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!
Growing up in Orange County I was always active. As a kid I was always at the beach, on my bike, or on my skateboard. Summers I’d be outdoors from sunup to sundown and usually hot and sweaty from all the activity. My family didn’t have a lot of money so unlike a lot of my peers I grew up without an Atari, Nintendo, Sega, or Gameboy. When we went on drives, I actually looked out the windows and observed the world around me. I was always tan and can’t remember ever being overweight. In high school I ran cross country and track. I didn’t set any records, but I was always in the top percentages. I ran Mt. SAC all four years of high school and I remember my senior year it was raining so bad that it was shoe-sucking-mud the entire 5K. Add a few obstacles into the equation and you had the equivalent of a Marine Corps Mud Run. There were no records set that day by anyone, but I did manage to finish the race first, only because I had spent the previous 3 months running sand dunes. I thoroughly enjoyed the outdoors. All through high school and until I was about 23 I’d hike Big Bear and Lake Arrowhead and the famous Bridge to Nowhere outside of Asuza. I was either hiking or backpacking at least one weekend a month for many, many years.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was blessed with a fast metabolism. In a nutshell, I could eat whatever I wanted when ever I wanted and it seemed to have no affect on me. Soda, beer, Starbucks, steaks, fried foods… if I saw it, I ate it. Within two years of high school I was into my current career in the IT field. The one new thing this brought to my life was sitting on my butt for 8-12 hours a day, though I was active enough that this didn’t have much affect on me. Around age 23 I discovered billiards and started spending hours and hours playing nine ball. Sure I was standing a lot, but it’s still pretty inactive and I drank a lot of beer when I wasn’t shooting. Downtime was no longer hikes and camping but instead a few hours of playing pool. I got married to the most beautiful woman on earth at 25 and shortly after things started to change, though so gradually I didn’t really notice. But suffice it to say that lots of sitting on my butt at work combined with lots of cuddling during movies combined with date nights combined with less outdoorsy activities combined with a standard diet of Starbucks, Hamburger Helper, and Tyson’s frozen dinners started to take their toll.
Eventually we moved to Florida. My IT career continued as did my being sedentary most of the day. The family’s eating habits remained the same. My metabolism started to slow down and my outdoorsy activities became fewer and fewer. Add a few kids into the mix and some restless nights and things took their toll. Yet somehow I remained oblivious. In my mind, I was still an 18 year old. In June of 2010 I got the itch to head outdoors. There’s a really great section of the Florida Trail that goes through the middle of the Ocala National Forest. I planned out a 7 day trip: 3 days in, 1 day to chill, and 3 days back out. I planned for this trip for about 2 months including buying a bunch of new backpacking gear. In August I headed out. The goal was to go about 12 miles per day (2 miles per hour, 6 hours a day with plenty of time for breaks, to make camp, etc). I made it 5 miles into the first day and couldn’t go any farther. I made camp, ate, and slept for probably 12 hours straight. I was hot and had no energy. The next day I pushed on but only made another 2-3 miles before I had to stop and make camp. My body literally would not go any farther. I decided to hike out the next day and I couldn’t even do that. Halfway through I had to stop, pitch my tent to get out of the sun and sleep for 2-3 hours before I could continue on. I got home that night… 4 days early… with my tail tucked between my legs and making excuses about bad weather to my family. In hindsight, there were a few problems: heat, humidity, me, and my pack weight. I’m 6’ 2’’ and have the build of being more towards the thin side. From age 17-25 I was always in the 170-180 lbs range (thin, sometimes cut, but not very muscular). When I set out on the failed trip I was 245 lbs, horribly out of shape and packing a 65 lbs pack (including food and water). Humidity was high and the temps were in the 90s and I was simply not conditioned for that kind of exertion in those kinds of conditions.
But I refused to let this failure be a setback. Instead it became a catalyst for change. I refused to let my own weight and lack of physical fitness to keep me from something I enjoyed so much. Plus, I had two daughters that were getting old enough for hikes and such and I didn’t want them to miss out because I was fat. In an age of RSS feeds and iPhones and instant news and updates and digital everything there’s something so refreshing about the outdoors and I wanted our family to enjoy that together.
Changing out my backpacking gear was the easy part. With a bit of money and some googling, I was able to get it to a base weight of 25-28 lbs not including food and water. With food and water, I can do a 3-5 day trip with 35 lbs or less on my back. Quite the savings in weight from my old 65 lb pack weight.
Changing me was a bit more difficult of a process. Through some googling I discovered a concept called “fat packing” wherein people use a multi-day backpacking trip as a tool to reset their metabolism and encourage fat burning. From the forums there I found Mark’s Daily Apple. In hindsight, I didn’t realize how bad I’d allowed myself to become. A typical day for me looked like this: wake up at the last possible minute after snoozing for at least 30 minutes… shower and head to work… stop at Starbucks for a sugar and caffeine loaded drink… commute for 45 minutes… sit on my butt all morning working… at lunch either go back to Starbucks for another sugar and caffeine filled drink and maybe a pastry or down a 20 oz soda and bag of chips from the vending machine… keep sitting on my butt… around 3 pm drink another 20 oz soda and another bag of chips while still sitting on my butt… off at 5 pm and commute for 45 minutes… home around 6 pm for a late dinner of Hamburger Helper or something similarly high in processed carbs and fats… eat two overly large servings… sit and watch some TV… have an overly large dessert and lay in bed watching TV… eventually fall asleep around midnite or 1 am… toss and turn from heartburn… pop a Tums… sleep til 7 am or so and snooze for 30 minutes… then repeat day after day. Weekends were about the same only I slept in later, stayed up later, and typically ate out for a huge brunch and something similar for dinner. All this repeated day after day, week after week pushed me from being tall and skinny and 180 lbs to tall and fat at 245 lbs.
At this point I knew about MDA, but I hadn’t really given it much of a read. Instead I relied on my “conventional wisdom”. I decided a change was needed and I made that change starting in January of 2011. For the first week I did nothing but evaluate. I got the LoseIt app for my iPhone and tracked everything I ate and drank for one week. I knew I wasn’t eating right, but what I learned shocked me. I was consuming between 5000-6000 calories a day and 80% of it was from dinner and dessert all between 6-11 pm and immediately before bed. I made three immediate changes: 1) I started walking daily, 2) I started eating three meals a day, and 3) I started eating lots more fruits and veggies and *healthful* grains. I was not eating Primally. I was eating according to CW, but the changes worked (at least initially). I calculated that I needed 2800-3000 calories a day to survive, so I restricted myself to 2200-2400 calories per day for the first six months. Another big change I made was to change the *focus* of my meal. Instead of meat being the main course and everything else a side dish, I made veggies the meal and everything else a side. For example, instead of a 12 oz steak with a side salad, I had a big salad as my main entree with meat on top; think chicken caesar salad or a “beef and blue” salad. I ate lots of grains… oatmeal for breakfast, whole grain bread, etc. And a lot of what I ate was still processed or low quality, but it was still a change. For the walking I started with just a mile and added about ½ mile a week.
After 3-4 months things were a lot different. I was eating oatmeal and berries and bananas for breakfast and a salad for lunch. My wife was on board and started making dinners that didn’t come in a box (roasted whole chickens, fish, made-from-home meals). I was walking 3-4 miles a night. The one thing that never changed was Starbucks. I continued consuming the sugar and caffeine laden drinks once or twice a day. But with all the other changes including calorie restrictions, walking, and eating three times a day I was down 25 lbs. About this time I started jogging. It was simple at first… just ¼ mile. I’d walk for 1 mile, jog for ¼ mile, then walk the rest for a total of 4 miles. Every week or so I’d add another ¼ mile, but keep it at 4 miles total. By December of 2011 I was down to 195 lbs (50 lbs in 11 months), running 3-4 miles a day 3-4 days a week and walking 4 miles the other days. My wife and daughters were walking with me most of the time and we enjoyed a few local hikes. Unfortunately, I had also plateaued. I had gone as far as conventional wisdom could take me.
In February of 2012 two things changed: 1) I discovered The Primal Blueprint (and started reading articles on MDA) and 2) we moved to North Carolina which put me back in a place with mountains and trails similar to what I had enjoyed in the mountains of California (only without all the smog). In all honestly, Florida was just too hot and humid to really enjoy a good hike, not to mention it was flat. I read The Primal Blueprint twice and realized I was doing a lot right, but still missing quite a few things. Don’t get me wrong… the conventional wisdom had its benefits, but I realized it was probably more of the walking and running and calorie changes than it was the foods I was eating. I was still around 195 lbs and still had a ring of fat around my belly. I was definitely more in shape, but I also had lots of gas, restless sleep, and frequent colds and flus. Exercise-wise I had more endurance, but I wasn’t where I wanted to be and while I had burned a lot of fat, I hadn’t built much muscle.
So starting around June or so of 2012 I decided to go fully Primal (well close anyway… I still indulge on some cravings here or there). The first thing I did was to change my running. I didn’t want to veer into chronic cardio. I now run 10-15 miles a week, 2-3 times a week, but never for more than 45 minutes at a time and always at a slow pace. I added in a full set of body weight exercises (pushups, pullups, bicycle crunches, back-ups, dips). About nine months ago I added in other resistance training (lifting heavy things) and sprints. I pretty much dropped all grains including the rice and oatmeal I’d been eating almost daily (I still cheat with the occasional cookie or brownie or brown rice pasta). I upped my calories back to normal. Some days I consume as few as 2000, but if I eat 3000 in a day I don’t sweat it. I eat my body weight in grams of protein a day (roughly 180-220 grams per day) and I get my protein from all sources: beef, chicken, turkey, fish, eggs, pea and rice protein powders, etc. (Just a note on the protein powders: I discovered through trial and error that I am allergic to both casein and whey as well as lactose intolerant. I’m good with cheese and yogurt, but not much else. I mix the pea and rice powders to get a full amino acid profile). I typically fast once a week and try to restrict my evening meals such that I there’s at least 12 hours between my last meal and my morning exercise. I’ve long had a desire to put on some muscle, so I do eat 5-6 meals a day, but over the course of a day I’m getting around 200 grams of protein, 70-100g grams of carbs, and 120-150 grams of fats. Over time the Starbucks finally went away. I still have coffee daily, but now it’s Americanos or iced coffees or homemade coffee with coconut oil. At one point, I actually dropped down to 173 lbs (very thin for me), but having increased my proteins and fats and calories I’m up to 182 lbs and I know it’s all muscle as my body fat percentage continues to drop. I also make it a point to fight being sedentary these days. When I’m at work I take a 3-5 minute break every hour and stretch and walk up and down three flights of stairs.
In the end the changes have paid off in more ways than I can count. I no longer have restless sleep. I haven’t had a cold or flu in over 18 months (this is my second flu season where everyone I know got it except for me). I have energy throughout the day (no more post lunch carb-crash induced naps). I feel great. My skin looks better. I can see muscle growth in my arms and thighs. I have veins bulging that I’ve never seen before (not even in high school). But best of all, the changes have paid off with regards to my love of the outdoors. Late last September my oldest daughter and I did a local hike that had us going up a ridgeline with 3500 feet of elevation change in a little over 2 miles of distance. I had about 20 lbs of gear with me, but we both literally flew up the trail. We weren’t winded at all. In all we did 8 miles up and down eating primal snacks all along the way. Then, this past November a group of guy friends decided to do a section of the AT the week before Thanksgiving. This time I had 4 5lbs of gear including food and water. But if felt like nothing. We covered about 12 miles a day and 3 summits including Mt Rogers (highest peak in Va.). On all three summits I was able to go non-stop straight up the mountain and not be winded at the top. Most of the other guys either lagged severely behind or made it just behind me, but severely winded and needing to rest. This then led to “how’d you do that” and my turning them on to eating and living Primally and MDA. 🙂 Weather permitting we have another trip coming up in three weeks and plans to do overnight hiking and camping (no car camping for us) at least once a month from March through October.
But perhaps the biggest improvement is being seen in my wife. For as long as I’ve known her she’s had a sweet tooth and has always griped about gas and bloating and this pain or that one. For the last two years or so I’ve been trying to encourage her to give Primal a try. She’s seen the changes in me and it encourages her. Her heart is there, but the willpower isn’t always there, especially when she starts craving sweets. It’s hard to give up what you love. She has definitely gone full bore into rejecting processed foods. Most of what she eats now is unprocessed, whole foods. If it’s a processed food (example: peanut butter), then she goes for as few ingredients as possible. She’s reading labels now and making better choices in regards to her hair care and skin products as well. But there’s still the sweet tooth and a love of grains. But with these come the inevitable gas and bloating and discomfort. Recently she’s been learning more and more about the damaging effects of grains and excessive carbs and sugar. She has switched to a primarily gluten free diet and is already feeling the benefits. She’s definitely on her way and each little change she makes has a benefit to her. She’s not a fan of backpacking like I am (she prefers not carrying a pack and having access to a real toilet), but she’s definitely up for hiking and camping which brings the whole family together and let’s us enjoy the outdoors and the lack of cellular reception and nature around us.
Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.