I Am Now Leaner and Stronger Than I Have Ever Been In My Life

It’s Friday, everyone! And that means another Primal Blueprint Real Life Story from a Mark’s Daily Apple reader. If you have your own success story and would like to share it with me and the Mark’s Daily Apple community please contact me here. I’ll continue to publish these each Friday as long as they keep coming in. Thank you for reading!

As a kid I was always a physical fitness derelict. While I loved hiking and walked everywhere I could, I did not enjoy sports (I was clumsy and had poor coordination) and hated gym class. From the age of 10, a macaroni-fueled spare tire was a constant companion, sometimes rather large, other times deflated, never gone completely (till now!). By the time I was a senior in high school (1975), I was not so much chubby, as skinny-fat.


When I turned 18, right before I went away to university, I discovered running, which I did off and on until I turned 41. I started weight training when I was 22, Nautilus, which I also did for a year, and then started up again in 1982 with Nautilus workouts until I finished grad school in 1988.

My life changed dramatically once I started teaching full time and driving everywhere. In 1990 or thereabouts I started running again, no more than 3 x 10K per week, and joined a local gym. In 1994, because the gym where I had been working out was closing, I switched to what turned out to be a better gym, learned to do exercises with free weights and began to research diet regimens. I was also a major consumer of supplements of all kinds. It was while I was learning about weightlifting in the mid 90s that I discovered the Zone diet. What persuaded me, besides the biochemistry angle, was that Barry Sears’s family medical history and mine had one crucial feature in common: both our fathers died young of heart attacks (my dad was 52). I managed to do OK on the Zone diet, as long as I tweaked it (not enough protein; I kept losing muscle mass). The downside: when it was time to eat, it was time to eat. Zone-hunger made me a grouch.


In 1997, I moved to Norway permanently to be with my partner, and continued my diet and exercise regimen there: Zoning, plus weight training 3-4 times a week, and running 8-10K 2-3 times a week, with stationary bike for cardio in the winter (at 39 I was too old to take up cross-country skiing) and Body Pump once a week. By 1998 I was in the best shape of my life till then.

However, in 1999 (at the age of 41), I had a setback that began my “lost decade”. I suffered an acute psychotic episode (from which I recovered quickly), followed a month later by a severe clinical depression, triggered by a “translation job from hell”, which lasted from July until October 1999. As a result, I began to take citalopram (the antidepressant of choice in Norway at the time), in addition to 2.5 mg olanzapine (as a mood stabilizer, even though at the time this was an off-label use). I stopped taking olanzapine in November 2001, but after I stopped taking citalopram in March 2002, I had another psychotic episode and was put back on 2.5 mg olanzapine, which I took until May 2010.


In 2000, my partner and I moved to a suburb of Oslo, where we drove more and where the gym was no longer within walking distance of home. I worked out intermittently, but had a crappy diet, because thanks to the meds I stopped caring. As a result, we both put on a lot of weight, and by Christmas 2005, I weighed 85 kg and was fairly bloated. I had already decided during a trip to California earlier that fall, that our car-centric suburban life was not only not sustainable, but literally killing the both of us. We eventually found an apartment in town that was located within walking distance of both our jobs (for me a 35 minute brisk walk one way) and moved back to town on March 1, 2006. Just from that change, I lost 10 kg in about six months. I joined a local gym, and attained what I considered to be fairly good results. I was Zoning again, but the tire persisted. The Zone didn’t seem to work the way it did when I was 35 or 40. Was I just getting old?


In October 2009, I read about a book called The Primal Blueprint on 2Blowhards, one of my favorite blogs. Hm, I thought, sounded intriguing. So I ordered the book (from your website, not Amazon). I found the evolution-based approach convincing, and I started eating and moving according to Primal principles. It wasn’t long before I began to see amazing results. However, what I did not know till I Googled it a year later, was that my meds were actually keeping me fatter than I otherwise would be, given my 85/15 adherence. It turns out that the reason those who take olanzapine gain weight (and eventually become type 2 diabetics) is that the drug inhibits glycogen formation in the liver. This means that any glucose that is not needed for fuel will be stored as fat only, in an unattractive location. I did not need to read any further. So, in consultation with my doctor, I tapered off the meds over the course of May 2010, and have been meds-free ever since. Once my metabolism could heal completely, Primal principles really began to pay off.

Thanks to my 85/15 adherence, I am now leaner and stronger than I have ever been in my life. I also notice the benefits of lifting heavy things and sprinting on my mood and personality (the additional testosterone my body produces beats “happy pills” as a mood elevator hands down). Other people have begun to notice too.

I recently became Facebook friends with an acquaintance from grade school. One day I had boasted on my wall that I was able to do 5 sets of 5 reps of 70 kg on the bench press, which is my current body weight, something I could never do before. His comment: “I never thought I would say this, Norman, but I think you could kick my ass.”

Thank you, Mark, for helping me to discover my inner kick-ass underwear model! I am absolutely convinced that this is what 53 is supposed to be like.

October 2009
May 2011
September 2011
December 2011



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106 thoughts on “I Am Now Leaner and Stronger Than I Have Ever Been In My Life”

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  1. Brilliant story, well done Norman and good luck with the rest of your journey!

    Love the comment about you being able to kick ass btw. Just remember – with great power comes great responsibility 🙂

    Oh and FIRST! Enjoy your Friday y’all!

  2. Wow, awesome story. Love Fridays! You had me at your first sentence — As a kid I was always a physical fitness derelict. LOL I can relate to that. Mostly due to peer pressure that it wasn’t “cool” to like physical activity, I avoided it in my MS and HS years as much as possible. Two years of PE were required in HS but I managed to only take 1 and with lackluster participation. It makes me sad that I missed out on a lot, socially and physically by doing that. Thankfully as an adult I’m getting out and doing things I always secretly wanted to when I was young. 🙂

    You look AMAZING btw. Love the fb comment from your friend. Congrats on finding your true self!

  3. HOLY. MAMA! Norman — Wow wow wow! I agree with Jessica–what an awesome start to a thoroughly readable and humorous account. Inner Underwear Model. I’m glad your grade school FB friend knows that you can kick his a** and admitted it! Just loved this. Fridays rock.

  4. Wow! Great job Norman. I am impressed. And congrats on learning about your meds and how they effect your health. As an RN, I see too many drugs that are over prescribed. Most patients take them willing without investigating them thoroughly first. So good for you and keep up the great work.

  5. Awesome transformation, congrats! Those pics at the end speak volumes.

  6. Interesting perspective for a Friday Real Life Story highlighting the mental benefits of great health and fitness! I can imagine that switching countries would have added greatly to your stress level during the hard times. Way to go taking control and overcoming! So impressive! 🙂

  7. Awesome story Norman, congrats. I love this line as I can completely relate to it

    “From the age of 10, a macaroni-fueled spare tire was a constant companion, sometimes rather large, other times deflated, never gone completely (till now!).

    Still working on getting rid of mine completely, but I’m starting to see abs!!

  8. Gratulerer, Norman!

    I’m also in Oslo – we should start a meet-up! 🙂

  9. You look fantastic! I love the idea of finding one’s inner underwear model – lol. Very inspiring!

    1. I loved that line as well 🙂 And you succeeded, for sure! You look great!

  10. Oh, boy! Yet another story I am forwarding my hubby! I hope that eventually he would get inspired!

  11. Wow, great job…I’m 51 so this definitely a motivating success story for me. I’ve had great success, but still working on a little bit of that spare tire…very slow progress as I approach my goal. Also great to hear, once again, how primal living can take the place of meds for various maladies. Awesome.

    So here’s the usual request…how about a quick overview on your specifics, i.e. workouts, frequency, and what (and how much) you’re eating?

    Thanks for sharing your story, and congratulations.

    1. Thanks! Click on my link and I’ll respond in a private e-mail. A) this is not my website and B) I don’t want to bore people with the minutiae of my diet and exercise regimen….

      1. Thanks…I looked but the “contact” me link is not live…maybe I need to have a blogger account to access that. In any case…if you choose to share any details on your lifestyle/program, I can assure you that nobody hear would be bored, and in fact would eagerly read it. And not to speak for Mark, but I do believe he’d be happy to let you share the building blocks to your success here on the site 🙂

        In the end…the elements of living primal are all spelled out here on MDA and Mark’s books. But I know most people enjoy hearing about real life applications of those principals…especially to attain the healthy lean look that you have at the age of 53! Thanks for proving that it’s never to late!

        1. I heartily second Peter’s request – at 53 and struggling with the remaining spare tire, I’d love to hear more details as well…

  12. Way to go Norman!!!! Congrats on your accomplishment! I hope sometime this year I can discover my inner Sports Illustrated swimsuit model!

  13. WOW! That’s extremely awesome! I totally understand the macaroni spare tire thing as a kid. I’m still holding onto it, but your pics have convinced me to keep trying! Congrats on your success!!

    1. agreed – I’m about the same age as Norman. I didn’t start snowboarding until age 44 🙂 I love xc & telemark skiing too. telemark is my main snow love.

    2. True! I started at age 51 w no probs. I’m skate-skiing now and faster than most of the younger people in my class (I’ve been about 90% primal for about 10 years and I’m sure that makes a BIG difference).

      Also, x-c skiing is a great sport to take up late in life as it’s quite low-impact and can be as challenging or as gentle as u like.

    3. I just started learning to x-c ski last year, at 53! Never too late…

    4. 39’s not to old to learn skiing. I started learning downhill skiing (definitely more risky) at 36, and I was quite obese when I started learning. Skiing is a huge motivator for me getting in shape – I know my extra weight isn’t helping my knees, and I need to keep my knees healthy for turns!

      1. I agree. I am 40 and feel more balanced since being barefoot the past 2.5 years. I planned to ski and snowshoe this year, but every time the snow falls, it’s gone the next day. Maybe next year.

  14. Congratulations and thanks for sharing your story. This is definitely what 53 should look like! You look awesome!

  15. I too have had ups and downs, truly an inspirational story. I have been on medication as well, which most women are on (birth control-depo provera) for 14 years =( by the 31st of this month I will be off for good and I can’t wait till my body gets back to normal and starts burning fat for fuel versus storing it. I know my primal way of eating will get me where I want to be fast =)

  16. @ Norman- I take xanax and wondered if it too inhibits glycogen formation in the liver. I wasn’t able to find any information. Where should I look?

  17. You look fantastic Norman, congratulations! At 52 and 54, my husband and I feel great and look pretty darn good too. At a recent social function, people we had not seen in years couldn’t stop commenting how young we look. This thing works, y’all, and works at every age!

  18. Great story – and great comments, too! Could say “ditto” to so many of the comments.

    I hope that you and Laura do have a “meet up” in Oslo. I bet you could share local sources of primal foods and more. Isn’t Norway a great place for cold water fish and berries, plus more?

    And, I agree with gilliebean about wondering why 39 is too old for cross country skiing. Maybe your less fit 39 year old self passed – but what about your more fit 53 year old self?

    My husband is first generation Norwegian -American and its his stated goal to make cross country skiing his primary hobby when he retires at age 66. I remind him of this fact when we discuss his joining me in the primal lifestyle – and I plan to share your story/pictures with him to show him the benefits of making the change. So, thank you for that!

    So glad that you shared about the mental health aspects of your journey. I love seeing people disregard the so-called stigma around mental health/psycho active drugs. The brain (and mind) are as much our being as any other part.

    The Primal Blueprint diet seems to have benefits for the mental status as much as the fitness part. So far I have only focused on the diet and a few lifestyle changes but the exercise part is slowly coming into play. Yet, I notice that I am already less irritable, calmer, more stable, and engage differently with others.

  19. I look forward to every Friday so I can read another great success story! Congratulations Norman on changing your life!

  20. I’m so happy for you Norman! You are a great confirmation that meds aren’t always what they’re cracked up to be–AND that getting older can be mean getting better, not worse. In your case, waaaay better 🙂 Congrats on the new healthy happy you!

  21. You look great. Good for you. I’m PBing my way off of meds too.

  22. Thanks for sharing your story Norman – you look great!

    I also was on the Zone diet for awhile, and I lost weight, but I always had to add extra carbs, otherwise it felt like my blood sugar was too low – I’d get irritable and have difficulty concentrating. I also didn’t have any luck losing weight on the Zone diet the second time around.

    I know now that some metabolisms are more flexible than others, and that’s probably why I always seem to need extra carbs (because mine is not very flexible). Here’s a great blog post at Gnolls.org about metabolic flexibility and how to regain it.


  23. Yay for American Primals with Norwegian Partners in Norway! Felt like I was the only one!

    Gratulerer med din suksess!

  24. Wow norman It is tough to battle depression and through this, you made the best of the situation. Kudos my friend!

  25. Inspiring story — just one question — were you kidding when you said 39 was too old for cross-country skiing?

    1. What I meant was that 39 was too old to take it up. Learning to cross-country ski in Norway, by no means a flat country, is not as easy as people think. Nobody who has lived here more than a year has not seen Norwegian toddlers on skis without poles learning to balance on rather steep slopes. You need to be a “native skier” if you want to ski safely into your 50s and 60s. I know too many foreigners who learned to ski “as a second language”, but who suffered severe injuries from falls once they had to “think”. I have nothing to prove, and I will not risk say, breaking my arm, for no good reason. I keep myself fit enough (wouldn’t you agree?), so I wait for the snow to melt, so I can enjoy hiking season.

      Your mileage may vary, of course. I have skis, and have even been complimented on my form (Nordic Trac!) but keep to frozen lakes and other flat country.

      1. Thanks for the explanation. Sounds wise. Btw, my husband’s plans to cross country ski into his senior years involve manicured trails, flat land, and frozen lakes in Michigan. And, that hobby is in lieu of his motorcycle hobby. Relative risks, IMO.

      2. I get that! I live in Park City, Utah, and just started x-country skiing 2 years ago (at 49 years old) and definitely keep to the flats…getting up even a little speed on those skinny little classic skis (and even harder with skate skis) is really intimidating…and I can see getting hurt.

        I just went for 90 minutes this afternoon for the first time this winter…and am feeling some muscles I forgot were there!

  26. You look great Norman! I’m sure looking great makes you feel great, and vice-versa. Congrats on getting off the meds too!

  27. Hey, Norman –

    Great blog post on your blog (below)!


    Obese children eat too much “healthy food”

    That’s exactly what I have discovered for myself as well. I rarely ever ate junk food, especially sodas. Was always health conscious. Was a vegetarian in my younger years – lots of “healthy” soy and whole grains, of course!

    Well, discovering primal eating “late” in life is better than never! I know that I won’t take it for granted.

  28. These weekly stories are what have pushed me to embrace the lifestyle. Sidenote… i am 43 hrs into an unplanned fast … feast or famine!!

  29. Wow, you look amazing!! It’s funny that you said your suburban life was killing you. I JUST was talking to a couple of coworkers at lunch about this.

    I live 10 miles from work. My spouse and I drive to work (separately) every day. Therefore, I almost never see my best friends anymore, because they live very close to my office, and I just don’t want to drive out on my day off.

    One of my coworkers said “it’s 10 miles, you are so spoiled”. I didn’t want to get into it, but I was thinking later “no, it’s you who are spoiled by cheap gas and cheap cars and cheap housing!” Believe you me, if I weren’t pregnant, I’d still be biking to work 2x a week too!

  30. …………….YOU GROK…>>>>

  31. Hello Norman, you look great! I am 50 and started the lifestyle change 30 days ago. I tried to email you for more info of your regimen etc but was unable to find a email link on your site. Can you help with that? Thanks

  32. Way to go, Norman!! Really impressive. And yes, I believe and hope) this is the way 53 is supposed to feel.

    Keep “kicking ass!”

  33. What a wonderful job of finding yourself and being the best that you could be! I just love it when us “old” folks can prove that age isn’t a deterrent to getting healthy and looking good.
    Thank you so much for sharing and all the best to you – please keep us apprised of how you are doing!
    Congratulations and I’m so glad you’re here on MDA to share with all of us.

  34. Congrats Noman for 53 you look great keep it up.My wife late 60s and I early 70s have been Primal/paleo for 6 months now and loving the lifestyle and the health benifits.

  35. By popular request, my workout and diet regimen.

    First, I walk to work and back (the return trip is gently uphill, so that I work up a sweat on the way home in the summer). I alternate between a 4-day split routine and the 3-day-a-week split always-squat routine Mark recommends for building muscle. Before each weight training session, I do an Art De Vany-style warm-up on a stationary bike (1 min easy, 1 min hard for 6 min). I also do stationary bike sprints, but only for 10-12 min (30 seconds all out, 3:30 easy).

    I eat real food, freshly prepared, and let my satiety signals tell me when to stop eating. Since my metabolism has healed, I have added potatoes back to my diet, with no ill effects. But I give gluten grains a wide berth. Since I always work out in a fasted state, I will not have breakfast until around 11:30 today (Saturday).

  36. What I love about your story, Norman, is that it illustrates that we are never too late to achieve fitness. 53? You look 33! Thanks for the inspiration.

  37. Congrats Norman, and to all of you who are older than me, especially the moms. I’m 35 and it is really inspiring to hear of all of your health and success. Sometimes us harried 30 something, sleep deprived, parents of young kids need the inspiration of our “elders” to keep us on track. At least I do. You all remind me to make sleep a priority, Primal foods the norm, and especially, to enjoy and follow the spontaneous nature of playing with two boys aged 3 and 5. I’ve been primal for about 2 months now, after following a “clean diet” prior to that. One thing I noticed today especially, I have remarkably more patience with my kids and hubby than I did prior to primal. Norman, mentioning your mental improvements was enlightening – this primal things isn’t all about looking good naked. While my husband holds his head over the kid noise and mischievous activity, I am calm and able to handle my kids with a patience I never knew I was capable of, and my boys are very very very energetic and busy. I wouldn’t have them any other way. Neither would my husband, but it gets to him a lot quicker than it gets to me. So thank you Norman, and all you other PBers for showing me that the best is yet to come!

  38. Way to go Norman!!

    You look awesome now. Amazing photos. As for the others, you look good in them, except for the one in 2005, when you look a bit like an old man.

    A lot can happen in a few years (as your FB friend noted).

    Interesting, what you wrote about the Zone. My own take on the it is that the principles are pretty sound, but they hardly comprise a lifestyle (and, as Mark has noted, it’s too low in fat). And Sears, for his part, is a ridiculously unclear writer. No wonder Rob Wolf and the Crossfit community have spent years trying to clarify his ideas.

    It’s great that you found the PB, and really admirable that you tried it out and persisted with it to this great result.

    Way to go!

  39. Wow what a transformation!!! more inspiration to keep going with my health and fitness goals and gain more muscle. Can’t wait to be a lean machine!!!

  40. Thanks for an inspiring story. i am 57 and needed the encouragement your success provided.

  41. Wow, love to see it! I have been Primal/paleo for 3 weeks now and feel GREAT! I don’t obsess about food, don’t binge, and have tons of energy. I moved to Primal/paleo for longevity and health…I have been a fitness junkie/clean eater for a few years since my weightloss of 75lbs…but found myself still bingeing, exhausted, not sleeping, emotional, depressed…then the epiphany! Going Primal…check out my stories at http://www.mypaleochallenge.com but be patient. I’m 52 and not too tech-savy so I will be developing it as I go!! Rock on Primal lifestyle!

  42. I love the story! The only thing I found puzzling is that, Norman, you find 39 “too old” to take up cross-country skiing! Wow! My aunt was in her 80s when she began, after hip replacement surgery.

      1. Well, Norman – your comment about 39 being too old to start cross country skiing looks a bit like waving a red flag in front of a bull. LOL Oh, well. Like you said, you have nothing to prove and your fitness plan doesn’t need to include high risk activities. That would be a bit like Chronic Cardio…just because Grok could run fast when he needed to doesn’t mean he would benefit from running fast for hours every day. I’d bet that if your life depended on it you could ski cross country.

        1. I’m sure I could. When I lived here in winter and spring 1994, I did a fair amount of cross-country skiing. My form on flat terrain was very good for a beginner, and I had no problem skiing uphill. It was controlling my speed going downhill that gave me trouble. Plus my glasses frosted over.

  43. IS THIS REAL LIFE?! Holy cow, Norman!! Amazing transformation!!! You are a stud!

  44. Thank you so much for your courage and inspiration. I am just starting and am 56, very overweight, sickly and depressed. I will keep trying now

  45. A fantastic story Norman. To hear the triumph over mental illness is so inspiring and a testament to this way of life. I can never understand people’s desire to take meds over good clean food.

  46. strewth mate…..bloody nightmare you must have gone through….

    firstly; gutsy and very humble story you told…..your humility is defining you more than your body….but youve done a wonderful thing mate..

    shared it…..

    well done bloke!

  47. Congrats, Norman!

    I sent your story to my relatively-newly-primal 53-year-old husband to reinforce his (already quite high) motivation.

    As a half-Norwegian American living in Quebec, I can recommend snowshoeing as a safe alternative to cross-country skiing on hilly terrain. It is a great work out and the new snowshoes with crampons handle hills and ice with ease.

    I took a look at your blog, and I have to ask: exactly how many languages do you speak and how did you acquire them. As a fellow translator, I am impressed by the diversity of languages that show up on your site.

    And I encourage you to start actively blogging again. Every post was interesting and I would happily read more.

    1. Funny you should mention snowshoes. We have really good snowshoes, which is how I got from the road to the cabin back we still had it, though it helped to have a very strong little dog to help pull me uphill (1.5 km, 150 meter ascent).

      I have always been interested in languages; my current project is Czech, my ancestral tongue on my mother’s side. I have gotten far enough to be able to order at a restaurant, chat with cabin crew and read the financial pages (the same stuff I deal with every day at work). Otherwise my languages are for the most part Germanic (variations on a theme), some French, Spanish and Italian, and Georgian (a long story), smatterings of East Asian languages. That’s it.

      I have decided to blog about my Czech ancestry. The Czech emigration was not documented by novelists like the Swedes (Moberg) and the Norwegians (Rølvaag). But I am an essayist, not a novelist, and as we know, essays are the perfect genre for blogs.

  48. I emailed this to a co-worker who is around the same age, starting to work out and eat healthy again, and he ordered the 21 Day Transformation immediately after reading. He now displays the book at work for others to look at, gain knowledge and enjoy. Great story. Truly inspirational.

  49. Awesome! You did great! A lot of people could follow you and realize that there isn’t an age for being fit,healthy and awesome! 🙂