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Breathing Easy with a Primal Lifestyle

It’s Friday, everyone! And that means another Primal Blueprint Real Life Story [1] 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 [2]. I’ll continue to publish these each Friday as long as they keep coming in. Thank you for reading!

My name is Ryan and I am a 35 year old father of two beautiful daughters, ages three and nearly two. I am also a loving husband to an amazing wife who has been an amazing support to me over the years.

Ever since I was six weeks old, I have been in and out of hospital with severe, type two, brittle asthma. This form of asthma basically means that I can be fine one minute, and go into a major asthma attack the next without warning.

Throughout my years at school, I was reasonably healthy. I even played state level squash in Australia and trained five to six days a week. I was also an avid outdoors lover. On weekends that I was not playing squash in competitions, I was out hiking and camping before heading back into the classroom for school on Mondays.

When I was around 17, my asthma came back to haunt me. I had an acute asthma attack and spent two weeks in hospital and came out with a bucket load of medication. When I left school I became on outdoor instructor for a company named Outward Bound Australia, where I spent six years trekking through the bush with troubled youth on personal development programs. I did have the occasional asthma flare up during this time, but I also felt the best I had felt in a long time. I do put this down to breathing in the fresh air and being immersed in nature 24 hours a day.

Over the years since, my asthma progressively got worse. Over the last 10 years, I have spent one to tow months a year in hospital on respiratory wards and in and out of intensive care. I have been on every asthma medication under the sun prescribed by the “experts”.

As you can imagine, as I got older with work and family, this became extremely difficult. Not only does it physically knock you around because it takes months to get back to a so called “normal” lung volume, but it is also extremely hard emotionally.

As a male, there is always a little thought in the back of your head that you should be the “provider” in the family. If not financially, you should be the strong emotional “rock” that is always there for you wife/partner and kids to rely on. But with an illness such as asthma, it adds another level of complexity. You feel like you can’t be the so called “rock” that everyone talks about, as you never know when the next “flare up” is going to happen, when you will be back in hospital, and for how long. As such, you go through life always questioning, “When will I next be sick? Will I need to go to hospital? For how long will I be away from my family? Will everything be alright? Etc.”

My most recent hospitalisation was in September last year (2014). I spent two weeks in hospital with two days in intensive care with a C-pap mask (a mask that sits over your face and nose and forces oxygen into your lungs).

When I came out of hospital I weighed 115 kg. (Whenever you have an asthma flare up the docs put you straight onto steroids, which equals instant wait gain). In addition to the weight gain, my lung volume (FEV1) was at 47% of what my predicted lung volume for my height/weight and age should have been.

I had had enough of the constant weight gain, the cycle of hospitalisations, the specialist appointments, and, most importantly, missing my wife and two beautiful daughters.

I vaguely recalled hearing about a diet called paleo. As I do with a lot of questions I have, I put it out to Facebook land, to see if anyone I knew had tried going paleo/primal and what their experiences had been.

To my surprise, there were a lot of haters out there who straight away told me not look into it any further because it was just a “fad diet” or “You can’t sustain it” or “It’s only a trend.”

These were actually the people that fueled my fire to look into the paleo/primal lifestyle more deeply. I was contacted by an old school friend, Pete, who wanted to catch up over a coffee and talk to me about the benefits that he had seen since he went paleo. Not only did he explain the benefits that he saw, he explained a bit about the inflammation that the SAD diet creates. Since asthma is an inflammatory disease, I thought I would look into it a bit more. Pete recommended The Primal Blueprint [3] as the first book to look at, and he directed me to Mark’s Daily Apple. Well, I have not looked back since. I read The Primal Blueprint and trawled through Mark’s Daily Apple (and many other web sites). Every time I am asked about my journey, I recommend these two important resources straight away, as they had a huge part in my decision to lead a paleo/primal lifestyle.

In January 2015 I joined Pete’s gym, CrossFit WODen, to get some more physical activity to assist with the asthma—I love every minute of it. Not only do I love working out, I enjoy being part of a tribe with a similar mindset and view on lifestyle and diet.

The Good Stuff:

  1. I have dropped 17kg (37.5 lb)
  2. I have dropped four inches on the waist (although this is not the main reason I have gone paleo/primal, it’s an added bonus).
  3. I have A LOT more energy in the afternoons to play with my gorgeous daughters (even when they get me up at stupid o’clock in the morning!)
  4. I feel a lot better about myself
  5. I have a lot more confidence
  6. My Ventolin (reliever puffer) has gone from about 4-6 puffs a day to under two puffs a fortnight!
  7. My lung volume has gone from 47% of my predicted max (back when I got out of hospital in September) to 104% in my lung tests in January (my asthma specialist was very surprised and happy about this).

I have noticed that every time I stray from the primal foods, and move toward processed ones, my asthma symptoms come back. This gives me the additional motivation I need to continue with my journey.

The one thing that I am absolutely AMAZED with is how this happened in only four months! I could never have thought of how amazing life could be five months ago when I was lying in a hospital bed hooked up to tubes and monitors.

I am hoping to get my girls to start eating more paleo/primal foods in the future when I am 100% all over the paleo lifestyle (I’m still learning).

The real test will be to see how my asthma goes over winter (this is the worst time of the year for me) and also next summer when my physicians are looking to take me off the other medication to see if it has an effect.

In my mind, the paleo/primal lifestyle has had an amazing impact not only my weight and confidence, but, most importantly, my quality of life and my asthma. It gives me the opportunity to be a dad—not just a dad that sits down and watches his kids grow up, but a dad who activity plays, participates, runs around and teaches his kids about the benefits of having a healthy lifestyle and a positive tribe to be a part of. I am extremely happy that I have started this journey and I am looking forward to every step of it.

If you are thinking about adapting a paleo/primal lifestyle, I say GO FOR IT! The first few weeks are tough…but hey, it’s worth it and the benefits totally outweigh the negatives.

Ryan