Small Changes Lead to Dramatic Results

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 hated gym class. Especially the mandatory showers down in the locker room dungeon of the school basement. And those uniform gym shorts were obnoxiously baggy on my toothpick legs (think SpongeBob). The obstetrician (pediatricians weren’t invented yet) told my mother I would always be tall and thin.

In middle school, I was no candidate for the Presidential Physical Fitness Award. At 5 foot 10, I had no trouble reaching the chin-up bar, but that was about it. Just hanging there without bending my arms eliminated any possibility of a gold medal. That bar was my arch-nemesis. At least I could touch the ceiling rafters at the top of the rope climb since I only had 98 pounds to hoist all the way up into the stratosphere. It was also a challenge to my parents’ shopping endurance when trying to find bell bottomed pants that would fit the way they were supposed to. And don’t forget the high-heeled shoes… man.

Fast forward 40 years. I still hate the thought of gym class, but weighing in at 168 and standing 6′ 1” barefoot, I can do 8 to 10 mini Primal pull-ups on my makeshift bar in the rafters of our basement ceiling. (I am working up to at least a couple of good “honest” ones.) This might not seem like much of a success story since I am still tall and thin and relatively fit while sliding into a 32×34 pair of pants, but my path did not go straight from point A to point B. There were plenty of twists and turns, ups and downs, pot holes and speed bumps along the way. But there were also some scenic byways, picturesque overlooks, and panoramic views.

I was pretty much a geek growing up, complete with thick glasses. I started out on trumpet in the school band, was in the Science Club, and rode my bike a lot. Living in a small town put everything within walking or biking distance. When some of my gear-head friends were getting cars, I got a new 10-speed bicycle on my 16th birthday. I was in heaven.

I put in many sunny summer afternoons on county roads sailing between patches of cornfields, and even squeezed in a couple of century rides along with several jaunts to Columbus and back over long weekends, pedaling 60 miles each way. In college I played the baritone horn (after switching from trumpet in 8th grade) and was a 3-year member of the Ohio State University Marching Band when Archie Griffin was running for his second Heisman during my freshman year.

Freshman Year

Those were the lean years. Carrying around 145 pounds on a 6 foot 2 frame, I had plenty of weight training back then, from flashing and maneuvering that 15+ pound brass horn coupled with heavy-duty cardio: exhaling continuously through that horn while marching over 100 yards down the field at a pace of 180 steps per minute playing “Buckeye Battle Cry”. And this was just the opening for the pre-game show.

But then in November of 1977 I became entangled in a complicated freak accident where I was figuratively caught between a rock and a hard place and was literally squished across the abdomen resulting in stretched and pulled muscles, torn cartilage from my ribs, a twisted pelvis, and one leg shorter than the other. They did not find any internal damage at the time, but I was sentenced to a sedentary lifestyle at the age of 21. I guess that was o.k., being a geek-type pencil pusher, and I eventually ended up as a Data Analyst specializing in Geographic Information Systems (GIS).

Needless to say, my exercise regimens were limited in scope. Walks around the neighborhood worked, but strolling through art exhibits or meandering around the State Fair proved strenuous at that slow pace. It was hard on the hips, and standing for extended periods of time put pressure on the lower back. I could manage short bicycle trips since I was seated, but they came with a 10 mile round trip limit. Years of chiropractic helped put the hips back in alignment and straighten the leg, but because of the way it originally healed (remember the Crooked Man in the crooked house?), I had to keep coming back for ‘maintenance’. Yoga has helped to maintain my elasticity, though. Throw in some Alexander Technique and Ayurveda and I managed to maneuver around.

Life continued to happen: school, work, marriage, relocation, more school, more work, helping to bring two red-headed boys into the world while gaining five pounds per child (or is that supposed to apply to the mother?). Recent family holiday photos reveal a few decades of accumulation (Christmas 2011 with our pre-Primal, pre grain-free cats).

Christmas Card 2011

Then came that pivotal check up in May of 2012 with my Nurse Practitioner. I had been teetering on the edge for several years, but this set of blood tests pushed me over the limit. It was SAD but true: I had become a product of Conventional Wisdom’s Standard American Diet. The numbers went something like this:

Blood results

I was a prime candidate for Syndrome X and type II diabetes.

I was already on a prescription to control my blood pressure, and I did not like the idea of signing up for any new medications. I had briefly been on statins a few years back, but that was like wearing one of those lead vests they put on you when getting x-rays at the dentist’s office. For a month I was continually fatigued, my muscles were weak, and the walks up that hill down the street became a climb up Mt. Everest. Taking that pill to help reduce cholesterol while attempting to increase exercising as a lifestyle change to achieve the same goal seemed to be self-defeating.

Now, handed these latest numbers, something had to change.

The first thing to go was sugar (pop). Then came salty fried stuff (French fries and potato cakes) along with other saturated fats (margarine, vegetable oils) and processed food. My Nurse Practitioner said something about carbs and pasta, so… you guessed it.

During this preliminary phase, both the Mrs. and I had been exploring more healthy diets with the hope of shedding a few unwanted pounds. Her sister had found something that worked for her, and the two of them incorporated that strategy into mealtimes for a week while visiting their father during the summer. I had found a book among my mother’s things that addressed sugar and the glucose/insulin roller coaster, and I had a chance to apply some of the principles explained in those pages during my week of bachelorhood. Soon after the Mrs. got back home, we joined forces and started experimenting with what we had discovered. But it seemed like both of our new approaches centered around just managing and regulating that glucose/insulin cycle using high fiber foods and complex carbohydrates.

Stuck right in the middle of all these discoveries was our cruise to Alaska in July. We both ate like typical cruisers, but we stayed active exploring the ship and enjoying shore excursions. We also made better choices from the endless and vast selection of available food – fewer pasta dishes, no sugar-laden beverages, lean meats accompanied by more fruits and veggies, bacon and eggs for breakfast, and, of course, a daily dip of ice cream – don’t forget the simple pleasures! But even though we both ate till we were full, upon returning home to our bathroom scales a week later, the dial had barely budged from where we left it. We must have been doing something right.

During the cruise we attended a workshop discussing metabolism and detox. There are different ways to do it (detox), but unless you scrape off all the chips of old paint and get rid of the moisture issues, the freshly painted wall is just going to crack and peel again. And if you keep throwing mud at your nice clean wall, unless you have a peculiar affinity for Mud Art, the room will never really be a nice room. That is where the Primal Blueprint comes in.

Since we were already in “detox” mode, we continued cleaning up our act. Besides the dietary changes we had made prior to the cruise, we learned more about the water we drink and the containers that we drink it from. [See The Choice Is Clear (1971) by Dr. Allen E. Banik and Plastic Free (2012) by Beth Terry] If you ever have a question about something or a desire to find out more about anything at all, there is Google. Type in “safe water bottles”. Hit enter.

One of the search results linked to Mark’s Daily Apple where some guy with the same name as mine and being about the same vintage – but looking more like 40 – was giving his take on water bottles. I loved his writing style, his attitude, his undying curiosity, and his outlook on life. I began exploring his website further and discovered The Primal Blueprint.

One fundamental thrust of this new “ancient” lifestyle was eliminating grains from the diet. I found this to be greatly reinforced and explained in Dr. William Davis’ book, Wheat Belly. Up to this point, after each modification to our eating habits with its accompanying weight loss, homeostasis would soon settle in and the bathroom scales would start creeping back up again. But taking the Primal “plunge” in late October 2012 (Happy Primal Anniversary! by the way), I ate my last spoonful of grain based cereal and drank my last glass of fruit juice for breakfast.

As a direct result of that one little change, my next blood test results in February 2013 were dramatic. After a year of being Primal fat burners, the numbers settled down and both of us had shed pounds without really trying. The Mrs. had reached her goal by dropping 20 pounds and stepping into her jeans two sizes smaller. She had other health related targets she was pursuing, and has become re-vitalized as a result of going Primal. She also happens to work in a library and has had dozens of opportunities to “suggest” the Primal Blueprint to patrons checking out other books related to diet and health, and the library’s three copies seem to be in circulation most of the time.

Blood results

Along with the improved numbers, my prescribed dosage for blood pressure medicine has gone from 10 mg to 2.5 mg, and my weight has been hovering around 168 for many months. Some additional things may be due more to the weight loss and reduced systemic inflammation, but my ankles are no longer swollen (edema), my back, hip, and knees don’t ache any more, the stairs are no longer a strain, and I have more vibrant energy. The time between chiropractor visits has stretched from 3 weeks to 6. And I somehow managed to side-step the cold and flu season last year while the rest of the office staff were dropping like flies.

Today I still play the baritone and euphonium in a British style brass band and ring handbells. I go nowhere at a moderate pace on my stationary exer-cycle with an occasional “sprint”. I move frequently out to the warehouse and back to my cubicle every hour at work followed by a dozen Primal Squats. Yoga has become so much more effective and meaningful. And I don’t miss pop or fries or hot dogs or breakfast cereal or juice or pasta or bread, but guided by the Calton’s Rich Food, Poor Food GPS, I love exploring cooking and combining new things that are wholesome and taste full-flavored which don’t leave me in a food coma for the rest of the day. The funny thing is, when I backslide and indulge in a couple of cookies or a stack of pancakes, all my joints ache for at least two days.

There are still a few things to work out like improving some of the numbers, increasing the Primal Essential Movements (PEMs), and doing some visceral fine tuning (translation: ripped abs). We are all a work in progress, but after reading The Primal Blueprint, I have gained new insight and a deeper appreciation for how we are designed and put together, and I have a renewed respect for the Designer.

Mark - Primal Anniversay, Oct. 2013

Grok on!

Mark W.

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