Down Under But Not Down: Australian Family Goes Primal

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-1-2Dear Mark,

My wife Helen and I (both 58 years old) have enjoyed MDA for about two years now, but have been following a ketogenic, Primal lifestyle for approximately three years. We are getting better at practicing it, understanding it, promoting it and feeling its health benefits by the day.

We not only eagerly await your daily posts, but the weekly success stories as well. They are motivational and inspirational, but also sometimes quite emotional, too. We have not only one, but many success stories within our circle of family and friends. Here is my attempt to relay my experiences to you as briefly as possible.

Helen and I were so excited to read your beautiful interpretation of what it means to be Australian. The news of your upcoming conference in Sydney sent us into a dizzy spin of anticipation. You see, 15 years ago we (including our three sons aged 17, 15 and 11 years of age at the time) “chose” to become Australians by leaving our birth country, South Africa. So, being Australian means even more to us than those who were born and bred into this wonderful country and lifestyle. Immigration isn’t an easy experience and it comes with many challenges, which can subsequently lead to many hidden health issues—even though outwardly one might think that he is healthy.

In order to satisfy some fairly harsh visa requirements, I had to start a new business when I first arrived in Australia in July 2000. Fortunately for us, things turned out well. However, the pressure of ensuring a successful result for my family was not without its pressures. One goes through a massive learning curve and a severe amount of stress. I was always happy, motivated and driven, but over a period of time, found less time for exercise and put on some extra weight (about 10kg). I found myself in an onerous office situation, sitting behind a desk all day with little time for exercise. This eventually took its toll on my health.

The medication I had been taking for hypertension (since the age of 19) was no longer keeping my blood pressure controlled. “Let’s add some new medication,” the doctor said! Then my cholesterol was too high. “Let’s introduce statins,” the doctor said. Frightening panic attacks during the night became so severe and debilitating that I dreaded bedtime. I was now in a deep state of depression too. No problem, said my GP. That’s easily managed with anti-depressants. Then a severe bout of acute bacterial prostatitis landed me in hospital for a week. Aches and pains in the joints…”OMG—now I have arthritis, too!”

A HUGE downward spiral! “But how can this be happening to me? I’ve always been fit and active, carried no extra weight, my wife has fed our family a healthy diet (yes, moderate carb, low fat, low dairy, plenty of healthy vegetables and fruit) for all these years!”

As an Optometrist (in my South African days) with a reasonably sound paramedical background, I decided to query and challenge this Conventional Wisdom. I had to get off this roller coaster of what now was surely a road to disaster for me. I kept thinking of what I was going to have to endure for the rest of my life and I wanted no part of it!

In the early hours of the morning, after experiencing another horrific anxiety attack, I started browsing through the Internet to attempt to find a solution to my problem. I came across a man by the name of Joe Barry (Barry McDonagh is his real name.) He had published a book called Panic Away, which I purchased immediately that morning. This publication, I believe, has gone a long way into getting normality back into my life.

Each sentence I read was as if he were describing my very life. He described in absolute detail how to deal with and overcome my challenging experiences with various techniques. Take a look at his Youtube presentation here.

About five years ago, my middle son, Warwick, introduced me to The 4 Hour Body, written by Tim Ferris. I read it voraciously and, like for so many of your other readers, one idea sparked off another. I now had some ammunition—what weapons could I find to fire it with? And so my research started to unfold.

Some highly recommended books I have read recently are:

1) Cholesterol Clarity, followed of course by Keto Clarity, both written by Jimmy Moore and Dr. Eric Westman.
2) The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living by Jeff Volek and Stephen Phinney.
3) The New Atkins for a New You by Doctors Eric Westman, Stephen Phinney and Jeff Volek.
4) Deep Nutrition by Dr. Catherine Shanahan.
5) The Big Fat Surprise by Nina Teicholz.

As an ex South African, one day I avidly watched a televised ultra-marathon, which took place annually between Durban and Pietermaritzburg. The marathon is called the Comrades Marathon. The man who, for years, has been commenting on nutrition and training techniques is Professor Tim Noakes. He was all about carb loading before these events. Amazingly, his change of view in the past four or so years has been met with a huge amount of criticism and skepticism in South Africa and around the world. Read his book Challenging Beliefs if you can.

However, the book that takes pride of place on my bedside table is of course: The Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson.

Mark’s views are practical and real. I find it a simple approach to how everyone should conduct their lives. As a family, we have turned our lives and health around by reading, absorbing and practicing what Mark preaches. I, in particular, have done a fair amount of reading and research. My family and friends (those who want to listen) have, as a result, followed many of his suggested resources and successful Paleo/Primal gurus.

Here are some of our family success stories:

1)  My blood lipid tests (cholesterol and inflammatory markers) are now all within normal—not necessarily conventional wisdom’s—limits. You should see the concern on the doctor’s face when he discusses the blood pathology results with me…but do I care? No more medication—after 40 years of religiously taking my daily high dose of beta blockers in an attempt to control idiopathic hypertension!


  • HDL: 47
  • Tot Chol: 247
  • LDL: 165
  • Triglycerides: 141
  • Tri/HDL: 3.03


  • HDL: 58
  • Tot Chol: 197
  • LDL: 91
  • Triglycerides: 133
  • Tri/HDL: 2.28


  • HDL: 83
  • Tot Chol: 281
  • LDL: 185
  • Triglycerides: 71
  • Tri/HDL: 0.85

(Note that in 2008 and 2010 I was still fully medicated with statins, hypertensive therapy and antidepressants, whereas in 2014 I was medication-free.)

My average BP reading is 125/75 and my pulse rate on waking varies between 55 and 58.

photo for Mark's letterGOODBYE to the antidepressants, low dose aspirin, statins, anti-inflammatories and antacids.

HELLO to SERF (Start Eating Real Food), sleep and clear thinking.

WEIGHT LOSS AND MAINTENANCE (those 10 kgs) was an added bonus!

Our family practices a wonderful movement and exercise program, which includes some relaxed cycling, Game Fit (tennis circuits and rotations twice a week), monthly hikes with our children, occasional sprints and beach walks.

P1040473This picture was taken together with my three sons at the Noosa triathlon on the Sunshine Coast in November 2014, in which we all participated.

With some encouragement and gentle persuasion, our sons (now aged 32, 30 and 26), together with their partners, are addressing their individual health needs.

Helen for Mark copy2)  I must mention that my wife has happily supported each and every one of us in our endeavours for better health. She too has benefited by the changes we’ve made in our lifestyle. Helen is a potter and sculptor. She not only does her own work, but runs a teaching studio too (from home at her numerous standing desks!) Out of most people I know or have met, she truly experiences what you have referred to as Arbejdsglaede or “work happiness.” She is genuinely Primal in her work as, unlike most people, she works with the earth (clay). She affords her students the same opportunity and peace that comes with this creativity and vocational fulfillment. Slowly but surely, students and their spouses have noted the changes in us all and questioned about what’s going on. And so the Primal Lifestyle “ball” continues to roll.

3)  Our eldest son, Bryce, has lost 25 kilograms (105 kgs down to 80 kgs) since the beginning of 2014 following a kidney stone scare. Once he changed his nutritional lifestyle and incorporated exercise into his daily life, his energy levels are through the roof, his attitude and outlook on life are amazing, and he has progressed as a wonderful husband and father to his daughter and son.


4)  Our second son’s partner, Anna, has overcome chronic urticaria (hives).
Now she knows exactly how to manage her situation to avoid or reduce the frequency of the outbreaks. The occasional rash she experiences is now of short duration and extremely mild.

Doctors were at a loss as to what to suggest, other than prescribing a variety of cortisone products that were mostly ineffective. To have experienced first hand the anguish, pain and suffering she went through physically and emotionally was horrific.

anna 1

I must mention here that our son Warwick has been very supportive of Anna in her quest to cure herself through a Primal lifestyle. He too is totally Primal, with and for Anna (except for the odd beer), but the results speak for themselves. Not only has he lost weight (12 kg), but he has more energy and more motivation. They exercise daily and their favorite activity is their sprints. He’s become more adventurous in the kitchen and they enjoy “foraging” for good, healthy food options together, all of which strengthens their relationship.


5)  Our youngest son, Wade—although still making the occasional blunder in his food choices—has taken his exercise efforts to a new level and enjoys every moment of it. From a schoolboy who thought that jogging 500 m was going to kill him, to recently (with the help and motivation of his fiancé, Kirstine) competing and quite capably finishing the Sunshine Coast Half Ironman is commendable. Oh! And I forgot to mention he did this fueled by electrolytes alone! No nasty GU’s or gels strapped to his bike. His interest still remains in triathlon and cycling, but a new approach to eating and training is underway. He looks forward to seeing what his body is capable of doing in the coming years.


6)  My brother-in-law, Hugh (also 58 years old), has been a type 2 diabetic for the past 10 years. In the last year he has slowly made the transition to a Primal lifestyle. It took a long while for him to be convinced, but now that his blood sugar readings have come down from 264 (on Metformin and Januvia) to 108 (no medication), he is extremely motivated to take up the challenge of conquering this avoidable disease. However, this is another success story which is still a work in progress. We’ll encourage him to share his story with you, one day, when he’s ready.

My ambition is to continue studying, researching, encouraging and attempting to suggest alternative choices people may wish to embrace for the betterment of their health and lifestyle.

My perspective on Primal living is that it first provides you with the necessary tools to improve your mental, physical and emotional condition. Once these elements of your existence become adequately addressed, the extra bonuses in life follow on pretty simply. Weight loss is merely a byproduct of fueling your cells with the correct nutrition.

I completed the Primal Blueprint Expert Certification in January this year, and look forward to spreading the word in nutritional health. I concentrate heavily on the Primal Essential Movements and Helen and I are diligently following these activities. It’s amazing to discover the various weak areas in one’s body!

My admiration and gratitude goes to my wife for all her encouragement through those tough years. Without her consistent support I know that I would not be around today, writing this story. In November 2014, we attended the Low Carb Downunder Seminar in Brisbane with guest presenters Dr. Stephen Phinney and Jimmy Moore. How exciting and enlightening! Now, the excitement, enthusiasm and anticipation is building as Helen and I look forward to attending Mark’s Thr1ve seminar in Sydney, Australia, March 13-15. Two of our sons and their partners will also be attending the seminar. How wonderful that will be!

Grok On, Mark, along with all your other healthy, “unconventional” friends and Primal community.

My aim is definitely to “Drop dead healthy.”


Les Davey

(Our Motto: A family that strives together, thrives together!)

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36 thoughts on “Down Under But Not Down: Australian Family Goes Primal”

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  1. Wow! What a great story! All the best to you and your family –

  2. Awesome story! Congrats to you and your family! This is inspiring!

  3. Awesome story, boet! I’m wondering if your son ever ate that barbel? 🙂

  4. I got goosebumps reading this. WTG for not just you, but your entire family. I have to say the thing that I am most proud of to date in my life, is not curing my chronically morbidly obese self to vibrant thriving with the help of Mark et al, but helping my wife get so much healthier and happier and our daughter thrive.

    I feel like a proper Papa Bear now. Protecting and helping my mate and cub thrive.

  5. Awesome story. Thanks for sharing your inspirational family life.

  6. Awesome lab work turn around! Sometimes external photos are great, but internal markers are an awesome sign that what is happening on the outside is happening on the inside as well. Keep it up!

    1. Thanks Dr Anthony Gustin. For me, the inside story(internal markers) is so interesting, but more importantly, being aware of the problem and reversing some of the issues naturally is so stimulating and satisfying.

  7. This is so inspiring! I too have thought about getting Primal Blueprint certification. I too am trying to live a primal lifestyle with my daughter. My ex is also on board so it’s not a junk food fest at his house. Just seeing them all work together and support each other is so gratifying. That support is so important!

  8. Great story! LOVE that your family has taken this on together, it is so much easier when you can share your passion for health with those closest to you! All the best to you and yours!

  9. What a wonderful success story! My mother in law has type 2 diabetes… my husband and I have tried to discuss the whole Paleo thing with her and she just doesn’t want to hear it. It breaks my heart, but I guess you can’t help someone unless they want the help. I suppose I’ll keep dropping little hints over the years, while trying to stay in her good graces 😉

  10. What a great inspiration it is to see a whole family transforming their health together! My husband is finally giving this way of life a try right now and it’s so nice to have a partner in all of this. Glad to hear it’s becoming popular down under as well 🙂

  11. Such an exciting report on what is a monumental effort over a long period of time. We can’t un-know what we’ve learned. I hope you all comfortably continue what you’ve begun. Thank you for sharing!

  12. Such great joy in life, that’s what I hear from this–congrats to you and your family, and thanks for sharing!

  13. Very inspiring! Must be such a relief to you to be healthier and have to support of your wife and children. Thanks so much for sharing your story!

  14. Les, what a wonderful story, and what’s more rewarding then to have your beautiful family join you on your road to health. If only I could have such an influence on those close to me who live in denial. Interestingly, we are nearly of the same age with almost identical blood lipid markers; numbers that were much lower before I went primal but without medications. I knew from checking around that I was in good company, but it’s comforting to get reaffirmation again. Good on You!

  15. This is so awesome I’m so happy for you and your family keep up all the good work and enjoy when Mark comes to your city!

  16. From one father to another, I commend you for setting a great example to your kids. The photos pretty much tell the story (especially the one of your daughter-in-law).

    Keep it up.

  17. Definitely one of my favorite success stories. What was that, 5 for the price of 1? So wonderful to see your family thriving with Primal!

  18. Les, I love your story. My family has also all gone Primal… husband and 2 adult children, with my parents about 80% there.

    The 4 of us will be at ThriveMe next weekend as well, so I hope we can catch up and say Hi!

  19. Great story, however, I did want to ask about the (very) high LDLs? Can the author comment?

    1. Hi Ed, thanks for commenting on the LDL readings. By changing and sticking with the ketogenic/primal eating plan I had an increase in TC, HDL and LDL. Reducing carbohydrate consumption reduced my triglyceride levels significantly.
      The higher LDL is interesting, but by calculating the Tri/HDL ratio, checking CRP, I would say that my LDL particle makeup consists mainly of large,fluffy particles and not small dense oxidative particles. For confirmation of this, I have been trying to get a NMR Lipoprofile score done, but it appears that no labs in Australia are performing this test… frustrating!. In Cholesterol Clarity by Jimmy Moore, he covers this by stating that when you boost your HDL and TC, LDL levels may also rise, but the healthy particles replace the unhealthy particles. This is a brief explanation, but hopefully helps.

      1. Hi Dr. Davey,

        Thank for your feedback. Regarding the change in LDL particles, as I’m not a big fan of Jimmy Moore (sorry!), have you seen any peer reviewed studies or work on sites like PubMed, etc., that qualify this transition since you’re unable to have the tests performed? I’m a bigger fan of the actual science vs. a layman author’s interpretation. 😉

        Also, you may enjoy a video by Dr. Steven Gundry, a world renowned cardiologist, who discusses a lot of his published findings on low carb/high fat:

      2. Hi Les and Helen,
        Great to meet you both at ThriveMe – what a great weekend. I’ve just re-read your story after getting home and noted the comments about the LDL levels since going Primal. Helen, you also asked a question about it in Dr John Hart’s session. Just so happens that yesterday, a post from Peter Attia “The Eating Academy” popped into my inbox and I immediately thought of you. I’ve copied the relevant parts of his post below:

        In one particularly interesting case, a patient in self-prescribed nutritional ketosis presented to me with an LDL-P of more than 3500 nmol/L (i.e., more particles than could be measured by the NMR machine so the report simply said “>3,500 nmol/L”) despite feeling, performing, and looking great. Based on his through-the-roof desmosterol and cholanstanol levels, and a curb-side consult from the Godfather I mean Dr. Tom Dayspring, I decided to try an experiment. You see, the logical thing to do in this setting would have been to start two drugs immediately (a potent statin to address the hypersynthesis and ezetimibe to address the hyperabsorption) or tell him to abandon ketosis altogether. But this patient was adamant about staying in ketosis given the other benefits, though obviously worried about the long-term coronary implications. So, we agreed that for a 3 month trial period he would reduce SFA to an average of 25 g/day (vs. about 75 to 100 g/day) and make up the difference with monounsaturated fat (MUFA). Parenthetically, we also reduced his omega-3 PUFA given very high RBC EPA and DHA levels.
        So, on balance, he consumed about the same number of calories and even total quantity of fat, but his distribution of fat intake changed and he heavily swapped out SFA for MUFA.
        The result?
        His LDL-P fell from >3,500 nmol/L to about 1,300 nmol/L (about 55th percentile), and his CRP fell from 2.9 mg/L to <0.3 mg/L (and for the lipoprotein cognoscenti, both desmosterol and cholanstanol fell).
        Pretty cool, huh? So, my point is this: while I believe the population-based guidelines for SFA are not supported by a standard of science I consider acceptable, it does not imply I believe SFA is uniformly safe at all levels for all individuals.
        Some of you may be wondering about me. It turns out I’m in the group (recall: I have no idea how large or small this group is) that seems to do well—at least by the tools we have available to assess risk—with large amounts of SFA in my diet, if and when I elect to. Even when I was in ketosis, eating 4,000 kcal/day (literally getting 40 to 45% of my calories from SFA alone) my biomarkers—cardiovascular, insulin resistance, inflammation—were excellent. Better than they ever were or even are today. Though, my point still stands: there are some people who do not appear able to safely consume massive amounts of SFA.
        One last point I’ll make on this highly charged topic. I realize there is a contingent within the LCHF community who argue that traditional biomarkers of coronary risk—such as LDL-C or its superior cousin LDL-P—“don’t matter” if one is on a low carb or ketogenic diet. Maybe they are right. I guess time will tell. But I am not convinced, at least not yet. As a doctor I can’t look a patient in the eye and tell them a sky-high LDL-P is ok because they don’t eat carbohydrates. So if you’re following such a diet, and your LDL-P goes through the roof, I’d urge you to consider a variation of the diet.

        He also has a video series on YouTube.

        All food for thought!

  20. Great story and thanks for sharing. I am gutted that I’ve just learned that Mark will be in Sydney for a primal event and I can’t be there!