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

Shift Your Body Fat to Reframe Your 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!

Dear Mark,

First of all, a great thank you for your work and offering MDA as a constant flow of good Primal advice and inspiration!

My success with the Primal lifestyle has not been as straightforward as some of the other experiences shared here. I am a 26 year old German man, living in Scotland and I am married with two children (1 and 3 years old). I lived in Germany for the first 19 years of my life and in all that time, I think it is safe to say I had some form of processed carbohydrates for each meal. We have a very strong bread culture back home and whole wheat bread is considered the basis of a healthy lifestyle. Although I had some weight struggles as a young teen, due to too many sodas, I would have considered myself fit for the most part of my high school years. Two big influences on my understanding of fitness in my young adult life were my father and a nutrition class I took back in school. My dad is a sports teacher and thus he always encouraged me to do sports, but chronic cardio and strength training sessions lasting for well over an hour were considered a must. The nutrition class back in school was heavily based on Conventional Wisdom’s understanding of which foods are “scientifically” considered best for our bodies. As a result I ended up spending three days a week doing 3 hours of cardio interspersed with weight lifting machine workouts in the gym in my last two years in high school. However, I never saw all my efforts pay off. This was extremely frustrating to me, as I counted the calories I burned in my gym sessions (around 1,500 kcals on a good day) and I would only add an extra 1,000 kcal to my daily consumption, which in my mind left me with a significant caloric deficit. But I guess adding more hash browns and fruit juice to my evening meal might not have been a very smart move on my part!

Once I had completed high school, I left for a gap year to Scotland and subsequently started University there as well as working full-time. I had set myself the goal to get properly fit once and for all and my active work environment was definitely helpful (wood-chopping in the Scottish winter is one Primal workout!). However, Scotland provided several challenges in that regard with one being the local “cuisine”, where apart from Haggis, deep-fried pizza with fries on top as well as a deep-fried chocolate bar are considered local specialties. Another factor was that I met my wife there and a new relationship brought a lot of relaxing with comfort foods with it. Nevertheless, I kept looking for alternatives to my previous eating habits and started experimenting with a more vegetarian lifestyle. This, however, only resulted in me eating more often and being extremely sleepy after my carb-heavy meals. Once I started Uni in my second year in Scotland, I met a Norwegian guy and somewhere along the line he discovered MDA, fully absorbed the Primal lifestyle and had incredible results. Since he was constantly preaching about it, I thought I would give it a try. This was the time before The Primal Blueprint was published and I never fully read my way through it all at MDA, but took away the points of eating lots of veggies and meat. At the same time I experimented with Intermittent Fasting and had great success with that. But then, due to my busy lifestyle and daily commutes, I switched from eating veggies to fruit and low quality meats. Once that happened it was only a small step backwards to a CW lifestyle. With the stresses of an ever increasing Uni workload (I study Economics), more responsibilities at work with me and my wife taking on managerial positions, us having our first child as well as the preparations for our wedding, takeaway meals became more and more of a habit. I still visited MDA from time to time, but somehow I never properly adopted the PB lifestyle. At the time of our wedding, both me and my wife were working out in the gym around 3 times a week and tried to look our best (see pictures below), but somehow we looked even bigger than we did when we first met.


Shortly after our wedding, my wife’s parents were in search of losing weight and they remembered me talking about the PB. So they went ahead, studied the books (from my Primal/Paleo library, which had been collecting dust for the past years), cleared out their pantry, stocked it with Primal approved foods and started exercising. Both of them had visible success within a couple of weeks and were highly enjoying their new lifestyle. This got me and my wife thinking and we made a promise to ourselves that we would do it together this time round, since we knew that being Primal definitely worked. Starting on January 1st 2013 we both shifted our exercise regimes, with me dropping my gym membership altogether, and we both ate Primal approved foods from then onwards.

Within six weeks I went from 200lbs at 6ft to 187lbs whilst dropping 4% of body fat and building muscle. I am now at 179lbs with 14% body fat, which is down from 21% measured at the start of our Primal transformation.

My wife went from 144lbs to 127lbs today whilst also losing 7% of body fat in the process.

Tobi and Harriet Emonts-Holley

For the past few months the shifts in our weight have been more gradual, but we find that we both have reached our ideal body composition, given that we are both working, looking after two toddlers at home and I am also studying full-time for a PhD at the same time. My wife is slimmer and fitter now than she was before she had kids. She often skips meals without even noticing it and her skin is glowing all the time now. For my part,  I have never been this fit in my life with my energy levels constantly being high. When I am asked what type of workout I do, I feel embarrassed to say that I do not follow any particular program. I do pull-ups, dips and push-ups on a daily basis, but never a completely fixed number or set of exercises. I do what I feel like, for example, when the weather in Scotland is not too wet and windy (remember this is a country where you can literally experience all three seasons: Fall, Winter and Spring in one day), I will strap on my 26lbs weight vest, one kid in a rucksack on the back and one in a sling in the front and go hiking in the hills for 30mins.

Tobi and KidsHaving said that, the flexibility that the Primal lifestyle allows us is the biggest benefit in my eyes. If we spent a few days without breaking a sweat then that’s ok. Equally, just having been on holiday in wonderful California, I am able to hike with the kids in the morning, rest at lunchtime in the sun and then go out kayaking with my boy. The Primal lifestyle is extremely individualistic and everybody can really just do what their bodies tell them and still get into fantastic shape. I feel I have much more energy for a wider variety of activities than especially in comparison to my gym-marathon times.

Another important revelation of our Primal journey has been that we need to pass on these eating and movement habits to our children, albeit them still being very young. It has been very interesting to see that both of them enjoy their Primal lunches of avocado, meat, cucumber and carrot sticks much more than the previously served good old wholegrain sandwich. Also, they both love beef jerky and we have now our own food dehydrator so we can make our own organic jerky. With our kids we have experienced much more stable energy levels with hardly any mood swings as well as our son showing a huge reduction in the eczema that he has been suffering from for nearly two years.

Finally, I wanted to share a thought with you that has accompanied me over the past half year. My life always seems to be very busy with a lot of demands. Especially with us having two young children, it got to a point where I was not too sure that I could manage it all. The transformation that both my wife and I have experienced, however, gave me a daily proof that anything is possible if we put our minds to it and the extra energy from our Primal lifestyle has led to a huge productivity boost. Having gone Primal has not simply shifted body fat for us, it has changed our enjoyment of life and we are hopeful that our story might help someone, who is not too sure about it all to simply give it a go and experience another Primal transformation along the way!

Thank you,

Tobi and Harriet Emonts-Holley

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. Ah, this is a lovely success story! Glückwünsche to all the Emonts-Holley family.

    PrimalParkGirl wrote on August 9th, 2013
  2. congrats!
    great story and gorgeous kids; hats with animal ears on little kids always make me smile.

    harry p. wrote on August 9th, 2013
  3. What a fantastic story, and what a gorgeous family!! that photo of you with the two kids strapped to you made me smile. And I’m glad to hear your son’s eczema is going away! Well done!

    Charlotte wrote on August 9th, 2013
  4. Sounds like you have found a great way of living!

    I just wanted to ask if it was going back to CW or eating fruit that was a problem from the body comp wise? Did you have detrimental effects from just eating fruit in addition to/instead of vegetables, or they did not show up when you went back to CW, i.e. eating fruit was Okay?

    [quote]But then, due to my busy lifestyle and daily commutes, I switched from eating veggies to fruit and low quality meats. Once that happened it was only a small step backwards to a CW lifestyle.[/quote]

    leida wrote on August 9th, 2013
    • Hi,
      the problem was that I just considered fruit to be ok and did not fully understand the impact too much fructose would have on my body. So I ate fruit without limits and that got my body back to a carb-burning mode and thus the slip back to CW eating style.
      I have no problem eating fruit now, but obviously I moderate it now with two pieces per day on average.

      Tobi wrote on August 9th, 2013
      • Good explanation. I’m not big on veggies, and consider fruit to be an improvement over all the grains I was eating. Maybe I should pay closer attention to how much I’m getting.

        Vanessa wrote on August 9th, 2013
        • I have gone through several phases of carb-fear and carb-loving, but in the end if you’re talking about specific real-food sources of carbs, fruit is not the enemy.

          I would be astonished if you could overeat fructose from fruit unless you’re a fruitarian and eating little else – whether you’re talking about body composition or general health.

          “low-dose fructose (≤10g/meal) may benefit glycaemic control”

          Whitefox999 wrote on August 11th, 2013
  5. I love the photo of you with your kids! You guys look great and so happy! I am delighted for you and your family.

    Rhonda the Red wrote on August 9th, 2013
  6. Exemplary story! Be proud, you’re doing it all, with no excuses – just being the best you can be for yourselves and to serve as the ultimate role models for your kids to follow.

    Paula wrote on August 9th, 2013
  7. I love the picture of you and your kids – you all look so happy! Congratulations and way to go :)

    Nick wrote on August 9th, 2013
  8. This is so inspiring!

    Stacey wrote on August 9th, 2013
  9. Stress free fun! That’s what it’s all about! Awesome that you guys chose to do whatever it took to get in shape and maintain that for your family! Life can get crazy so making exercise a priority is key no matter how or where you do it! Congrats on the success guys!

    William wrote on August 9th, 2013
  10. What a wonderful story. Thank you!

    gibson wrote on August 9th, 2013
  11. Sounds like you and your family have found the “sweet spot”. Congratulations!!

    JennF wrote on August 9th, 2013
    • Great way of putting it. Yes, it does feel like we have found the “sweet spot”. Once you know what to eat, how to listen to your body properly and not shy away from moving around it is just fun rather than a tedious program one has to follow

      Tobi wrote on August 9th, 2013
  12. Well done to you and your lovely family – happy and healthy, who could ask for more?!

    Grokesque wrote on August 9th, 2013
  13. Love seeing you use your kids as part of your primal fitness! It’s just another example of how we can make primal living fit into whatever phase of life we are in. Congrats!

    Myra wrote on August 9th, 2013
  14. WOW!! You both look great! Congratulations on your success and your lovely family

    DP wrote on August 9th, 2013
  15. Wholesome! Please submit photos when you take your family to the Alps!

    Julie wrote on August 9th, 2013
  16. did you really eat haggis?

    Erin wrote on August 9th, 2013
  17. did you really eat haggis? also, congratulations! I love reading these success stories and especially nice to hear from those in different countries.

    Erin wrote on August 9th, 2013
    • Of course! Although Haggis is not really Primal given all the grains in it, it is absolutely delicious!!

      Tobi wrote on August 9th, 2013
  18. You guys look so Happy and Healthy ! Gorgeous! Beautiful family. Thank you so much for sharing. :-)

    Alexandra wrote on August 9th, 2013
  19. In hardly anytime at all. Change, if you choose, is right around the corner. Wonderful story!!

    Linda A. Lavid wrote on August 9th, 2013
  20. Congrats on the success! Beautiful kids too!

    Joe wrote on August 9th, 2013
  21. Nice work, Toby and Harriet. A very inspirational story for those who think they are too busy to stick with the PB. Grok on!

    James wrote on August 9th, 2013
  22. best.weightvest.ever!

    Peggy wrote on August 9th, 2013
    • I just don’t know what to do if we had a third child…

      Tobi wrote on August 9th, 2013
  23. Haggis rocks!

    Scott UK wrote on August 9th, 2013
  24. Eine wunderbare Erfolgsgeschichte! Sie und Ihre Kinder sind sehr niedlich! Glueckwuenche!

    Froggy wrote on August 9th, 2013
  25. Congratulations to all of you. It is wonderful you have found, as someone said earlier, your “sweet spot”, especially in Scotland where it is all too easy to curl up and eat comfort food. Deep-fried Mars Bars are too frightening to behold but you have gone way beyond the norm and hopefully are encouraging others around you with your example. Great job! And your wife looks a beautiful “wee lassie.” :-)

    Alison Golden wrote on August 9th, 2013
  26. Congratulations! Reading your success is motivating me to get back on track food-wise, and put the fun back into my fitness routine. Thanks for sharing.

    Julie wrote on August 9th, 2013
    • Thanks, this is what we hoped our story might achieve. Inspiring even a single person to get back on track makes all the more worthwhile!

      Tobi wrote on August 9th, 2013
  27. You tried to go vegetarian in Scotland, up near the Arctic Circle?! That must have been a miserable experience.

    Gratuliere on the Primal success you’re having!

    Moshen wrote on August 9th, 2013
    • Well, luckily it is not too close to the Arctic Circle although it might feel like it at times. But you are right, especially when it is cold outside and the wind sucks the heat right out of your body, you need some good fat energy rather than any other energy source!

      Tobi wrote on August 9th, 2013
  28. You lazy bum, get back to the gym–2 hours of treadmill!

    Kidding of course–great story very well told. You two are fortunate, and perhaps even more so are your kids–way to go!

    Tom B-D wrote on August 9th, 2013
    • I am sorry, I will set up a new gym membership straight away!

      Yes, we feel most passionate about our children’s health now. But it seems that we needed to experience the immense benefits first ourselves before we could truly see the amazing power of the Primal lifestyle. We will never go back to the CW lifestyle and I hope my kids will stay right on course for their lives too.

      Tobi wrote on August 9th, 2013
  29. I love reading these transformation stories!

    Hilary wrote on August 9th, 2013
  30. You both make it look so easy when we know that a busy life + two children + new country + school = lots of extra focus and energy. Best of luck to the four of you!

    Vanessa wrote on August 9th, 2013
  31. Great story. Most people who diet don’t realize why it doesn’t work. Lifestyle changes that you can sustain are the way to go and you two prove that. Well done.

    Tom T. wrote on August 9th, 2013
  32. Hi everybody,

    thank you so so much for all those wonderful, warm and supportive comments! We are thrilled that our story has been shared here on MDA, and one of the most amazing parts of it has been this, your feedback. We love being part of the Primal community! Thank you all!

    Tobi wrote on August 9th, 2013
  33. great transformation! you both looked great on your wedding day, and now, you’re even healthier! i love how this is a whole-family thing for you, and that you have more energy for LIFE now.

    Jenny wrote on August 9th, 2013
  34. So how did the in-laws do? Are they still Primal?

    You all look incredibly happy and healthy. That’s the biggest reward, I think: happiness and health.

    Lisa T wrote on August 9th, 2013
    • Well, they seem to have experienced a similar fall back to CW as I had. So I am hoping that this story now inspires them in turn again, that way we keep up the good life altogether!

      Tobias wrote on August 9th, 2013
  35. Love your story, congratulations and thanks for telling us about your success. You guys all look so happy and fit.

    Perhaps by the time you have another child (?) your eldest will be trotting along side of you, bursting with his own energy for walking, and you will still carry the other two.

    Isn’t it amazing how these stories make the world feel so small – I sit in Melbourne Australia, reading about a German guy, living in Scotland, who follows the principles of a guy in the USA. Gotta love the internet.

    And yes, how did the in-laws go with the Primal lifestyle?

    HillyM wrote on August 9th, 2013
    • Doesnt it? I am an Aussie, living in Edinburgh Scotland, who has been thinking and researching a Primal way of living for the past 18 months and who has been struggling to fully commit to the lifestyle for the past month. I am so sick of feeling bloated and tired from all these grains (not to mention the digestive issues I have experienced for the past 10 years (and I’m only 24) which have really gotten me down).

      Tobi, you and your wife’s story has inspired me to put down the deep fried mars bars and haggis and to make a permanent change in my lifestyle and health in country where comfort food is taken to a new level and drinking is national sport. Thank you both for your timely inspiration!

      Ps. your bairns are the cutest!

      Lauren wrote on August 9th, 2013
      • Hi Lauren,
        thanks for your comment! I feel there is a case to be made for a “Northern Primal Community”, as I think that it is certainly harder to find the ‘sweet spot’ up here. Having been to California just a few weeks ago, we found staying active outdoors and not requiring comfy foods against the cold are much easier. My experience is that you need to build up some mental toughness to really be able to turn down the bread at the beginning of a meal out or try to navigate your way through dinners at work/conferences. Also, being able to say “I don’t eat bread” is a much stronger statement than “I can’t”!

        Tobias wrote on August 9th, 2013
  36. Congratulations, what a beautiful family you have, looks like we will be starting as a family over the weekend, have dabbled myself, and you have proved that you can do it in Scotland with our weather, thank you for the inspirational story Tobi, all the very best for your future in Bonnie Scotland.

    Karo, Scotland wrote on August 9th, 2013
  37. What does Grokette Harriet do for fitness? She lost close to 20 lbs and looks amazing! Does her workout “routine” differ from yours (e.g., does she sprint, lift weights, etc.)? Does she eat the same things as you do? :)

    FrancescaCBY wrote on August 9th, 2013
    • Hi,
      her workout routine is quite different from mine. I walk a lot, do bodyweight exercises and kettlebells sporadically. She does a lot of Pilates, Yoga and Zumba. We found that having fun with your workout is the top priority! She felt that she wanted to lose weight rather than lose muscle, but I think the fear of bulking up has gone away now and she has started incorporating bodyweight exercises into her workout routines as well.
      We do eat the same thing most of the time, but I do eat more. That results in me having either bigger portions or an extra meal (e.g. breakfast when she doesn’t feel the need for it). I hope this was helpful?

      Tobi wrote on August 9th, 2013

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