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

The “Aha” Moment: When Clarity Happens and Real Change Begins

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!

My wife Amy and I have been married for 14 years, we have 2 wonderful boys, I have a great job, and a nice home in a quaint city, and over the years we have been slowly falling apart.

I’m the kind of guy that carries his weight well, that’s what I’ve been told. I was active all my young life, track, football, martial arts, I could eat anything and burn it off and I always preached the best way to stay fit was exercise; the rest will take care of itself.

Amy was an average weight tomboy kid, an overweight teen and then leaned out again her senior year of high school. She played ice hockey and roller hockey in a men’s league and started to rebuild overweight self-esteem issues. Her weight loss was short lived though once she moved away from home. As a young adult in a new town alone, she returned to boredom eating. Stopping at the grocery on Friday nights after work and picking up a frozen pizza, doughnuts, and ice cream to get through a lonely weekend.

When we met in 1997. I was skinny, I was stressed and unhappy and she changed all that. Being young at heart and mind, our 16 year age difference didn’t concern me. We set up house and that’s when life started to get good. I’m a chef by profession and I’ve been told I show my love through food, by the time our first son arrived; we looked like a whole lotta love. All through her pregnancy I cooked every comfort food in my repertoire, she extreme couponed stacks of Hamburger Helper and junk foods, and I would do my magic with fresh veggies and tomato sauces, pasta 5 times a week was not unheard of and bread was usually on the menu in some form every day. My “sympathy pregnancy weight” ballooned to 225  lbs and Amy hit 250+, but we were happy, remember? We avoided mirrors and settled in with comfy pants with New Year’s resolutions in the back of our minds, until we had a picture snapped of us with our new born son at a Christmas party. It was not us, it was two people in fat suits. Our son was diagnosed with autism at 15 months old which was just another stressor added as we tried to figure out how to cope.

We spent the next 10 ten years yo-yo’ing up and down the scale. When we would try diets, I was insistent that too much sugar was our issue and Amy felt that it was too many carbs – neither us of agreeing with the other at the same time. So we would start off on our separate diets at the same time and inevitably end up sabotaging each other within a week or two – over and over. A second pregnancy and another son diagnosed on the autistic spectrum plus moving our household 5 times for various reasons over the years all factored in as well. I finally moved out of the kitchen and into a management “suit and tie position” where I suddenly found myself in front of a computer and now even the exercise of running around a kitchen had stopped and my weight tipped the 200 mark… again.

The insurance plan I was enrolled in required a physical and I secretly looked forward to it because I had started to feel something was wrong, I felt like I was closer to 70 years old rather than 50. I had problems getting out of bed, hangovers were worse, and I really felt like death warmed over most of the time. My fears were confirmed and my doctor read me the riot act about making changes in my life, so Amy and I made a plan, yeah the New Year’s resolution diet…two weeks later…5 lbs gained..back to drawing board.

February 2011 we came across your site touting a new way of thinking about how our body works and the word “diet”, and it struck a beautiful chord with us. Up until now I had always thought weight loss was all about exercise, and our new way of thinking became about what we put into our body, and sugar AND bad carbs was at the crux of it all. We tossed everything in the house that said sugar, corn syrup, or had any grain in it, and if wasn’t fresh it hit the trash.

Co-workers were less than supportive at first, lots of funny looks, scratching heads, rolling eyes, the laughter and “yeah right, caveman” comments flew everywhere. They offered up cake and candy like body snatcher pods to tempt me back into the fold on a daily basis. The headaches were non-stop; I carried 3 types of aspirin to experiment with for the dull thump of sugar withdrawal.

Life at home was much different and that made all the difference. With all the crap out of the pantry (except the kids SAD food) we had the beginnings of a culinary playground and Amy had recipes and fresh foods waiting for me when I walked in the door. All at once another positive, my creative side renewed itself, it was almost like a market basket competition from culinary school every day, and I had to find new and creative ways to make good food without sugar, bread or opening a box. We purchased several books with great recipes and experimented with eliminating or substituting SAD ingredients with Primal whole foods; it was easy and tasted great. We also started photographing and posting pictures online and the kudos from the paleo community were always welcome.

The weeks ticked by quickly and the first 30 days ended, and instead of feeling like Lent was over it felt more like jumping off the high dive, the headaches were long gone, food tasted better, my mood had improved, and I was pissing off the candy crowd. The fat suit was still wrapped around me but I felt lighter, quicker, and faster. I wasn’t having the 2:00 PM snooze desires anymore. I was actually thinking about how I could be spending my empty minutes…exercising? We added sack time and with only a few exceptions religiously cut off electronics and TV at curfew for a nine hour sleep date every night.

I think it was right about the 6-month mark was the beginning of my “aha” moment. We were eating fresh/ organic foods, grass-fed meats when we could, I was exercising at least 3 times a week, our SCOBY was getting thick and the kombucha recipe was perfect. The pictures of us were showing different people, but we were changing, too. A renewed interest in how we cared for each other and our kids was beginning to find its way into our home, and problems at work didn’t piss me off, I just solved them. I smiled more, a helluva lot more. Everything we had read was coming true and weight/diet wasn’t important anymore. We still wanted to look good naked, but everything else we were doing became the focus and weight became the by-product. We had been sitting on our asses getting heavier and letting life slip away from us, no longer wanting to fight back, and that was taking its toll on every aspect of our lives.

I can say for a fact that this past year and a half has been one of the most exciting years of my life, doors have been opened in more ways than I can say here, and I only see it getting better for the rest of our lives. I wanted to be fit and happy at 50, instead I was sick and depressed. At 53 now, I consider myself to be healthier than most 25 year olds I know and I’m still getting stronger every day. Amy looks radiant, I can’t keep my eyes off her and she grows younger and more beautiful every time I look at her. As a couple we have turned our lives around completely, and we live fearlessly now knowing we can face any challenges thrown our way (look out Mudders and CrossFitters). I can’t think of any more perfect way to spend the rest of our lives together, eating well, playing and exercising, and loving each other and our kids.

Thanks Mark for all your help and wise words, and thanks to this wonderful community we’ve become part of, I know we’ll spend our lives “Paleoing it forward” until everyone gets it like we did.

Ed Smith

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. Incredible. Ed, what’s your routine for those abs? Amazing, an inspiration for the rest of us for sure.

    Joe wrote on July 27th, 2012
    • Thanks Joe and Carl (below), Day one of the whole 30 I could squeeze 1 pull-up and maybe a dozen push-ups. Mark has a PDF on progressive exercises and I started using that to move forward. I start each morning with “the sun salute” yoga and I have increased my push-ups to 70 a day. I know this is shoulders and pecs but great for core as well. I found a water line in our basement at work that I pass several times a day, each time I pass under I do 10 pull-ups or 10 toe-ups. I love doing V-sits with a 10lb. medicine ball and the killer is dragon flags, 3 sets of 8, that’ll get you there. When I do pull-ups I do them legs extended straight out too. Thanks

      Ed wrote on July 28th, 2012
  2. When I read your story I got tears in my eyes… it means a lot to me that people take control over their lives. Then when I read you’ve started home-educating your boys, a whole new set of emotions came up!! Wow, I love it!!!
    We are a home-ed family with three kids (7, 9 & 14) who have not ever spent one day in school and I acknowledge that our shift to primal with our whole family has been easy because there wasn’t any pressure from peers at school. No lunch boxes to be made. This doesn’t mean they don’t LOVE a piece of bread when they stay with friends. But that’s totally okay with us. 95% of the time they eat primal and are living to their full potential! Hurray!!
    And I guess that’s what you want for your boys; living to THEIR full potential, whatever that means. But they don’t need to be compared to anyone else.
    lots of love, Irma, New Zealand

    PS I’ve just finished reading ‘The Unschooling Unmanual’ and got inspired once again. Do you know it?

    Irma wrote on July 27th, 2012
    • Yes, I finally decided to follow my mommy gut and pulled my son out of school last Christmas break. The calls from school about his behavior were becoming more numerous and peers picking on him was starting to increase. He’s reached that middle school age where peers are hard on typical kids let alone an autistic boy that enjoys talking about the behind the scenes production value of Sesame Street.

      The drugs that he was on to help him focus and curb his impulsiveness were also making him pick at his body and have out of control pica issues. Asking him to attend, follow rules, be on his best behavior and to block out sensory distractions for 8 hrs a day just became too much.

      Now he can sit and focus and finish his school day in about 3 hrs at home and he absolutely loves it. No extra busy work, no noisy sensory overload assembly’s, no miserable recess time.
      When I was trying to make the decision, of course, everyone mentions the social interaction you get at school. The Dr said to me “Well if the social interaction he’s getting at school isn’t positive social interaction then there’s no point of that being a reason to stay”

      Now he goes on field trips with students from his online school, has swimming and horseback riding lessons and positive social interactions in the community. We’ve removed one of the drugs he was on and are weaning him off the other.

      I will look into the book you’ve mentioned – one can never have enough inspiration 😉

      thank you!

      Amy wrote on July 28th, 2012
    • Funny how primal and homeschooling seem to go hand in hand. I think it has to do with starting to think outside of the box that conventional wisdom has shoved down our throats all these years…

      tracy wrote on July 31st, 2012
  3. Another inspirational gem. However could you elaborate a tad more about the exercise regime you follow. Those 6 packs looser!

    Carl wrote on July 27th, 2012
  4. Another inspirational gem. However could you elaborate a tad more about the exercise regime you follow. Those 6 packs super!

    Carl wrote on July 27th, 2012
  5. Ed & Amy: Thank you for sharing your wonderful story and also for your follow-ups in the comments section. I always appreciate when Friday folks take the time to do that.

    Nancy wrote on July 27th, 2012
    • We poured over this submission until we felt like we had said it all and pushed send, and then all the things we wished would could have said came to us,,, I did say there were so many little benefits to going Paleo that have changed our lives and that is so true.

      Ed wrote on July 28th, 2012
  6. Congrats, well done -welcome to the rest of your life!!!

    Paul wrote on July 28th, 2012
  7. This is a great story. I haven’t read all the comments but noticed a lot of comments about your children. I read your comment about not feeling guilt. I think you are right on here. It’s not your fault. Society is to blame though and I think that is something we can all agree with. We are what my holistic dentist recently described as “early adopters”. Sometimes it’s hard to keep the faith in the face of CW. I am so thankful my own issues led us, my wife and our very young children down this path. My wife and I are quietly convinced things would have been very different for one of our children. Try saying something like that on Facebook:) Congrats man!

    Ken Lawler wrote on July 28th, 2012
  8. Hi Amy,

    Just wanted to chime in here to say that I also have an autistic son and, like you, I feel that my diet when I was pregnant is at least partly responsible. I was so sick (peripheral neuropathy and many other issues) when he was three that I finally changed my diet and the transformation was amazing. It’s only then that I really realized the importance of diet.

    Then I finally put him on a completely Paleo diet, and he responded extremely well. This led me to find a DAN! nutritionist, who helped me do some testing to confirm that my son was extremely gluten intolerant. As you mentioned, keeping a kid on a restrictive diet is extremely difficult (especially with older kids). Having the lab test confirmation does make it easier, though.

    If your kids are still having gut problems, there are lots of potential issues (other than gluten) that could be addressed. I encourage you to look into it if you are interested. Feel free to contact me if you like for information sharing/moral support (Facebook: Mary Antico in Montreal).

    Mary wrote on July 28th, 2012
  9. Great story! I feel your pain with transitioning kids. I have two with sensory processing disorder. My 7 yr old has a severe food aversion/eating disorder with oral motor delays. He will only eat around 5 foods at any given time period and they all are SAD, carb loaded processed foods. It is hard on the rest of us to see these tempting foods in our house. Everyone told us to just give him only primal foods.Well, he starved himself to malnourishment. It’s just not that black and white. Until yesterday. His allergy test results came back. He is allergic to wheat, gluten, eggs (ughh), soy, rye, peanuts, and much to my dismay coconut. The doctor looked at him and told him he could not eat those foods anymore. That meant more to him then anything I ever said. He is a rule follower. So far we have found 4 foods he can eat: organic cheese puffs, yogurt (yes, with sugar), GoGo and Enviro cereal. Not primal but much closer. He shocked me today by saying he would eat bananas. He eats zero produce and only bacon so this is a start. One thing I did that seems to help is make menu cards. I cut pictures of primal foods and if he picks one to eat, he gets a check mark. 10 marks = toy (never food reward). That also worked with my daughter. They love their menus. They also get a check mark for eating any food they see us eat. It keeps us in line knowing we have “watchers”. Much like you, I wish I had known this stuff earlier. My 2 yr old is thriving Primal but all I can do is move forward with my knowledge and try to help my other two. I highly recommend the book Mark talked about a few weeks back regarding autism. It has been so helpful! Good luck and congrats on your change.

    Stacey Murphy wrote on July 28th, 2012
  10. Amazing story. Thanks for sharing. You two look so healthy and happy! Isn’t it wonderful to have a road map of how to get to that healthy place?

    teena christopherson wrote on July 28th, 2012
  11. Dude,
    VFF and abs! I love it. I just turned 52 myself and have had similar result after just a couple months of being Primal. I always thought I could exercise my way out of a not so good diet if I just worked out more… The belly fat fell off and I found my abs after a few weeks of being Primal… My Friday success story is in the works.
    Congratulations to you and your wife.

    FredS wrote on July 28th, 2012
  12. As a fiftysomething, just starting out in primal eating, this was helpful and inspiring. Thanks for your story.

    Becalope wrote on July 28th, 2012
  13. Wow! I’m 45 and have been low carbing and living primal for 4 months now and it’s great. Climbed Mt. Sinai in Egypt last week in my Vibrams! But I need to get some structured exercise in my life and you guys have inspired me to get the Primal Fitness thing going! Thanks for sharing your story and best wishes to you both.

    Greg wrote on July 28th, 2012
  14. Fan-freaking-tastic, a great story well told. I love how this has been the key to getting a whole new grip on life, with home schooling, stress reduction, etc. Big changes! I’m 48 and started in February 2012 as well (Valentine’s present to myself) and have gone from a flabby 190 to a fit 175…it almost seems too easy! My wife is in pretty good shape, but is only on the outskirts of Primal, still enjoying the occasional croissant, toast, oatmeal, ice cream. What I wonder more than anything else is the mood effect you mentioned–I too find stresses much easier to bear, and a corresponding increased focus. I wish that for her, so it may be time to see if she’ll take it to the next level. THANKS FOR SHARING!

    Tom B-D wrote on July 28th, 2012
    • Just realized you started in 2011, not 2012…gonna give myself and my wife some time to get in the groove (and read more accurately!) then…

      Tom B-D wrote on July 28th, 2012
      • You hit it on the head,, too easy,, I get on my soapbox and shout and all I hear is “it’s too hard”. You have to go into it as a life change, not a quick fix for swimsuit season. Realize that big Agra, and big Pharma want us sick and dependent and say ‘that’s not for me’, I want safe, chemical and additive free food for me and my family so we can live our lives to the fullest

        Ed wrote on July 28th, 2012
  15. Awesome. Just so awesome. Friday is my favorite day to visit this site!

    Chance Bunger wrote on July 28th, 2012
  16. You both look radiant, healthy, and happy! Not only are your physical results stunning, but your clarity and focus on the important things in life – with appearance as a byproduct – is inspiring. Congratulations and thanks for sharing your success story!

    Lesley wrote on July 28th, 2012
  17. Congrats guys. Remarkable story and transformation!

    stupendous wrote on July 28th, 2012
  18. Great job! And now, you’ve changed your family tree. The little ones will truly benefit from a healthy mom and dad, not to mention learning how to really live.

    Leslie Galloway wrote on July 28th, 2012
  19. Yay, you!

    Erin wrote on July 28th, 2012
  20. Ed and Amy

    Maybe off topic, but please check out the GAPS diet and the Cutler Chelation protocol for your kids sake.

    Good Luck

    InalienableWrights wrote on July 28th, 2012
  21. Fantastic! I have to say that I am struggling and not seeing much difference but this story is inspirational and I am going to continue with it.

    Sheena wrote on July 29th, 2012
    • Thank you Sheena, people have commented on how quickly we lost weight but it felt like forever to us, don’t lose sight of the big picture, Paleo is life changing but you have to change your life, this isn’t a quick fix, it’s a forever deal you make with your body and soul till you drop dead, kinda like owning a dog only lots longer :-). Change will come soon enough, hang in there

      Ed wrote on July 29th, 2012
  22. So so inspiring!!! And you’ve both dropped 15+ years

    Sian wrote on July 29th, 2012
  23. Great job, both of you!! Will be checking out your blog for sure…very interested in what recipes you’ve come up with as a chef gone primal!

    Kevin wrote on July 29th, 2012
    • Thanks Kevin, and I’ll learn from you how to set up a snazzy lookin blog…

      Ed wrote on July 29th, 2012
  24. Incredible! You guys went from marshmallows to hard mesquite! How are your kids doing on this way of life? Has it had an effect on their autism? There are many blogs out there touting the benefits to children on the spectrum.

    Patrick wrote on July 29th, 2012
    • thank you! See my longer reply to same question in previous comments – we are working towards transitioning the kids everyday. We have no doubt how the primal or GAPS diet would benefit them in every way :-)

      Amy wrote on July 30th, 2012
  25. Wonderful story! I have only been following a primal diet for a couple of weeks (at least, I’ve been committed to it that long) but I’ve been learning lots for months (including lots of WAPF stuff). I’ve already convinced my kids in the evils of vegetable oils, but not necessarily grains!

    My oldest son is on the autism spectrum (very high functioning academically, challenged socially) and I’m trying to get him to read some primal stuff so he really understands WHY grains and carbs are so bad for him (he’s also extremely overweight for his height, unlike his siblings, so we’re really working on changing his diet. He eats very little junk food, but will consume too many carbs given half a chance, and he’s obviously extremely sensitive as he puts on weight extremely easy). He’s going to be 14 in a few days, so is well and truly ready to understand the stuff IF he reads it. Being the way he is, once he reads it in black and white, he’ll be more likely to “believe” it intrinsically, rather than that food pyramid stuff he’s being pushed. (Actually the other day, in a class he’s attending for overweight kids, he DID ask WHY the grain portion on a pie chart was so big and said it should be eliminated, even though I’d actually just told him to IGNORE the diet stuff and NOT SAY ANYTHING because like it or not, the dietitian was NOT going to be receptive to what he said). So he’s learning, but he still doesn’t “get” why some people can eat a “regular” diet and not be overweight, and he can’t.

    Sadly, there is another kid on the course who doctors have recommended should have gastric band surgery (he’s 12 and not even THAT overweight!!) because he has fatty liver disease. His mother was taught not to feed him any fats, so he’s been eating virtually fat free for an ENTIRE year and the problem hasn’t resolved (I’m not surprised, unfortunately) and basically they’re almost accusing her of letting him cheat because he hasn’t lost the weight and his liver is still fatty… and they think surgery is the answer. Very sad. Sorry this is getting WAY off topic :).

    Anyway, I think once kids have the RIGHT education, if they’ve got that sort of autistic mindset, they’ll get fixated on that instead of the rubbish they’re taught :). My kids now know that teachers aren’t always right, which is helpful! It is really hard with kids, fighting against the mainstream though. I think we just need to take things one day at a time and try to convert the kids over. I am doing my best to find foods (and make them) that emulate the food they love, but is grain and sugar free. My youngest son had a recipe for chocolate ripple cake he’d made at school (basically chocolate cookies smothered in layers of whipped cream and covered in jelly lollies), so I made a version that had NO grains and NO sugars! Still not awesomely healthy, probably, but it tasted great and my oldest son loved it! I’m trying to show the kids that they CAN have yummy food without the stuff they’re used to. I just need to find a suitable bread substitute!!

    Fiona wrote on July 30th, 2012

    Ted wrote on July 30th, 2012
  27. Great testimonial!!
    I am 54 and have just begun my primal journey. Starting at 246 lbs. May 15, 2012 I’m now at
    219 Lbs. On July 30th 2012. Weight loss is now steady at 1-2 lbs a week. My goal is 170-175 lbs. I’ll check in then.
    Thanks Mark!

    Allen Hilton wrote on July 30th, 2012
  28. You two look fabulous!! Keep it up.

    Claudette wrote on July 30th, 2012
  29. That’s wonderful! What a difference food makes in out lives. I’m only 3 weeks into Primal, and I’m enjoying it. It’s easy, it makes sense, it’s do-able. And it’s wonderful to read the stories week after week that it works for ‘real people’. Congratulations you two!!

    JenD wrote on July 30th, 2012
  30. Thank you so much for sharing your story! Congratulations on your outstanding, AMAZING transformation! You both look incredible and it sounds like you found the balance and peace you were searching for. Best wishes for many more happy, healthy years together. :-)

    Jessica wrote on July 30th, 2012
  31. The transformation in your shape is obvious but the change in your faces is nothing less than a miracle!

    Melissa wrote on July 30th, 2012
  32. Truly inspiring. I am 50 mostly Paleo and CrossFit since January. I have lost 35lbs but want to get abs like yours. Gonna tighten up the diet and try to get where you are… Now if I could only get my Wife to join me ….

    SethBD wrote on July 31st, 2012
  33. OMG!!! You guys rock! And the best part, you get to change both of your lifes together and be there for each other every step of the way.
    How frigging romantic is that?
    Big kudos to both of you and thank you for sharing.

    chocolatechip69 wrote on July 31st, 2012
  34. Great story
    Can I ask what exercise you do to enhance your results.

    Jules wrote on July 31st, 2012
    • Jules,

      Basically from Feb 2011 til Feb 2012 I didn’t workout. I didn’t feel good enough yet. I focused on eating clean. I could definitely tell that my energy level was increasing and I didn’t want to lay down for a nap at 2pm everyday, but I still couldn’t get in the groove of regular exercise. Hubby was very encouraging and really wanted me to start doing something,…but it had to be my choice where and when I jumped back into the stream.
      Our local rec center put out a spring program guide and I picked out a boot camp/core style class 2x a week. It was a perfect fit with a great group of ladies in a very supportive and non- judgmental environment. The class and nice weather has really snowballed my desire to increase my activity. Now I try to walk briskly 3-4 times a week a couple miles with the dog and I do some core and weight lifting at home. After having two 9 pound babies and years of yo-yoing up and down the scale things are not tightening up as fast as I would like,…but little by little they are coming along and I will continue on my fitness journey with great enthusiasm :-)

      Amy wrote on August 1st, 2012
  35. I only have one word for you two – INSPIRATIONAL!

    Anthony wrote on August 4th, 2012

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