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 grew up as an overweight child and teenager. It wasn’t that I ate particularly badly, it was that I absolutely hated sport. Growing up in the 80s, I really thought that exercise was synonymous with ball sports. As I was essentially scared of the ball, I didn’t want to kick, throw or catch it, and so I didn’t want to exercise. I had no idea that doing a martial arts or boxing class (which didn’t involve balls), participating in Zumba or even going for a simple walk could be exercise and could be fun.
So I was basically inactive and fed the standard Australian diet of lots of healthy whole grains. As I was overweight my parents did all that they could to keep anything “fattening” away from me, and fed me as many “diet” and “fat free” products that they could find. I was eating a diet that consisted mainly of artificial sweeteners, no fat yogurt, diet coke and all bran.
That was when the stomach pains began. I developed such bad IBS that I would spend most evenings curled up on my bed with excruciating stomach cramps. My doctor gave me anti-spasmodic medication which I took on a daily basis. This was when I realised the limits of Western medicine – rather than try to work out why I was experiencing such bad cramps and bloating – I was given a pill to temporarily relieve the symptoms. I insisted on going to a number of specialists, who did the usual blood tests, didn’t find anything wrong with me, and told me that my IBS was caused by stress. I remember feeling utterly frustrated – the main stress I had in my life at that time was my stomach pains!
At about 16 I lost a lot of weight and became very calorie conscious. I was always a high achiever, and since I was taught that whole grains were so healthy, I decided that all that I would eat would be whole grains. I barely ate any protein, and absolutely no fat, and at this point started to develop reactive hypoglycaemia which has plagued me ever since.
During my early 20s I managed to keep very slim through huge amounts of cardio exercise, and on the outside looked like the picture of health. I ate healthily according to conventional wisdom. I discovered the joys of exercise without ball sports – I became an avid runner and a very enthusiastic boxer. I could talk for hours about the joys of an intense double spin class. I genuinely loved the exercise, however on the inside I felt like a sick person and was always exhausted. All of this cardio meant that I had intense cravings for carbs, and even though I would limit these to low-GI carbs like a bowl of muesli and toast, within half an hour of eating such a meal my blood sugar would be crashing and I would be shaking and slurring my words. I could go no more than an hour without eating. I could not leave the house without a bag full of muesli bars and sandwiches. I started working as a lawyer in a corporate law firm, and would dread the thought of morning meetings after an exercise session – I would need to excuse myself half way through the meeting to go to the bathroom and quickly scoff a sandwich to bring my blood sugars back up so that I could concentrate. My boyfriend at the time (now husband) knew that he had to keep me around food at all times, because if my blood sugar dropped, I went from being a sweet-natured person to a monster in seconds, ready to bite his head off. I could not stay awake past 9pm at night, and was permanently exhausted from my blood sugar swings. Even though I was slim (about 50kg at 162cm) I could only wear loose “maternity-style” tops and dresses to cover my stomach inflamed from IBS which always looked 6 months pregnant.
When I was about 23 my IBS symptoms got even worse and at that point I listened to the advice of a naturopath who told me to give up all artificial sweeteners and coffee. That did reduce my symptoms so I could stop taking anti-spasmodic medication, however I still experienced stomach pains, bloating and discomfort on a daily basis.
When I was 29 I went off the pill to try to fall pregnant, and discovered that somewhere along the line I had developed PCOS (most likely from my insulin problems and hypoglycaemia). The acne from my teenage years came back with a vengeance and my periods were irregular. It turned out to be due to genetic issues, and after a few twists and turns fell pregnant with twins. I couldn’t have been happier – it really felt like a miracle. Everything was going well until I reached about 21 weeks when I started to go into premature labour. I was having continuous contractions and immediately put on bed rest in hospital. The stress of bed rest was like nothing that I had ever experienced before – for 14 weeks I was told to lie perfectly still or else I could lose my babies. I took the doctors’ advice very seriously and did everything I possibly could to keep my babies inside of me for as long as possible.
While I was lying in bed (with lots of thinking/observing time), I started to notice that when I ate gluten or processed foods, my contractions would be much, much worse. I started to experiment with avoiding gluten, and came up with the hypothesis that gluten was causing my IBS, which was in turn was irritating my uterus and causing it to contract. When I ran this past my doctor he gave me a strange look, however despite his scepticism I cut out all gluten which I am quite sure helped keep my babies safe.
By some miracle I managed to stay pregnant until 35 weeks, and then gave birth by caesarean to perfect boy-girl twins of 2.3kg and 2kg. They stayed in hospital for a month when they were born, however they were healthy and I was over the moon. I used this month to start to move around again, rebuild some of my wasted muscles and prepare for my twins to come home. During my pregnancy I only gained about 10kg, most likely due to muscle wastage and the fact that I was so nervous to eat anything that could cause contractions that I stuck to plain rice, plain chicken, beef and fish, eggs, steamed veges, avocados, bananas and berries. I guess at that point I was eating mostly primal without even knowing it. Unfortunately the public hospital system food left much to be desired in terms of food quality – powdered eggs for breakfast and congealed chicken for lunch. My husband was amazing by bringing me home cooked scrambled eggs and sweet potato most mornings.
As soon as the twins were born I was so happy not to have to worry if what I ate would affect my babies that I went straight back to eating gluten and other processed foods. The lack of sleep, trying to breastfeed 2 babies and eating carbs and gluten meant that I started to feel awful once again. When the babies were about 6 months I started to search for answers on the internet, knowing in the back of my mind that gluten may be an issue for me (as well as many other preservatives and sweeteners), but not knowing where to start to address my issues. This was when I stumbled on MDA, and like many others have said before me, I spent every waking moment (that I was not tending to babies) reading everything I could on the site. It felt like everything fell into place, and finally I had found a voice to not only define my problems, but to give me realistic solutions to those problems. I had always felt like I was the only one who experienced embarrassing stomach issues and blood sugar swings, and now finally I discovered that there was a whole community of people who were experiencing exactly the same thing.
Literally within a few days of giving up gluten and other processed foods, my IBS symptoms disappeared. It was like being given a magic pill. My acne cleared up and I began to sleep more deeply. Whereas before I was grumpy with tiredness all evening, I could start to function in the evenings and become more social. I could easily jump out of bed to go to a crying baby in the middle of the night, and suddenly had no trouble getting up in the mornings even with very little sleep. I did succumb to the low carb flu and it took quite some time to adjust to the low carbs without experiencing hypoglycaemia (probably at least a month). After this I could finally go to a work meeting without the panicked thought that my blood sugar would drop and I would not be able to string a sentence together.
There were also issues that were resolved by eating primal that I did not even realise were issues – for example, I used to get very sweaty feet and had to use foot deodorant if I wore stockings. After going primal my feet stopped sweating and I haven’t bought a can of deodorant since. Things that used to stress me out no longer stress me. I am able to focus better at work and am more productive and even tempered. My husband, who is primal by default (i.e. he doesn’t want to eat primal but there is nothing in the house that is non-primal) has effortlessly lost 6kg, even though he eats non-primal at work and when he is out on the weekends.
I jumped on board with the primal way of exercising. Even though I was very reluctant to give up my beloved spin classes, I soon realised that while spinning gave me a momentary endorphin high, I was left with the inevitable blood sugar crashes and intense carb cravings. I now lift weights 2-3 times per week and sprints once per week, with walks whenever I can fit them in. (I must admit that I have found walking the hardest thing to fit into my schedule, as it is the most time consuming. While I can sneak in a cheeky 20 minute sprint session while my kids are playing, to keep 2 restless toddlers in the pram while I walk for an hour is near impossible).
I can’t say that being primal has been some magic bullet in terms of weight loss, although I didn’t have much weight to lose. I certainly shed fat and put on lean muscle after the pregnancy, and my weight is now held stable at about 52kg, which is slightly over my pre-pregnancy weight. It has also taken me about 18 months of healing with good food and supplements to get my hypoglycaemia under control. I can now control my blood sugar and cravings by eating very low carb throughout the day, and can even handle some carbs last thing at night. If I have carbs in the morning I know that the rest of the day will be ruined as I try to play catch-up with my falling blood sugars.
I would have to say that the biggest gift that being primal has given me is time and energy to spend with my twins and husband. I no longer have to spend hours on a treadmill or cross trainer, and can rather focus on playing with them. At the same time the biggest challenge that I have faced is trying to feed my twins primal food, and all of the resistance that I face from family and those around me. My father, who is a doctor, jokes that he is going to call child services on me for feeding my children coconut oil and clogging their arteries. However, now that I have been primal for nearly 2 years and am so happy for it, they can see that there is some merit in the efforts that I go to in order to feed my children well.
I don’t have any dramatic before and after pictures, however here is a photograph when I had just given birth to my twins (above), and here are some photos a year later after being primal for 6 months.