Going Primal Was Like the Magic Pill I Have Been Looking For

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.

Vicki and Dad with Newborn

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.

Vicki and Son - November 2012

Happy Family!

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64 thoughts on “Going Primal Was Like the Magic Pill I Have Been Looking For”

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  1. Wonderful Friday Success Story as always! I’ll share the link with friends right away. Thank you!


  2. ANOTHER GREAT STORY! Yet sad again that a gluten free trial isn’t even a standard recommendation by doctors to try with the IBS type symptoms.

    1. I am a medical transcriptionist and wanted to share that several of my doctors has now started recommending a gluten-free diet! 🙂

    2. My Doctor wanted to give me antidepressants for IBS – she said that is what she gives all her patients with IBS!

      1. Yeah, mine too! I complained of chronic fatigue, IBS and a host of all sorts of symptoms and the first thing they (many Doctors I went to) wanted to hand me was an Rx for depression meds. What a freakin’ joke!. I have been Primal for about 3 weeks and most of the symptoms are GONE!

      2. Me too! I was 21 and they prescribed anti-anxiety meds for my IBS. Said it was just a “stress stomach”. I didn’t take them, but it was another 10 years before I discovered eating Primal and that regulated me for the first time in my entire life – mood-altering drugs free.

  3. What a lovely story – and a great outcome. It sounds like you were really quite intolerant to gluten.

    I too used to experience hypos and the need to eat frequently. Having gone Primal now, I too find I can go much longer between meals or even skip a meal without distress.

    And for me the biggest bonus is that I can now easily maintain my weight – which always felt a struggle previously.

  4. LOVE these success stories! Crazy how you were doing everything “right” according to conventional wisdom and still felt like crap. So glad you figured it out and dropped the gluten!

    Congrats on your personal triumph. (And what a beautiful family!)

  5. Darling, darling, darling family! Your story brought tears to my eyes for some reason. I’m so glad you figured out so well how to stop your suffering and feel good. You had to be very determined and strong in yourself to make all this happen. I hope your dad catches on to coconut oil.

  6. great story! I am glad your babies were born healthy and some of your own health issues subsided!

    You look great!

  7. I’m glad you are feeling better and happy your children were born healthy! Quite the testament to a mothers strength for what you went through in the hospital.

  8. Twin mama here too! I was only on bedrest for 3 days and that was as anxiety-producing as hell, so big ups to you for sticking it out so long.

    The energy we need to manage twins is enormous so I’m so glad for you that you found your “magic pill”. You look fabulous and your family is adorable. Take it from a mum of 13yo boys, you have wonderful years ahead of you!

  9. Way to go!!! I find it so interesting that looks don’t tell the real story. No matter your size or weight, people are suffering by doing what they are supposed to do, what they are told to do, Good for you for not giving up and listening to your body.

  10. Congratulations, and your family is so lucky! Your twins will be raised without a myriad of issues….you ought to get a Mommy Saint Award, not jokes about being reported from dad. LOL KUDOS to you!

    1. Hi Gwen ~

      I left you a PM over at GGLG/CG. Take a look when you have a chance.
      Nice seeing you again. 🙂

  11. Thank you for sharing your story! You have such beautiful children!

  12. I have to ask – are you in Durban? That picture looks just like Durban’s yacht club. I grew up but 4 kms from there!

    1. Trevor, the photo was taken in Fiji on a family holiday. Although my parents grew up near Durban funily enough!

  13. That is a lovely story. I’m crying, too, probably because of those adorable babies. My sister had pre-term issues (not a diet issue, more of a structural issue!) so I have seen her go through the emotional hardship of bed rest and babies in the NICU. My own baby is 11 months and I’m increasing her solids to supplement her breast milk intake. I’m taking care, doing the research on child development and feeding her primal. Even though my own mother is one who turned me onto paleo/ primal (I go more primal), she keeps insisting that I feed the baby rice cereal and cheerios. Mom also thinks that my daughter, who’s never had wheat or sugar, should have real cake with frosting for her first b-day so we can have a picture of her with it all over her face! Ugh (maybe a primal cake, but can you imagine what would happen if we fed her regular cake?!). We have resisted, and even though people like to tell me she’s a chunker (but a healthy, adorable, breast-fed chunker), she’s healthy, never been sick and the happiest thing ever. Combining the pressure of eating primal yourself on top of society’s expectations of proper pregnancy/ child rearing diet is a lot to deal with! Well done all around!

    1. Breast fed babies are pleasantly chubby. My 17th month old still has chubby cheeks and some cute rolls on her thighs. They are supposed to be, if all goes well. Bottlefed babies can look either disturbingly thin or tend to pile on way too much fat, especially on their bellies. One intake pediatric nurse I met last year mentioned she can always tell by the color of cheeks/etc whether a baby is bottle or breastfed. She always asks to confirm, but she almost always knew.

      And yeah, people get weird about feeding babies. We’ve had much success in feeding her strawberries, shredded cheese, roasted corn on the cob, etc. There’s a surprising number of Primal/Paleo finger foods when you think about it. I’m sure she’ll look just as cute with strawberries smeared all over face!!

    2. That’s fantastic that you are feeding your daughter a primal diet. I made a gluten free cocoa and banana cake for my twins’ 1st birthday party, and decorated the cake with all sorts of toys and funky candles. The twins liked it so much better that any icing!
      The comment that I get the most from people is that my twins will develop a gluten intolerance because I don’t expose them to gluten. I never quite know how to respond to this – other than to say that I was exposed to lots of gluten as a baby and still developed an intolerance. Kids are also given so much processed foods at birthday parties, day care etc, that they seem to have plenty of exposure without my having to expose them at home as well

      1. Me too want to know this- avoiding gluten for my 1year old and 5 years old will it make them intolerant to it?

        Because let’s be real we consciously know and choose primal in our food options however children are also influenced by appearance (McDonald happy meal vs chunk of meat) and tempted by family and friends that don’t do primal.

        My kid gets to the point that becomes sad if he accepts and eats some sweets from his grandma being stuck between my wish and others temptations/proves of love which now a days are almost always food related, aka sweets.

        So please Mark help me! Will I make my boys life harder by avoiding gluten?

        By exposing them to a variety of foods occasionally like birthday parties my boys always feel crap afterwards while their friends are not affected just like if their bodies learn to deal with gluten or processed food!

        Arghhh! Please, opinions anyone?

        1. Um, I don’t believe that’s how gluten intolerance works, but I have to ask; why would you want them to be tolerant of garbage anyway?

        2. It’s my understanding that the more gluten you eat the more likely you are to develop an intolerance. I certainly consumed tons of the stuff before I was diagnosed Celiac. But it is really hard for people who were brought up thinking “treats = love, togetherness & happiness” to make the shift in mindset. I still have the occasional pang of guilt when I have to turn down somebody’s offering of wheaty sugary “love” & see the hurt in their eyes… like I am rejecting them personally. However, I firmly believe we are living in a transitional era, much like the anti-smoking movement. Soon it won’t seem so shocking to say no to gluten & sugar. It’s sometimes tough to be the avant-garde!

        3. That’s what I always say… so what if she develops a gluten intolerance? I don’t want her eating gluten! I just started my 6 month old on solids and I’m trying really hard to keep her primal. The problem is she has 2 older sisters who have already been exposed to the dark side. We’ll see how long she lasts…

      2. I had a similar question about whether not eating gluten and then having it would make you more gluten intolerant – I asked my doctor and they way she put it to me is that its not how the body works. If that were the case we would have a negative reaction every time we tried a new food we had never had before. Imagine going to a foreign country and trying a new fruit or vegetable or an exotic meat…or any new food. So basically, not eating something does not create an intolerance to it.

    3. My in-laws think I’m a freak for trying to keep grains and sugar out of my 2-year-old. Whenever we visit them it is a losing battle, what with bread at every meal, birthday cake and other crap that they insist on giving her. I don’t get it. It’s common knowledge by now that sugar and white flour are unhealthy. So why do doting, adoring grandparents try to shove this poision into my kid’s mouth every chance they get? It doesn’t make sense. And I’m the villain and the weirdo for trying to be the custodian of her health.

  14. Great success. Congrats. I too had hypoglycemia and it took a few months before I could really go anywhere without a powerbar or some food as a security blanket. Those days are long gone. I never even think of low blood sugar and skip meals quite often. What a joy to get off that sugar bandwagon.

  15. Primal by default …. love that line. As someone a few years ahead of you on the kiddie curve, you won’t even know how much more you will cherish this time of their lives until a while later and being able to look back and know you didn’t miss big chunks of it spinning circles in a sweaty gym will be an awesome feeling.

  16. Great story! That must be annoying haveing to listen to your father the “doctor”.

    1. Yes good that you find the solution to your problem – no help from any so called doctors (except drugs).

      Watch out for that dangerous coconut oil and other natural and nutritious foods 🙂

  17. My boy (24m) gets primal food either, i still get a lot of stupid comments on that, especially for his bacon and eggs in the morning. He loves them, by the way. 🙂

  18. The next time I do a sprint workout, every time I step and my glute fires, I’ll be remembering your “cheeky sprint” sessions.

  19. It’s so sad the amount of unknown suffering going on out there as people attempt to eat “right” but end up eating things that obviously are not fit for human consumption or at the very least give people serious diseases.

  20. Wonderful story! I love happy endings. You may never totally convince your father, but he’ll see the results.

  21. I remember going to a tailor many years ago to hem a skirt – she said “oh you have a pooch!” in regards to my bloated tummy. I always thought that’s just how my body was built – a skinny girl with a tummy. Fast forward over twenty years and now I’ve been primal for over two years. The bloating was one of the first symptoms to go, but I still could not completely get rid of that “pooch” until I dropped dairy. I was blaming it on menopause. Let food be thy medicine – indeed!

    I would say MOST people out there still eating SAD have digestive system issues and other symptoms related to a poor diet. We grow up with these issues so we believe they are somewhat normal. Any newbies out there reading – these issues and symptoms are not normal – they’re a direct result of the poor diets you are eating. They are not your fate – most of them can be reversed. Try it today!

    1. So true…I can gain/lose 8 pounds in a couple days just based off what I eat…junk food and I shoot up to 206…eat clean and I drop to 198. It’s amazing how quickly our bodies can adjust to eating healthy foods and how quickly it will reward us for cleaning up our act! 🙂

    2. Thank you about the “no dairy” comment. I have a pooch that I don’t want to see and I eat some dairy here and there…. a little sour cream maybe once every two weeks, a piece of cheese a few times a week, some butter in my coffee instead of sugar. I wonder if I just got rid of that I could get rid of it? We’ll see. I just went up 5 pounds and am NOT happy about that.

    3. My brother once made a comment to my mom about my pooch, and we all thought the same thing. Just a skinny girl with a pooch, even after going Primal. Actually, he made the comment after I had been Primal for I think 3-4 months at the time. Turns out for me, I still have some more difficult digestion issues to work out. They’re not severe like IBS, so they were easy for me to write off for a long time, even though I had two incidences where over-consuming trail mix in one case and salads in another case both left me with a distended stomach and nasty constipation.

      For me, it seems like I have a hard time with insoluble fiber: nuts show up on my skin the next day (even properly soaked/sprouted and dehydrated), and raw vegetables constipate me. After a few days of a bone broth fast, I realized that pooch just isn’t right for me, either.

    1. Another major success for someone willing to research beyond the conventional wisdom of just symptom control and get to the root cause of symptoms. Congrats!


  22. Lovely family pics, and again I find it wonderful that you listened to your body and found what works for you. Isn’t it frustrating how many people must be out there popping pills for things or struggling through their tired exhausted days when they just really need to experiment with what is right for their bodies. I bet plenty of them would be as pleasantly surprised as you were to find the answer was right there in their fridge all along!

    Well done you……….and I am thrilled to see a story from another Aussie too!

  23. Great story!

    When our son was 2ish, I had a tiny window of opportunity to get something/ anything into him on awaking before all hell broke loose. All through the school years, he was mad about carbs, though it was clear that it was animal protein that kept him happy and functioning. As an adult he’s primal, and is my go to man for discussion

  24. As for a lot of the female stories very, ah, detailed and graphic, the kind of stuff when my wife and daughter discuss I cover my ears and leave the room as they are shouting at me what a wuss I am LOL. Once again, eliminating grains seems to be the key. Good story, nice looking family, very attractive and happy looking young lady, big time props on achieving excellent health.

  25. I am glad to hear that your babies were healthy! I am a twin mama too, with a son also who is 19 months older than his little brothers (now 4 and 2 1/2 years old). Isn’t it a trip what eating primal will do for a worn out and tired body? I grow weary of people trying to feed my boys junk also, especially since 2 of them are cow milk intolerant and gluten sensitive as well.

  26. I have twins about that age and a newborn at 7 months (all girls). My wife and I have found the following solution to going out for longer (1 – 2 hour) walks on the weekend.

    1. Wait until they are about ready for a nap, throw them in a jogging stroller with pillows and go
    2. If they go to sleep you are in for a good 2 hours walk because when they wake up:
    3. Tell them that if they can give you a color (name a letter or a streetsign, or whatever other simple game) that you will make their stroller go really really fast (and then sprint like 25 to 100 meters.
    4. Kids love it, you dont get your heartrate out of range like a real sprint workout and you get to circle back to your husband / wife and wait / walk back for a cooldown.

    Recommend the jogging stroller as it is built so you can run without tripping and making the whole thing a disaster.

    Good luck and great story.

  27. Thank you for this story! I’m so glad to hear a story that isn’t centered on weight loss (not to belittle the success of those who did lose). I can totally relate to the over-achiever thing: when I was in high school, MTV had some dance-workout thing in the summers that I thought was totally fun, and since grains were so healthy, when I was done, I would then make myself a heaping plate of pasta with absolutely nothing on it but some red pepper flakes for flavor. Talk about messed up!

    Congrats on getting healthy! I bet your kids are so much happier having a fun, energetic, healthy mom to play with (or bother!)

  28. Great story and so glad for you to finally feel well. I just can’t believe that most doctors are still not addressing diet for IBS! It seems unbelievable to me that a gut complaint is not first looked at from the perspective of what is going into the gut. Congratulations on figuring it out for yourself!

  29. Beautiful story. My feet also used to sweat, even when I wore sandals or flip flops. Now the sweaty feet are gone, but I never made the connection between that and the change in my diet!

  30. What a lovely family! And what a wonderful story. It’s so great that you listened to your instincts, you knew what you had to do to keep your babies safe. It just amazes me how we have to figure out how to keep ourselves healthy while the medical community has absolutely no clue about nutrition and how it affects our bodies… when they are the ones who are supposed to be “treating” us.

  31. Good for you for keeping strong even when others discouraged you! (Coconut oil clogging arteries…pssh, that’s hogwash!) Your children will be so grateful when they grow up healthy and beautiful because you fed them a primal diet 🙂

  32. Gluten has such a negative effect on our bodies. As soon as you got rid of gluten foods your IBS symptoms disappeared Thanks for exposing the western diet. Great story and great testimony.

  33. I can’t thank you enough for telling your story. I, too, was a hardcore triathlete and did not have major issues with my weight. Over the years I did develop some strange symptoms – I thought I was alone until I read your tale. I also had to carry food around with me, as the blood sugar swings would leave me in the same position as you! I have been on the Primal for about 2 months and notice big changes in blood sugar and GI issues. Thank you for letting me know I’m on the right track and that I can overcome just like you did…