50 Pounds Lighter and in the Best Shape of My 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!

real_life_stories_stories-1-2I wanted to write this because of how motivating and uplifting the Friday success stories have been for me over the past year-and-a-half! I come to you a new man – 50+ lbs lighter and in the best shape of my life, free from the debilitating back pain and restless sleep caused by years of the standard American diet (SAD) and neglected physical fitness. More importantly, I am now able to carry my six year-old daughter long distances in a variety of orientations: on my back, in one arm, on my shoulders, upside down by her ankles, etc…

I was born in central Illinois – the land of corn, soybeans, and boiled-to-death vegetables. I grew up active (mainly swimming) and reasonably healthy, despite a short bout with pudginess in 6th grade. When I moved to California for grad school, I embraced the conventional wisdom and ate “healthy,” lifted weights 5-6 times per week, and played basketball occasionally. I worked myself into pretty decent shape, but never quite managed to get the six-pack. As my grad research gained traction and my workout buddies graduated, I fell out of the habit of exercising regularly and my eating deteriorated. The stress of postdoc’ing (i.e. academic purgatory) and the tenure track (i.e. academic purgatory part II) ensured that this trend continued unabated for nearly a decade.

SRB_BeforeI was 225-230 lbs (I’m almost 6’ tall) by the time I hit my mid-30’s and my muscles had atrophied to nearly nothing. But I had gotten tenure, so all was well!!! Or so I thought… I learned that my sleep had deteriorated as I had developed a touch of obstructive sleep apnea, along with borderline hypertension (~140/90). This scared me as I had watched my mom’s blood pressure creep up until she eventually suffered a debilitating stroke, though not enough to do much about it, other than half-hearted attempts to “eat less and exercise more.” Besides, I was a big fan of pizza and donuts and everyone puts on weight as they get older.

My eureka moment was when my lower back locked up coming back from a trip to DC in mid-December 2012. Those lousy conference room chairs, right? After being up-and-down through the holidays with excruciating sciatica, it became clear that I wouldn’t be able to stretch my way out of this and my wife insisted that I visit an orthopedic surgeon. One MRI later and I had both diagnosis and prescription: “your spine is fine, but you are fat – lose weight and get yourself a good chiropractor.” I took this to heart and accomplished the latter (Dr. Robert Schmidt!), but struggled with the former. Low-fat foods and whole grains just left me hungry, tired, and surly.

I found Alton Brown’s fantastic “Live and let diet” episode and started to follow his regimen; the weight started to come off slowly. I also started to workout with a trainer, initially doing mainly calisthenics and core strengthening to ease my (still debilitating) back pain. Then I found Dr. Robert Lustig’s incredible talk “Sugar: The bitter truth” on YouTube, which drove home that my daily 32 oz. Gatorade was not doing me any favors (I live in Austin, TX and it gets pretty hot, so hydration is essential). I cut back on added sugar and things got a bit better, though my back pain would still come and go.

Two things happened around December 2013: (1) my weight hit ~200 lbs and sleep began to be restorative again, and (2) I found MDA and everything changed! As a scientist, I loved the human development arguments for a Primal way of eating and Mark’s love of nuance and self-experimentation, though I was somewhat skeptical given how it was “well-established” in the literature that saturated fat and cholesterol are terrible for you! Regardless, I decided to give it a go – even if I wouldn’t eat this way long-term, it would at least help me get healthy in the short term.

What did my N=1 experiment look like? While mainly Primal, I still ate some beans, lentils, rice, and the occasional pizza (though only a couple slices and always with a salad). The only thing I cut out completely was highly-processed garbage, including my much beloved donuts! Gradually, I found that Mark’s recommendation about moving down the carb curve was spot-on. Up until this point, losing weight had been a miserable slog. After going Primal-ish, the weight came off steadily at about 1 lb./week (see chart) and was largely effortless/painless after the first couple of pounds.


SRB_AfterI’ve now been ~175 lbs since June 2014 and have focused on gradually improving my strength, flexibility, and body composition. My back pain is (thankfully) a distant memory, sleep is fantastic, and blood pressure is less than 110/80. The side benefits are many: I feel satiated, my energy level does not ebb and flow like before, colds tend to be rare and short-lived, I experience virtually no digestive issues, and I no longer feel like I’m declining with age. The only downside is that I’ve run into a couple of sticky situations at the airport when TSA was reluctant to let me through security because I didn’t look like the fat guy on my driver license!

Currently, my carb intake is probably 50-100g/day – mainly some berries in my morning smoothie, maybe a side of rice or similar at lunch, and some fruit with dinner. The balance of my intake is simply prepared vegetables and meats/eggs from the farmer’s market, as well as some nuts. I consume virtually zero dairy, except for (pastured) half-and-half in my coffee and Kerrygold butter.

I find that segregating sweet, savory, and carby into separate dishes helps greatly with portion control. My wife and I have a stable of five-ingredient/five-minute meals, which makes things practical, and I’m constantly fermenting foods to keep the gut biome happy and healthy. I embrace the principle of maximizing nutrient diversity, including eating the whole animal – lots of bone broth, roasted marrow bones, fish head soup, canned sprats, offal, etc. My daughter loves these simple dishes, so it’s been great for daddy-daughter bonding as well.

Thanks to Mark and MDA – I look forward to reading more success stories!!!


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79 thoughts on “50 Pounds Lighter and in the Best Shape of My Life!”

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  1. I experienced everything you did man! I never had a weight problem, but in terms of my joint pain and other health issues were virtually gone! Way to be gutsy and stray off the path of conventional wisdom!

    1. That’s great! My mom had very serious joint issues — they can be so debilitating. I’m glad that you’ve experienced such benefits and I look forward to hearing about them on your Friday Success Story!

      It’s great to see that the conventional wisdom is slowly starting to change as well, slowly, but it is changing.

    1. Thanks, I really appreciate it! It’s strange, but things are so different now that it feels almost like my past never happened — I’m consciously aware that I let things get so out-of-control, but I feel so “correct” now that all of those issues are a distant memory. I will never go back to eating like I used to.

  2. Wow ! I am always impressed with the success stories but this one takes them all.
    SB you look amazing. My jaw actually dropped when I saw the after picture.
    The health benefits that come with this lifestyle proves that PB does work.

    Congratulations on finding a way.

    1. Thanks! When I came across that first picture while looking for a “before” photo, I was absolutely stunned. It’s been a fantastic journey back, but I really didn’t appreciate how different things had become, beyond just an abstract number on the scale. A picture is definitely worth a thousand words and PB *definitely* works!

  3. Wonderful story, SB! Love the airport security story. And thanks for the reminder that habit change is possible — even almost easy! — when the motivation is strong.

    1. Thanks! The TSA experience was pretty funny — after the guy finally let me through. I had my interview for the Global Entry program a few days later and the TSA officer who interviewed me was similarly surprised and we spent most of the interview talking about primal/paleo. I need to get a new license photo!

  4. Wow, TSA is doing a good job because you DO look so different. But it’s really all about how you feel and it sounds like that’s really been the true win!! Congratulations on your amazing transformation.

    1. Thanks! Change happens so gradually that I didn’t appreciate how profound the total change had become until I was writing up my story. How I feel really is the true win!

  5. Great story. “One picture is worth a thousand words.” In this case I could not believe the man in the second photo was the same as the first. Only the hair line was the same and it convinced me. Congratulations to you and your wife on the transformation. Your beautiful daughter will have good eating habits that will carry her through the years as well.

    1. Thanks — the hairline and the grey hairs are still the same 🙂 It’s great to have such a supportive family and I couldn’t have done it without them!

  6. Agree with everyone above: WOW.

    I’m going to try your sweet/savory/carb meal separation strategy. This reminds me of how one can be completely full but still “have room for dessert,” and your plan seems like a way out of that issue (not just with dessert but in general I have noticed that a great way to overeat is to become satiated with one type of food and move to another).

    So…care to share with us your favorite 5 ingredient/5 min meal?

      1. +1! Also would love an example of the sweet/savoury/carb split meals.

        You look AMAZING!!!!! Not only have you given yourself a new lease on life – you’ve shown your daughter a great example of how to live life to your best potential!

        1. Definitely — a couple examples:

          My current favorite easy staple dish is to brown ground lamb and then mix in some thinly sliced cabbage and cook for a couple more minutes (proportions don’t need to be exact, roughly 1 lb of lamb, half a head of cabbage, and salt to taste). Very simple, but very satisfying. A mandolin makes the cabbage prep super fast. This make a ton of food and leftovers reheat really well.

          If you add a mix of soy sauce (or equivalent), rice vinegar, a squeeze of honey, and a squeeze of Sriracha to the ground lamb and cabbage, then you end up with “crack slaw.” This is incredibly delicious but so easy to overindulge on. If you look at meals that have a certain addictive quality, it’s almost always the combination of fat, carbs, sweet, and salt (e.g. burger, fries, and a soda). I don’t remember where I read about it, but that combination plays havoc with your satiation mechanisms and leads to overeating.

          Another example is a simple kale salad:
          One bunch of torn kale leaves
          1/2 avocado
          Squeeze of juice from half a lime or lemon
          pine nuts (toasting optional)

          combine kale leaves, avocado, and lime juice together, mush together by hand, and top with raisins and pine nuts. The only way this can go south is if you put in too much lime juice, but you can always add a bit of honey if it comes out too sour.

          Another (nearly) 5 ingredient example is my current favorite salad:

          Arugula (one box of leaves)
          Half an avocado
          4-5 diced dried apricot halves
          Slivered almonds (toasting optional)
          Simple vinaigrette:
          1/4 cup olive oil
          Juice from half a lime
          1 diced clove of garlic
          2-3 tsp cumin
          squeeze of honey

          Combine vinaigrette ingredients and let sit for a few minutes, then whisk together. Combine vinaigrette, avocado, and arugula in a mixing bowl and mix/mush thoroughly with your hands. Top with the apricot pieces and slivered almonds. It’s 9 ingredients, but it definitely takes less than 5 minutes (I’ll use pre-diced garlic if we’re in a hurry).

  7. Awesome. I live in Austin as well. My MDA success story is linked in my signature. We should have a playdate with our daughters. Maybe meet up at Salty Sow, Picnik, or Odd Duck?

    Want more Primal kids for my kid. Look great BTW.

    Well done.

    1. Hi Larry, that would be great! We live in Travis Heights, so Picnik or the Salty Sow would be perfect. I’m embarrassed that I haven’t been to either, but have heard great things.

      I remember your story well — it was a great inspiration after a tough week.

    1. “Get a chiropractor and get in shape” is easily the best medical advice I’ve gotten.

  8. After I saw your “after” picture I assumed that you created a time machine. Very well done my friend

  9. Hey SB! I also hail from central Illinois, near Macomb actually. The richest farmland in the world being used to grow poison, and being poisoned to do so.
    Your before and after pics are amazing. Your story is great motivation

    1. +1. I agree with your statement regarding the travesty of rich farmland becoming a breeding ground for poison. My family recently, briefly relocated to Viroqua, Wisconsin (the “Driftless” region). This area is well-known as the home of Organic Valley, which I now consider to be a bad joke. Despite being dotted with a few family-run, organic farms, the majority of the area can only be described as miles and miles of GMO corn and soybean fields, all of which are bathed in pesticides. Although things are technically growing there, the place feels dead. Surely, even the organic farms in the region are subject to cross-pollination and drifting pesticides from the surrounding GMO, monoculture factory-fields. After 9 months in the place which my wife and I came to refer to as “Purgatory,” I took a $20K pay cut in order to bring my family back to the place we call home, on northern Wisconsin’s Lake Superior shoreline, and we have not regretted this decision in the least.

    2. I’m in west central Illinois – Quincy! I always like to hear about local-ish folks going Primal and doing well (even if they are no longer in the area) because conventional wisdom is still all the rage here in this rural, conservative area.

      And yeah, I can’t think much about how all this great farmland is being wasted … it just makes me sick. The one ray of hope here is that US Wellness Meats got its start in nearby Monticello, MO. I wish more local farmers could be convinced to use their model!

    3. +1 here as well. So much amazing farmland and 99% of it is used to grow corn and soybeans. Very disheartening.

  10. Is the guy wearing orange shorts really you? 🙂 What a transformation!

  11. Wow, what an inspiring change! Congratulations to you, and your persistence and making healthy, life-affirming choices. I also segregate all my different foods, and have really worked on portion size.

    For me, it has helped to weigh my portion of protein, and measure my portions of vegetables. Because diabetes runs in my family, and I am so my diabetic myself, I really eat fruits or Carby vegetables. It has worked for me, and my energy level is better than ever, and I am able to get stronger and stronger, little by little, by exercising.

    1. Thanks — I’m glad to hear that you’re making strides as well! I forgot to mention portion control — thanks for bringing it up. It’s definitely something that I have to refocus myself on occasionally. That and to to wait a few minutes before having another helping 🙂

  12. WOOOOWWWWW!!!! Felicitaciones me has dejado impactada por la gran tenacidad que pusiste y la impresionante baja de peso, en realidad pareces otra persona, más joven y llena de energía.

    Saludos desde México !!!

  13. Your second pic surprised a loud and out loud (and I’m home alone!) OH MY GOD!

    WHAT a transformation! Way to go! (And how great that your lovely daughter will grow up tall, strong, and healthy — and know about real eating!)

  14. You look so happy and healthy! It’s always rewarding to see a scientist get behind the movement too. Way to go and keep spreading the good word 🙂

    1. Thanks! It’s clear to me that science was never on the side of the current conventional wisdom (i.e. the diet-heart hypothesis) and our low-fat/high-carb dietary policies were essentially pulled out of thin air for political convenience. I am absolutely appalled by how Keys’ cherry-picked data points turned into “proof” of causation. Science eventually wins — and it looks like the tide is finally turning — but it’s so disheartening to think about all the people who have suffered needlessly from a combination of flawed dietary policy (low fat) and market forces (to make low-fat food palatable, you need to add sugar).

  15. Good job, SB. You look terrific. I love these Friday success stories.

  16. Congratulations on achieving such a massive transformation! Your
    Daughter is lucky to have Primal
    Parents, as you’re setting her up for a lifetime of good health!

    1. Thanks — I hope so. She’s a great kid and I hope she never has to struggle with her weight and health.

  17. SB, great story and congrats. I can tell you are healthy and strong. Live long and prosper, my friend.

    Oh, and what the heck are canned sprats???

      1. Exactly, “sardine” is a catchall term for a number of varieties of fish. Sprats tend to be my favorite as they’re a bit sweeter and less fishy than conventional sardines. The key is to look for “double layer” as that indicates that the fish are very small. I’m a big fan of King Oscar brand in olive oil (red package) as they are delicious, wild caught, and surprisingly low cost.

    1. Haha — I’m just glad you weren’t the one checking ID’s or I’d still be stuck in DC!

  18. Holy crap! Super inspirational to stick with this whole primal thing. Way to go!

    1. I totally agree — cutting out those energy-dense foods creates a lot of room in the diet for nutritionally-dense foods.

  19. That is awesome. You are like my blueprint, SB. Just started on this about a month ago. I am also doing Stronglifts 5X5 and some regular cardio, including mountain bike rides on the weekend. I live in Austin also. I haven’t lost a bunch of weight yet, but I am rapidly converting fat to muscle. On my way to 175 like you, and feeling great about it. Congrats and thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks! It sounds like you’re well on your way and have a great new normal (if you are doing all of that during the worst of the Austin summer heat, then you can definitely make sure those are permanent!). The key is to find what works for you in a sustainable way and the weight will take care of itself. Keep up the great work!

  20. Fantastic story and honestly didn’t believe the second pic was the same guy. You honestly look 20 years younger. What a transformation of good health!! Congratulations!

  21. Fantastic story!

    I don’t blame the TSA for pulling you up – I went back and forth between your two photos a number of times and would swear blind they were two different people too.

    1. Thanks! I think a lot of it was the beard; I actually offered to go to the bathroom and shave it off.

  22. Another great MDA success story. Thanks for including the graph. But Bam! That’s what I felt when I saw your transformation picture. TSA might be on to something! 🙂
    Anyway, congratulations on getting back to the real you and thank you for sharing your story. You’ve inspired me to get real too!

    1. Thanks! I’m glad you liked the plot — I felt honor-bound as an engineer to include one 🙂

  23. You look great, congratulations! It’s good to read that another person with back/sciatica pains was able to overcome it. Gives me hope. Great motivation.

    1. Hi Ashley, I still get the precursor to back pain occasionally (like right now) when I travel a lot or am not diligent about stretching / foam rolling regularly, but I’ve managed to figure out how to get rid of the “wonky” feeling (tight piriformis) before it starts causing real problems. For me, it’s lizard pose with an emphasis on pulling my forward knee in towards my chest, along with keeping my calves loose… The standard piriformis stretches don’t quite do the trick for me.

      A lot of it is ultimately self-experimentation and finding the right people to help. For me, it has been a great chiropractor and trainer. Several of my buddies also have back problems and swear by their physical therapists.

      Good luck and I hope you beat your sciatica soon!

  24. Hello — Your story is very inspiring. I started the 1000 Day Challenge on 15th July and so far, I am having trouble eating enough calories. This is really amazing to me, as I have *always* felt hungry and after only a month, I very rarely feel hungry and eat loads less! I also have weight and joint issues, back pain, the lot — so I am so looking forward to being on the *down side* of this journey and landing in a place where I am healthy and can get fit again. It will take all of the 1000 Days (plus a little bit 😉 to get there, being planned at the same rate your chart is showing. [I am using FitDay to track, with rate charts.] But it helps so much to read about people that have successfully made this journey — thank you so much for sharing!!

    1. Hi Michelle, that’s AWESOME! I’m glad to hear that you just hit your one month anniversary of starting the challenge — it’s great that you’ve found a groove where it’s hard to eat enough. That’s the sweet spot and you have momentum on your side!

      I’m sorry to hear about your joint and back issues — keep reminding yourself that you’re doing the best possible thing to help your body recover. Hopefully they clear up along your journey.

      I look forward to reading your success story!

  25. I love your story and really pleased at how well you’ve done. I’m also amazed by all the other success stories and I’m sure it’s really healthy. Personally, I’m finding it difficult to let go and eat more carbs. I’ve been LCHF since April and lost weight. I have about 30-40g carbs a day. Never eat breakfast helps keep the carbs low and rarely eat fruit, if I do it’s berries. I keep looking at all the gorgeous recipes in PB cookery book and some Paleo recipes, but think if I eat them I’ll gain weight. At the moment I’m not losing not gaining, just wish I could relax around food. Maybe when I’ve lost the next 14lbs.
    What I really need is a diet plan eat this for breakfast, lunch and dinner etc. also one that has ingredients you can get easily in the UK.
    Would love to know if anyone knows of one.
    Can’t get into the forum to ask questions as for some reason emails to activate my access to them have not shown up. so I’m effectively locked out.

    1. Sally, set up a new account, starting from the beginning with a new name like ‘Sally2″ or something and start again. That should solve your lock out troubles. This does work, I promise you. I’m about six weeks into Primal eating and have lost nearly twenty pounds. I feel great and my blood pressure is down. My Dr. is very happy. Typical day’s menu: I have my coffee with 18% cream (yum) and 1 teaspoon of Splenda in the a.m., a banana or berries (1 cup) or cherries and two scrambled eggs for breakfast. An apple and cheese slices for a snack around 11am. Late lunch is a big salad with romaine, cut up chicken, sliced red onions, homemade Caeser dressing, dinner is broiled steak, usually filet mignon, very rare, again with salad and vinaigrette dressing. Super simple and delicious. It sounds expensive with all the meat but it really isn’t because I’m not buying all the other junk people usually do. I snack on almonds or pine nuts, don’t drink unless it’s champagne. It’s so easy knowing what I’m going to have every day and not worrying about the shopping.

      Good luck! and let us know how you it works out for you.

      1. Hi,
        finally got on, by using my phone and then a new account was accepted…so chuffed!!!

  26. Hi, thanks so much for replying and giving me an idea of what you’re eating, fruit (on LCHF) is what I’m really missing!! I really like what you’re eating but feel really scared about jumping in (a bit like the first time you abseil of the side off a cliff) l feel I’ll immediately put weight on and it’s taken so long to lose it! I agree with you it doesn’t work out expensive because of all the stuf you’re not buying (but I miss chocolate!)
    Have tried to re-register but the message I get is ‘you are not allowed to register multiple accounts on this forum’ So no luck there!

    1. Hi Sally, I highly recommend a square of high cacao dark chocolate for those chocolate cravings! Being a milk chocolate kind of guy all my life, I started out with 71% cacao and have recently moved up to 85%. One, sometimes two, squares is all it takes to kill the chocolate craving. I’ll have one every other day or so after dinner.

      To your earlier post (and for whatever it’s worth!), whenever I stalled on weight loss, it was either one of two things: (1) I had started eating too much too quickly again or (2) I had been too aggressive in the caloric restriction and had shifted into starvation mode. I’ve always been a fast eater, so I still struggle with the first one. My solution is to periodically remind myself to wait several minutes before deciding whether I’m hungry for seconds and then remind myself to be mindful of how much I’m actually hungry for. For the second cause, I basically hit myself with a huge influx of calories at a single meal and that seems to reset everything. This is usually involved several slices of pizza 🙂

      A typical day for me:

      1. Breakfast: Fruit smoothie (1/2 cup berries, 1/2 cup coconut water, 1 tsp of coconut oil, and some Amazing Meal). The amazing meal is gritty, but the Vitamix helps and I’ve grown to really like it. Earlier, I would have thrown some whole oats in there instead, along with half a carrot and a handful of spinach.

      2. Lunch: typically a big salad from the Whole Foods by the office (big base of greens, some fat/protein, and a wide variety of other veggies), or a bowl of pho (with a big side of veggies that I mix in — I take it easy on the noodles).

      3. Dinner: Mark’s omelette (w/basil, mint, some aged parmesan cheese), a lot of veggies (e.g. steamed asparagus), a few pieces of fruit (<1/2 cup), and a chocolate square.

      4. If I'm still craving protein a few hours after dinner (mainly on days I workout), I'll have some whey protein or a tin of sprats.

  27. Hi Seth,
    Thanks so much for your reply. I’ll definitely try the high cacao chocolate. Somtimes just knowing you can have it makes a difference. Not sure what amazing meal is (must be an American product) is it grains? I haven’t thought about berries at breakfast because of the high carbs But might give it a go and use my fitness pal to calculate overall carbs.
    Today was my first day and I had breakfast bacon, mushrooms and eggs. Lunch I made Mark’s crustless broccoli quiche, delicious. Dinner I made meatballs from a Paleo cookbook (Ihaven’t cooked with so much (coconut) fat in years!) had a small bowl of organic berries with cream. I’ve just worked on eating until I felt full. It’s been really difficult to make myself eat 3 meals. But I’m not hungry and going to bed ridiculously early to avoid hunger pains!!?

  28. Very good for you and your family. You are all touched and blessed with your new life. Keep up the great work buddy!