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

You Want to Eat Like a Hunter-Gatherer

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!

“You want to eat like a hunter-gatherer.” These eight words marked the beginning of a new life for me.  These eight words set into motion a change that would ultimately not only result in me achieving optimum health and fitness, they would greatly improve my relationships and day-to-day family life. I feel compelled to detail this journey in an effort to help others who, like me, were trapped by conventional wisdom into thinking they were making the right decisions for their health. This is for those of us who were convinced by advertising and marketing that we needed more of that essential “whole grain goodness”. Food has become an ongoing story in our house. Here is mine.

When I was in my early adult years and engaged to be married, I struggled with a chronic sinusitis condition that resulted in frequent use of antibiotics. So much so that I ultimately needed sinus surgery, and was concerned about my ability to go on my honeymoon without needing or having access to an antibiotic. I saw a specialist in addition to my family physician, and was taking two different allergy medications, year round, and ultimately advancing to the need for an inhaler and a daily antacid. One of the allergy medicines caused a dry-eye condition resulting in the addition of re-wetting drops to the menu of pharmaceuticals I was not able to live without. I was also battling facial acne. I was tied to my medications and weighed down by these chronic ailments.

At one point I had my blood tested by my family physician for allergies. The test results identified an allergy to white ash trees (where are they?) and a “slight” allergy to wheat and peanuts. Wheat and peanuts? Don’t people with this allergy have serious anaphylactic reactions to consuming them? I certainly had never experienced that. My family physician advised me that consuming those foods was probably contributing to my sinusitis and that it wasn’t necessarily something I would sense an immediate reaction to. Ok, so in other words, no big deal to continue eating them if they are not causing me any real trouble. Or were they?

In addition to these conditions, I also believed I was suffering from hypoglycemia, commonly referred to as “low blood sugar”. My mom and sister both seemed to experience similar symptoms and the idea that this was a hereditary condition made sense. For myself, I began to notice I could not go more than a few hours without food, or I would run the risk of feeling shaky and light headed, and not be able to think clearly. This feeling would be remedied by gaining access to any readily available food item – often these consisted of candy options in the checkout line at the grocery store. M&M’s and the like became the saving grace.

In talking to my family physician about the instability of my blood sugar, his recommendation was to eat small, frequent meals, and to eat more protein. Well, ok, but what does eating “more protein” look like? I could never make practical sense of the recommendation. What was interesting about the blood sugar problem for me was that I never tested positive for the condition during glucose tolerance testing. How could this be? Surely I was experiencing all the symptoms, according to the internet. Both my mom and sister had the same symptoms as well.

In the final weeks of my second pregnancy, my blood sugar tested high and the recommendation from my obstetrician was to avoid carbohydrates. Hmmm.  Ok, I am game and willing, motivated by my baby’s health to make any changes necessary. I go to the grocery store with open eyes, reading labels and trying to make the best decisions.  Should I still have Cheerios for breakfast? Plain rather than HoneyNut? I only found this more confusing and frustrating. I didn’t find a single commercially available item that didn’t have carbohydrates on the label.

I gained a total of 50 pounds with my second pregnancy. Admittedly, some of that is attributable to the idea that I was pregnant and that was my excuse to eat whatever I wanted. But some of it was also the paranoia I developed around drops in blood sugar.  I learned to eat frequently to avoid those symptoms, but I was consumed by this problematic routine as well.  It became difficult to get through a day without worrying about my blood sugar and I was fearful of becoming diabetic.

My husband and I went about our business being good parents however, I was not happy with myself both physically and emotionally, and had unsuccessfully attempted a few traditional weight loss methods.  I had a number of friends who had seemed to do well on Weight Watchers and so I decided to join online. The low-fat emphasis didn’t seem to work well with my blood sugar instability and I found myself consumed by the counting of points and food journaling that was suggested by the program. I became frustrated by dead ends with no results. I remained confident, however, I could not be the only person with this weight/blood sugar problem. I am a professional, a smart and educated person. I am determined I can figure this out, but why should this be so difficult?

I was about to consider Jenny Craig or Nutrisystem when the Discovery Health channel was airing their show the National Body Challenge – which I interpreted as their version of The Biggest Loser.  The show had a website that offered exercise and dieting information after creating a free account. They also offered a free 7-day pass to a local gym. Interesting. I belonged to the gym many years ago and had let my membership expire. Could I start going to a gym again? I wondered if I would know what to do once in the gym to effect meaningful change. I could see others on their obligatory treadmills not loosing an inch and even gaining at times. I wondered if I would I be able to make the time for a gym between work and family and certainly knew I didn’t have time to waste on treadmills and the like.

All it took was one click on the weblink on the National Body Challenge website and a representative from the gym was calling my house to schedule an appointment to visit. Once in the gym, a representative met with me to convince my why joining the gym that day, and forgoing the 7-day pass, was a better deal and reviewed the options available to me through the National Body Challenge special. While I recognize these attempts as the sales tactics they were, the representative said something to me that really connected. She asked about my outside commitments with caring for family, etc., and asked who would take care of them if I were unable to myself? If my health failed, who would care for my family? Her question made me realize that I needed to take the time to do this. I needed to get into the gym in a meaningful way and not feel guilty for taking time from my family to do it.

But part of my National Body Challenge benefits was a single session with a personal trainer. “You want to eat like a hunter-gatherer”, he said when I asked if he could prescribe a diet that worked well for “low blood sugar”. Like a what? Gordon was, by luck, the trainer assigned to me for an initial work out session. He took me through a challenging work out that was largely based on lifting weights. He said he could help me achieve my goal if I wanted to come back and work with him, which meant purchasing sessions through the gym. I had seen the light! I knew that this was the answer and that this could not fail.

I started dieting and training in January of 2008 after graduating from graduate school with a PhD in educational psychology. I weighed 180 lbs. and my BMI was 37%. Gordon gave me a written schedule of what foods to eat and how often to eat them. He had started me on a low-carbohydrate diet consisting of lean meats, sprouted grains, brown rice, nuts and nut butters. It was a drastic change from the processed foods I had become used to consuming. After all, I had studied behavioral psychology and was board certified in my specialization. If I couldn’t change my own behavior, how effective was I going to be at helping others change theirs? This had implications for my confidence in my profession as well.

I did this on my own. I didn’t know anyone else following this diet, or any low-carbohydrate diet for that matter at the time (I had friends that had also tried South Beach off and on for a while with similar short-term results to Weight Watchers). It was an initial adjustment but once getting a feel for the diet and food prep, following it became routine. During this time, my allergy symptoms seemed to improve and I decided to try not taking the medications. Following that, I also discontinued the antacid I had been taking for 10 years. While this was promising, after losing 35 pounds I seemed to plateau and had stopped losing.

Naturally I went to Gordon with my plateau problem. He then suggested a protein/fat diet and provided a similar “to do” list with food prep and eating. This diet eliminated the grains completely and focused on lean meats and healthy fats. I was motivated to achieve optimum health and dutifully followed the diet for 6 weeks. After going through additional symptoms of the “low carb flu”, where your body attempts to convince you it needs carbohydrates from sugar and grains but is really an addiction withdrawal, I did then achieve my weight loss goal (and ultimately 17% BMI!).

By now I had a new addiction, my new-found strength from lifting weights and the intensity of my training sessions with Gordon, and at the end of the 6 weeks was faced with what to do with my diet. Go back to the low-carb version? Re-introduce the grains? Seemed reasonable at the time. Renew the sessions and continue training? I was in love with the results I had achieved (a side benefit was winning a “biggest loser” contest we had a work) but I wasn’t sure I could replicate the intensity on my own. I was willing to give up a house cleaning service in exchange for renewed training sessions. I was also continuing to do great medication free.

The following year we started receiving Men’s Journal magazine (a magazine dedicated to men’s health and fitness), which I suspected was the result of an unsolicited promotion. I was flipping through the magazine when I came across an advertisement for something claiming to be a “diet for athletes”. I could possibly be considered an athlete at this point, couldn’t I? Certainly based on the intensity of my training sessions it was worth a look.

The diet was Loren Cordain’s Paleo Diet for Athletes. The article was brief, but intrigued, I quickly did a Google search to learn more. The information on the website outlined the philosophy of eating foods humans were genetically determined to eat, which meant the elimination of grains. Holy cow! I was practically here – already doing this to a large extent.

I continued reading as much as possible, first finding the site Mark’s Daily Apple and purchasing Mark’s book (The Primal Blueprint) and cookbook. I found his site and books to be easy to read and follow, and the cookbook a necessity for knowing which foods to eat and for recipe ideas. At this time, my husband Scott (who was in the vitamin business before becoming an elementary school teacher and who had read Life Extension) became dissatisfied with his own physical health and decided to also join the gym. Yeah! In the beginning he attempted to go “low-carb” but was still eating granola, oats, sugar-laden yogurt, and a few other processed foods. As a result, he wasn’t losing the weight he had hoped. My only feedback to him was, “You are still eating grains and dairy”. It was at that point that he got on board and committed to a grain-less and limited dairy existence. He is down 25 lbs. and has developed an amazing physique at age 48 (could he be looking better than I do?). On the same page, we can now focus on encouraging our children to limit their grains and sugar and make healthier food choices.

I remain working with Gordon (now in private business!), and read the daily Primal and paleo blogs to continue learning as much as I can about food and other potential environmental contributors to health problems. I have watched family and friends die from cancer. I know people with diabetes and heart disease. I look around in public and see most people carrying too much weight around their mid section. As a society, we aren’t informed about the foods we eat. We don’t understand about the role of fats in human health, the right fats to consume, the inflammatory effects of processed grains, etc. We eat blindly, wanting momentary pleasures, without concern for what our bodies biologically want or need.

Many of my friends think I deprive myself because I don’t eat sweets or because I eat healthy all the time. It is hard to imagine all the wonderful food I have “found” since waking up to what nature has to offer. Healthy fats, spices, vegetables, grass-fed and organic meats, and wild seafood are incredibly satisfying. I no longer have allergies, acid reflux, or low blood sugar. I’ve learned to cook real food (rarely eat out) and willingly and routinely answer questions via text, email, and Facebook from friends and family who are trying to make healthier choices. If I can impact one decision, it is worth the effort. I don’t miss any parts of the old diet or lifestyle and certainly have no regrets, only thankfulness for the resources, opportunity, and knowledge bestowed upon me.

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. Inspiring.

    tim_lebsack wrote on February 24th, 2012
  2. Umm… I don’t think your graduation gown is gonna fit anymore.

    The Primal Blueprint seems to be good for writing skills. These Friday segments are SO good to read.

    Moshen wrote on February 24th, 2012
    • Use it for curtains, or maybe a tent. You are so beautiful in BOTH pictures. You do look a lot more comfortable in the second pic, though. I celebrate your health!

      TruckerLady wrote on February 24th, 2012
    • I agree!

      Kelly wrote on February 25th, 2012
  3. Hi, I too have been interested in pursuing a RD designation. I can read and do research and talk about healthy living, diet and exercise literally all day long and would love to be able to inspire others and open their eyes to the truth through nutritional and physical advice; however, after learning about the primal lifestyle, I believe I would have a very difficult time having CW shoved down my throat and in turn sharing that with others?? NOWAY! I would love to hear your advice on this, Mark.

    This is an inspiring story! Great job! You look Fabulous, Kelly!!

    Char wrote on February 24th, 2012
  4. So great to see people change their entire life around like this! I know so many folks that just go: “Oh, but I can’t live without bread…” and it’s such a pity. Most folks would see amazing results with the simplest changes to their eating, and stopping to see crap as ‘special treats’. Congrats to your family!

    leida wrote on February 24th, 2012
  5. Very well done an amazing change…

    Freeagent wrote on February 24th, 2012
  6. Great job doc!

    svend wrote on February 24th, 2012
  7. What a great story! I’m going to forward it to my sister and see if it’s the push she needs to leave the SAD behind and finally feel good!

    Melinda wrote on February 24th, 2012
  8. So proud of my mentor. She’s inspired many of her students/colleagues at work to take charge of their health and eat better!

    Cindy wrote on February 24th, 2012
    • Cindy is 100% primal and spreads the word every chance she can. And she just thought she was signing up for a psychology internship!

      Kelly wrote on February 25th, 2012
  9. Oh geez, are we being punk’d? :-) Just kidding- you look so vibrant and strong and beautiful in your second picture, it’s hard to believe that you’re the same person as the first! Thank you for your inspiration.

    spincycle wrote on February 24th, 2012
  10. Inspiring! I love these Friday success stories…

    Cathy Johnson (Kate) wrote on February 24th, 2012
  11. What an awesome story, you look fabulous and healthy!

    I loved this quote of yours: “…and willingly and routinely answer questions via text, email, and Facebook from friends and family who are trying to make healthier choices. If I can impact one decision, it is worth the effort.”

    I answer a question at least once a day for family and friends in other parts of the country, some days I literally spend an hour or two on their questions. And, I love it! If I can help anyone get healthier, I am happy to do so. Thanks for spreading the good word!

    Liz wrote on February 24th, 2012
  12. Hey, you’re wearing my shoes! I’m very happy you’ve done a 180 in your life!

    Patrick wrote on February 24th, 2012
  13. I’m curious; how much total weight did you lose?

    Patrick wrote on February 24th, 2012
    • The bulk of it was 60 lbs. Started at 180 and got down to 120. As I built muscle I ended up hovering around 124.

      Kelly wrote on February 25th, 2012
  14. Wow! Such a dramatic transformation. So glad to hear your family is going on this Paleo journey with you. I’ve only recently started moving in this direction and you’re a great inspiration to keep on this path.

    Oh, by the way, your friends are right.;) You are depriving yourself. You’re depriving yourself of allergies, acid reflux, or low blood sugar. You go, girl!

    Helen wrote on February 24th, 2012
    • Got that right!

      Kelly wrote on February 25th, 2012
  15. Phenomenal! You look incredible! Thanks for sharing your complete journey. It will inspire many, including me!


    Shirley wrote on February 24th, 2012
  16. Awesome! What a journey…and how wonderful your family is onboard! I’m not very articulate so I can’t really explain to the the kind folks who offer me “Healthy Pizza on Whole Grain (or Gluten Free!) Crust!” to understand why I would rather go hungry than eat that shi…er…shtuff. I wish we didn’t call it “Primal” or “Paleo” eating because it makes it sound like we’re following some sort of wild fad diet. Maybe we should call it something like” Genetically Predisposed Eating”, or something. “I’m sorry. I have GPE… I’m genetically predisposed to not eat grains of any kind. Thanks for offering.”

    PrimalPotter wrote on February 24th, 2012
    • In talking to Gordon recently about this same thing his response to me was ‘Just don’t eat food made by humans’!

      Kelly wrote on February 25th, 2012
  17. Whoa, thought this was Mark talking until I got to the “pregnancy” comment. Whew.

    resonnant wrote on February 24th, 2012
  18. Wow! What an amazing transformation and what a wonderful story. Thank you for sharing it with us!

    I can’t agree more with your last paragraph, about all the foods that are WONDERFUL, full of flavor, and just down right good eats, and how outsiders (SAD eaters) think that I’m never eating, or constantly depriving myself. They just don’t understand. I often look forward to eating my leftovers or salads that I bring to work; they are certainly more appealing than a Subway sandwich or a fast food burger. Blech!

    Jessica wrote on February 24th, 2012
  19. I love reading these, and so wonderful to see you’ve taken control of your health. The weight loss is great, the health benefits are fab, you look awesome, life is good!

    jane britton wrote on February 24th, 2012
  20. congrats..keep it up…

    rik wrote on February 24th, 2012
  21. Well done. I hope this inspires others!

    Kohhal wrote on February 24th, 2012
  22. Amazing transformation! Good for you.

    liz wrote on February 24th, 2012
  23. Inspiring!! Love these stories…keeps me connected to what’s important when all those around me think I’ve lost my mind! Almost 3 months primal and feeling better every day!

    newgrokcanadensis wrote on February 24th, 2012
  24. Congratulations you look super nice!!!

    WildGrok wrote on February 24th, 2012
  25. Wow – just plain WOW! And I especially like all the health benefits you’ve gained by thinking for yourself and not falling for CW.
    Friends and relatives will eventually figure it out as you are one marvelous role model – actions speak louder than words, etc. etc.!

    Thank you so much for sharing!

    PrimalGrandma wrote on February 24th, 2012
  26. Wow, this could be my story almost exactly, even the part about gaining 50 lbs with my second pregnancy because I was worried about my blood sugar dropping and hurting the baby. I had the same allergies, acid reflux, and acne disappear after switching to primal. I had the same hypoglycemia thing, to the point of fainting a couple of times, and the same “normal” results on a glucose tolerance test. You look great. Thanks for sharing.

    rabbit_trail wrote on February 24th, 2012
    • Amazing isn’t it??

      Kelly wrote on February 25th, 2012
  27. Awesome! A great inspiration!!

    Nicole wrote on February 24th, 2012
  28. You kick ass lady! Keep it up :) Thank you for the inspiration!

    Alessandra wrote on February 24th, 2012
  29. Awesome before and after progress! Very inspiring!

    Jim Purdy wrote on February 24th, 2012
  30. Wow, thanks for sharing your story! How true that we are so “informed” about nutrition but sadly armed with the wrong facts given to us by those who “know better”.

    The_Reluctant_Primalist wrote on February 24th, 2012
  31. I use this diet when i cut, it works great for me.

    aaron wrote on February 24th, 2012
  32. You don’t even look like the same person.
    Way to go!

    Melissa wrote on February 24th, 2012
  33. It never ceases to amaze me how much people’s faces change when they lose a lot of weight.

    Gydle wrote on February 25th, 2012
    • Yes

      Kelly wrote on February 25th, 2012
  34. Awesome story. I love how little connections or words make all the difference.

    Cathy wrote on February 25th, 2012
  35. Your story is incredible, and I have to add like everyone else, you look awesome! I covet those arms! Anyway– how long did it take your reflux to disappear?

    jenni wrote on February 25th, 2012
    • Also–did you attribute your reflux to your weight, or did you always have it?

      jenni wrote on February 25th, 2012
      • I tried going off the Nexium probably 3 months into the diet and training. I had tried going off it before but could never stay off of it. In hindsight now I attribute it to wheat/grains.

        Kelly wrote on February 25th, 2012
    • I tried not relying on the meds probably 3 months into my training and dieting. I was still not making the connection then, but was trying to get off meds in an effort to just ‘get back to basics’ and find myself.

      Kelly wrote on February 25th, 2012
      • What meds were you on? Last question, I promise!

        jenni wrote on February 25th, 2012
        • No problem! I was taking zyrtek, singulair, advair, and nexium. The singulair caused dry-eye and so I needed to add a re-wetting drop.

          Kelly wrote on February 25th, 2012
  36. Looks like 2 different people in the photos. Well done! Great story.
    Would be great if you had a few of your favourite recipes to share. That’s where I get stuck. Thanks!

    Michele wrote on February 25th, 2012
    • I love sharing recipes with others and I appreciate the folks who post recipes on their sites. There are a number of really great sites – MDA, Chowstalker, Nom Nom Paleo, Clothes Make the Girl, Frisky Lemon, just to name a few. I subscribe to the feeds via Google Reader and peruse the sites for what looks interesting. If you email me I can send you some I’ve downloaded.

      Kelly wrote on February 25th, 2012
    • I love sharing recipes with others and I appreciate the folks who post recipes on their sites. There are a number of really great sites – MDA, Chowstalker, Nom Nom Paleo, Clothes Make the Girl, Frisky Lemon, just to name a few. I subscribe to the feeds via Google Reader and peruse the sites for what looks interesting.

      Kelly wrote on February 25th, 2012
  37. Wow! What a great story. I relate to how much better you much feel. I have also suffered from hypoglycemia and nasal allergies. Great job and Congratulations on your success!

    Joy Dvorak wrote on February 25th, 2012
  38. Thank you all for your kind words and inspirational support. Thank you also to Mark for allowing me to reach others through his very awesome website. I always send people who are looking for more info to MDA and suggest they read the definitive guides (and get the book of course!).

    Kelly wrote on February 25th, 2012
  39. What a transformation and inspiration!!Way to go! If only those treating diabetics could catch on!!

    primalgrannie wrote on February 25th, 2012

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