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

I Am, Without a Doubt, In the Best Shape of My Life

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!

First off, thanks so much Mark! Your website has become a daily staple, and I really credit much of my own success to your teachings. It’s truly great to have found MDA!

Where to begin. I always ate carbs. Grew up eating a baguette every evening with dinner, which was almost always loaded with pasta. As an Italian, we loved pasta and bread. I actually wasn’t terrible with sweets until I got to and then left high school, but boy did I love them. During high school, I was your typical story – lots of exercise and sports, and I ate whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. Never really gave it half a thought. As I got older, I knew I should be eating “healthy,” but my definition was way off. I would feel guilty when eating both a chocolate bar and a steak – I really didn’t know the difference, I just knew that I wasn’t listening to my body’s signals, or caring to do so. I just wasn’t at that place in my life yet.

When I got to college, my habits got way worse. Drinking heavily three to four nights a week, tons of junk food and late night pizzas, very little and sporadic exercise, odd sleep routines, and just a general lack of care for my body. Looking back it’s pretty shameful. Regardless, I stayed in relatively decent shape. At 6’2″, I was usually between 185-190 pounds – occasionally hitting the 200 mark. I could get myself down to 175 if I ran and lifted weights for a month, but my motivation never stuck around and I was usually right back to the 190ish spot pretty quickly. By my senior year of college, I noticed that I was developing insomnia, and had real issues with getting regular sleep. I often had stomach aches and nausea, and credited all of my health woes on alcohol. I had seen a doctor or two about recurring nausea, but it never dawned on me that diet could be affecting me. The doc would ask what I ate, I told him, and he’d say “that all sounds normal, stay away from the bad stuff.” Funny how everyone’s definition of “bad” is different…

I graduated in 2007 and drove across the country to California with my best friend. He’s very fit, and we spent about three weeks camping, hiking, and climbing the country. It made me feel a bit ashamed seeing his awesome body next to mine, and I really wanted to get rid of the spare tire I was carrying around. At that point though, I had told myself that it was part of me, some people are lean and some aren’t, and that I should just give it up and accept it. I felt bummed that I could never have a “beach body,” but I sort of let it go. I just assumed that I wasn’t at the gym enough, and that I needed more discipline. Pass the bread!

The next few years were more of the same. Lots of pasta. Lots of Wendy’s. Lots of beer. More stomach aches, bad sleeps, and fat around the belly. By this point, I had met my future wife (Marie) and we were partners in crime. We both love food, and she is an amazing cook – so we’d go to town! I never said no when it came to food. She, too, is Italian, and our meals were typically pasta and grain based. I never got “fat”, per se, but I always carried a load around, and felt sort of weak and unattractive.

In 2009, we decided to move to Korea to teach English for a year. What a rewarding experience! While there, we were going to vacation in Thailand, and Marie wanted to lose some weight for the beach. This was the beginning of our transformation. We didn’t really know what we were doing, but we were trying. We started by cutting deserts and riding our stationary bike for a half hour every night. We started to see some results – nothing amazing, but it was nice dropping a few pounds. After the vacation, we decided to get more serious. I read both of Michael Pollan’s books, and it just made sense to me that we should be eating more “food” and less “stuff.” Being in Korea actually made our transition easy, because they eat so much meat and produce there. I really think I unintentionally started becoming Primal there! I was still totally on carbs though, and I had still yet to make the distinction that grains = bad. After our diet change, Marie and I both committed to doing the “Insanity” workout, by the same guys that do P90X. It was working! Our friends commented on the weight we were losing, and it felt great. By the time we left Korea, I was down to 165. I noticed, however, that I felt tired a lot, and our efforts felt unsustainable. I knew I couldn’t be doing 90 minutes of cardio, six days a week, for the rest of my life. And although I looked noticeably better, I still didn’t feel cut or muscular, at all. If anything, I felt just smaller. But, I was on the right path (critically thinking about what I ate) and had the motivation to look good. I was starting to get a taste of feeling better, and I wanted more.

The next few months were tough. Our hardcore Insanity was done, we were back in the states, and everyone wanted to visit, eat, and drink. I crept back up to 170, and I wasn’t feeling fit. I didn’t look muscular like my fit friends. I was starting to get discouraged. I couldn’t understand it. I was biking a TON (taking up 50-100 mile rides regularly), hitting the gym with weights and group spin classes, and eating like crazy to compensate. I could sort of feel that I was burning myself out a bit, but I figured that this all was good for me, especially according to CW. Meanwhile, Marie is cooking a low fat, moderate protein, moderate carb diet for us. We had the right drive, for the most part, but we were still running off of a lot of misinformation. We were getting better, but it was slowly, and we had a lot of learning to do. Meanwhile, my mother had developed a serious gluten insensitivity, and was dealing with it. So, we had ended up hearing a lot about the evils of gluten for a few months, dealing with her dietary restrictions, and just questioning things in general. This, looking back, was a good precursor for me.

Then, my lucky day. A friend Facebook messaged me and told me to read a book – Good Calories, Bad Calories, by Gary Taubes. I barely got through the first chapter and it all sounded so… right. I zoomed through it. The same friend sent me to MDA next, and I’m eternally grateful. I was immediately hooked. Marie joked about how I needed to shut up – I wouldn’t stop yammering on about all the new things I was learning! She wasn’t convinced, but being the good partner that she is, she let me run my mouth and heard me out. I slowly started to convince her that you were onto something, and we decided to go Primal! It only took me about a week or two to come around. Once I started reading things, I felt “enlightened” and couldn’t eat a sandwich without feeling differently! It just made too much sense to me.

It was remarkably easy, I must admit. I thought it would be way harder. Much of that is probably due to the fact that Marie is such a good cook, she barely missed a beat while switching to Primal, and made it extra easy for me. Our grains became extra veggies and larger servings of meat. My hangover lasted about a week, but I’ve barely ever had any cravings since. People ask me how we do it – I always laugh and tell them that I get to eat the best parts of every meal! We eat so well now – only fresh, local organic fruits and veggies, tons of grass fed beef, bison, and lamb. Fresh bacon, eggs, chicken, and fish. Lots of nuts. Lots of coconut products. Lots of Primal bars! I cheat with chocolate or cake every now and then – but to be honest, it’s not even that tasty anymore. I’d rather have some bacon or a hard boiled egg. Both Marie and I have noticed that even when we go out now, both of us have gotten really good at ordering off the menu yet still staying Primal – it’s easier than you’d think. Many of our friends won’t even notice our wacky orders if we are smart about how we do it. Hah. I never leave the house without a container of almonds, and hard boiled eggs have become a regular quick-snack. Fresh berries have become our desert, and I’ll have an occasional hunk of dark chocolate to satiate the craving.

Our Primal eating coincided with our new found love of rock climbing, which Marie surprised me with one evening. We are now regulars five times a week at our local climbing gym – riding six miles round trip, and climbing for an hour. I feel like climbing is about the most Primal you can get – works every single muscle group, there is great stretching, a few “sprint” moments, and lots of breaks in between. It’s definitely kept me intrigued during my workouts, and I love that every day is different. Just thinking about going back to the weight room makes me roll my eyes… I’ve found greener pastures! It also amazes me every time I walk into the climbing gym how good of shape everyone is in. Just when I’m starting to feel super confident, ten ripped guys will walk by and put me to shame! It reminds me that this sport breeds the “LGN” people – everyone seems to have a killer body! I’ve gotten mine pretty quickly by just doing what Grok would do – climb some stuff! This activity is one I can’t recommend enough, and we’ve already converted several of our friends. If you’re lucky enough to live near one, check it out! I’ve also switched over to some Vibram shoes, which I can’t love enough. Sure, they look goofy and take a few days of getting used to. Well worth the stares. I’m fast and light with these things!

Final results? I am, without a doubt, in the best shape of my life. I’m 6’2″, and running between 155-160 pounds on any given day. I have a six pack! Never thought that would happen in a million years. I have so many arm muscles! I am constantly getting told by friends and family how good I look. Marie stops me mid sentence almost daily to point out some new muscle that is now popping through somewhere. I feel lean and quick, I take stairs three to four at a time every day, I wake up before my alarm, and just feel generally excellent! Primal living just came at such a perfect time for me, as I was really trying to do the right things, but nothing was making exact sense, until this. I haven’t had any tests/numbers run, but my body fat has to be around 6-7%, if not lower. It has literally MELTED off me since I started going Primal. Ten pounds fell off in the first two weeks, and I’ve steadily dropped from about 170 (when I thought I was fit!) to about 157 for mid-day weight. I used to be a TIGHT 34″ pants – I am now having a lot of difficulty finding clothes that fit, and have had to re-do my wardrobe, I’m down to a 31″ waist! I can even squeeze into a 30″ if I try!

The eating has been the beginning, but I can feel the Primal lifestyle taking hold. We have local veggies delivered, we are composting, walking and cycling more, and are just generally concerned about how the world affects us modern day Groks. I feel enlightened. I’m lucky to live in SF, where there are many like minded people, and making changes like this is easy. But I do want people to know that it was surprisingly easy! Sure, cheating happens – but I know that my permanent lifestyle has changed. I know too much now! Although becoming Primal was one of the final steps in my transformation, I really feel that without it, I wouldn’t be complete. It wasn’t until I went full Primal that I saw my last ten pounds of body fat truly melt away. The difference was amazing – Marie and I would literally laugh before bed every day at how good my body was looking! The difference in how I felt, although impossible to quantify, is what sold me. It was incredible how good I started to feel, always! Happy, light, energetic, sharp, fun, and ambitious. I swear, going Primal changed me for the better!

I know, deep down, that this is the right path. It just… feels right. I know it’s anecdotal, I know it’s unscientific, and it goes against what I like – provable hypotheses. Nonetheless, it just feels right in my heart. I’ve been sharing this with everyone. I want to tell the world. I want to open everyone’s eyes! Thanks so much Mark for helping me change my life for the better. We are exploring so many different avenues that we had never before considered, thanks to the Primal lifestyle, and all of the advice that you and the commenters give. I can honestly say that I approach health and living in a totally different (and way better!) way, thanks to you. I really feel grateful that you’ve spent this time to help all of us out! I know I’ll be paying it forward as long as I can speak! I know Marie has a story of her own to post shortly here, as hers is just as good as mine. Here are some pics of me, before and after – in jeans on my 2007 road trip, big-bellied and full faced on vacation in 2009, and then the good ones! The muddy one was me right after I finished Insanity, at a mud festival in Korea. You can tell I was getting excited with my body! And here I am today, on my honeymoon, and back in my house. I couldn’t feel more awesome. I look how I wished I did my whole life! Rock on, go Grok!

4 years ago, before I had even an inkling of Primal.

Two years ago, on vacation. During my “I’m lifting weights, why isn’t it working??” stage. My face is wide! I tried that bathing suit on during my honeymoon… no matter how tight I pulled the strings, it just fell off! So cool!

Started getting better! I’m down to a 33″ waist here, and loving it.

The good stuff! This is me the other day, at 158 lbs. Never thought I’d look like this!

Yeah! Thank you, rock climbing! These muscles were either non-existent or buried underneath – probably a combo of both. Regardless, I couldn’t be happier!

The end* result!

*it never ends… but these are awesome results, in my opinion. I couldn’t be happier! Thank you so, so, so much Mark. I know you must hear this all the time… but really, your writings helped me change the course of my life for the better. I truly feel like the track I’m on is the healthy, sustainable, and conscious one that will lead me through a long, happy, and prosperous life. Thank you. I will forever recommend your book and website.

Check back next Friday for a Primal Blueprint Real Life Story from Nick’s wife, Marie!

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. Very nice transformation.
    This shows exactly what a body looks like before and after grains!

    You went from skinny-fat to totally ripped :-)

    Congrats man

    Primal Palate wrote on July 15th, 2011
  2. Very nice! And I just found a rock climbing gym by my house and it’s really affordable!

    Rick wrote on July 15th, 2011
  3. Amazing! Congratulations to you and Marie! Welcome to the world of healthy eating! You look fabulous and fit!

    Rose wrote on July 15th, 2011
  4. Awesome story, very inspiring, and full of enthusiasm! Way to go and thanks for sharing!

    Dawn wrote on July 15th, 2011
  5. Congratulations!!!

    Charlotte wrote on July 15th, 2011
  6. I feel like Primal sometimes is better for the guys than the girls?

    Meagan wrote on July 15th, 2011
    • Megan, that’s definitely far, far from true. If you’re experiencing less than optimal results, it probably comes from not getting the right macronutrient balance.

      The most common issue I see is usually too much fruit intake, resulting in poor fat adaptation & nutrient partitioning. Sometimes, rarely, it can happen from too much protein, and/or too many calories in general.

      But I’ve seen scores of women do extremely well on this diet program, with the right blend of nutrients. It has nothing to do with sex/gender.

      Luke wrote on July 15th, 2011
      • Make that “with the right blend of foods.”
        We’re eating foods here, and the nutrients just happen to come with them.

        Luke wrote on July 15th, 2011
        • I think that’s what my problem is, I consume too much of a liquid that’s nutritious but also adds up on calories and carbs = Raw Goats Milk.
          I can’t seem to shake my addiction to raw milk. I was born prematurely and was fed artificial ‘milk’ in the hospital for the first 6 weeks of my life. After that I was brought home and my mother made things with pasteurized/homogenized 2% milk. So I never had REAL milk and the things to build a proper body EVER in my life. Maybe I’m just playing catch-up atm.

          Eventually, I hope, I’ll be sick of it and reduce the amount naturally, like a child would do. Until that happens I’ll keep on schlepping along my tiny extra spare tire.

          Suvetar wrote on July 16th, 2011
  7. Congratulations on both you and your wife’s PB success story!
    I am eating PB too, but am struggling to reduce the skinny fat. Only starch that I consume is a 6 oz. (approximately) a day. I do eat 1/2 c or little more of berries each day. Nick, did you remove all starches and fruit to rid of the last excess BF?

    David wrote on July 15th, 2011
    • Oops, the starch food is a sweet potato.

      David wrote on July 15th, 2011
  8. I wish children upon you. OK, I’m kinda kidding. 😉

    glorth2 wrote on July 15th, 2011
  9. Wow! What a transformation! Nick, you are an inspiration. I struggle with the induction flu, but looking at your progress shows me there is hope after that!

    Jason Sandeman wrote on July 15th, 2011
  10. What a great story, thanks for sharing! I went paleo last fall, and am now reading PB to make the switch – don’t want to live without cheese!

    I am hoping your story will help push my husband over the edge and fully embrace PB with me. He now eats what I cook at home, by will eat “good” SAD (low fat, baked chips) at work, and add the bread/tortillas to what I make at home.

    He just noticed it’s not working – he’s got lots of little health annoyances, and he’s putting on weight. Meanwhile, I’m in the best shape of my adult life, even after 2 kids, and I’m rarely sick.

    I don’t know what else to do but keep showing him these stories!

    Erin wrote on July 16th, 2011
    • Erin, my husband can’t shake his addiction to grains and sugar either.
      I’ve been primal for 1.5 years and lost 25 lbs, my weight is now stable without any efforts. I can eat whatever I want all day long as long as it’s part of the PB. My husband however barely takes in any calories, his lunch is a bowl of pop corn, his breakfast is cranola or yogurt with extra sugar and fruit. His dinner consists of taco/tortillas or pizza and bread. His snacks are fruit. He thinks he is eating healthy, but doesn’t realize he is heading toward being diabetic. His Hemoglobin is 6.2 (4-5 is normal), his triglycerides is 235 and his HDL is 34, LDL 112. All of those numbers go hand in hand with diabetes, because he raises his insulin ALL day long, isn’t losing any weight and is exhausted and tired daily.

      We go hiking and it takes him 3 days to recover from it mentally and physically. I, however, take an additional walk around our neighborhood right after the hike. I am bouncing off the walls with energy. My husband calls me a freak. 😛

      Primal Palate wrote on July 16th, 2011
  11. you zoomed through good calories, bad calories??? haha that book took me forever to get through, it’s so information dense

    Burn wrote on July 16th, 2011
  12. Congratulations, you look great! I am trying to convince my husband to eat primal. Since I do most of the cooking he usually has no choice, but he does still eat alot of junk between meals.
    Your story is inspiring. I can’t wait to read your wife’s story!

    Mystic Knotwork Jill wrote on July 16th, 2011
  13. Terrific Nick. You look like a live version of the “The Body”, that traveling exhibit of actual preserved human bodies. Seriously, every muscle striation has been uncovered…amazing to see what’s actually wrapped around our bodies once it’s visible.

    Good story, look forward to Marie’s.

    Peter wrote on July 16th, 2011
  14. Nice work man!!! Love these success stories!

    The Real Food Mama wrote on July 16th, 2011
  15. Tarzan! Congratulations!!

    Alvaro wrote on July 16th, 2011
  16. Wow! Congrats on the great results! This is really inspirational for someone who is just starting out, like myself. Quick question: About how long did it take to start seeing “big” results?

    AJ wrote on July 16th, 2011
    • I’m not sure if this would qualify as the big you are asking about but they have been big for us. My husband has lost 25 pounds in 2 months; I am wearing a size six for the first time in my life and I’ve lost about six pounds when I thought I was already down about as low as I was going to go. We both still have room to grow in terms of muscle definition but it’s coming along. I am definitely seeing more than I’ve ever had before and I feel stronger than I ever have in my life.

      Jessica wrote on July 16th, 2011
  17. Go! What a great story. Thanks!

    slacker wrote on July 16th, 2011
  18. My body has always been similar to your before body, skinny/fat. I always thought guys like us are just cursed with poor hormone profiles, low test/high estrogen. Even when I went to the gym consistently, my muscle took some shape, I’d get compliments from people from time to time, but it’d be still soft to touch. I ways nowhere as ripped as you though. Your story is an inspiration.

    jack wrote on July 17th, 2011
  19. PB and rock climbing does a body good! Nice job on the transformation Nick. Looking forward to hearing your wife’s story next week. :)

    Heidi wrote on July 17th, 2011
  20. Wow, very inspiring, congrats! I have been barbell training for a while, but have gotten bored with it, so I think I might just have to give climbing a try.

    Is climbing 5x/week and the bike commute to the gym pretty much the only “workouts” you and your wife do, or have you added lifting/sprinting etc. as well?

    Amanda wrote on July 18th, 2011
    • Heidi, Nick’s wife, Marie, here…Nick climbs 5 times a week and bikes around 13 miles a day between home/work/gym. When we go climb, we climb between 3 and 6 routes a day, with heights up to 45 feet. We always steam afterwards for 10-15 minutes. We like to go for walks after dinner on nice evenings (not all that often in SF), climbing our neighborhood hills for 20 minutes to an hour. He will occasionally go out and do short sprints but it is by no means a routine. He never lifts weights anymore.

      Marie B. wrote on July 18th, 2011
  21. @Nick – where do you rock climb in SF? I’ve been curious about that (and P90X) in the area.

    danielle wrote on July 19th, 2011
    • Danielle, Nick’s wife, Marie, here. We climb at Planet Granite located at Chrissy Field. I know there is also Mission Cliffs in (ahem) the Mission. Planet Granite also offers Crossfit, (not sure if it’s still at the SF location) which is a high intensity workout class that is like P90X. They also have a large variety of yoga classes, and their power and endurance yoga class is reminiscent of the power yoga we did during the 60 day Insanity videos.

      Marie B. wrote on July 20th, 2011
  22. Way to go man! You didn’t look bad at all in the beginning, but damn, in the end you are a different person! Funny how you can never know what you COULD look like until you do the work. Congrats!

    Patrick wrote on July 20th, 2011
    • Thanks, Patrick! I must admit, it feels good knowing what I had to put into it. I’m never going back now, though!

      Nick wrote on July 23rd, 2011

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