Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...Tell Me More
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 think most of us have experienced a significant occasion that, due to its life changing effects, becomes a milestone in our lives, be it graduation day, the first day of a new job , the day you first met your mate to be, your wedding day, the birth of your child, the death of a loved one, etc. One such recent occasion for me occurred on August 11, 2010 at about 4:45 p.m. while driving south on US Route 119 in Charleston, WV.
I happened to turn the radio on to a local talk show airing on WCHS Radio 580 AM, hosted by Rick Johnson. He was just concluding an interview with a fellow by the name of Mark Sisson about a book he had recently authored called “Primal Blueprint”. I heard just enough to cause me to stop at the nearest bookstore to buy the book but unfortunately they didn’t have it. So I went home and logged onto his website, “Marksdailyapple.com.” And, as they say, “the rest is history.”
Let me back up just a bit to give you a little personal background so you might better understand why that moment in time was to prove to be so significant to me.
I grew up in a family with 12 other siblings. As long as I lived at home our family never owned a car and, as I was to discover in my teen years, we were pretty darned poor, however, we always had food on the table, a roof over our heads, clothes on our backs and were far too proud to seek government assistance for anything. Our diets primarily consisted of cheap high carbs and low protein; the more expensive meat were primarily only for Sunday dinner or special occasions. Mom was well renowned for her baking abilities. (Don’t ever tell her, but we kids used her baked goodies for bartering at school and they surely brought top dollar trades for us.) Our intake consisted of lots of bread, pb&j, rice, beans, potatoes, corn, oats, and, as I mentioned previously, an occasional serving of meat.
With no car, we managed to get plenty of exercise walking everywhere we went and we carried a lot of heavy things. We kids were the grocery mules back then. Try lugging a 25 pound bag of potatoes, 15 pounds of flour, 10 pounds of sugar, 10 loaves of bread, a basket of tomatoes, etc. home from the grocery when you are just a kid. Let me tell you, it’s a load. We also had several paper routes and delivered about 200 newspapers door to door every day. Even with that kind of diet we all managed to stay exceptionally slim (read “skinny”) growing up but we had developed good strength for our sizes as well. As an example, in Basic Training at Fort Benning, at the age of 20, I was 5’- 10” tall and weighed only 135 pounds yet I managed to finish in the top 10% or higher in my company with every physical or academic challenge they presented us.
Let’s fast forward now to my 50’s. I was now married for 30+ years, had seven kids, was a structural engineering department head for a branch office of a nationally recognized engineering firm, was heavily involved in church and school activities and was working long stressful hours at the office. We were always on the go for church, PTA, school pageants, wrestling, baseball, soccer, volleyball, and track, events which usually occurred at several different grade levels and oft times even at different schools. With so many teenagers and all of their accompanying friends to feed, we seemed to live on fast food, chips, pizza, pasta, pb&j, cake and ice cream (lots of special occasions), mashed potatoes (my personal favorite), etc. I topped out at 245 pounds but, unfortunately, I had failed to grow another foot in height to compensate for the added weight gain. I imagine that this sounds like an excerpt straight out of Ken Korg’s diary, doesn’t it?
I really didn’t mind the extra weight at first, at least now I didn’t have to listen to the old jokes about me turning sideways, sticking out my tongue and looking like a zipper or, while playing basketball, hearing, “don’t get too close to him or you might cut yourself on his ribs.” But, I didn’t like the aspect of showing up at our large family reunions and being the largest (read “fattest”) member of our family, a family who seemingly were all masters at dishing out negative humor. I was so embarrassed by my physique that I always wore long pants and a shirt, even when out in the blistering sun on the south Florida beaches.
During this time I began my prescription medication collection with pills first to control my high blood pressure, then added some more for high cholesterol and then added a couple of more for Type II Diabetes. Those combined with all of the supplements I was taking became a pretty big mouthful to swallow several times a day.
To try and gain a little control over my weight I read books on dieting, such as “Sugar Busters”, “The Atkins Diet” and “The South Beach Diet” but with my lifestyle and the fact that I was the only one attempting to diet in the family it was doomed to failure before I ever started and the diets typically lasted only a few weeks at most.
Now let’s fast forward to July of 2010. I sat in my doctor’s office following his exam. He told me that my A1C had been progressively elevating and was now at 7.1. The diabetes pills were no longer effective for me. It was time for me to escalate on to insulin injections. My cholesterol was a whopping 250 and something more needed to be done to reduce it. My EKG apparently showed some abnormalities and he was referring me to a cardiologist. My creatinine levels were also a cause for concern; it appeared that I might have Stage II kidney disease, so he was referring me to a nephrologist as well.
My dad (deceased) had Type I Diabetes which was diagnosed when he was but a teenager and my older brother has Type II Diabetes. Both had to take insulin shots several times daily and I saw firsthand what that entailed and have seen my father in diabetic comas on several occasions. Not pretty! I have also known acquaintances who have suffered eye hemorrhages and amputations due to diabetes. I feared that my health was taking a huge nose dive.
I ask that you try to put yourselves briefly into my shoes for a moment. At this time of my life I am 63 years old. My physical health was progressively failing. I had chronic back pain in both upper and lower back, elbow tendonitis, loss of bone density and terribly achy joints. I could no longer do a single push up or even a sit up. It seemed that my muscles had atrophied from sitting at a desk all day with little to no physical exercise.
My mental health was at low tide as well. Job wise, my upwardly mobile career got caught up in a failing economy and serious downsizing with huge layoffs. I could not afford to retire since my investments were taking a beating and, in order to work, I embarrassingly had to take about a 20 year backward step in my career and start anew. My kids with whom we had invested most of our time and energy were now out of the nest and on their own – they no longer needed me. I was extremely tired all the time; I didn’t sleep well at night. I had become impotent (EDS) somewhere along the way which stripped me of my sense of masculinity. I was getting more and more depressed and I really just didn’t care whether I lived or not. Living was no longer fun. I had no dreams, no future to look forward to, and had no sense of purpose. Then the doc comes along and drops this bombshell on me as well.
Suffering through all of this in quiet desperation, this was what was foremost on my mind that fateful day when I happened to tune in and hear Mark Sisson being interviewed by Rick Johnson on the radio.
I came to realize that basically I was committing suicide one bite at a time with all the “comfort” foods I was consuming. Within about three months after gradually ramping up with the Primal lifestyle I had lost 40 to 50 pounds and was off all medications except for my blood pressure meds. Technically I could still do without them but my BP would run at a high normal so I elected to cut them in half for awhile to see if I can gradually wean myself off of them via other means. I eventually got a clean bill of health from the cardiologist, the nephrologist and my family doc. They were all greatly impressed by the drastic improvements in my physical well-being, something evidently they seldom see in their line of work.
It has now been over a year since I began the Primal lifestyle. I currently weigh 175 pounds and have lost over 60 pounds since I started. My energy level is up and I find myself planning and dreaming of my future once again. Also, I no longer suffer from impotence. I believe that it most likely was a side effect of some of the meds I was taking.
Here is a recent photograph of me carrying 60 pounds of extra baggage that represents all the fat which I have lost.
My LDL is still a bit high (even the bad LDL cells) and my cardiologist suggested that I consider taking medication for it. My response to him was that he could write a prescription if he liked but I would not get it filled. I would rather drop dead right there in his office than to go back on the medications which I had previously been on and to feel the way I did back then. He said that he thought I was being a bit overly dramatic but I assured him that I truly meant every word of it. I will exhaust all other means to reduce that LDL before I will ever consider taking another prescription drug, if I even do so then.
In late December 2010 I decided to take a walk in a state forest about a 30 minute drive from home. It was late morning on a drizzly cold Sunday. The trail I chose was a rutted, dirt maintenance road up a fairly steep incline. The temperature was dropping, mud holes began to ice over and the snow started falling and covering the ground. My energy level was at an all time high. I spontaneously burst into occasional sprints up the mountain. I was alone in the forest and was in rapt awe with nature, the cold wind, the falling snow, the bare trees, and the quietness of the forest surrounding me. It seemed that every one of my sensory receptors were operating in high gear. I searched for a way to describe the keen sense of exhilaration I felt within my being. What popped into my mind was MDA’s logo of Grok charging through the forest with his spear in hand, leaping over fallen trees. The image described me perfectly in that moment. I ended up walking some 13 miles that day, the last 90 minutes of which were in the moonless blackness of deep woods after dark. Talk about a thrill. WOW!
Now, at the age of 64 there are a few things that I have finally come to acknowledge that I will never ever be able to do in this life, like play ball for the NFL, NBA, NHL, or compete in the PGA, become a jet pilot, or ever score a “10” on the LGN charts. Actually for the LGN chart, I think that I might have moved up from a negative number to maybe at least a “1” by now. I learned a long time ago that it’s not the package but what’s inside it that really matters.
I always found it so humiliating in days past when stepping out of the shower in the morning that my two dogs would roll on the floor laughing at me while they made snide remarks about my distorted overweight physique – they gave me no respect at all. Now, maybe I won’t ever rock the LGN charts but at least when I open the shower curtains now my dogs stare in open admiration at the new ALPHA MALE in their lives as they anxiously await me to see what I have in store for them that day. I love it! 🙂
I really don’t consider this to be a “success” story, but rather a “work-in-progress” story. Success to me is a destination at the end of a journey. I am still on my journey but traveling with a lot less baggage, in better mental and physical condition and with a lot more energy, than a year ago.
I will count myself successful when I can stand before my creator someday and hear Him say, “Well done thy good and faithful servant.” To me that will truly mean that I have been successful.
Mark, thank you for all that you and your tribe have done for folks like me. You are a blessing to us all. This story seems far too long to fit into your blog but at the same time I have left out so-o-o-o much more – the sense of joy, the compulsive desire to run and play, the alertness, all the great compliments from friends and associates, and the keen sense of being alive again. Sure there are still aches and pains of aging; sure there are still down days and occasional mood swings, but nothing like my life of a year ago. Again, much thanks and you have my deepest appreciation.
God bless you,