How I Lost 160 Pounds and Reclaimed My Brain by Going Primal

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-1-2In June of 2011, I received my Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering at Bilkent University in Turkey, with a GPA of 3.28/4.00 (you will see why I shared my GPA later on.) At that time my weight was 358 lbs. Then I followed up with my Master of Science in Electrical Engineering at Arizona State University. (I am currently doing my PhD in the same program with a MS degree already in hand.) When I realized that I was coming over to a completely different country (even continent), I made up my mind on becoming healthier, taking control over my life and losing the extra weight I had been carrying on for years.

Me & My dad at dinner after graduation ceremony June 2011

One of the first few days I arrived to Arizona State USA January 2012So at first, I started cutting calories, eating very little and exercising regularly. I’m not going to lie: I was losing weight. I had lost about 60 lbs that way in one year. However, I was constantly hungry, lethargic and foggy. After the first semester in my Master’s program, my term GPA was 2.89/4.00. So unless I did something about my health, I was going to fail the graduate program, be kicked out of school and forced to return to my home country. (When you have a GPA of under 3.00/4.00 after one year, you are done.)

Don’t get me wrong. I love my country, but I wanted to build my future here in the USA. So I stopped the calorie counting and exercising for one semester to save my education. I got a 3.78/4.00 (which increased my overall GPA to 3.33/4.00) in the next semester and secured my spot in the university for another year. But with that sacrifice, I gained some of the weight I had lost and was almost close to where I started. On the other hand, I was able to pass my classes with high grades and at the end I actually got my Master’s degree. As soon as that was done, I was admitted to the PhD program, but there was one problem: I was still unhealthy and obese. I knew there was a way to lose all the weight, get high grades and make contributions to the engineering world at the same time. So as any other engineering student would do, I started taking a deeper dive into the research in order to find out how I could get out of the unhealthy habits of dieting to lose weight and actually excel in my study at the same time.

during masters

Enter Primal living. I found out about your blog, which led me to reading peer reviewed publications and amazing books. I wanted to give it a shot because it all made sense. The picture I had understood back then was simple: If I eat what nature provides and keep my body moving/playing, everything will be in order. And like our ancestors, I will strive. It was simple as that, at first at least (after a while, I dug into more research and learned about human biochemistry and everything else, all thanks to you.) So I started eating more fat from good sources. I fell in love with avocados, which I never even tasted back in Turkey. I cut down on my carb intake. I started eating my carbs at dinner on my hard training days. I started enjoying grassfed/pasture-raised healthy ground beef and turkey, which I tried to stay away from for years. I started eating wild caught seafood like salmon, tuna, halibut, cod, scallops and shrimp. Then I finally tried wild caught sardines. OH MY GOD, I love eating sardines now.


Two years into my PhD program, I have a GPA of 4.00. It’s actually more with all the A+’s I got, but overall GPA does not go above 4.00. 🙂  What is more is that I now weigh 190 lbs with some of my abs showing up, which you can see in the attached photo. I feel more energetic and more focused than I have ever felt in my entire life. I currently live in Phoenix, AZ where I get my sunlight every day, sleep eight hours every night and eat what nature supplies from our local farmers.


Let me explain a little bit more about what I did after finding out about Mark’s Daily Apple. After starting to read more and more on MDA, the information resonated with me. I began to understand what I should eat, how I should move, and how and when I should sleep. For example, some of the things I started implementing were: getting eight hours of sleep at night and cutting out the awful-tasting bread slices and “healthy” fruit juices (those sugar filled evil drinks) in my breakfast. For exercise, I stopped running on the treadmill like a hamster, and started lifting some weights like Grok, sprinting every once in a while, and my favorite: just moving around and walking in nature.

February 2016In Phoenix, there are tons of hiking trails and the beautiful sun is out almost 11 months of the whole year. Hence I started hiking more often, discovering new trails and I even started making new friends who were hiking the same trails. One thing I want to share here is that after walking around in nature, I realized that my sleep quality became better. After reading a little bit more about this, I realized that this was thanks to being close to the beautiful vibration of earth and getting the whole spectrum of the sunlight. Here is an example of a weekly workout:

  • 2 days of heavy lifting: 5 reps of squats, deadlifts, over-head press, bent rows
  • 1 day of sprinting or walking on a treadmill
  • 1 day of playing basketball with my friends or hiking

And the rest of the days, I just simply walked or tried to stay active. It was that simple. I was not locking myself inside of a gym for hours and hours. I was just simply applying the good information put out by Mark.

So, thank you so much for putting this outstanding, incredible information out there. I’m trying my best to pay it forward by sharing my story and explaining to other people how a lifestyle change can impact our lives.

Thank you,

Mehmet Bugra Balaban

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125 thoughts on “How I Lost 160 Pounds and Reclaimed My Brain by Going Primal”

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  1. What an amazing transformation! Handsome and super smart. Congratulations and thanks for sharing your story.

    1. Can somebody please remove this ugly, hateful comment? I don’t see a way to report it. That’s sand n-word for anyone not seeing it.

      Don. You’re not clever. You’re not funny. You disgust me.

      1. Liz and Dana, thanks for bringing attention to the comment. MDA is a respectful community for sharing health and well-being. Comments contrary to that purpose will be removed.

  2. Simply awesome!! What a transformation. You should be so proud of yourself. Congrats on the amazing test scores, too!

  3. Woah!! Congrats on your journey, Mehmet! What you’ve accomplished is truly inspiring.

  4. Mind blowing. So much good stuff, Mehmet. Keep up the AMAZING work! Everyone here is rooting for you to nab that PhD and start changing the world for the better like you did for yourself. 😀

    1. Thank you 🙂 it really takes time to get this PhD done, but as Coldplay sang: nobody said it was easy 🙂 I will see it done

  5. Great work! Health is key and I can relate to your engineering-root-cause-problem-solving-approach to your health. I originally found Art DeVany, which later led me to Sisson.

    After you start earning some serious money you might start wondering about money and economics- that is if you haven’t done so already. Been there and done that. Applying an engineering approach to the insanity that is modern economics reveals most qualitative economics is bunk. I suggest a few “primal econ” basics: The Law by Bastiat and What Has the Government Done To Our Money by Rothbard. Both free at Mises dot org and quick reads. From one gEEk to another, grok on!

    1. You are so right, Paleo Bon. I’m also an Engineer (ME). My research into nutrition resulted in a 3-foot high stack of books and ended up with the Primal Blueprint having a permanent spot on my coffee table. The “right answer” is out there, we just have to go and find it. My research into economics led me to the same conclusions outlined in the Rothbard book (and “Paper Promises,” another good read.) Thanks for providing the information.

      1. Von Mises was the man. Krugman on the other hand, is dangerous.

        1. Bob Murphy and Tom Woods break down the errs of Paul Krugman each week in the ContraKrugman Podcast.

          Even if one leans toward or walks the Krugman line the show is worth it just to take in an educated and logical alternate view. No need to get your safe space ready, Woods and Murphy’s barbs are objective and gentle.

      1. Mehmet, my pleasure. Regardless if you choose to follow through with the Econ recommendations you should know that Hans Hoppe has chosen Turkey to currently live in. Food for thought.

        1. Hahaha. That’s a job for the Digital guys. I mostly work with semiconductor fabrication/testing and material analysis. But I’m also the head Teaching Assistant for Senior Design class so I help a lot of students working with that 🙂

  6. Congratulations, Mehmet! You look awesome. One of the biggest things I notice about grains in particular is the brain fog I seem to get. I’m still eating too many carbs to lose much weight, but I feel good most of the time by eating fresh fruit instead of bread. I’m so happy that you were able to get your grades up. I wish you the best in all of your future endeavors. Enjoy!

  7. A totality of awesomeness!!!!!

    You represent your homeland so well!

  8. Such an inspiring transformation, Mehmet! Thank you for sharing!

    I love how you took your scientific, investigative, curious, figure-things-out mind beyond your studies…and into your lifestyle. Way to go!

    1. Thank you 🙂 I’m glad I did it that way which led me to learn a lot more

  9. Merhaba Mehmet ve Te?ekkürler for a great story. I’m currently in Turkey and really having a hard to adjusting. My transition has been stressful to say the least. Aside from connecting geographically, your story about eating correctly and clearing your head really not home!

    1. Thank you 🙂 I hope you enjoy your time there, I will be visiting Turkey this summer, can’t wait

  10. May I ask what sort of food people eat in Turkey?

    It’s pretty well known that Americans got obese from the Food Pyramid, refined carbohydrates, dwarf wheat, high fructose corn syrup, and vegetable seed oils, all of which are generally American inventions. Does Turkey have all those crap foods? If not, may I ask how people can become obese in Turkey?

    1. They eat a lot of wheat bread, which is a staple. They also eat a lot of sugar and sweets. And not just Turkish delight.

      1. Anna kind of already answered your question. The food pyramid is somewhat similar. But fast-food chains like McD, BK, Dom, KFC are everywhere around the world which were the main reasons I was obese. If you look for crap, you will find crap anywhere in the world unfortunately.

  11. Wow,Mehmet, what a story!! The physical transformation is amazing, but it’s equally cool that you are getting even better grades and truly enjoying life. Thanks for the inspiration!! (Oh, and I’m crazy for sardines too!)

    1. Thank you 🙂 Go Team Sardines!! I can’t have enough of them and to celebrate this I shall have some tonight 🙂

  12. Straight outta Turkey, indeed. Love the health and humor in your story. Congrats.

    1. Thank you 🙂 Bringing smiles to people’s faces always bring more smiles on my face 🙂 I’m glad you enjoyed it

  13. critical thinking and perseverance – life skills that will make you a successful engineer and person.

  14. Love the workout regime! And with that reminder, I am going to shut off my computer and take the dog for a walk (in nature). Thanks!

    1. Thank you 🙂 I feel like kettlebells today for some reason 🙂 But I’ll do a long walk this weekend

  15. Amazing transformation! Congratulations to you. Here is my favorite sentence of the whole thing: “I stopped running on the treadmill like a hamster, and started lifting some weights like Grok,”

    1. Thank you 🙂 Yeah, not that I have anything against hamsters but treadmill and I are not best buddies for sure 🙂

  16. Thank you everyone for the responses so far. You can add me on social media @BalabanMB everywhere (facebook, instagram, twitter) if you have any specific questions about what I do. I’m not a doctor, I don’t play one on the web but I can tell you what I do 🙂 Or we can communicate through here as well 🙂

  17. Another Sun Devil! It’s a delight to have you at ASU. If you ever come to the Polytechnic campus’ gym then I hope to run into you!

    1. Thank you 🙂 Same here if you ever come to Tempe campus

  18. Wow! So impressive! I like the “engineering” approach! You took a really difficult problem and you SOLVED it! I bet your family is very proud and happy for you.

    On the intelligence aspect, I’m 55, and the more closely I stick to the primal way of eating, the smarter I feel (no GPAs to prove it, but I’m 100% sure). My short-term memory is definitely *improving* — should be going the other way at my age! 🙂

    In fall 2015, I ate a few pieces of bread and some cake at a dinner party, and it took me 2 days to get over the brain fog. No more!

    1. Yeah I’m glad I solved it on my own. it led me to learn a lot 🙂

  19. Thank you, handsome Mehmet, for that inspiring story! What incredible progress you made-mentally and physically!

  20. Great story. Great transformation. I love how the interwebz brings people from all over the world together with a common goal of regaining health and vigor. Keep on paying it forward.

  21. Such a great story! Your positive attitude adds to the inspiration! 3 weeks into my primal journey, I’ve lost almost 10 pounds by eating more fat and less hamster running on the treadmill. Can’t wait to see my transformation look as great as yours

    1. Thank you 🙂 Good luck on your journey. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. I hope you’ll keep that in mind 🙂

      1. Trust me, I know! My real journey began in 2008 when I was almost 200lbs at 5’3″ after having my son. I lost all the weight, but after moving to a different state this past summer, I burned myself out with cardio, diet restriction, bad diet advice from others (LOAD up on carbs…you need them. Um no, I don’t!). I lost a lot of my strength gains and endurance. And I gained fat…alllll around my midsection. Really only gained about 5 pounds so I’m lighter now than I was when I was already at a “normal weight”. But NOW, I have energy, I’ve lost that midsection fat and I know I can work on getting those strength gains back! Heck of a marathon, but I’ll take it!

        1. correction: I don’t need carbs they way they told me I do 🙂

  22. Fantastic! You look great. Very inspiring. Thanks so much for sharing and paying it forward. Hope you continued success in all aspects of your life.

  23. Astounding! Shared it with my threadmill hamster friends. I do my best to refrain from bringing out that good ol’ religion sermons; but stories like this inspire me to inspire others. Thanks.

    1. Thank you 🙂 World needs “hamsters” 🙂 But definitely less of them

  24. Great story Mehmet – you look fantastic! Thanks for sharing and inspiring.

  25. Congratulations Mehmet! You’ve really transformed yourself, and all while excelling in a rigorous PhD program. I’m sure your family in Turkey will be amazed by the ‘new’ you.
    I know too well how much bread is eaten in your country–I lived up the street from an Ek-Mek (pardon my bad spelling_) bakery when I lived in Inçirlik. The aroma tempted me everyday! Coupled with all of the sweet chai everyone serves constantly, it’s a wonder the whole country isn’t obese and diabetic.
    Keep up the good work, and enjoy the sunshine!

    1. Thank you 🙂 Yeah bread can very dangerous there as we’d like to have them every meal

  26. Wow…That’s definitely one of the more impressive transformations I’ve seen. Great work man! Congratulations on meeting your goals and then some!

    1. Thank you 🙂 Not necessarily, but I do those movements. I don’t hit 5×5 every time.

      PS. I read a lot about what you put on your website at some point as well. All your n=1 experiments and results were great….. assuming you’re that bjjcaveman 🙂

  27. Rad. I live in tucson, that arizona sunshine can’t be beat!! 🙂

  28. That is one fabulous motivating story. Congratulations on your success. A primal lifestyle led to that success, but your determination amazes me.

    1. Thank you 🙂 Adjusted lifestyle just needed some time to work its magic 🙂

  29. Greatly motivating story, Mehmet! Thank you so much for sharing it! The pics are wonderful. You are cute, funny and sexy! Good for you!

  30. OMG, that is sooo amazing!!!! Such a good work. Only one question: how on earth did you manage to have no loose skin after such a weight loss??

    1. I actually do :/ It’s just under my super strong-sexy arm 😛 🙂

  31. Congratulations! Graduate school is a long haul, and I’m glad you will have your health–and a fog-free brain–to help you get through.

  32. What a wonderful story. I’m glad you found your true self Mehmet……good on you and keep up the great work!

  33. Wow, finally someone who came to the USA and LOST weight! 🙂

    While thinking about all this diet thing, did you find some inspiration in your ancestral diet? I know old Turks were nomads, I’m somehow sure there is a gem or two.
    I’m from Slovakia, we have adopted goulash from your ancestors who came to visit us. If done the right way, goulash is paleo!

    1. Thank you 🙂

      One thing I’ve realized what my grandmothers do when they cook is that they take time to pre-prepare the food. In a typical Turkish diet, having rice, lentils, some sort of legumes is normal. But they always soak over-night or sprout.

      I don’t usually cook this stuff at home, except for white rice. And I do soak that over-night before cooking. Other than that, I’m more of a vegetable man 🙂 Roasting carrots, tomatoes, mushrooms all together with some avocado oil and spices is delicious 🙂

      1. Yes, soaking overnight is traditional here too. I soak over-two-nights now, and in a water containing a spoon of vinegar.

        If you eat nuts, try soaking them too, in a brine (water and some salt), then drying in an oven to taste. They’ll taste better and will be more digestible.

  34. I’m just getting to your story today. Amazing! One of the best ever and if I’m correct your last name means robust, that certainly describes you, your intelligence and tenacity! Thank you for sharing!

  35. Mehmet, you give me so much inspiration. I’m just starting on the paleo transformation path. Thank you and go lock down that Ph.D.


    Fantastic Transformation!! If I may, how long did it take you to shed the weight and get to 190? Was it consistent?

    I know these are questions that don’t really matter, but I have to ask

    1. Thank you 🙂

      Well as I wrote in the story I started back in June 2011. But there were times I was eating super unhealthy. So it was not all that consistent until I found the ‘primal’ way of eating which is very sustainable in my opinion. With this way of eating I can now lose weight basically whenever I want, given that it’s a few pounds 🙂

  37. I am so happy to have read your story. I just finished my first Whole30 which is a strict version of the paleo diet. I feel better and lost some weight. But the Whole30 is a reset. I love how you were able to achieve your goals without feeling so constricted to a workout regime and calorie counting. After my whole 30 I felt kind of lost and binged on cheerios last night… big nono. I considered doing another whole 30. But What I really need to do is just eat primeally and be active. I try to confine myself to the gym everyday but I think I should start walking outside as well to enjoy nature more. I rather be outside walking anyway. Your story is inspiring and hopefully I can keep moving along to my goals like you did. I am so sick of rebounding =(

    1. Thank you Ashley 🙂

      I hope you find a sustainable way of eating because that is the MOST important part. If you wanna chat anytime, you can find me on Facebook and start a conversation. I’d be happy to share what I’ve learned 🙂

      PS: I think Whole30 is a great reset program, and it can be tough for some people to do over and over again. So I recommend this primal way of living instead of that.

      Feel free to contact me 🙂

  38. Dude congratulations. You did the opposite of what most people who come to the US do. Pig out on terrible for you food and become obese.

  39. Excellent Memet. You’re a real poster boy for Primal Eating! A+

  40. Ma?allah ve Tebrikler Mehmet! You’re truly inspiring. As a Turk it can be traumatic to let go of wheat based salads and bread in general! Finding replacements for those boreks I adore so much has been a challenge, but its worth it. The need for them becomes less and less. I’m currently making recipes from Mediterranean Paleo Cooking, they have a great cauliflower fritter “paleo falafel” recipe!

    1. Thank you 🙂 I think making new habits are the key when you have such a big difference in food and culture. Instead of finding “replacements” (or putting that label), finding new food combinations you enjoy is really helpful. And I found that with Sardines and avocados 🙂

  41. Great job, but, save your lower back and stick with either deadlifts or squats unless you’re already doing them on separate days.

  42. I started eating this way about two-and-a-half months ago I have come down four sizes in my pants from an 18 women’s to a size 14. I started this in order to become healthier and lose weight but when I read that eating this way can stop epilepsy then I knew this was something I had to do as a mom, my 15 yr old son has epilepsy, every night I would make dinner and my son would rate it 1 through 10 everything except for one meal has been 10 but I am running out of ideas and recipes I need to keep this exciting not only for myself but for my son as well I am finding it more difficult to do that these days I’m wondering if someone could direct me outside of paleo leap, paleo grubs, and primal to find other new and exciting recipies that I have yet to make
    Thanks in advance

  43. I have a question regarding your training program. Did you just do 1×5 of those exercises? It seems like low volume, but the results are great

    1. Hey Chris. That was an example of a week. I don’t necessarily stick with one program for more than a month. This is simply because I exercise to stay healthy and active. But as far as I know when you do 5×5 you get the best of both worlds. If you work with high reps per set with lower weights you maximize the size. If you go with low reps (1-3) per set with heavy weights, you maximize strength output. I do both, and I do 5×5. I like mixing it up because I do it to look good naked 🙂 I’m not an athlete and I’m not planning to compete in anything. So it works out for me. Thanks

  44. You are so inspiring. Especially in the pictures showing muscle tone and elasticity. I want the weigh lose but not so much sag. Sidenote, I’m wondering if you can suggest a source for Turkish pistachios? For snacking and a protein source.

    1. Hey Cmore. It would be nice to find a good source of Turkish pistachios. I love eating them when I’m back home. But considering that they would travel so much to get here, I’d rather buy some from local farmers market. Sorry that I can’t be much of help but you have one thing right! Pistachios are amazing!! Great prebiotics

  45. Thank u I found your testimony so inspirational. I’m 48 and very obese with some issues with going outside of my house and due to the excess weight that I’ve carried all of my life my health is very poor and my joint ache from the weight im sure. I’ve began to eat more then one meal a day and snacks I’ve began to make fruit smoothie with oatmeal for brunch cause I don’t do breakfast which I need to and I will incorporate a smoothie for breakfast oh yeah I just started fruit and veggie smoothies always with oatmeal and I’m going to start buying grass fed meats, of course I just went shopping and then I read ur story I guess I’ll start with grass fed meats when I shop again just need to get out and walk the dogs due to ur story u believe I just might be able to get walking. I really just wanted to say Thank U for the encouragement and the blueprint (eating all
    Natural the basics).

    1. Thank you Lisa. Whenever you need some encouragement or a buddy to have a conversation about anything feel free to reach out to me. You can find me on facebook 🙂

  46. Awesome job, dude! It’s great to see people off medications and beating illnesses they thought they couldn’t. It’s also so cool to see young people change their lives and look amazing at the end of it.

  47. Congratulations on your improved health and your academic successes! I am a mechanical engineering major and the difference eating primal has made in my brain functioning has been a major asset in my studies. I took Control of Dynamic Systems for the third time this semester (previously having made a D and an F in the course). It has been my hardest class so far and very little of it has ever made any sense to me. With the debilitating brain fog, fatigue, depression, etc. of my previous SAD gluten filled diet it was like hitting a wall on the way to understanding and comprehending the material. This time I made a B in it, my GPA is up to a 3.28 (I’d gotten all the way down to a 2.8 over a few semesters of feeling terrible all the time) and I’ve lost a little over 40 lbs so far and only have about 20 more to go to reach my goal weight, but feeling so great and having my brain work much more optimally is as good a reward as the weight loss 🙂 Congrats again, sounds like you’re really going places in life and in your career!