A Way of Life Has No Finish Line

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 have wanted to write my own success story of my life on the Primal Blueprint diet ever since I reaped the initial benefits only three days into the commitment, but I was waiting until I had “finished” my goals. It’s now been more than nine months since my adventure into the Primal lifestyle began, and I have begun to realize that there really is no finish line in personal wellness and contentment. This has become a way of life, and one can always improve oneself. Mark said it best about the Primal Blueprint diet: “This is not the most ripped contest.”

From the age of 6, I was a very active child and an especially athletic one. I joined my first competitive swim team that year and it became the focus of my life for the next 12 years. Swimming for five to ten times a week in competitive training kept me extremely fit and health never crossed my mind as I had not an ounce of visible fat anywhere on my body. Keep in mind, though, I was never very cut or ripped either.

I grew up in the south, and my diet reflected the region: lots of meat, chicken fried steak, lots of potatoes and corn, etc. I had sit down family meals with freshly cooked dinners most nights, so in my opinion everything at my dinner table could be considered “healthy,” because hey, at least I wasn’t eating fast food, right? I ate a lot at meals, with heaping amounts of white gravy poured over meat and potatoes, to the point that I had to lay down after each meal.

By the time I was in 7th grade, I had picked up long distance running and joined the cross-country team, in addition to being on the swim team. A normal day for me consisted of 1.5 hour swim practice before school, 5-7 mile run after school, then a 2 hour swim practice after that. Like Michael Phelps, I had to consume massive amounts of calories in order to even maintain my small weight of 145 lbs. (I am 5’10”.) My mom was unable to cook enough to meet my caloric needs, so I turned to eating quick frozen foods between meals. I could easily eat four Hot Pockets at a time, more than once a day in addition to my regular meals. Things started to change for me when we moved.

In 9th grade we moved to Michigan, where I continued my athletic and eating frenzy. Now, I don’t want to say that Michiganders are more unhealthy than southerners, as I have no proof of this, but the city suburban life coaxed me into eating more and more fast food and frozen/boxed meals at this age. This is where my problems began. By 16, I started to have excruciating bouts of heartburn after every meal. It was so terrible that I would have to lie on my side for half an hour after each meal with my eyes closed (a nurse told me this helps put the esophagus in a neutral position). This continued untreated for several years, until I was about to graduate high school. By the time I graduated, I had horrible stomach pains, diarrhea and indigestion, in addition to the heartburn after every meal, every day.

After weeks of tests, I found out that I had inexplicably become lactose intolerant, literally overnight; in addition I had two of the three markers for celiac disease. The doctor said it was not enough to be conclusive, and that I likely didn’t have gluten intolerance. So I was sent on my way with a high-powered medicine for my heartburn and a new ban on dairy products. What happens when you tell an 18 year old that they have no problem with gluten and that they can take a pill for the pain instead of changing food choices? They start eating worse!

As I graduated high school, I had a few sports injuries and decided to drop out of swimming and running for a while. My metabolism apparently didn’t get the memo, and I desired to eat the way I always did, except that now I was not doing any exercise whatsoever. I gained 15 lbs in the three months between high school graduation and freshman year of college, then another 20 lbs during that year (thanks dorm food!). My eating got worse, in combination with binge drinking, and the pain continued right up to a respectable 220 lbs by the time I was 24. That was the year my final year of graduate school and the year that I got married to a wonderful girl who eventually taught me the importance of my personal health, but not immediately. I gained another 15 lbs my first year of marriage, rounding out at a respectable 235 lbs, standing at 5’10”.

That was the year I graduated and moved to New York City. Suddenly I had to walk everywhere! I was also an oddity being so fat, rather than closer to the norm as I was in the Midwest. The final straw came when I went to the doctor, and they performed an EKG to make sure the obesity was not damaging my heart (at only 25!). With my wife’s help (she studies nutrition) and a conventional wisdom diet I started shedding the pounds, choking down a tasteless bowl of oatmeal every morning for three years, in addition to exercise and lean meats and veggies. I lost 50 lbs the first year, then 10 the next year and another 5 the next. The problem was that I still had indigestion and diarrhea after many meals, even when they had no dairy or “bad things” in them. I was tired, had no desire to do anything and slept terribly. I also plateaued at this point, no matter how calorie deprived I was or how many hours I spent in the gym. I still had a gut and flab all over at 170 lbs and I knew that it wasn’t loose skin, it was fat.

My brother in law is a trainer who changed his life with the Primal Blueprint diet, but he never once tried to force me into it or be pushy, I had only heard about it in passing. He knew I was unhappy though, and for Christmas he bought me The 21-Day Total Body Transformation (and a bad ass Santoku knife to rip through whole foods!). Starting on January 1, 2012 I made the leap into the Primal life. After three days, poof!, no more indigestion, cramps, diarrhea or discomfort after meals! I was amazed! Within a month I had unlimited energy and I was happier, especially because I replaced that disgusting oatmeal with eggs and bacon and avocado in the morning! The scale didn’t change much, but I noticed my neck, chin and chest leaning out and not becoming as loose. I could go out and run 10 miles after a 10 hour day of work completely fasted. I was no longer a victim of the food I ate. I no longer had to worry about waiting an hour after I ate to make sure I had a bathroom nearby. I was free!

Eventually I replaced my running with sprinting, and added heavy lifting and Primal movements (pushups, pullups, etc.). These in combinations with a two month period of super strict paleo took me down another 10 lbs of fat this summer and added muscle to my core and my arms. People were amazed that in two months I was able to make an obvious difference so quickly.

So here I am nine months in to my journey. Do I still have unwanted fat? Yes. Do I still have a ways to go? Yes. But I am happier than I have ever been, healthier than I have ever been and feel like a member of the human race again. The Primal life is not a diet to me and has no ultimate “finish line” or “goal” to reach, but is rather a way of life that can be easily sustained for the rest of my days.


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121 thoughts on “A Way of Life Has No Finish Line”

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  1. Wow!! Way to go!

    You look amazing, and in such a short time – you’ve nailed the primal transformation!

    You look like a new man, and I imagine you’re lucky wife must be delighted too!

    Grok on Sean!

  2. This is such a great story!!! You don’t even look like the same person (: Congratulations on your new life!

  3. Almost the same as my story too…
    I celebrate one year on Monday and can’t imagine going back.

  4. Congrats on losing all that weigh, you are looking great now! I used to dread the fact that eating a healthy primal diet has no finish line, but the longer I follow the primal lifestyle the more I want to be on it. I have found that the thing that increases my happiness the most is finding new and better recipes to cook that are better than non-primal food, which makes it not even worth cheating. Now I try to find at least one new recipe a week so I can expand my menu and post it on my blog to help others find good recipes.

    On a side note, I weighed in today at 169.5. This is the first time I have weighed under 170 since middle school and I am really proud of myself. I am down from 207 a year ago.

    1. I agree with you. The thing is, when I was on “other diets,” I used to cheat on them with bacon and ribs and such. Now that I am primal, those are food mainstays! So cheating never crosses my mind.

      1. That’s what I keep saying…
        Why cheat when you’re eating rib eyes, bacon, avocados and ghee!

  5. Sean,

    Congratulations on all your success man! You look great man. I had similar health gains. What a life changer improving your sleep is huh?

    I love the mindset that theres no “finish line”. Well done.

    Health is a journey and not a destination. Finding the path is the real success.

    Nice bacon T’s. I was literally eating bacon, eggs and asparagus while I read this.

    1. +1!
      Way to go Sean, fantastic job. And on top of all the health success is the confidence that comes from having mastered your own destiny…plus the bacon = not a bad deal!!

  6. Good stuff Sean! You look great, what a transformation in such a relatively short period of time.

  7. Sean,
    I am curious since you said you wife studies nutrition …is she primal?

    1. We normally eat all the same food, though she prefers more fish, and skips out on the heavier meat meals. I would say she is about 75%, because she likes to have some bread or crackers here and there. But she touts Primal nutrition in the public health arena, and usually gets snickers and non-belief.

      1. I had a nutritionist market herself at my office. I asked if she was paleo and she said “what’s that”? I said go look it up and maybe I could send people her way. 5 months later she came back and her whole family was paleo. Dietians just get the whole grain story still, such a poor education if it’s not well rounded.

  8. “especially because I replaced that disgusting oatmeal with eggs and bacon and avocado in the morning!” NO KIDDING, EH?!

    You suffered so much for so long, it really comes through that you are rejoicing each day. That’s awesome!

  9. “The Primal life is not a diet to me and has no ultimate “finish line” or “goal” to reach, but is rather a way of life that can be easily sustained for the rest of my days.”

    If more people found “diets” that were instead sustainable lifestyle changes, there’d be so many more happy, vibrant, fit people in the world!

    1. A lot of my friends always ask me about “diets” and my mantra has become: All diets will end in failure, its only lifestyle change that ensures permanent results.

      1. Thirded.

        “feel like a member of the human race again”

        It’s amazing that simply going primal has really allowed me, you, and likely others to do just this.

        While the basis is about food, exercise, etc., going primal has changed my social views as well. I’m more open to talking to people simply because I feel better and have more energy.

  10. WOW!!!! 2 comepletely different peole in the photos! I love that outlook:”
    The Primal life is not a diet to me and has no ultimate “finish line” or “goal” to reach, but is rather a way of life…”

  11. Congrats! Great transformation! You’re right on about primal being a way of life. Why go back to eating things that aren’t as tasty anyway?

  12. Wow – this is the best transformation story I have read in a while. Congrats to you, & you have encouraged me to return to my Primal path that I have wandered off of in the past few months…

    Thank you for sharing!!

    1. Thank you, that’s all I could hope for. I never tell people about my changes in order to get compliments, but rather so others are inspired to help themselves! A healthy world is better for everyone in it.

      1. your story is very inspiring as someone who is only a few weeks in, thank you for sharing

  13. Thanks for sharing your ongoing journey with us — it provides the underpinning of hope for so many others beginning their journey. I hope to share my success story shortly, but waiting another few months to nail a few loose ends down. Kudos to your supportive wife — where would we be without all the caring, supportive and dedicated partners in our lives? I run into ‘nutritional & fitness experts’ all the time who shake their head in disbelief at me when I share that I don’t eat grains. It’s frightening to me that these people make a living off of giving poor nutritional advice. Anyway, wish I had found PB years ago. All I can do now is move forward in my new, enlightened world of health and happiness. Cheers/Lu

    1. Thankfully for me, my personal doctor believes that Paleo is the healthiest nutritional diet on the planet. I do not have to explain my choices, and can ask for advice. The sad part is that nutritionists a lot of the time are the first to laugh at me, instead supporting industry-funded studies to “prove” me wrong.

      1. Great story, Sean! My doctors also believe Paleo is the best way to live. Love the bacon tshirts! Those are great!

  14. Wow, well done, Sean! Your transformation is awesome, and inspirational. Food is so powerful, it can either hurt or harm; the proof is in the primal pudding. And it’s nice to see the healthy sheen in your eyes! (all your before photos have glasses)

    1. As you could imagine, in those times I did not really like getting my picture taken 🙂

  15. “…eggs, bacon, and avocado in the morning.”

    This is the key to happiness.

  16. Thanks for sharing your story. It’s great that you are feeling so much better so quickly! I have to know where you got that bacon flag shirt though – my son would love it.

  17. Good work. A 10 mile fasted run after 10 hours of work is impressive.

  18. Love your story… you don’t even look like the same person. :))

  19. how great that you tried Primal and stuck with it, and feel better! my husband and i have also gained energy and lost weight, and purchased lots of new clothes! it’s great to feel good, even though i choose to eat differently from my friends.

  20. Love your story and your comment “A way of life has no finish line”. I just texted that comment and your link to my husband and teenage daughter. We are 8 months into the Primal living and it’s changed our lives as well. Congrats to you for making such a big change….you look fantastic and your happiness shows in your face!

  21. HAH! You look like a teenage version of yourself. I am amazed and impressed. It feels so good to feel good! And I want one of those bacon tees, too. We should all give one loved one a copy of a Primal living book for Christmas after reading your story!

  22. Love your story! As a former competitive runner, I am so familiar with the cycle of eating tons of carbs & calories to fuel my workouts, overtraining etc etc.. congrats on getting Primal and taking control of your health! You look fantastic!

  23. My husband and I have been on the Primal path for almost two years now and have never felt better. We try to influence others but that is an uphill battle. People would rather continue having GERD, diarrhea, other digestive issues and continue to go to doctors who hand out meds but ultimately don’t know how to help them.

    I’m happy you kept trying to find your path and found this one. You have saved yourself! At middle age, too many of my friends are suffering the consequencea of SAD.

  24. By the way, for those asking about the shirts, They are both from Brooklyn Industries, a shop in NYC. You can buy them online. I posted the link but it was moderated.

    1. This idea is somewhat offensive but I think a clever shirt could say “Illiterate people suck” or something else making fun of people who can’t read.

  25. You have unwanted fat? Where??? Great job! You look great and I really envy your t-shirts.

  26. Are you still in NYC? Do you mind sharing the name of your doctor? I’m looking for a primal friendly doc.

  27. i’ve said for many years that people commonly misuse the word ‘diet’. diet is what you consume to sustain life. you don’t go on a diet. you change your diet.

    consequently, if you change your diet back, you shouldn’t be surprised if you go back to the way you were.

  28. Well done, Sean.

    What an important point you make: “The Primal life is not a diet … and has no ultimate ‘finish line’ or ‘goal’ to reach ….”

    That’s exactly it. If you read the comments to any post on this site, Primal followers are always learning and reworking. We’re never done, and we don’t want to be. We want to sustain the changes we’ve made and keep improving and growing. We like it that way. That’s the whole point.

    In contrast, the broad spectrum of “diets” out there are off the mark when it comes to continuation and sustainability. They’re presented as having a beginning and and end – so people are doomed from the start.

    Diets are about cliches, like “goal weight” and things like that. It’s no wonder people revert to their old ways and gain their weight back. In such a flimsy framework, people never come to view what they’re doing as a sustainable, long-term life change. They don’t internalize it. To them, it’s just a “diet” they do that fades into the past, like a trip they took or a movie they saw.

    Diets like Weight Watchers are things you DO. Primal is something you become – and then you ARE. Huge difference there.

    Very well done and well written!

  29. Beautiful story Sean! You and your wife look so happy and healthy. I love that primal radiance and that you’re determined to spread it. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Haha, oops I guess they accidentally forgot to put the subtitles under the photos. That’s actually my sister in the last photo.

  30. I was waiting to send in my story too, and finally realized I would never be finished. Thanks for sharing. I can’t believe how much you accomplished in nine months.

  31. @Sean – where did you get that fantastic shirt sporting the pig with the bacon mustache? I NEED one! Thanks!

  32. Where did you get that awesome American Flag bacon shirt?!

    O and you look great! Good work and great mentality!

  33. You look fabulous. I bet people who haven’t seen you for years don’t even recognise you! But most of all you look and sound HAPPY! What more could we ask of life! Congratulations on a job well done…..and thanks for sharing your story.

  34. Very similar story… down 53 lbs since February…..Good for you Grokmate!

  35. Way to go Sean, awesome transformation. You look like a new man. I’ve lost 52lbs. since Jan. 10th with only very moderate exercise-should hit my goal by Spring of next yr. The primal lifestyle truely works and so glad to read all these great motivational stories and be part of this group. Thanks again for sharing Sean. Love the shirt! Know why there are no Bacon Cookbooks? Bacon doesn’t need one!

  36. What a success you are! It is good that you nipped your health and nutritional problems in the bud at such a young age. Good on ya!

  37. The ‘after’ doesn’t even look like the ‘before’ you. Wow!!!! Great job, beautiful determination.

  38. Hey Sean,
    Were you on heartburn meds? Did you go off of them cold turkey?

    1. Yes, I took them for a couple of years. Doctor said I had a herital hernia (sp?). It was excruciating. And yes, I went off them cold turkey, though I really didn’t feel like they were helping all that much. I was also downing tums at that time in handfuls.

  39. I’ll just have to take your word for it that all the pictures are of you. Congratulations. What a rapid and thorough transformation.

  40. Sean, great job. I noticed you said your wife has the occasional piece of bread. I found a great bakery that bakes what they call Paleo bread. They have two versions–almond and coconut. We order the coconut and it’s great. It’s a very hearty bread that doesn’t taste like coconut at all and really satisfies the craving for bread and sandwiches. http://www.julianbakery.com

  41. What a transformation! Well done on making such a drastic lifestyle change. Your story is truly inspiring and the pictures even more so. Another success story that I am going to forward to some of my “unbelieving” friends who constantly complain about their weight, energy levels and mid-life health problems.

  42. You look fantastic, Sean! Loving your bacon tee-shirts 🙂

  43. As I was surfing the net I was lucky that I found your blog. Seems an interesting outcome on your topic. It made me amazed. Thank, keep on posting.

  44. Dude I could have written the same story! I often tell people it’s nice to “feel human” for the first time in years.

    As a lifelong competitive swimmer I have a theory I want to share with you and get your thoughts – it’s the chlorine that initiated my gut dysbiosis and I suspect yours as well. I firmly believe that the the anti microbial effect of constant chlorine in our stomachs overwhelmed the good guys and allowed the bad guys to flourish causing leaky gut and our similarly precipitous health declines.

    1. INTERESTING. my IBS started after i began swimming regularly, never considered that. i still swim but not that often and in a salt water pool now. i’m convinced microbe imbalance in gut (FODMAP theory) is to blame for my IBS

    2. I had never really thought about it. I did so many things that all contributed to the problem. I did recently try to join a masters swim team. I didn’t notice any problem but I wasn’t in the pool anywhere near as often.

  45. Can’t agree about the chlorine causing the gut problem. One way to test out the theory though would be to start swimming again and see if gut problems return..

    1. I’ve tested the theory a number of times now. I’ve stopped masters swimming in the pool as a result. I got cramping in the stomach ( I actually call them chlorine crams). I’m not going to stop eating paleo though so a full test isn’t in the cars for me. I will say when I do randomly get gluten or dairy exposure my problems are mild compared to the past.

  46. I guess I was fortunate to have been a competitive swimmer in all of my youth (especially enjoyed long distance)and swam twice a day practices, ate dairy, gluten etc and never had digestive problems. OTOH-I did develope a gut problem after leaving swimming–a big FAT gut…..But after following a paleo type of diet for the past four months I am seeing the pounds just melt (have lost 30 pounds)and am getting back into swimming again as I enjoy it so much. AND looking better in a bathing suit Ten pounds more and I’ll weigh what I weighed in high school 37 years ago.

    1. To be sure plenty of people swim their whole careers without problems but others don’t. I can’t explain the mechanism that might allow gut dysbiosis in me and others and not in you. There is a theory Chris Kresser posted on yesterday that says leaky gut is the cause of obesity so maybe you gained weight through the same mechanism and were not aware of it. Glad to hear you have lost the weight and are feeling great. ME too!

  47. Thanks alot everyone for buying up all the bacon Tshirts before I could!


  48. Wow, any further progress you make is totally up to you. I think you look amazing already (and I’m digging the hair). Awesome!

  49. This has really inspired me to get going with Paleo. I know it’s good for you and I have seen allot of stories and changes with other people but I have not started because I keep saying “I will start on Monday” or “I am going out of town this weekend, it will be to hard” or “I have that party coming up”. Stupid excuses. You have truly inspired me!!!

    1. Thankfully for me I have a lot of great influences. My wife teaches me all about food, and cooking great meals, and we share them. My brother in law is strict paleo so when I am on family trips I have an ally, along with my sister who eats gluten free. He also is a trainer and has taught me the best paleo workouts, and we work out together whenever were together.

  50. Hello, this is really nice story.

    I’m 24 years now, the same height as you, 190pounds. Today I started doing home crossfit workout, got plan for month. But havent started my paleo path yet. The more I’m reading about it, the sooner it looks I’m gonna start my new lifepath.
    I’ve been active in sports since I was kid, my parents taught me to. Active tenis, taekwondo 2-3 times a week + ski/snowboard/bicycle.

    When i came to university campus I had been sitting on my ass playing PC games, eating and drinking. I am from Slovakia and we eat a lot of bread and potatoes. We never really were a rich country. So that is gonna be my biggest obstacle to stop eating bread(because I love good bread).

    The second thing is. I’m really getting in love with cooking, I just bought home pasta machine short time ago for home made pasta. I dont really wanna quit my “cooking” passion. What do you people say about eating something not pale from time to time ? Some good dezert(lava cake) or some good homemade pasta?

    Thanks for sharing your experience.

    1. Cheating from time to time if you are disciplined is ok if you’re in to it. If you have the ability to make pasta homemade, why not use gluten free flour, or a more paleo alternative? I have a great passion for cooking, and there are endless amounts of dishes you can make and many good websites with great recipes. My wife is Russian, so I know what you mean about the bread and potatoes. Its all about control, and knowing what is right for your body. Believe me, there is probably a paleo or gluten free alternative for everything, even chocolate lava cake.

  51. Love your story, Sean! There’s definitely no finish line. We were just on a short vacation and I didn’t really follow the primal way while we were away – I could immediately tell the difference in how I felt. Sluggish, from too much sugar and flour. I was happy to get back home and get back to my regular “diet.”

    And thanks for the t-shirt link, I might get the Made in Brooklyn t-shirt. (You can take the girl out of the city, but you can’t take the city out of the girl.)

  52. Hi Sean: congrats for the life style change but if I read correctly you lost most of the weight not on the Primal diet but under the suggestion of your girlfriend nutrition. YOu went from 235 to 170 not with the Primal living correct? Then after you were already 170 was easier to get ripped…so even if oatmeal was horrible you did lose. btw Great work!

  53. You don’t even look like the same person! You shine of health and happiness now – CONGRATULATIONS. Very inspiring.

  54. Great job, love your story!!! I just started my journey a month ago and yes it has changed my life too. Maybe one day in a year I’ll be able chronicle my story.

  55. Very inspiring, Sean. Congratulations on your new found health and lifestyle. I love the notion that “this lifestyle has no finish line.” That’s the way I look at it too.

    You don’t even look like the same person in the “after” shots. You’re much cuter! 🙂