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!
Note: I wrote most of this during the challenge last year, but stopped short of sending it in, thinking “I’m not done yet.” This last year has taught me there is no finish line, just continual betterment and progress for the life you want to live.
My primal journey started in December of 2011, when at 22 I was face to face with my unavoidable future. I was 241 pounds, 5’7”, had a terrible relationship with food, and had been overweight my entire life. Type 2 diabetes also runs in my family. I remember the moment distinctly: I was on a mini family vacation, at our hotel, and I watched my dad inject insulin into his leg. I was stunned. He had been diagnosed with the disease when I was in my teens, but up until that point had only needed pills. I was scared. For my dad, yes, but also for myself, because I knew that if I didn’t change something, then that would be me. That was my future.
I’ve struggled with weight my entire life. As early as grade school I was teased about my weight. I distinctly remember “health day” in the 5th grade when I weighed in at 100 pounds. Boy, did the ugly comments commence once that got out among the class. So began my very negative self body-image and my relationship with food. Despite being fairly active by playing volleyball and softball, playing outside on our farm, and chasing our cats around with my mom’s camera, I stayed slightly overweight. Every year at my physical my pediatrician would show my mom and me that little health chart that tells you what you should weigh, and I was always above that line. My mom and I tried to lose weight together, but I could never stick to any kind of “diet” or plan. I was a kid, and I wanted to be like everyone else. I didn’t want to be on a diet when I was in middle school. What kid does? It was just another way for me to be different, and another source of ridicule on top of the teasing about my weight.
So despite family efforts to lose weight and become “healthy” via conventional wisdom (I had a huge disdain for low fat ranch), my weight kept going up. I probably gained ten to fifteen pounds every year of high school. By the time I was a senior, I think I was around 185. I remember being so frustrated because I played volleyball, did track and field, and played softball. I was an active kid, and I was extremely strong. But I was overweight and so self-conscious about my body that I developed an emotional eating habit. Food was always the answer. Sad? Eat. Happy? Eat. Angry? You guessed it—eat. Then I would hate myself for eating junk food, and it would start all over again.
But I managed to keep all of that frustration, anger, and sadness to myself for most of my life. I internalized the constant teasing and comments about how I was fat. I shrugged it off and looked fine, and happy, to the rest of the world. And for the most part, I was. I had amazing friends in high school, I was passionate about volleyball and played varsity since my sophomore year, and had a family that loved and supported me in every single way. But I would still occasionally cry myself to sleep because I was so unhappy with my body. If I could just be thin, everything would have been so much better—or at least that’s what I kept telling myself.
After high school, I was off to play collegiate volleyball. That sport has been (and still is) one of my biggest passions in life, and I was beyond excited to keep playing at a higher level. But along with the challenges of entering college and playing at a higher level, I was faced with the reality that my weight kept me from being the best athlete I could be. My coach and I had several discussions over my four years of playing about losing weight. It was always emotional for me because of my life-long struggle with my weight and my inability to lose any of it. We talked about diet, we talked about cardio—all the things conventional wisdom tells you to do to be healthy. Even though I loved lifting weights, I forced myself to do more cardio instead, spending an hour on the elliptical because I thought that would help me lose the weight.
Meanwhile, I had moved out of my parents’ house, was living on my own, hardly ever cooked, and began dealing with the stress of college. While my weight stayed constant during the season (it might have even gone down a bit because of our intense workouts and practices), in the off-season I would gain it all back, plus some. Talk about a huge spike in my body image issues—try being overweight when you’re surrounded by strong, fit athletes in a college setting. I was hyper-aware of my weight and my size, still had a terrible relationship with food, and had only conventional wisdom to help me. I failed, time and time again. And every time I couldn’t lose the weight, I felt more and more defeated, like I was not only letting myself down but letting my team and my coaches down as well. My senior year (2009-2010), I took training for volleyball extremely serious. It was my last year and I wanted to be in the best shape I possibly could. I followed a strict meal plan (read: calorie restriction), did my workouts religiously, and hardly ever hung out with friends because that would typically involve food and alcohol. My life was training for volleyball and losing two to three pounds per week.
For the first time, it worked. I spent most of the summer exhausted and I was extremely lonely, but I managed to go from 220 to 200 pounds by the time season started. Not an ideal weight, but definitely a better one. Despite losing the weight and feeling stronger than ever, I didn’t feel fit (although I did have some rockin’ biceps that year). I was always exhausted from our workouts. I felt like I had no energy. I couldn’t finish some of our conditioning, and I would break down crying in frustration and anger because I felt trapped in this weird limbo where on one side, I needed to lose weight, but on the other, I needed to be strong and fuel my body for these intense training sessions. I couldn’t find that balance, and I just remember being so angry with myself for not being able to do either one.
After a very successful senior year (we won conference for the first time in ten years), I transitioned to coaching and started pursuing my master’s degree in English. Without the motivation to stay fit for volleyball, the weight piled back on. That’s when I found myself suddenly weighing 241 pounds in December of 2011, seeing my future with diabetes right before me if I didn’t change in a sustainable way.
So I did what any English nerd would do: I started reading. The first book I read that changed my perception of food was I’m Mad As Hell, and I’m Not Going to Eat It Anymore, by Christina Pirello. Although she promoted being vegetarian/vegan, this book opened my eyes to all the marketing that surrounds food and all the crap we are fed every day to buy food that could literally kill us. After this, I started cooking more whole foods, and continued to look for answers. (As a farm girl from Nebraska, being vegetarian was never going to take.)
That summer, I started doing Medifast and Take Shape for Life. A friend of mine asked if I would be interested, and she became my health coach as I took on the program. I read the books, and things started to click. Medifast limits your carbs to less than 100 grams a day with pre-packaged, dehydrated “meals,” and you get one “lean and green” meal—the program puts you in fat burning mode. That’s also about the same time I started reading Steve Kamb’s Nerd Fitness blog, which eventually led me to Mark’s Daily Apple. Many of the things I had read from Medifast seemed to line up (but not completely) with the things I was reading on NF and MDA.
I felt amazing that summer. Since I was limiting carbs, I was burning fat. I suddenly had this ridiculous amount of energy, I was sleeping better at night, and the weight seemed to melt away. From June to September, I lost 35 pounds, while still managing to do all the things I loved. I felt my attachment to junk food and my emotional eating cycles diminishing, and found a new kind of attachment to taking short jogs, riding my bike, playing sand volleyball without gasping for air, and making amazing, delicious food. I also slowly started incorporating more Primal foods into my daily, home-cooked meal. Coconut oil, loads of veggies, and grass-fed butter became staples, and I took more time to find quality meats and fish like grass-fed beef and fresh caught salmon. I was starting to consider becoming a full-blown Primal Blueprinter, and knew that this could be the answer I’ve been looking for.
Once I returned to school, I started to get fed up with the Medifast meals. I craved real food. So I stopped eating the pre-packaged meals, and gained about 10 pounds back. I continued to read MDA religiously, but for whatever reason (perhaps teaching for the first time and dealing with the stress of grad school again), I didn’t commit 100% to the primal lifestyle.
It wasn’t until the spring of 2013 that I finally felt like I could jump in, full steam ahead. I weighed in at 215 pounds, and decided to be primal for a month. Just one month. I shot for 90/10, and many times felt like I was doing better than that. I loved getting that high energy level back and sleeping better at night. The way I felt on the inside made being primal easy, and that month evolved into a lifestyle. I dropped 20 pounds without much effort that summer and maintained that weight easily while Primal.
2014 started off well: I competed in my first triathlon, played in the adult national volleyball tournament in Phoenix, and really took advantage of a wonderful summer in Alaska. One year of being mostly Primal, though, wasn’t quite enough to make all the good habits. Slowly, old habits crept back into my life, and that number on the scale slowly crept back up. 90/10 turned into 80/20, and by the end of 2014 I think it was more like 50/50 (!!). If anything, 2014 showed me that I’m still a work in progress. I’m using the 21 Day Challenge to get back to basics: eating Primal 90% of the time or more, moving more on a daily basis, and getting out in nature as often as possible (yes, even during the winter…in Alaska).
Cross country skiing in Anchorage on Powerline Pass a couple weeks ago. This is where I play!
The good news is I know this works—I’ve done it before. I’m more focused and motivated than ever to make this stick, because I know this is the sustainable lifestyle I’ve been looking for since I was in my early 20s. I still have weight to lose, but that’s no longer as important as living a full, healthy life. Changing has been a long process. Sometimes I look back and wonder how much better I could have been in volleyball if only I had the PB sooner; but I know that it has taken all my experiences to get me where I am today, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything. I look at these photos and am humbled by how much this has changed me, inside and out. I’ll be graduating with my master’s degree this spring, and from there I’m planning to become Primal Blueprint Certified and become a health coach through the Institute for the Psychology of Eating. I feel nothing but compassion for those struggling with weight and body issues, and I know I’m meant to help people find their way to a happy, healthy life.
Mark, you have changed my life, possibly even saved it from a future of insulin medication, and my gratitude seems inadequate in exchange for that, but it is all I have. For anyone teetering on the edge of committing to this way of life, I urge you to stop being hesitant. Believe in the process, and stick to it. This lifestyle simply works. I will leave you all with my mantra, the one that kept me pushing forward on those days when I thought I would only fail again: Today you are closer to the person you were always meant to become. Thank you.