October 18 2013

And the Truth Shall Set You Free!

By Guest

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!

Ok, so I don’t really like using a quote from scripture to start my success story but it really is the best title. I hope that through this story I can show you just how much that is indeed the case.

I have never really been “overweight.” I was blessed with decent enough genetics that through most of my childhood and early adult life (I’m currently 26, by the way…and male) I was able to maintain a good weight while pretty much eating whatever my mom put on the table or packed me for lunch. I even managed to not really gain the “Freshman Fifteen” when I went to college. However, I did put on a little weight mainly because the dorm cafeteria was basically all you can eat. Eating two patty-melts or two “pizza pockets” each meal while also eating a huge salad with WAY too much dressing, cheese, and croutons on it finally did start to catch up to me. By the end of my freshman year I was about 5’7” (that hasn’t changed, sadly) and about 165#. Things were about to change for the better though.

Ryan - Before

My love for fitness and health began during the summer before my sophomore year of college. I was working out at Lifetime Fitness while visiting home and I happened to bump into a couple of friends from high school. They taught me how to work out better and began to teach me a little more about eating right. One of them had been a personal trainer for a while so I got a good load of conventional wisdom but thankfully it was mostly helpful. I put on a good amount of muscle 0ver the next year or so, but realized one day that I still was not as lean as I wanted to be. I knew something had to change and I figured it was my diet.

At that point, I had already been toying with the idea of trying “The Abs Diet” put out by Men’s Health Magazine. I had been intrigued by it from the first time I heard of it because who doesn’t want to see his six-pack? I took the plunge. Basically, the premise of the diet was to eat the 12 “Power Foods” which consisted of almonds and other nuts, beans and legumes (yikes), spinach and other green veggies, dairy (uh…), instant oatmeal (what?!), eggs, turkey and other lean meats, peanut butter (man…), olive oil, whole grain breads and cereals (crap!), extra whey protein, and raspberries and other berries. You ate 3 meals and 3 snacks throughout each day on a pretty specific timetable as well. The workout consisted of a circuit workout a few times a week and you were allowed one cheat meal a week (which was great except that it kept me on a reward system with food – eat right for 6.67 days and then eat total crap 1 meal). All in all though, it actually worked for me. It was a six week program and in that time I lost about 10 pounds and you could indeed see my abs! I was very pleased. I continued to eat this way for a couple of years and maintained the weight that I had achieved and overall felt pretty good and was happy. I know now that I was not really eating all that well, was eating too much, and was pretty steeped in conventional wisdom! At this point I’d already graduated from college, gotten married, and began my life with my beautiful bride. I also continued to eat “The Abs Diet” way and subscribe to Men’s Health Magazine. I began doing CrossFit and loved it. Well, in 2008 things really took a turn for the worst!

I have always been a type A personality. To this point it had not really manifested itself in my eating habits other than always making sure I had at least three or four “power foods” in each meal (which is why I was eating way too much) and eating at the right intervals as prescribed by the diet. Well, one article in Men’s Health tapped into my anal retentiveness and I began falling down a slippery slope of food and health obsession. The article basically talked about how to put on a lot of muscle while staying lean. Here was the basic description: Eat one gram of protein per pound of body weight a day (for me about 160g), half your body weight in fat per day (about 80g), and using a formula to figure out daily calorie needs the rest of you calories came from carbs (about 140g). Although the ratios are off a little and I wasn’t eating enough fat this really isn’t that bad of an approach to eating. The only problem was that I was still eating the Power Foods so most of my carbs were coming from grain, cereals, and beans. I was eating fruits and veggies, but not nearly enough. This was when I started counting calories and macronutrients. I would literally track everything that I ate every day, how many grams of protein, carbs, and fat I was eating, and total calories… by hand. I became obsessed with it. During this time my brother asked me if I felt like I was controlled by food – I avoided the question but in the end the answer was yes. Food had taken control of my life. It was all I thought about and if I messed up or ate too much of this or that macronutrient or too many calories I freaked out. It was bad. It got to a point that I would take 45 minutes to pack a lunch and snack for the next day at work because I had to “run the numbers.” My wife and I started to fight a lot as a result and it was all very frustrating. My cheat meals also became more excessive because of the stress the rest of the week caused. I would consistently eat WAY too much once a week of complete junk, but I continued to be muscular and lose weight (thanks to CrossFit). I was also the leanest and lightest I had been at about 150#. So all this counting and stressing worked, but it was NOT sustainable for my life or for my marriage. My wife and I had a really big fight one night and she asked me “what happens when we have kids and you miss 45 minutes of time with your family every night so you can pack food?” That hit me like a tone of bricks – something had to change. Enter the Zone (ha!).

While perusing the CrossFit discussion board I found out about the Zone diet. I had never really read into it because it always seemed so complicated. After this fight with my wife I looked more closely into it and found out that it was not nearly as bad as I thought. I figured out what I needed in blocks a day and printed off a block chart and starting using it. Although I was still weighing and measuring my food it allowed me to do so much faster and start to get me away from being so exact in my measurements. I began to be able to estimate (which was a huge step!). Things started to get a lot better. Also while on the discussion board I found out about CrossFit Strength Bias (CFSB) and the Paleo Diet. I used CFSB to put on a lot of muscle and got myself up from about 150# to about 163#. I was very pleased with my results. On the other hand, I had read up on the Paleo Diet and had pretty much dismissed it out of hand. No Grains, Dairy, or Legumes! Preposterous! These were staples of my diet and I had lost weight eating them. Not for me. During this time, however, I was not nearly as lean as I wanted to be and started asking a lot of questions on the board about how I was eating and how to lean out, etc.  This was all about three or four months ago.  One day someone on CrossFit mentioned the website MarksDailyApple.com. I had never heard of it so I checked it out. That was the day my life changed forever.

I began to read all the articles on MDA about the Primal way of eating and living. I read about why grains and legumes were so bad and why dairy probably wasn’t the best thing for me. In a couple of days time I spent hours on that website. I decided to give it a try. The main change for me was the grains, dairy, and legumes. It took me a while and it wasn’t easy but over time I gave up all those things and started eating Primal. I still used the zone diet block system and weighed and measured my food, but very quickly I found I was becoming less and less stressed about it. I also loved the whole lifestyle approach that was such a staple of MDA and the Primal way of life. Things were better than ever with my food and my life. I was able to let go of feeling the need to eat every so often. I began eating less overall and also doing IF including a couple of 24 hour fasts once a week! For me, coming from 6 meals a day, this was a big deal. I now ate food around my life as opposed to planning life around my food.

At this point, in 2013, I’ve pretty much found myself in a maintenance mode. I’m pleased with my weight and body composition and it’s become easy to eat and move Primally. The most wonderful part is still that I no longer obsess about food. My family has also grown as my wife and I now have a 16 month old daughter. Life is good.


So that’s pretty much it. I must never forget where I have come from and how much finding The Primal Blueprint has changed my life. Maybe now you understand why I entitled this story what I did. Primal eating and living has set me free from myself and from food. I am happier, healthier, and more vibrant. I no longer stress about food and all that goes along with that. I can now focus on the more important things in this life and enjoy it for all that it is. I have you to thank for that Mark. You showed me the truth and it has indeed set me free.


Grok on!


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51 thoughts on “And the Truth Shall Set You Free!”

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  1. Love your story, Mark, and I can definitely relate to the stressing over food thing. Thanks so much for sharing your story about becoming less stressed AND more healthy! Well done.

  2. Good job. I found MDA in April and tried it since I weighed myself and found I was 299. I did not want to break into the 300 range and started going primal almost immediately . I had never really tried any other diets just had tried a few times to watch what I ate and try not to drink to much Coke(my personal biggest pitfall). I don’t like many veggies so it is a little hard, but have dropped 50 pounds as of this morning. I am going to wait till my 1 year anniversary and submit my own story.

    1. Congratulations on your 50!!! looking fwd to your Friday story 🙂

  3. Great story Mark– But quoting scripture isn’t a bad thing– if indeed the truth set you free. The full quote might be more objectionable to some. My struggles over weight and health have mostly been conquered by MDA and the great people who love the primal lifestyle. Stories like yours and so many others who have transformed their lives in so many ways are priceless.

    Congrats– and don’t apologize for anything– to quote scripture…Fear not!

    1. Sorry Ryan– I was congratulating Mark on another success story and should have congratulated you– no offense intended!

  4. I tracked calories for over a year and a half. I understand that it begins to run your life. Good for you for getting away from that approach to food and nutrition.

    1. I track calories every now and again also. It can become a bad obsession. I think it’s great to do every once and a while for a few weeks to get a good idea on what you’re taking in – especially if it’s fitting in to your goals or not. Once you have a good idea of where you stand – quit. It’s too OCD.

    2. What was the catalyst that got you away from counting? As a numbers guy and part time geek (programmer), 14 months of counting (and great success on my own mostly primal quest) seemed reasonable, until recently…

      1. Sorry for the long wait on the reply. I actually missed my story posting somehow so I’m just now seeing these comments. My catalyst from getting away from counting is that I was being way too OCD about it and spending far to much time doing it. I’m not necessarily disparaging WAM all your foods but for me it got out of control. If it works for you, do it!

  5. Congrats! Finding the a way to eat and move that lets you enjoy your life rather than wasting time obsessing over food and weight is indeed very liberating!

  6. Great story Ryan, congrats on gaining control. Health and fitness just doesn’t have to be so complicated! That’s a big reason I love primal.

  7. wow, that’s great you moved away from food obsession in truer life, truer health, and being able to focus on your family.

    i also found that I had a food obsession tendency that had different manifestations. Going Primal helped a lot, but I eventually found Overeaters Anonymous, which helped me with the emotional and spiritual aspects of my food addiction. By joining OA, I got support, and have finally been able to eat moderate, healthy, Primal meals, rather than overeating Primal food.

    1. Jenny, I spent time in OA before I found primal, but the results are the same. Nobody can take away what I’ve learned.

      Ryan, that was a great story. Your family is beautiful.

  8. Aaaw! your baby looks so cute and happy especially in the last pic, it is like she is clapping for you 🙂

  9. Freeing yourself of obsession with food and the “correct” ratio of macronutrients is an underplayed benefit of eating paleo/Primal; yet you will see it mentioned in passing over and over in posts and forums–it really is an easy way of eating once you get into the routine.

    Congrats on your success, Ryan and keep up the good work!

  10. I agree on the food planing stress.I would get anxious every day about exactly was I Going to eat. Then you feel relieved to have it done and figured out, just to do it all over again the next day. Nowadays I just look for meat and veggies for my packed meals. If I happen to grab a fruit, nuts, or cheese then great. Maybe I’ll eat those extras, maybe I won’t. Now the only long tedious thing about packing lunches is the time it takes to grab a ziploc baggie.

  11. Interesting story Ryan, thanks for sharing, wonderful looking family. It does take some effort to avoid the temptations and eat the right way, but since I do three meals a day within an eight hour period and always try to have the right combination of primal macronutrients is becomes less of a management nightmare.

  12. Great job! I wonder- how has your family been? Has your wife and new baby joined in your paleo eating?

    1. Yes and no. My wife is definitely not fully primal. She is to a large extent vicariously thr
      ough me as she is willing to cook primal or close to primal meals. However, she does still eat pretty much anything she wants as she is definitely blessed with the genetics that allows her to do so. My daughter is also mostly primal but eats like her momma a little as well. I’m working on it. 🙂

  13. Wow. I have never been able to get interested in counting calories and after reading what you wrote, I am so glad. I truly think that mental health improvements are every bit as meaningful as the physical successes. For that level of frustration and worry to go away is really significant. A lot have people have written about that issue but you have really made it clear.

  14. Ooooo this one hit home for me today. I remember that obsession with food, worrying about everything little thing I ate and whether it was good or not (this was all pre-primal, so there was a lot of CW angst in there!). I recently started going to a gym and the trainer I’m checking in with on a monthly basis encouraged me to start tracking my food. I’ve been nearly full primal for 6 months now and have already lost 50 pounds over the last year, so I mean, I know what I’m doing, and I know what works for me (but I’m still always learning).

    Anyway, your story made me realize that over that last few days I’ve been obsessing over the tracking, and that’s a feeling I do NOT enjoy. I already know what foods keep me happy, healthy, and strong. When I stick to that, I don’t really need to track my food.

    Congrats on your success. And your kiddo is adorable!

  15. “Basically, the premise of the diet was to eat the 12 “Power Foods” which consisted of almonds and other nuts, beans and legumes (yikes), spinach and other green veggies, dairy (uh…), instant oatmeal (what?!), eggs, turkey and other lean meats, peanut butter (man…), olive oil, whole grain breads and cereals (crap!), extra whey protein, and raspberries and other berries. You ate 3 meals and 3 snacks throughout each day on a pretty specific timetable as well.”

    This diet can work very well with a few primal alternatives. I did it for 6 weeks and went from a tight core but 16% body fat to ripped abs and veins showing all over my body with 6% body fat. Basically, follow it as prescribed, but substitute:

    legumes: skip the peanuts, beans, etc and instead have a serving of nuts or seeds (my favorite substitute were cashews and macademia’s

    dairy: substitute with true greek yogurt (from goat milk, not cow milk like the US knock-offs) and cheese that contains only the milk fats and enzymes

    instant oatmeal: you could compromise and do steel cut fully soaked oats just have an equivalent salad instead. In my case, I had a sweet potato (baked, but otherwise plain… no butter or sugar, etc). they take time to cook so a trick is to bake 5 or 6 at a time and warm them up in the microwave or eat them cold

    peanut butter: almond butter works as a good substitute. or as above… just eat some seeds or nuts. peanut butter is good for fats and proteins with some carbs, so you could also try a smoothie with a protein powder and coconut oil and a ½ banana

    whole grain breads and cereals: again, substitute with seeds and nut and extra veggies for the fiber part of it

    also… if you’re like me and allergic to whey or casein, switch out the whey protein powder for Jarrow or NutriBiotic’s pea or rice protein. One serving of each mixed together gives an awesome amino acid profile

    basically, look at the macro nutrients of the items they list that are not primal and then find primal substitutes that offer equivalent amounts of proteins, fats, and carbs. and where possible, choose a whole, unprocessed food.

  16. Congrats! Glad to see you got away from that calorie-counting regime, that must have been really stressful.

    What a cute daughter. And this shows that I have been reading the MDA forum: When I saw the picture of her sitting in the grass, I immediately thought, “grass-fed”. =)

  17. Good work Ryan! It’s wonderful to be able to just sit down and enjoy a great healthy meal. The truth is on your plate! All the best.

  18. Sorry, I mean, I am very happy for this guy, but he was always in pretty good shape. No huge transformations here. Was I the only one falling asleep reading this?

    1. Well, “success” (and this is a success story!) does not only refer to physical success or visible physical transformation. Ryan succeeded in overcoming the bad habit of tracking food and being fixed by the what-to-eat-topic and implementing a “normal” and more stressless attitude to food. And that indeed is success! Congratulations Ryan!

      But I agree with you. I too thougt “hey, this guy only writes about food and his eating habits!” But this was exactly his problem – being fixed by this single subject! Most people start the primal trial being overweight. So most success stories show a significant physical transformation at first glance (I admit I always scroll through the before and after fotos first and start reading the text afterwards 🙂 ) but they also show a mental transformation, a tranformation in the outlook on life. If you have always been in good shape – like Ryan – then you still can succeed in a way like he did.

      By the way: if someone tries the primal way only for weightloss reasons he or she will probably fail in the long run. The primal lifestyle is much more than getting rid of some extra pounds. But I admit, if someone is only interested in dramatical before and after fotos this story might have been pretty boring :-). I liked it because tracking food nearly became a habit with me too a few years ago. And I am happy it wasn´t that bad and I succeeded in a similar way.

    2. I never had the impression that MDA is a weight-loss website. Maybe you should go find one if that’s what you’re looking for.

  19. Amen! 😉 Excellent title, excellent story, excellent outcome. Congrats!

  20. This was a great story, congratulations Ryan! Obsessive counting and measuring of food can be torturous, and I really feel your freedom and happiness! This is such a very important part of mental/emotional health, as well as physical health, and I’m so glad it is being shared/addressed here! You are wise beyond your young years, and have found an inner goldmine: confidence in the ability to heal oneself.

  21. Well done Ryan!

    Your story mirrors my experience a lot – Especially before going Primal and toying around with Men’s Health fad diets like the Abs Diet (which I tried many years ago and like most things CW touts , failed).

    CrossFit seems to give you a great fitness/movement base (as it did with me), and I’m happy that you’re no longer unnecessarily stressing about snacking on 6 meals a day 🙂


  22. I like that you used scripture. You’re kind of a testimony. You’re kind of a witness to the truth. You’re kind of an evangelist…

  23. Thanks for sharing your truly inspiring story, Ryan.

    I was once caught up in the “numbers” system(s) myself (counted everything) and know how it can drive you (and those around you) flat-out nuts. Fortunately for you – your wife’s comment butt-kicked you out of your mental fog. I had to figure it out for myself.

    I’ve only been going Primal for a few weeks now but have already seen some positive changes in my sleep, energy levels, endurance and have lost 7.9 lbs. I’m not obsessing about what I’m going to/not going to eat any more which is truly freeing indeed.

    Thanks to inspirational stories like yours I believe I will have similar success.

    BTW – Your daughter looks like a mini Grokette playing in the grass!

    Grok On!

  24. I’ve known people who still follow the Abs Diet and love it and are still in great shape. Quick recipes, easy shopping list and an effective program.

    But based on the story, it didn’t appear to be the “diet” per se, as there was considerable success with it, but instead jumping around looking for the next best program and then the re-introduction of junk food.

    You *can* get lean on legumes and grain…hundreds of examples (milk, otoh, sucks)…and they were staples of our ancestors. (In fact, Alan Aragon does an excellent job in dispelling the whole Paleo myth. http://www.alanaragonblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Paleo-Diet-Claims-Vs-Evidence.pdf)

    If low carb works, great, but, it isn’t the grains. It isn’t the legumes. It is calories in, calories out unless you’ve got a genetic issue affecting your metabolism. A few people do.