From One of My Lowest Points to the Best Shape and Health of My Life

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!

Five years ago I was 30 years old, 5′ 9″, and hovering around 210 pounds. I had consistently high blood pressure and cholesterol in the neighborhood of 250 (I know cholesterol numbers should be taken in context, and the context wasn’t good). I was a veritable garbage disposal for any and all kinds of food at all hours of the day or night and never had any interest in reading the labels on what I was eating. I worked at a bar and consumed $50-$60 worth of beer and shots almost every day, smoked cigarettes, smoked pot several times daily, and sporadically (but still consistently) used cocaine and painkillers. It goes without saying that my sleep schedule was nothing short of catastrophic. I always was suffering from heartburn, and frequently gagged or even vomited from something as innocent as a bad smell or heightened stress. Living in Vail, Colorado, I owned all the outdoor gear I could get my hands on, but my poor health and destructive lifestyle prevented me from truly enjoying any of it.

Around this time, I met my girlfriend at the aforementioned bar. Although she was nowhere near the drug-using mess that I was, she was involved in the same late night party scene and was a regular drinker herself. Shortly after getting together, we decided to dedicate ourselves to living better lives. It was surprisingly easy for me to make the commitment, because for the first time in my life I truly cared more for someone else than myself – a motivation I’m sure you’re familiar with.

We pledged to start going to the gym together and not to eat after 8:30 PM, although we didn’t really make any changes to our diet. Hey, it was a start, right? I began spending an hour almost every day on a stationary bike, watching every second tick by, staring at the TV, and hating every minute of it. Even so, I began losing a considerable amount of weight (given where I was coming from, how could I not?) so I kept at it. After all, I’ve always had a fairly high tolerance for discomfort, and I felt that if I let up even a little bit I would slip back into the life and body I was trying to leave behind. I had no idea how I could keep it up though.

The following summer, I dedicated myself to getting on my mountain bike and riding it up mountains for hours at a time, everyday. I also started swimming, eventually working my way up to 4000 meters a day. While this was considerably more fun than sitting in the gym staring at a clock, and I discovered a surprising level of endurance within myself, it definitely became a compulsive behavior. Nevertheless, the weight continued to come off at what became an alarming rate.  My appearance was approaching what I would call scrawny, and my skin remained undefined, pale, and pasty, probably due to my continuing to eat cheap Chinese food and Marie Callender’s pot pies. I still felt a ton of pressure to sustain this enormous load of cardio, and was worried that I couldn’t.

After about a year of that, I was browsing through a bookstore and my girlfriend pointed out Laird Hamilton’s book on the shelf. I’d always been an admirer of his sheer presence, physique, and skill as a waterman, so I decided to buy it. The section on food was an eye opener for me to say the least. In addition to exposing me to information and opinions on food additives, nutrients, local and whole food eating, and supplements, it also introduced me to Paul Chek, who as we all know has VERY thorough, strong opinions on diet, exercise, and life in general. I instantly became more of a label reader, and tried to implement both of their workout strategies. This led to a lot of standing around at the gym, occasionally interrupted by weight lifting. I found this boring, and both Laird and Paul are such genetically and physically talented animals that it didn’t seem realistic to me. That old defeatism reared it’s head again, and I continued with the obsessive, endless riding and swimming.

The improved diet definitely was helping with the appearance of my skin, and the swimming gave me more definition, but I was getting even more scrawny and tired looking, replete with sunken cheeks and dark circles. I still worried that if I didn’t keep up the intensity, I would get fat again. Given that I foolishly believed that I was working out enough to eat as much as I wanted, I was probably right.

Then, on September 25, 2010, during a truly epic mountain bike season, I blew out my knee. Complete ACL, partial MCL, meniscus, and tibial plateau fracture. Needless to say, my greatest fear was realized and all physical activity came to a screeching halt. I had surgery a month later on October 25, and recovery began. In addition to the obvious atrophy to my left leg, my entire body began to soften and deteriorate, and that old defeatism came back, this time accompanied by a decent amount of depression. I began to think I was too old to get in shape again, that 34 was a bad age to try and fully recover from this type of injury. In the back of my mind, I feared my brief stint at being in shape may have been coming to an end, and I let my diet slip a little.

Eventually physical therapy progressed to the point where I could begin exercising again, which meant the spin bike, swimming, and extremely boring exercises targeted at leg strength and flexibility. My heart wasn’t in it, but I forced myself to continue, because I wanted to recover and get back in shape. I still read a ton on the topic of health and fitness, and at one point while reading about nuts, I stumbled upon Mark’s Daily Apple. The line “Primal Living in the Modern World” really spoke to me, not because I had ever had any involvement with anything Paleo, but because I knew right away it meant simplification.

After spending a considerable amount of time in hyperlink wormholes on MDA, I began incorporating Primal eating into my diet, and in a surprisingly short amount of time, I noticed my skin and hair looking noticeably healthier. I made the effort to moderate my chronic cardio and spend more time on low intensity activities, body weight lifting, and functional strength exercises like kettlebells and sledgehammers. Instead of swimming 4000 meters 3 times a week, I started swimming a mile followed by Tabata sprints in the water. I still go on intense mountain bike rides, but try to make it a combination of cardio, sprint, and play when I do.

(Yes, those are both the same person.)

My diet is now about 90% Primal – taking into account occasional chocolate, rye whiskey, and beans – and I think the results speak for themselves. I’m completely and easily drug and pharmaceutical free, and I only have a couple drinks a week. I no longer have any heartburn or other GI issues whatsoever. I sleep soundly at night and awake full of energy. Most of all, I’m in far greater shape than ever before while working out a fraction of the time, and enjoying every minute of it. I no longer have the defeatist fears that I can’t keep it up, because I know I can. It’s a fun, fulfilling way to live and I love it. All aspects of my life beyond health and fitness have improved as a result.

So thank you, Mark, for your astounding dedication to your work and the selflessness with which you share your knowledge – we all appreciate it. The PB helped me go from one of my lowest points to the best shape and health of my life.

I know you love to snowboard, so if you ever find yourself in the Vail/Beaver Creek area, feel free to email me for a few runs, a Primal meal, or a sensible vice or two!

All the Best,

Graham Olson

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96 thoughts on “From One of My Lowest Points to the Best Shape and Health of My Life”

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  1. Congratulations Graham, your new lifestyle shows in your great smile and your healthy body. Kicking addictions is never easy, and it looks like you managed to kick quite a few, keep up the good work and thanks for the inspiration! Btw, how is your girlfriend doing, did she embrace Primal living too?

    1. Yes, great work, but I’m wondering about the girlfriend too.
      great abs!

      1. Thanks Guys!!

        She’s doing great–actually, as of an hour ago, she’s my fiancee! Just coincidence…She’s not totally on board with the PB herself, but she’s coming around, and definitely sensitive to my dietary, well, needs. She’s great, and I’ll never forget that the initial inspiration came from her!

        1. Congratulations! On your engagement and you health journy! Very inspirational.

        2. Congrats to both of you!! Just tell us when and where, and we’ll show up barefoot and and bearing roast buffalo! ;-D

        3. Absolutely amazing… and congratulations on the engagement! I’m sure you two will have a very happy and healthy life together.

        4. Congrats on the engagement:) Your story is incredibly inspirational! I am not the healthiest person in the world but I wish to change that. I definitely drink everyday even if its only a glass wine, and now that I’ve moved out of my parents house I have been living off of macaroni and cheese and pizza as sad as it is to say:( I hope to change my diet and exercise immensely after I’m married in 3 weeks and I hope to get my fiance going down the same path:) keep up the good work! If you can change your life around from what it was then I have hope that I still have time to do the same. Thank you for sharing your story!

  2. Nice work Graham…I was 32 when I blew my ACL(Soccer). Its been all downhill since then:-) I’m 45 now, and still going strong…You can too. Eat, Sleep, Play Grok!

    1. I feel you—injury time was definitely sink or swim! Keep it up, and thanks for the kind words.

  3. The visual transformation is astounding and you sound happier and for sure are healthier. Wonderful story.

    It is interesting how many, like you, have said that they stumbled upon this site and it transformed their life. We are all most fortunate to have MDA in our lives.

    1. Yeah, I was at a point where I figured I had seen all the food-dork sites I could find–now there’s a whole new universe! MDA has no less than reinvigorated my interest in the web, as idiculous as that sounds.

  4. Great story! Very inspiring to be able to kick all of those addictions. Isn’t your new life a hell of a lot better? If only the rest of the world knew!!

    This sentence stood out to me…

    “I began spending an hour almost every day on a stationary bike, watching every second tick by, staring at the TV, and hating every minute of it.”

    At least your were determined! That determination found you the primal blueprint which lead you to this very moment – congrats!!

    1. Indeed–Your last paragraph really stood out to me. Thanks for pointing it out. And keep up the good work on your blog!

  5. Good Work Graham, You look great!

    I used to suffer from the fear of not being able to keep up with the chronic cardio too… and life is so much more enjoyable since going Primal!

  6. Congratulations Graham!Your story is amazing – truly transformative. I’m sending it to friends and family who are skeptical of the new life I’ve adopted. Maybe your story will help reach them in a way that I have not been able to yet. Grok on!

    1. The great part about the PB is it works! Best of luck to you, and know that you will truly get out of it what you put in!

  7. Wow! What a great story! So inspirational! Thanks Graham for sharing.

  8. You for sure don’t even look like the same guy! I’m wondering about the girlfriend too — hope she had great success too. Spread the word, man, you are a walking advertisement!

    1. See my above reply re my new *fiancee*—And thanks to all for the great community here!

  9. Graham – awesome story… An absolute amazing transformation. I’m a skier, but may take you up on that offer if I’m ever out in Colorado!

    Thanks for sharing,


    1. Dude, I’m a skier too. Just mentioned snowboarding specifically to Mark since I know he drags his knuckles. Come one, come all.

  10. Graham, your transformation is beyond awesome. And your before-and-after pics are such polar opposites–way to work the Primal!

  11. “After spending a considerable amount of time in hyperlink wormholes on MDA…”

    Hahaha dude, I can totally relate. My first MDA experience was pretty similar, and led to a whole day of reading MDA at work =)

    Great story, congrats, and Grok on brother!

  12. Imma have to get back to you while I work on scraping my jaw off the floor.

    (Also, “hyperlink wormholes” LOL, thats totally what I got sucked into the first time I came here too)

  13. Well done mate… Well done

    “hyperlink wormholes on MDA” best quote ever haha

  14. Wow, doesn’t even look like the same person.
    Very well done bud!

  15. Are you SURE it’s the same person? LOL. That’s amazing. What ever happened to your girl friend’s side of the story? I really like how you addressed the “defeatist” side of our mental health – I wish more people would speak on this issue since I believe SO many people struggle with this. Myself included. And I totally agree about your comment that since going Primal we don’t have to worry about reverting back.

  16. Holy shit Graham! What an inspiration as I begin my own Paleo/Primal journey. Thank you for sharing, and you look great!

  17. Funny how life works. Same thing happened to me. Took an injury to get me to finally stop my addiction to chronic cardio. Was still addicted to going to the gym, but started to focus on other aspects of my fitness including strength training, and in particular how to squat.

    Once I found MDA, it was destined to be. Congrats, and keep it up!

  18. Wonderful, amazing transformation, Graham! I’ve been sucked in to those “hyperlink wormholes” here, as well. So much great, inspiring info on MDA!
    Thanks for addressing the emotional challenges in your journey. We all struggle with that from time to time. I do think the emotional aspect gets easier the longer one has been primal. I feel so good in this lifestyle, that depression doesn’t rear its ugly head that much. When it does, though, it is far less intense than when I was on the SAD diet, and I’m able to get over it much quicker.
    Keep up the good work–you are an inspiration to those who have yet to adapt to “our ways.”

  19. Great story Graham! Very inspiring. You look like two different people in those photos – an amazing transformation.

    I’m still working my way through the hyperlink wormholes. Lol.

    1. Randy, at the risk of sounding like Jordan Chase from Dexter—Take It! Kidding kind of, but we’re all here for you and you will have this in your life.

  20. Man, I can totally relate to your story. I was heavy in the bar scene before going primal. I remember those nights of getting my ticket punched to drunk town, closing the bar at 1:30AM, passing out around 2AM, and having to be at work at 6AM. all the while eating a load of greasy fast food crap to get me through the hangovers. I was a total trainwreck. I still cut loose a little on the weekends with the adult beverages with nonprimal friends, but it’s sensible and I feel like a new person these days.

    1. I’ll be having a bit of a cut loose weekend today with my own recent engagement and my good friend getting married…I think another great aspect of the PB is it isn’t black and white and you can get healthy while still enjoying your life.

  21. Nice job buddy, your lucky to have a friend like me pushing you up those mountain bike trails, set up sledge hammer in my yard, race swim laps with, and throw mjullner around.

    Just kidding, kind of. Your the man, and your accomplishments speak worlds about who you are what your capable of. You’ll just always be slower at climbing then me. HA!!

  22. Hi Graham,

    That is an absolutely amazing transformation story. You went from one extreme to the other and landed in a nice healthy middle.

    I may take you up on the snowboarding in Vail!


    1. well, being in Winter Park I just might have to slide on over, for snow sliding. I ride sometimes, but tele is my fav. I just love playin in the snow either way!

      It is very hard to not get sucked into the typical ski town life style of booze, bad food, & other distractions. Congratulations on facing all those temptations & conquering them!!

  23. Wow, congratulations! You’ve done an awesome job. And kicking those vices must make you feel like you can achieve anything. Good job!

  24. Thanks for sharing your story, Graham. Unbelievable transformation.

  25. really impressive transformation. who would imagine before understanding the Primal way that adopting such a simple way of living could yield such abundance…! bravo

  26. Congratulations! There are so many times you could have quit and you didn’t. I’m so glad you found your way to MDA. Your story is inspiring.

  27. Funny how the “hyperlink wormholes” line really speaks to so many of us. It truly is a mind-flip and an enjoyable one at that.

    A huge congrats to your redefined life Graham. You look happy.

    1. Yeah, I really have to discipline myself when going through a post…

  28. Graham, how long did this transformation take? Also, do you incorporate any IF at all?


    1. The story was accurate timewise—around 4-5 yrs…And yes, I’ve always been a believer in some IF. I used to go on fasts for a few days because I liked the mental clarity they brought. Now it’s more in the vein of not stressing over a meal if it isn’t convenient and I’m not starving. I find since going Primal that hunger pangs, when they do come, don’t last very long.

  29. Hi Graham

    Thank you so much for sharing your incredible story.

    The transformation is incredible, evidenced by the two photos you posted.

    Best wishes


  30. Wow! That is truely inspiring, Graham. It really is amazing that those pictures are both of you! What a transformation!

    The Primal way was also a liberation for me – from struggle and suffering with endless cardio workouts and a resulting grumbling lower back!

    Grok on!!

  31. Just want to say that your story is inspiring and again shows people there is always a way to a more sustainable healthy lifestyle (that doesn’t need to be a chore or diet!)

    Clearly there is much power in our nutritional and food choices – your journey proves this. I actually reached my lowest body fat % when I was injured and therefore not training by going 90% primal in my diet. Bar my injury, I felt great!

  32. Awesome story!!! Congratulations:)
    I live in Winter Park, CO for a couple yrs… I know how those little skitowns turn us upside down if we give them the chance. Thanks for inspirational share:)

    1. Oh yes–there are 2 ways you can go with your life up here for sure. Glad I’ve moved from one to another. I’ll be playing a wedding at Devil’s Thumb near WP on Monday…Love it over there!

  33. Graham, WOW, what a story! You look incredible! & congrats on the engagement!! What a wonderful way to continue your new lifestyle! 🙂 I’m sure your fiancee will be on board in no time…& I can’t wait to read her story when she does!

    1. Thanks! She’s doing great in her own way, I think. She loves her desserts, so I try to make some low-GI paleo versions for her most of the time while I enjoy my dark chocolate.

  34. Oh Man this is a great story of success!! It speaks volumes to what I think is so great about MDA and the Primal Blueprint!!

    Its all about taking back control of our lives!!

    So impressive, Graham, to see how you not only changed your health physically but your lifestyle too!!

    Welcome to better health and a better life!!

    GROK ON!!! What a great inspiration!

    1. Thanks, and love the handstand! Love getting the funny looks at the gym.

  35. Greetings from Park City, UT, The GREATEST snow on earth, LOL! Isn’t it funny how moving to a place that has so many fantastic primal health/fitness opportunities right outside the front door (hiking/biking/snowshoeing/skiing/boarding) and yet we let things slip? I certainly did. Discovered this in June and have never looked back, and hiking this awesome fall season more than ever before.

    Keep up the great lifestyle, and congratulations!

  36. YAY Graham!!! You look amazing and must feel even better!! (The photos are incredible–you’re right, they don’t even look like the same person!!!) Congrats on all of your hard work!!

  37. Very inspiring Graham! I know you can keep it up. I agree, those pictures don’t look like the same person!

  38. Do you know your weight and body fat % in the after picture? I’m 5’9″ 205lbs and am trying to figure out numbers for goals. I understand the point of view that numbers don’t matter but numbers keep my sciency mind motivated.

    1. In the after, which is essentially now, I’m around 150. Alas, I have no idea what my body fat % is, but I’m pleased, and I’m not stressing about it. I’m curious though, so maybe I’ll find out.

  39. These stories are important because they show that the ‘primal’ diet and exercise regimes obviously work. Thanks for sharing your story – it’s an inspiration.

  40. Thanks for sharing your story Graham. You look great! You’ve been through so much…I love the 80/20 rule….90/10 is great too. 🙂 And congrats on your engagement, that is fantastic!

  41. “I’m in far greater shape than ever before while working out a fraction of the time, and enjoying every minute of it.”

    Says it all.

  42. Graham,
    First off, you look amazing. Thanks for sharing your story.
    Could you talk a little more about how the primal lifestyle helped with drug/pain killer/alcohol abuse? Clearly, you made a decision to turn your life around, and YOU were the solution. But I do wonder about the linkage between healthy eating/exercise and addiction.
    Congrats on your new life and engagement!

    1. I would say a big part of it was having surgery and being so inundated with heavy pharmaceuticals. It really turned me off to the sensation over time. As far as the primal influence, the more I learn about medications and their dreadful effects, it’s really a no brainer. Besides, when you eat the right food, you feel great all the time anyway. The other day I had a gnarly crash on my mtn bike, after which my knee felt so bruised I was limping for the rest of the day. Decided not to take any advil, though. Next day, completely fine. Re: alcohol: my history shows the negative effects of lots of booze and the subsequent sloshy watery fatness…

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