Free at 50

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!

I used to be your typical 98 pound weakling. When I graduated from high school in 1980, I tried to break 100 pounds but couldn’t. Tired of looking like a bag of bones, I joined a gym and started packing muscles on my frail frame. I discovered bodybuilding and began to gain some weight. Like most guys in the early 80’s, I was obsessed with getting big. Although, I never considered being a competitive bodybuilder since the thought of parading on a stage with the background music of “Eye of the Tiger” while sashaying with a sock-stuffed Speedo is way beyond embarrassing. I did embrace the lifestyle of a meathead: I spent 2 hours every day at the gym and stuffed my face with food and protein drinks continuously. By my mid-20’s I had gained almost 70 pounds, although I doubt it was all muscle. Along the way, I bought in to most of the myths that conventional wisdom had taught me, which actually made me fat and unhealthy.

By the time I reached my 30’s, I continued doing individual body part training. The false perception of single part training over total body training dominated my thinking and just about everybody’s at my gym. We kept on with our bicep curls, bench presses and leg press machines. And yes, I was brainwashed to believe that training with machines was superior to free weights. The thought of bodyweight training never even occurred to me. I was obsessed with trying to get huge and continue the art of force feeding myself every 2 hours. I got big, but in the wrong places – like my gut. I took up long distance running as way for me to lose the fat, since that was what all the health experts in the magazines said I should do. I really hated running, but it quickly became part of my workout regimen because it gave me an excuse to gorge out on spaghetti with clam sauce the night before my runs. I didn’t feel like I was doing anything wrong as I was just listening to all those running gurus on how to fuel my runs. Soon, I was not only carbing up before my runs, but before my weightlifting workouts – as if I needed the extra energy to sit down on the useless Nautilus lat machine. At that same time, my perception of myself was so distorted; I felt that the 7 mile runs three times a week were making me lose inches off my chest and shrinking my arms, so I continued bulking up with the same 6 meal a day plan that consisted of a lot of the famous tasteless and skinless chicken breast and fake protein drinks filled mostly with fructose and sugar. This was the 1990’s and just about everybody was afraid of fat because that’s what all are doctors told us. The fat-free craze and “the cholesterol is dangerous” phase really took off during this decade before Atkins came along and we all bought in to eating what we told were “healthier” foods like vegetable oils, bacon bits, and margarine. Looking back on now, I pretty much went about fifteen years without tasting butter.

So for about two decades I listened and did what all the fitness experts told me to do to get in shape which was individual body part and machine training, long distance running, high carbs and fat-free everything. Don’t let me get started on my brief self-experimentation with vegetarianism. You would think after taking all this professional advice, I would look great without a shirt on when I went to the beach which was two blocks from where I lived. But, I never went to the beach because I knew I would only embarrass myself. My biceps were okay, but considering I mostly did curls whenever I went to the gym, they should be. However, I also had a gut that made me look pregnant whenever I wore that skin tight shirt that was a size too small for me.

As I got to my mid-40’s, I was having health issues as my blood pressure skyrocketed. I still went to the gym, but by now I was pretty much going through the motions by only working out my arms and chest. I didn’t see the point of getting strong at my age, so I gave up squatting and deadlifting years ago. I also stopped running. My knees and shins were shot from all the heavy pounding I did while running through the streets of Los Angeles. I started getting really depressed as well because I spent months and months without even having a date. I pretty much felt that my attraction level had gone down the tube and I would end up being just another miserable old man living alone in his apartment walking around in his underwear.

I needed to do something drastic, or better yet, do the opposite of what everybody else was doing and what the so called experts were telling me to do. That’s when I discovered MDA. So instead of trying to get big like Arnold, I focused on whole body conditioning work and did the Primal workouts of the week and CrossFit and finally lost the weight.

However, I was still very neurotic about my eating habits as I was about 50 percent Primal at this time. I felt more compelled than ever to continue my carb loading and eat 6 times a day to fuel my high intensity training. Even though I was finally able to sever my adolescent needs to bulk up, I was still caught in this force feeding mode that I just couldn’t seem to escape. In my 20’s and 30’s I could do it, but when I got to my 40’s, it became such a pain in the ass and such an inconvenience for me. I was always looking at my watch to see if it was time for me to eat again. I couldn’t even go to the movies without having not only one but two meals packed with me. The constant planning of what to eat next, tomorrow, cooking 8 meals at once, nearly drove me bananas.

The worst part of all of it is that I kept on getting hurt. My friends, family and gym friends would all tell me that it is perfectly normal to be in pain as you get older. I have been pretty gullible my whole life, foolishly believing all the false health misinformation that was spoon fed to me without question. But, this belief of correlating pain with age was something I absolutely refused to believe and defiantly fought hard to disprove. I decided to be 100 percent Primal.

At this stage of my story, it’s been two years since I made a commitment to decreasing inflammation in my body. I would still get the occasional and normal aches from my training, but not like how I constantly felt before when I was eating grains, legumes and when I ate out a lot at restaurants where vegetable oil is the main culprit. I considered myself completely Primal, except I was still unable to break away from my eating disorder of the need to jam food down my throat.

At the beginning of last summer, while Diane and I were planning our road trip move from California to the east coast, I thought that might be a good time to throw in some intermittent fasting as I knew I wouldn’t dare let myself eat at all the truck stop food that’s laced with soybean oil. My decision to experiment with intermittent fasting would be my last frontier with the Primal lifestyle. The thought of not eating or even eating less than 6 meals a day seemed so out of the question to me, but I needed to prepare myself or starve to death during our 10 day car trip journey. To be honest, when Mark published the fasting series, I actually skipped them and didn’t read them. I had been so ingrained and pounded by the myth of needing protein every two hours, I just didn’t think anybody, even Mark Sisson, could convince me to do a fast. However, I couldn’t avoid all the intermittent fasting questions that were in the MDA forums. One day I just had to peak, and when I did I couldn’t stop reading. I was blown away by all the potential and positive health benefits.

It took my thick skull a while, but now I realize that food is only part of the equation. As you get older, it’s more about manipulating your anti-aging hormones, recycling your cells, and reprogramming your genes. One way to do this is through intermittent fasting. As I approached 50 in November, I was more convinced than ever that the positive effects of intermittent fasting would surely outweigh the negative of me feeling hungry for a couple of hours. I started my first fast in June and now it is just a normal part of my life. In terms of my training, I am constantly hitting new PR’s while working out in the fasted state and have never felt better in my life.

I am living proof that one can continue to get stronger, faster and be pain free when they get in there 50’s and beyond. And yes, I occasionally can still kick some ass in CrossFit WODs with kids half my age.

Thanks, Mark!


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