Friends Were Blown Away with How Different I Look

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!

Hi Mark,

You recently received a letter from my husband, Nick Bencivenga, and I thought that it’d be nice if you heard my side of the story too. We love your website and going Primal was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made. We have great results but more importantly we feel fantastic. As a newly married couple, we are excited to set up such a healthy foundation for ourselves and whatever future family we may have.

I come from a large Italian family and learned how to season and roll meatballs by age five. Food has always been at the center of my family life – rich, creamy, overly indulgent, delicious food. Few of my family members are thin or in shape, but they all know how to cook unbelievably. I grew up learning how to cook all sorts of cultural cuisine, from Italian to Greek to Japanese to fine French dining. Decadent deserts were some of my favorite things to prepare, and all my main recipes were always prepared with pastas, rices, or potatoes as my very heavy base. I did always use a large variety of vegetables in my meals, however, which later became a blessing when turning Primal.

I was always a little bit chubbier than my younger brother or sister growing up. It frustrated me being the oldest, shortest, and heaviest. Despite terrible allergies and asthma I had a relatively good level of exercise through high school though. I played on the varsity girls’ golf team all four years of high school was the team captain of the team for three of those years.  Since I grew up in Southern California, I would train at least 5 days a week for the entire year since the weather was so great. I wasn’t heavy by any means back then, at 5’3″ and 118 pounds, but that started to change quickly after moving to San Francisco for college in 2003. I stopped exercising and indulged in all the foodie fanfare San Francisco has to offer (and oh, it has so, so much). By the time 2006 rolled around, I had gained over 15 pounds. Then I went to study abroad in Budapest and travel Europe for 6 months. I ate my way through Europe and gained another 15 pounds in 6 months. I crash dieted my way down to 130 again and proceeded to eat and drink my way through the last year of university. I would indulge and gain weight and then force myself to diet until I’d get down to 130 again and then start all over again. It wasn’t very healthy behavior at all but I believed that I was “healthy enough”.

When I met Nick in the fall of 2007, I started cooking for him pretty quickly. It’s one of the perks of being around me – I love making food for my friends, I love having friends over to laugh and drink and eat. Nick lived with three other guys and I would cater to their favorite tastes – fried, greasy, heavy, rich meals that usually had meats laden with bread, cheese, sauces and pastas. We ate a lot of processed and fast food after our copious weekend nights out in the city and I never bothered with organic meats or produce because I was broke and uneducated. I stopped bothering with my dieting and steadily gained weight. My allergies and asthma were getting worse and worse. I relied on medications for both just to function.

A picture of Marie the day after Nick proposed.

Nick and I became serious together and in 2009 made the decision to turn out lives upside down and move to Korea to teach. On a trip to say goodbye to family back East, Nick proposed to me. It was the happiest day of my life at that time, and yet when I looked at the pictures of that day I couldn’t help but see how big I had become and be upset. I was ashamed of my size 12 clothes. I had stopped weighing myself almost 6 months before then because I didn’t want to become depressed or fixate on my weight. When packing my bags for Seoul I had to weigh myself at home to see if my bags were over the weight limit before going to the airport. I couldn’t believe it – the scale read 157 pounds. I was disgusted with myself. I thought about my parents’ constant struggle with weight and began to despair that I was going to be faced with a life just like that.

When we got to Korea I decided that it was time to do something about my body…but…what? First I made the decision to cut rice out of my diet. That was a pretty bold and difficult decision to make considering I had just moved to Asia. But I stuck with it strictly during our year there, and even though at the time I didn’t know the true meaning of doing such a thing, it immediately helped. Korea doesn’t have bread in their daily routine and by cutting out rice I had eliminated a good portion of grains that I had previously relied on. Nick and I began to use a stationary bike 30 minutes every night after teaching and I would try to make a low fat, medium protein, and moderate carb diet for us and cut out butter and most cheeses (again, easy to do in Korea because cheese was crazy expensive!). I was making us mostly vegetarian meals or only very lean meats – we later learned we weren’t getting anywhere near enough protein! We vacationed in Thailand that Christmas and I was so pleased with how much smaller I was – I had lost maybe 8-10 pounds and it was making me feel a lot better about myself. I still had a long ways to go though and Nick and I really ramped up after our return to Korea.

In March of 2010 Nick and I started the 60-day Insanity workout, which is an extreme high cardio work out series created by the same company as P90X. We threw ourselves into the program and pushed ourselves to the limit. I constantly watched Nick excel and lose weight quicker than myself – he was more physically active than I had ever been and his weight loss was noticeable right away – and it helped motivate me to push myself harder. I had farther to go to reach the point we both wanted, and I wanted to get to where he was, but I wasn’t. I still had a fair amount of pudge on my belly and on my thighs, on my arms and around my hips that I just couldn’t get rid of. As an experiment, we cut out sugar for a month and again, Nick’s results were clearer than my own. After the month was up though, we quickly went back to our precious sweets.

Our contract completed in Korea and we spent 5 weeks traveling through Southeast Asia and India. During our 25 days in India I was ill from the food for 21 days. I returned to the states sick and skinny – 125 pounds. It was an unhealthy 125 though and I was soon back up to 135 pounds after getting back into meals with my family. Nick was biking and engaging himself in a strenuous gym regimen and getting really toned, while I was having a hard time motivating myself to get to my gym. I didn’t like working out in a gym and I felt that Nick had left me behind in his body transformation and that I just wasn’t going to get as fit as he was. My new work environment was incredibly stressful and while I was doing my best to stay skinny (at this point, we had our wedding approaching and I was being very careful not to gain weight so I’d fit in my dress), I couldn’t stand the monotony of using a treadmill or weight machines. I continued with our low fat, moderate carb and protein diet, and had begun buying only organic, local farm produce, but hadn’t completely switched to an entirely organic kitchen yet.

It was around this time that Nick first started reading Good Calories, Bad Calories, by Gary Taubes and started nitpicking me about our diet. Then, the fateful day came when he was directed to MDA by a friend on Facebook – and our lives changed for good. I was lectured, forced to read articles, blogs, and books, and our only discussions were about food! At first I wasn’t convinced, but I started to change our diets because it was what Nick wanted and I love him. But the more he talked about it, and the more I read on my own, the more I began to believe he was on to something. And so, I began to consciously change our diets over to a Primal way of life. We eat big, heaping cuts of juicy meats and use bacon grease for everything. We cleared out our pantry of everything bearing gluten, soy, or processed anything. We ditched legumes and made the somewhat expensive switches to organic and local everything. The cost of almond butter hurts my feelings and my wallet, but makes my body feel great.

At the same time, Nick and I discovered rock climbing at a local indoor climbing gym and we fell in love. Excitedly we became full-time members and began climbing 5 days a week. Finally, a gym routine that didn’t feel like going to the gym! We ride bikes 3 miles each way to get to the place, and then solve puzzles with our bodies and our strength for an hour to two every night. The first week, muscles I didn’t even know I owned ached and let me know I was using them in new ways. The mental stimulation really helps with motivation – I don’t get bored at my gym now, every night I literally climb until my muscles can’t take it anymore. And I love it. I feel like a strong girl Grok conquering mountains, haha. Nick does too, and the activity has only brought us closer.

The conclusion of our story to date is quite happy. I’m down to 123 pounds and feel HEALTHY. I wear a size 2 or 4. Nick is always telling me how great I look, and at our recent wedding some of our friends who hadn’t seen me in a while were blown away with how different I look. I feel like I look great and I feel awesome. My allergies and asthma have all but disappeared – I’ve cut down my allergy medication from twice a day to once every five days, and I haven’t used an inhaler in over 3 months. I love the way we eat and I feel good about what I put into my body. I find that cooking Primal is fun and challenges my cooking skills. I love making egg muffins or having Nick make Primal bars (we put dried blueberries in ours!). I learned how to make “cheesecake” out of cashews, dates, and walnuts – Nick and I never feel like we are missing out on anything. I truly feel like the Primal lifestyle has taken a hold of us – we care so much more about what we do with our waste, where we purchase our food, and how we can help our friends and the world around us. I know we will continue to live like this, because it suits us so well. We tell everyone we know how we’ve changed our lives, and enough of our friends are open-minded enough to listen and start making small changes to their own lives. Thank you so much for all of your guidance, Mark. We both hope that we can inspire others to eat and live Primal!

Marie Bencivenga

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99 thoughts on “Friends Were Blown Away with How Different I Look”

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    1. Sure did! I’m busy figuring out a budget. Moving on with life.

      No worries… my blog ain’t going anywhere. Its becoming more special to me daily!

      1. I am studying to be a CFP if you need help with a budget. I am leaving for vacation today with no computer access. I’ll check back in a few weeks.

  1. Just what I was thinking!! 🙂

    Way to go Marie! I’m so jealous you two took this journey together – my husband is still convinced that I’m killing myself by eating like this…

    1. I live with my boyfriend and he actually loves eating primal. Besides bread for an occasional sammich he actually sort of naturally eats primal naturally. He even made me a zucchini quiche the other night. Love it!

      Smokin’ hot, Marie!

  2. I love how confident and happy you look in your “after” photos. Really beautiful. And congratulations on your marriage, too!

  3. so inspiring, I think I’ll go to the climbing wall this weekend. congrats on your journey together!

  4. I’ve been waiting for your story, Marie, all week and I wasn’t disappointed. Great story, great results, great writing!

    I can relate to having to throw out all the thinking about food you had growing up. It’s not easy. So can you share your cheesecake secrets, please? 🙂

    1. I was wondering if she had a blog or was going to write a cookbook. It sounds like she is an amazing cook & I can use all the help I can get!

      1. I’d also like to get the “cheesecake” recipe. That sounds really interesting. Perhaps you can post it in the MDA forums?

        1. I can vouch for her amazing cooking abilities! And, I’ll push for getting recipes on MDA forums 🙂

    2. Hi! I actually found the gluten-free, dairy-free, and soy-free cheesecake recipe from this AWESOME blog:

      I don’t have my own food blog yet, but I have a lot of my recipes written down…maybe I should!

      Thank you all for your positive responses to my success story! I am feeling the love, and it feels GREAT. THANKS!

      1. Marie!

        I just want to thank you for posting that link to my blog- thank you! anytime you want to do a guest post on anything you would like, please let me know, I’d be honored! 🙂

        Alea ([email protected])

  5. Marie:

    Really enjoyed your story. You look do great. Your happiness is so apparent that it jumps off the screen.

    Your progression is interesting: your love for Nick lead to being open to something new, and that lead to believing in it and doing it, and really enjoying it.

    What you’ve done is great for others to see. Thanks for sharing.


  6. Side note to readers:

    This morning I started recording a 30 day challenge I’m doing in the Primal Journal part of the Forum.

    I’m following the macronutrient balance for “Kelly Korg,” as outlined in Chapter 8 of Mark’s book, adjusted for my height and weight.

    If anyone feels like doing this with me, or something like it, it would be GREAT to have some company!

    I’ll be posting details every day in the “Primal Journal” section, including recipes.

    Hope to see you there. 🙂

    1. Wait, what?! So you are going to experiment by eating the KORG macronutrient ratios?

      I have considered eating sad for a week or so… but I wouldn’t mind eating primal/paleo foods with just more carbs to see what happens.

      I would eat more fruit…

      I mean, I for sure won’t die and would probably do pretty well.

      Can you post a link here? Mark will approve of course. Or Aaron…

        1. Oh, I thought for some reason you were doing it backwards! When you said Korg I thought about the other way as in you were going to experiment eating a lot of carbs!

          Lol. My bad. I wish you a lot of luck on your journey!

    2. Susan, I did the same last month and it REALLY worked! I am 49 years old, very active triathlete and paddler and at a plateau with weight. I wanted to lose 7 pounds in a month. And by following this plan, I lost 7 pounds in 3 weeks. I followed Mark’s plan which required me to really lay off the training. I did not get tired or massively hungry. In fact, the weight came off really easy.

      1. Wendy: Thanks so much for writing and telling me that. Sounds like we’re very much alike. Good to know your outcome. I’m one day in so far and enjoying the process. Susan 🙂

  7. Wow, what a transformation. You look awesome. Do I see a 6-pack? Holy crap!

  8. You look great, Marie! And it’s very intriguing that your asthma has been “cured”.

    1. After a heartfelt conversation with my brother the beginning of March, he switched to a primal/paleo diet. As a life-long sufferer of asthma (he’s 47) he noticed a change within the 1st week. In less than a month he was sprinting & playing; so ecstatic about how his lungs felt.

      to Marie: NICE GUNS!!!

    2. It’s the gluten. If I cheat and eat too much gluten, I can almost instantly feel the effects.

    3. I’ve been Primal for about 10 months now. I no longer wheeze when the pollen count gets high or I exercise outside. It feels great!

  9. Yes, please please please share the cheesecake & Paleo bar recipes; those are two things I’ve been dying to make but haven’t been able to find anywhere! I started my weight loss journey with P90X and Insanity, too, and lost some weight, but still had a good bit of fat after, as well. I’m still in the process of losing my last 5-7%. You look beautiful & glowing in your pictures & I’m so happy for you & Nick! You seem like a wonderful couple – and a hot one now, too! 😉

    1. Kudos on your journey, I’ll agree with everyone else that you’re looking good.

      And PLEASE share the recipes!!!

  10. I’m glad to hear about your asthma symptoms all but going away. I’ve had the same experience and I just bring my rescue inhaler with me more out of habit than anything else. The last time I used it was while bowhunting and I tangled with a bunch of stinging nettles. Other than that no more daily inhalers or pills.

  11. Congrats, girl! You look amazing! I think it’s so wonderful you care so much about what you’re eating and want to encourage other people to do so as well!

  12. Great story, was looking forward to hearing it after reading Nick’s last week. My husband and I went Primal together a little over a year ago while doing P90x (we did Insanity beore that, ugghh!). It’s so great to have a partner who helps to motivate and inspire along the journey. Oh, I second the request for your cashew cheesecake recipe : )

  13. I have also been waiting all week for your story, and I was not disappointed! Way to go! Yours and your husband’s stories are some of the most inspirational I’ve read because they remind me so much of me and my husband. Thank you so much for sharing and congratulations!

  14. It is lots more fun with like desires involved. if two or more believe so it will be. (a whole lot easier) you both look great…keep going. Rah! Rah!

  15. Wow, your story is amazing! When two people have and follow the same passion, the results can be amazing. And I have to second Amanda’s request for your cashew cheesecake recipe!

  16. Please post some of those recipes… awesome story. I have a child with asthma right now and my wife nor I have any family history of asthma. I am convinced his asthma is linked to processed foods & gluten. My other 3 kids have no signs. It seems like the primal lifestyle relieves people of their asthma symptoms

  17. I can sense your happiness and you look so healthy! What a great transformation and inspiring story to read, congrats.

      1. I’m thinkin swap maple syrup for the agave & maybe addin some bacon 🙂

  18. WOW! You look fantastic! Thank you for sharing your story with us. I really like your suggestion about rock climbing too! Been trying to find a good exercise that my husband and I would both enjoy … thank you for the inspiration!!!

  19. Looks like rock climbing is becoming official primal sport discipline 🙂

    Great and very healty and exciting sport! Just leave the gym for winter and enjoy the nature in a wall as long as weather allows.

  20. yeah the cheesecake recipe would be awesome! you guys have both done amazingly. i’ve been looking for something more mentally involved than anything “rep” related. i feel like a hamster. the way you referenced climbing as a puzzle to solve is brilliant and precisely what i’m looking for. now to find a mountain…or a gym….

  21. Such an inspiring story!! You have made a great change for you life and that of your little family of two and beyond that!!! I see so much of myself in your story and that just helps me stay the course!!! Even when my Big Italian family is trying to shove pasta down my throat!!

    Keep up the changes you have started!! I too love cooking and I think the Primal life is so fun!!

    Grok On!!

  22. This really inspired me today to just keep trucking!

    Thank you so much! 🙂

  23. Congrats!

    Another asthma and allergy sufferer here. It’s gotten better though not completely gone. I have food allergies and seasonal too.

  24. Several other times on this site I’ve seen Gary Taubes book referred to as “Good Carbs, Bad Carbs”, when the title is “Good Calories, Bad Calories”.

    1. Brian…oh my gosh you are TOTALLY right and I am bummed I made such a silly slip up!

  25. What a wonderful story / transformation. Motivates me to get on the PB workout bandwagon and perhaps a switch to organic.

  26. This is so inspiring! My BF and I just went Primal and I hope that we will both be as successful as you guys were/are, you look amazing! <3

  27. So the climbing and biking is pretty much all you do for workouts? Nice results!

  28. Wow! what an awesome transformation. That just goes to show you what a healthy lifestyle can produce for your body.

    Well done.

    1. Grazie! Now the only spaghetti I eat is spaghetti squash, haha 🙂

  29. You look amazing! But to lose the weight AND almost get rid of the allergies and asthma, that’s really something.

  30. Wow, amazing job! It’s true, once you realize how good you can feel while being Primal, there’s no reason to stop!

  31. Hey Marie! Way to go, you look fantastic and it’s obvious you feel fantastic as well! If Almond Butter is hard on the newlywed budget, it’s super-easy to make at home provided you have a food processor! Just toss in some (roasted or unroasted) almonds and some salt to taste and grind away. Keep doing that for long enough, and voila, Almond Butter.

  32. Congrats to you both! You look amazing. Was that first picture taken outside of Fort Collins, CO? Looks just like Arthur’s Rock.

    1. No, that was taken in the Badlands of South Dakota. Nick proposed at Mount Rushmore while we were camping and visiting family, and we spent some time hiking…I could barely breathe climbing up that rock!

  33. Just read your post to my wife for inspiration. Thanks for posting this!

    … your looking..Hmmm lets see now…whats the word Im looking for…OH Yeah…the word is Svelt..Well done and GROK ON>>>

  35. Hi Marie-You have such a great story–thanks so much for sharing it. I think you might have inspired me to find a rock climbing gym in my area!! I wish there was a primal convention where we could gather in person to discuss all things primal. Someone should organize that…
    Your guns do look great–and your tummy tum tum too!!! Best wishes to you and your hubby.

  36. Marie, great story! Congrats! How long did it take you to get your results? Thanks for the cheesecake link!

  37. Without a doubt, you look great! Thank you (to both of you) so much for posting, sharing your story and reminding all of us that it CAN be done in spite of all the obstacles that seem to loom before us!

    Marie, I truly relate to your situation as I was raised in an Italian household which was definitely not a bad thing, but food-wise — well I’m not so sure anymore. I’m 5’2″ (a tad under your height) but forever encouraged by my family to “mangiare, devi mangiare, mangiare”! If we didn’t eat a big bite of bread along with EVERY piece of meat, salad, veggie put in our mouth, then we were destined to rot in hell. And that doesn’t count sopping up the pasta sauce with more bread – and be sure you wiped your plate CLEAN! That’s just the way it was with the old people from the old country — bread wasn’t only the staff of life, it was life itself as they may have had nothing else to eat. But to this day, I STILL get grief from them for not eating bread/pasta/rice.

    I can tell this wasn’t an easy transition for you and you may have had to work a little harder (OK maybe a LOT harder) than most folks, but you did get it done!! You GO girl! And again, thank you so much for sharing your story. You’re truly an inspiration – thank you again for sharing! The very best of luck to you and you hubby!

  38. Marie, you look great. You and Nick are both such an inspiration. Like I said last week, I am totally looking for a climbing gym!

  39. Let me just say… I’ve been waiting for a story like this one because you have my exact same stats… height and starting weight and pants size and everything. I keep folding over on myself when I try to go primal/paleo… but not today. I’m done making excuses and I’m ready to change. Thanks for your inspiration.

  40. A quote from the article: ” I love making egg muffins or having Nick make Primal bars (we put dried blueberries in ours!). I learned how to make “cheesecake” out of cashews, dates, and walnuts”

    Congrats on the fantastic results! Please do share those recipes (especially the “cheesecake”).

  41. Marie,

    Congratulations! You are absolutely stunning. I’m am so happy for you and your story is very inspirational. Thanks for sharing!

  42. a very inspiring story. Reminds me that it is really a step by step process and it takes time to really change your lifestyle. Also inpsires me to think about trying wall/rock climbing (I have always assumed I wouldn’t like it because of my fear of heights) 🙂

  43. Thanks so much for this, Marie. I love seeing transformations from the ladies’ side of things, since it always seems so much easier for the menfolk. Wonderful inspiration!

  44. Awesome story, congratulations! Its great to hear that you were able to reach your goals and never quit despite setbacks or slow results, inspiring!

  45. Really inspiring story, Marie. Thank you for making the journey to health so much more accessible for everyone by willing to be vulnerable and share your journey with others.

    Much admiration and gratitude!

  46. What a great story! I can relate in a lot a ways, especially with trying Insanity and P90X, and hitting serious walls with both. Way to stay committed!

  47. Hi Marie – congrats! You and Nick have motivated me to visit our local climbing gym for the first time in years. Great fun!