Going Primal – Mentally, As Well As Physically

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!

real_life_stories_stories-1-2I first learned of The Primal Blueprint in the summer of 2010 when I spent the summer at my now husband’s parent’s in Maine, USA. I had been stuck at 135 pounds following a six month trip around South East Asia and Australia in 2007, and hadn’t been able to get back to my 120 pound pre-traveler weight, regardless of how many calories I limited myself to or hours spent on the treadmill. I met Tyler in 2008 in post-grad in the UK, when he was a vegetarian, daily gym-goer and runner. We ate relatively healthily in CW terms, I ate less meat, and worked out way more than I had before, but I struggled to lose any weight, despite the fitness regime. I wasn’t traditionally “fat,” but my muscular frame was more chunky than lean.

rachel 1

2007 Traveling in Australia: 135 pounds, 2009

Tyler found MDA through another blog, and interested by the contrasting information to what he’d always thought was right, he gave up the grains and quickly leaned out, while still being a veggie. I arrived in the US and said “I’ll give it a try, and if I don’t feel any better, then what the hell.”

We soaked up the research, cooking “real” food each day with Tyler suddenly starting to eat meat again, and we felt better than ever. The idea of not having to run for an hour each day was amazing, and having suffered from shin splints and knee problems, it all made sense. I realised the feeling of being “painfully full” was never that at all, but the result of eating two bowls of pasta, with garlic bread, or our Sunday night takeaway of pizza and chips as our one “indulgences” of the week. Our friends thought we were crazy, reciting the “everything in moderation” mantra, and saying “what a load of rubbish not eating bread was,” and “how are you never going to eat bread again?” In all honesty, giving up bread and pasta was easy, as long as it wasn’t around, but the sugar cravings never really subsided and for the last 4.5 years I have battled with the ‘need’ to eat it. My friends couldn’t understand the lifestyle, and never really catered for me at parties or gatherings, so I ended up succumbing to the foods that make me sick, which didn’t help me at all.

I knew I was eating the wrong things, that my allergies to cats went away when I ate Primally, my hay fever disappeared (I could literally get a “cold” immediately after eating bread and cake) and I would maintain around 112 pounds, but working in a grocery store being surrounded constantly by the candy, cookies, and novelty seasonal treats was making it impossible for me to stop binging on these poisonous foods (I’m not blaming anyone else here; I know it was down to me). I was still lighter, sticking around 122 pounds, but I knew my natural plateau was 10 pounds less than this and felt guilty every time I fell off the wagon. My natural build helps me look fit, as I put muscle on easily, and my friends are always amazed at my “six pack.” I was still feeling okay, but knew when I was slipping when I was sleeping late all the time and had colds and headaches more regularly.

rachel 2

Summer 2010: 125 pounds, Spring 2011, Summer 2013

Just before Christmas 2013, I started having pain in my left arm and around the heart area of my chest after eating sugary foods, and my GP dismissed it as indigestion due to the fact I didn’t eat sugar every day. It kept coming, and another GP said it was muscular skeletal, which made more sense, considering some simple observations such as my job replenishing shelves, which of course made me relieved, but the fear it had been my heart had kicked me into gear to do something different.

In early April of last year, it felt like a fog had lifted in my mind. I listened to all the podcasts (up to week 12 by then) in a week on my commute, and felt I was learning the information all over again. I bought the 21-Day Total Body Transformation guide, and surrounded myself with Primal snacks, which I keep on hand for when I’m feeling peckish, or when I crave sugar.

The sugar struggle remained a hilly road until Autumn 2014. I was still hitting rocky patches, still drinking beer, still not completely avoiding gluten when eating out, which all came to a head on a weekend in Edinburgh late November last year. I had developed psoriasis, which I think was due to extreme stress while Tyler was applying for “indefinite leave” to continue living and working in the UK. I had drank a lot of beer and whiskey in Scotland (when in Rome) and eaten my fair share of black pudding and haggis, which always contain oats.

Truthfully, I felt awful, my psoriasis spread like wildfire (you could count the growth of lesions hourly) and the stabbing pains in my stomach were telling me something was wrong in more ways than it had been before. Simultaneously, my best friend had recently started the Autoimmune Protocol, to combat ulcerative colitis (I’d never heard of AIP), and she informed me psoriasis was an autoimmune disease. I started researching this as much as I could, and suddenly I knew what I had to do. (My mother has had Multiple Sclerosis for 49 years, and seeing her slow deterioration over my lifetime spurred me on further to combat my own, albeit less serious autoimmune disease.) I followed AIP for a month or so before Christmas, and it was the best thing I’ve done.

I now know absolutely, definitively, that I will never eat grains, sugar or gluten again. Even paleo/Primal “treats” don’t float my boat like they used to (the more sugar I eat, the more I want). It can still be a struggle, when there are sweets and chocolate lying around at work, and once or twice I’ve picked one up and put it back down again, but it is getting better.

I now sit at around 119 pounds, although I don’t worry too much about that anymore as I FEEL healthy, and can honestly say I don’t get energy crashes in the afternoon, that I can often wait until noon to eat (sometimes I choose not to because I JUST LOVE FOOD!), that when I get my SLEEP and STRESS dialed in, EVERYTHING ELSE comes with it, that when I sprint I feel AWESOME, when I look in the mirror I feel STRONG. My job keeps me active, as I move all day (15000 steps and counting) and lift heavy things (crates of potatoes and onions!). The only issue is getting adequate sunlight which is sometimes difficult in the UK outside of summer months!

It’s a lot easier now to find like-minded people, even in the UK, (Tuesday night 8-9pm, #paleohour on Twitter!), and I’ve recently started a blog (shameless plug!) writing about places to eat Paleo in the UK (GrainFreeGrazing.wordpress.com), to try and “give something back.”

2015 me

Thank you, Mark, for the work you and your team do. I am eternally grateful for the day Tyler found MDA, it has truly changed my life for the better.


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44 thoughts on “Going Primal – Mentally, As Well As Physically”

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  1. My daughter did the whole 30 and discovered dairy not only aggravated her skin but made her asthma flair up & gluten (grains) make my eczema go berserk within a few hours and it takes a solid week of sainthood to go away. I’ll stick to primal !

  2. Awesome transformation, Rachel. Keep setting new goals and pushing yourself further toward health and happiness; the journey doesn’t have to stop here for ya!

  3. Thank you Rachel. Like you, I have psoriasis and I crave sugar. You’ve inspired me to check out AIP.

  4. I love these stories that are less about weight loss and more about health. I have a ton to lose after falling into the same trap as Rachel (being with people who advocated their vegetarian lifestyle with grains or succumbing to pressure to eat bread and pastas), but these stories are so inspiration. We’re all on that journey, right? It doesn’t get any more primal than being in touch with your own body. Thanks, Rachel!

    1. There’s a funny and predictable reaction from non-fit people when they encounter fit people.

      It goes like this:

      “You’re so lucky, you can eat/drink/live like you want because you’re so thin.”

      The idea that perhaps the reason you’re so fit and lean is precisely because you don’t just do whatever you want rarely crosses their mind. Which I think speaks volumes to the central problem with people’s relationship to their health. Especially in America. It seems that being healthy is viewed as a luck of the draw, like a lottery, or that you only eat right and exercise to “lose a few pounds” and then somehow you’re supposed to maintain that weight while reverting back to your old habits that created the problem in the fist place.

      Baffling, but I’ve heard these “you’re so lucky” comments going on 30 plus years. We all have. I understand the place they are coming from but it does secretly piss me off because, even though i may have had a head start being born into a lean active family, maintaining that took incorporating very specific lifestyle choices and then from time to time modifying them based upon results or new information.

      But that’s sooo boring!

      1. You’re nicer than I am. I speak up and point out that it’s not a matter of luck. They then get a capsule lecture on the paleo lifestyle. Hey, we have to spread the word when we can. 🙂

      2. I don’t think it’s an American thing, I think it’s a human nature thing. It takes a lot to shift a thought process no matter what culture you live in.

  5. Thanks for sharing Rachel. I know it’s hard to keep up with your new eating lifestyle when you “look fine” to everyone and they try to “help” you by encouraging you to give up and just stay put and suffer, “it’s all a part of growing older” etc. Bleck!
    The lack of pain everyday is what keeps me away from the sugar. My life needs “sweetness” so sugar was a “friend” when I felt like I needed a little boost, of course the headache shortly after and a day or two of carb hangover wasn’t really worth it so I quit that after a few times of learning my lesson. (eye roll)
    Looking good, you are encouraging me to keep up with my primal journey.

    1. Just curious, does your staying away from sugar include fruit?
      Meaning, if you do include fruit in your eating lifestyle, are there any to which you react differently to: good or bad?

      1. I do eat fruit. When I eat too much, I crave more sugar. I don’t react too badly, unless I eat it on an empty stomach, which I try to avoid now. Although I think I’m allergic to pineapple as I get mouth ulcers.

      2. I eat fruit on occasionally in the summer when we have it, not a lot however. Mostly the sugar that calls to me (by name of course) is in the form of candy. I didn’t have any adverse reactions when I was young, now that I am 60 I can feel the fog, pain in my knees, etc when I eat it and it’s just not worth it.

        1. Absolutely. I used to work in a bigger store than I’m in now, and found it really hard to not partake in the sampling of new candy items! Even up until my turning point of November last year, I was eating things in my new store that I shouldn’t have been. Now I just make sure I take enough of my own food to keep on hand. I know when I’ve eaten even too many paleo approved things, like dates, or fruit, as the joints in my hands start to hurt (I’ve always had issues with this). It’s amazing how much our bodies speak to us, the key is just to listen.

    1. My cat allergy and hay fever vanished when I first went gluten and dairy free (even though I wasn’t primal yet). I even have an indoor/outdoor cat now and she is a happy reminder that eating like this clears me up in all kinds of ways.

      Congratulations on your success! You look amazing!

  6. Go Maine! For some reason sugar is always a problem for me no matter how well I’m eating. It calls to me and it is like the last vice that my body doesn’t want to let go of, especially during long winters in the Northeast. Thanks for the tips to combat as I pay dearly for my dietary indiscretions. You not only look fabulous, but also sound content which is really is a much better payoff than a quick sugar fix.

  7. Sugar calls to me too and I’ve nicknamed it the “cocaine” of the food world. I have to keep it out of the house. Some books I read recently about prisoners of WWII in Japanese camps in Burma mentioned that as well as massive hunger pangs due to their restricted diet of three small handfuls of cooked rice a day, the prisoners craved sugar like a drug. Even those who pre-war did not have a sweet tooth dreamed of cakes and sugary tea. Some managed to trade their last possessions for a little jaggery, the SE Asian palm sugar.

    1. I use the term “kiddie crack”. Candy turns kids into little demons.

  8. Rachel, Thanks for your story. It sounds like it has been a long journey for you but you have, through ‘continued experiment’ (smile), found that The Primal Blueprint is what works. I’m doing the 21 Day Method my self right now and I can say that already I’m so much better for it. I’m on Day 15 today. It truly is interesting all the medical problems that can go away as well as the natural weight loss. Thanks for sharing your story. How has your husband faired? Was it easier for him? Best regards, Jacks

  9. Rachel, you’re an inspiration.
    And as a Brit I bless your heart for creating your blog. I’ve bookmarked you for further exploration. May your life continue to bloom.

    (Also a ‘cat allergic’ person. Shall seek out moggy and test).

    1. Oh, I am sooo allergic to cats. I wonder if that could ever go away.

      1. Cats fed a species appropriate diet with have less allergens too. Kibbble fed cats and dogs release a horrible amount of ” polution”. Not sure what to call it, but they are greasy, they usually have loads of dander and when petted leave an odor. Naturally reared and fed a species appropriate diet will eliminate that. Also their poop doesn’t smell like the kibble or canned food that they ate.

  10. congrats Rachel – your story is amazing – and the part about your mom with MS is another reminder to how so many people just accept a diagnosis and rot away – and glad that was not the case with your skin lesions – seriously, and I enjoyed what you noted about the sugar “and once or twice I’ve picked one up and put it back down again” – it is that way for me – where I grab a granola bar and then say – oh no wait – it has 20 grams of sugar – forget it – don’t want it – don’t need it!! I will be checking out your blog.

  11. Rachel,

    Your story is very similar to mine. I also struggle with sugar and am supposed to be 10-15 lbs lighter than I am at the moment (125). Everyone tells me that I’m in shape already and I don’t need to loose any more, but they don’t realise how hard I work for it. I also Like the way it makes me feel. My skin is much clearer, I have lots more energy and my mood is much happier overall.
    I will make sure to check your blog. As an American living in Cornwall I haven’t found many people who I can connect with (maybe I’m not looking hard enough ????)
    Thanks for sharing!

  12. I am a frequent visitor to the UK and have bookmarked your blog for good places to eat. Thanks!

  13. Good for you Rachel, you look like a different girl. I’m always amazed how well primal/paleo works for everyone and our food and what we eat makes no distinction between age, size, colour or creed.

    Sugar is a big problem for me. If I’ve eaten too much fruit or anything with more sugar than I estimated my joints get so painful and the pain starts within hours. It takes a few days for the pain to subside and I have to keep off all sugar, fruit included. I do love bananas and half a banana is also a sweet treat for me in an almond or coconut milk smoothie once a week.
    My every now and then go to choc treat is Lindt 90% cocoa. My daughter says it’s so bitter but to me it tastes sweet. I’ve always liked very dark chocolate over normal milk chocolate.
    It’s just a matter of experimenting with primal/paleo foods to see what suits our bodies best. Very low to nil sugar is best for me, I even have to watch how much pumpkin or sweet potato I consume which is most annoying but I’d rather be pain free.
    Best of all was getting rid of those poisonous grains and I will never go back to eating them again.

  14. Sugar is the next thing I want to address but honestly I am not thinking of taking it out completely. I just want to be more aware and cut back. Very well done Rachel, thank you for sharing.

  15. Congratulations Rachel! I’ll check out your blog!

    I wanted to add that Americans have been lied to by the diet industry when they adopted the slogan “Eat what you want and lose weight”. It their mantra. Busy over worked stressed people begin to believe it. Incredibly destructive propaganda.

    Also Rachel I wanted to share that I lost my sugar cravings by adding Intermittent Fasting to my primal eating. I eat 8:16 daily and if I get very busy, it can be 4:20. anyhoo for me, the sugar cravings are now gone!! (and I’m a Grandma ;o)

    1. I tried IF, but when my carbs go too low my hormones get out of whack – I’ve had quite a few issues in the last 18 months, and am still working through them. I have no doubt it would help with my cravings though.

      1. Just wanted to pop in and let you know that I’m AIP as well due to skin issues (well, it helps with everything for me – from fatigue to brain fog, libido to workout recovery) and I absolutely CAN NOT fast. It really screws with me and sets my recovery way back. Same thing if I eat too high fat or too low carb. Through this whole primal-paleo-IF-leptin reset-etc-AIP journey (at least 6 years now), I’ve found that I need to eat relatively high (vegetable-based) carb, pretty low fat and very moderate protein to maintain any sort of energy level and clear skin. About 8 months after discovering this and keeping it strict, I finally, FINALLY started to lean out and have been able to work out more than twice a week without crashing.

        1. This is really interesting, it’s amazing how different bodies react isn’t it. I don’t really have a problem with energy anymore, now that I’ve cut gluten out completely (I used to read other success stories and wonder why they all spoke of this constant energy when I wasn’t seeing this), and I find if I eat carbs in the morning I am more hungry for the rest of the day. As for higher carbs, I feel this is the way I need to go to get my hormones levels back (what’s annoying is my bloods come back ‘normal’) but there’s definitely something amiss, that I feel more starchy veg could combat. And this just allows more plantains, so yay!

  16. Rachel,

    thanks for sharing your story. What I particularly liked was your honesty. Whilst it’s great to hear stories about people who make a change and everything goes right, I think it’s even more powerful to hear stories like yours. The message for me is so encouraging, it tells to those of us that falter from time to time that recovery is just around the corner.

  17. yay, another UK-based primaller. Go you!

    Will be checking with your blog regularly as I’m struggling to find no-sugar dairy-substitutes in the UK (I don’t live near enough any of the Whole Foods branches, grrrrr). I’ve been no-grain no-sugar (even fruit & starchy veg) for 9 months (which improved my joint problems and PCOS a lot), but giving up dairy has completely solved everything – including the acne I’ve had for 20 years – in 5 weeks flat. So: no more dairy, ever, but I have to find a good unsweetened non-dairy milk that foams and doesn’t separate because I need to get back to my cappuccinos and masala chais ASAP. Espresso and black tea just don’t cut it!

    (PS: talking of chocolate, have you tried Hotel Chocolat? – 4 types of 100% chocolate and they have branches on a lot of UK high streets and are online too. Raw-cacao-and-water cocoa in the morning and a nibble of Hotel Choc 100% after dinner and I have no cravings – turns out I never liked sugar but I LOVE cacao.)

    1. I tend to stick to Lindt 90% for choc but I have been known to go too far with it and have stomach cramps straight after. Even though it’s not really sweet, I still struggle to control myself. I don’t know if the non-dairy milk you look for exists…try the paleo hour community on Twitter , 8-9pm on a Tuesday, there’s loads of info on there. Incidentally have you tried raw dairy?

    2. Thai brand canned coconut milk is the only brand i found that mixes well into hot drinks using a spoon. It doesn’t separate unless you let it sit a good while. The organic premium (full fat) is their best.

  18. Thanks for your story Rachel. For me a huge light came on after I spent 4 weeks in Cambodia visiting my daughter. It suddenly hit me at the end of that time that NOTHING HURT! My constant companion of joint pain was gone. Why? As I thought about it I realised I had eaten no bread (hard to come by in Asia), no dairy and no sugar. Naturally returning home saw all the old issues return, but now I had seen the food/health link and have been on the journey to find out more, see reactions in my body, since that trip 5 years ago. Like you and many others I simply had no stop button around sugar. But now I know that is the signal to tell me I need some more fat in my day. After a big breakfast of eggs, bacon and avocado, any thought of sugar or any more eating is just gone for hours. I am still very aware of how weak I can be to eat well when I get hungry. So for me there is always some homemade chocolate in my fridge for when sweet stuff is calling out to me. I make almond bark or similar from iquitsugar, based on coconut oil. I’m sure there are many other excellent and easy recipes around. Lindt 90% would work well too but I could even eat too much of that – eat the lot!

    Pain is great motivator for change, but I had no idea 5 years ago that what I ate had anything to do with my joints. But know I do know, and you just can’t unlearn that stuff!

    My biggest challenge is to eat grain free, dairy free, sugar free when I travel overseas. I use hostels much of the time, with many providing breakfast, heavy in all the above. Many have no self catering kitchen. So, any ideas on budget self catering whilst travelling?

    1. My diet was horrific when travelling. I must have been doing it all wrong and eating all the wrong things to gain weight whilst away. Even with carrying my backpack everywhere. I’m a little wary of going away now, in case I can’t find something safe to eat (we are going to NYC, SF and San Diego in 2 weeks and I know I’ll be OK there) but I will just arm myself with snacks for the aeroplane and visit the grocery store as soon as I get there. That’s not on a budget though….as for that part of your question, probably simplest is best, if you have the self catering. Veggies, depending on where you are, and meat. If I travelled back to Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, I’m sure I would experience a whole new food platform!

  19. What an amazing transformation, Rachel! Way to go! It is inspiring to read how you have not given up on improving your health, even on those difficult days where you want to cave and have sugar. I know what that is like! Thank you for sharing your story. We all need the motivation. Take care!

  20. Thank you, thank you, thank you for your courage to write this piece. It’s been 4.5 years since my family went primal (eating and lifestyle) but I still carry around some extra weight because of this drive/compulsion/habit to eat sugar daily. The past 6 months have been excessively stressful and I have turned to sugar like crazy. As a result, I’ve gained weight.

    The toughest thing for me has been trying to talk to others about eating primally while I sit here with excess weight. Bit of a hypocrite. I’ve been wanting to ditch the sugar but didn’t know how–100% fake and natural sugar gone or just keep the latter and limit? I am going to keep fruit and honey in my diet. I have a natural satiety point with honey that I don’t get with artificial sugar. And I know which fruits I need to stay away from cause I can’t stop once I start (hello watermelon!).

    I wish you all the best as you continue your journey. After reading your story, I’m very clear on my path and am ready to start walking down it.