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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66 thoughts on “Free at 50”

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  1. Great job getting through all those miserable years and starting to eat butter and fat again. Yipee. Hey, I walk around the house in my underwear all the time (I’m 56)…but my gal loves it! Primal rocks.

    1. I’m going to community college in California at the moment. He has the body of very, very few 20-year-olds and that’s counting the athletes.

    2. My daughter said the same thing! “He’s 50? He looks 20!” I agreed, though it was cute to hear a 6 year old say that!

  2. Great story! I went through a very similar experience. Although I’m a woman & our culture reveres thin, I was too thin. Until having children I looked like a bag of bones & stuffed my face continually. I did what the health community suggested food wise & lifted weights. Digestive problems finally led me to primal in my mid forties & I’m finally able to gain some muscle & not a gut. You look great & I know what a relief it is to not be chained to the kitchen trying to maintain. I’m also hypoglycemic so eating frequently is major if you’re eating a lot of carbs. For the first time in my life I can skip a meal with out having a melt-down & being shaky. I also have been reluctant to intermittent fast & your post has inspired me to give it a try.

    1. I cant say i understand how hypoglaceamia works in a non-daibetic (i have type 1) but i pretty much do IF most days. Have my first meal midday – 1pm, 2nd meal around 4pm and have my last meal between 8 and 9 pm. Basically an 8 hour eating window each day. Occasionally, more out of wanting to check my background insulin amount is correct, i’ll have my first meal at 4pm.
      I find that coffee helps to reduc appetite if you feel hungry but it can also make you jitery if you arent used to it.
      There are other ways to IF but this is a good intro.

      1. You dont have to eat 3 meals as i do, just go with 2 if that suits you. Or just 1 monster meal day.

      2. Type 1 diabetic here too. I don’t eat lunch any more and occasionally skip breakfast. Maybe skipping breakfast and eating lunch would be healthier? I have a lot less hunger since reducing carbohydrates, and although mostly I eat Primal, perhaps going further would help. Perhaps I just get too many calories and too little exercise, as I’m still at least sixty pounds overweight with some visceral fat. Blood sugar control is way better, at least.

      3. Interesting I am also type 1 and when I tried IF as in 2 meals a day I was eating too much at each meal and I found it really hard to control the sugars post meal for 5 hours or so. How do you deal with this and what do you eat at each meal? Do you go heavy on the fat, light on carbs and protein?

  3. Well done, and congrats on the turn-around in your life. Wishing the best going forward.

  4. That’s a great honest story, well told.
    IF is an excellent tool, it’s defintely hepled my abs appear!
    All the best.

  5. Great story! I think when we have to work hard for something, we appreciate it more fully. You look awesome!

  6. Eye of the Tiger, indeed! You look fantastic, and I can tell by that smile how happy you are. Thanks for sharing your inspirational story.

  7. Great story! That’s great that you made changes, tried new things, and have found more life and better health!

  8. Great job, looking great, and keep kicking ass on the Crossfit kids!!

  9. Hello all! Thank you all for your wonderful comments! If any of you have any questions for me, I’ll be happy to answer them!


  10. Wow you’re 50!? No way! Thanks for sharing the great story!! Definitely inspiring 🙂

  11. Awesome story, you look no where near 50! Isn’t it nice not having to be a slave to food. It’s amazing how we cling to exercise routines and nutritional habits that are obviously not working. Congrats on breaking that cycle!

    I bet it’s a lot of fun telling the 20 years olds after your workout “oh yeah I’m 50 too!”

  12. Nice work!!! I too am an elder in my Crossfit box(47), and take on the yutes regularly. Age is just a number, and no reason to slow down. Keep up the good work…

  13. Well, you don’t look a day over 30! Great story! I really appreciate the comments about turning around the aging process. IF, here I come!!

  14. Yes! We middle-aged primals need to spread the word that aging doesn’t have to mean aches, pains and deterioration. Quite the contrary, we can be in the best shape of our lives – and even LookGoodNaked! Grok on everyone!

  15. You look amazing. Congrats – job well done. We are the same age – I too graduated HS in 1980. Have not started this program yet, but you sure are an inspiration. Going to buy the books now.

  16. Congratulations! You have a very motivating story. I just started doing the “eating window” thing this week (eating from noon until 8). It’s been surprisingly easy and interesting to experience.

  17. I love this success story! The primal lifestyle is amazing. You know, yesterday I made a poor choice and decided to visit the cafeteria at work. I caved and ate a pretzel some fried chicken and a slice of carrot cake for lunch 🙁 but you know what? while I was eating it, it tasted so gross. for the first time in my life, I despised junk food that I used to love. real food tastes delicious!

  18. Your story has such a delightful surprise ending. I did not expect with all that self-deprecating humor you would turn out to be such a stud.

    “My friends, family and gym friends would all tell me that it is perfectly normal to be in pain as you get older.”

    Last spring I was sitting around the campfire with a bunch of men in their 40s, 50s and 60s. They were all joking/complaining about the aches and pains of getting older. They all had cuts from doing trail work during the day and had the watery, blood-stained clothing of an old man on statins and blood thinners. They made jokes about the brain fog, the low T, the aches and pains. It’s all so normal to them.

    In my 40s when it started happening to me I rebelled. I found the Primal way and don’t have to settle for this.

    “As you get older, it’s more about manipulating your anti-aging hormones, recycling your cells, and reprogramming your genes.”

    Yes, yes! This is it. What a perfect sentence to try one more time to explain all this — the food, the weight lifting, the sprinting, the fasting — to my older, falling-apart boyfriend. Maybe I’ll never get through to him. There needs to be a book specifically focused on this reprogramming your genes with proper nutrition and exercise as you age thing, minus the caveman stuff. Too many old guys out there are suffering needlessly and have already written off ever being as vital as when they were young.

  19. Finally, a story about a guy who happened to gain weight, instead of lose it! It’s actually kind of refreshing!

    What’s your workout and fasting routine? How do you deal with protein sources now? How often do you eat per day/week?

    I am a guy who wants to gain weight through the primal method, having been skinny for my entire life. It would be helpful if you answered my questions.

    1. Dude! No way you’re 50! You look great my friend. Keep on grokkin’ on!

    2. Thanks again for all your wonderful responses! Really motivating and I am touched by them all.

      In terms of my workouts – I do O-lift 3x per week with a lot heavy squats and twice a week I’ll do a CrossFit, run sprints or high intensity WOD.

      In terms of protein, I eat about .8 grams per day or close to a pound a day. I usually eat the fattier cuts and I eat organ meats (liver, kidneys and hearts) up to three times per week.

      My daily fast consists of skipping breakfast. For lunch, I’ll usually have some greens w/animal proteins or raw kefier with cream/raw eggs. For dinner, I eat very similar to my lunch, but some starches.

      What is your current workout routines like? What are you eating to trying to gain weight?


      1. You eat only .8 grams of protein per body weight per day? How is it possible you are building muscle? I have constantly read that you need over 1 gram of protein per body weight in order for you to gain mass.

        I eat 4 times a day, with 30 grams of protein, on average, each meal. I am currently enrolled in a university, so it is easy for me to maintain this high-protein diet. I fear that once I return home, it will be far more difficult for me to maintain that. I currently weigh 113 lbs, 5’5 inches. My goal is 135 lbs, with 150 being my dream–but that’s unlikely given my height and natural body type. My meals consist of the standard recommendation of veggies and protein. The protein varies from chicken, to egg, to fish, and other animals.

        I sprint once a week, and heavy lift at least twice. It takes a while for my body to recover, so heavy lifting 3 times a week is a treat. When I return home, I won’t have access to a gym, so I will be buying some kettlebells and weighted vests to compensate.

        What is high intensity WOD?

  20. Amazing story! I hate hearing about low fat, starvation diets and crazy workout schedules. So many people are trying so hard and eating so little just to feel awful,and worse, be unhealthy. Yours is a great testimony: When something ain’t working, try something else.

  21. Great story! Your examination of the 80s and 90s CW is right on! My favorite throwback diets are “Deal a Meal” and “Stop the Insanity!” I’m so happy we don’t live in that world anymore. 🙂

  22. Holy —t! You’re just as big an inspiration to this 41 year old (soon to be 42) as Mark Sisson is.

  23. Great story, I can’t believe you’re 50…you look awesome!

  24. Man you look fantastic. Bet you enjoy telling people how old you are don’t you!

    And this statement “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.” echos my feelings exactly. I wish the rest of the world would realise that we can actually improve with age – if we make good choices. (I am 54)

    Awesome work.

      1. Excellent story, and very motivational.
        Thanks for sharing your journey.
        Keep up the great work!!
        (from another over 50 person that has discovered the Primal lifestyle.)

  25. Who remembers Butter Buds, butter replacement? Ha! I actually ate that stuff on a baked potato (hold the sour cream) as my pre long run meal. I am in my 50’s too and have gone through so many of the same fads since the 80’s. So glad we’ve come to our senses. You look awesome! Thank you for sharing.

  26. ” I would end up being just another miserable old man living alone in his apartment walking around in his underwear.”

    When I read that, I knew I liked you! You look terrific; we are a similar age and you look years younger. Though I’ve had 2 kids so maybe that’s taken its toll. 😉

    Congratulations on finding your way and achieving good health.

  27. Wow congratulations, VERY INSPIRING

    The whole post is amazing, this clicks with me big time:

    “I am constantly hitting new PR’s while working out in the fasted state and have never felt better in my life.”

  28. thank you for sharing your journey. I really appreciate your honesty and courage. Congratulations on acheiving your goals.

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  30. Wow, Jack. Just. Flat. Out. Wow!

    Great story and greater inspiration. Best of luck to you. I’m also in awe of your 10-day drive across the country. That’s an admirable feat in itself! 🙂

    Grok On!