformation while recovering at the hospital and home. Once I get the medical clearance I plan to get back to my exercising in earnest. Continued success to all.

    Monica wrote on February 11th, 2014
  25. Thank you for sharing your story. I have had Crohn’s disease for almost 20 years, with a resection done 10 years ago. I feel like portions of your story are so familiar and it continues to blow my mind that modern medicine will not embrace diet changes with inflammatory bowel disease or many other diseases for that matter.

    Over the last 1 1/2 years I have enjoyed better health through paleo/primal and crossfit. I know I have a long way to go, and that most of the time I just need to buckle down. Reading your story provides that inspiration. I have Crohn’s, Crohn’s doesn’t have me!
    Thank you :)

    Steph wrote on March 23rd, 2014
  26. I love these stories. As others have said, it seems to me that well-intentioned weight-loss ‘experts’ have been neglecting overall health as the starting point to a weight loss programme. I am so impressed with this story, both for its scientific info as well as the poster’s faith in himself. That’s as inspiring as the weight loss story. I sincerely wish you a long and healthy life. :)

    Jac wrote on April 5th, 2014

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