Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...Tell Me More
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!
My name Kevin Pollack. I’m 34 years old, I’m happily married for 8 years, and have three boys ages 6, 3 and 15 months. I’m 5’10″ and weigh 195 lbs, and I consider myself in good health (at least I do now). But that wasn’t the case two years ago. I’m about to share with you my personal struggles with my weight and with my health, the rude awakening I received that made me change the way I approached my daily living, and how I came across the Primal Blueprint and my current means of exercise.
Let me take you back to when it all started. I was 15 years old when I got my first “on the books job.” I was working at a fast food restaurant called Roy Rogers. It was a fun job. I worked the grill and made the best damn fried chicken in that store, but more importantly (at least for me) was that I could eat all the food and drink all the soda I wanted for free. I was a very active kid growing up. I played baseball, football, soccer, basketball (I had a mean jump shot), lifted weights and rode my bike everywhere, so burning off the food that I ate was not a problem for me. Unfortunately for me, Roy Rogers closed down when I was 16, so I was left without a job, and an appetite the size of the Grand Canyon. Like my father would say, I would have an egg sandwich in one hand and a hot pocket in another – come on, those things were good. So I did what any other kid who liked to eat would do, I got a job at another fast food restaurant, Burger King to be exact, and couldn’t have been happier. I loved whoppers and french fries and those chicken tenders were awesome. I worked a lot there after high school and never had time to make food at home. I didn’t really need to because of where I worked. Soon my diet consisted of lots of fast food cause that’s all I ate, but I wasn’t really gaining weight or if I was I didn’t notice because I was always a big kid. My high school weight was 220 lbs. I had pudge but you would never have known it. I carried my weight pretty well. Soon I was promoted to team leader, then shift manager, and then eventually store manager. My job consisted of very long hours and to make things worse I had a 110 mile round trip commute to my job. All I did was work, sleep and eat at the job, and could barely make it to the gym. Although I did go at least four times a week. I literally had no time to go food shopping, let alone cook.
I don’t know when it happened because it didn’t hurt, but I had what they called a sports hernia (no, that was not the rude awakening I mentioned) and I needed surgery to fix it. It was a big tear (I have a 6 inch scar because of it) according to the doctor. After I recovered from the surgery I was too afraid to go back to the gym because I didn’t want to risk tearing the hernia so I didn’t go, but my appetite was still there. I gained weight and became depressed because of it (plus other reasons that I would not like to mention) and I knew I had to stop eating all this fast food but I couldn’t. I guess you can say I became addicted. That was my life till I was 22. I quit my job because I was too stressed out and was not happy (my weight was about 260 lbs) and my current job came along, that was Feb. of 2002. I work for the post office as a mail handler. For the past 11 and a half years I have been working overnight and my eating habits only got worse. I would wake up in the afternoon at 3 or 4 o’clock and I would eat nothing but heroes and dinner type of foods for breakfast. On my way to work I would stop by a fast food joint and spend 10-15 bucks on food for the trip to work (I would eat in the car on the way to work). I commuted 80 miles round trip, and when I got to work the only thing that was open was Chinese food and pizza places, and it didn’t help that there was a 24/7 bagel shop down the road that made the best bagels on Long Island. So that’s all I ate for years. During this time my weight ballooned up too 315 lbs at my heaviest, my weight would fluctuate a lot. I was fat.
In early February of 2005 I had gone to my doctor because I was drinking a lot of fluids (soda, juices and all sorts of sugary soft drinks, etc.) and nothing would quench my thirst. After a simple blood test I found out that my A1C level was close to 9% and my blood sugar was 450. The doctor told me I had type 2 diabetes which made me even more depressed and to add insult to injury I had high blood pressure (no, this not the rude awakening I was referring to, I’ll get to that soon, there is just a lot to my story). He gave me metformin, 2000 mg a day, for my diabetes and 10 mg lisnopril for my blood pressure. I started to feel a little better soon afterwards and decided to go back to gym and go on a “diet” (I’ll explain why the word diet is in quotation marks a little later). I tried doing the Atkins diet, and along with going to the gym I lost about 30 lbs in five weeks. A lot of it was water weight. I weighed 250lbs. I was feeling good again, but I found that my energy level was low and I started to have intense cravings for all the foods that made me sick to begin with. Little by little I would “cheat” on my diet until I gave in to the cravings and gave up. I got married in May of that year to my beautiful wife Kelly and I remember that morning when I jumped on the scale, it said that I weighed 275lbs. I said to myself that after our honeymoon I would go back on my “diet” and try to lose weight again. Well, we went on a cruise to Alaska, and anyone who has been on a cruise will tell you all you do is eat, eat, and eat some more, and that’s all I did, but I didn’t care cause I knew I was going to go on a “diet” as soon as I got back. (By the way, I’ve been on many cruises as a kid and by far Alaska was the best one. I tell people all the time the scenery alone was worth the trip and that I’d love to back someday.)
When I came back I jumped back on the scale, it said 285, 10 lbs in one week. I started my “diet” like I said I would and was doing really well. Instead of the Akins diet, I went on low-fat “diet” because I knew I loved bread and pasta and pizza and all those other high carbohydrate foods that Akins tells you not to eat and this time I was watching what I ate which was low fat stuff like cottage cheese, low fat yogurt, whole wheat bread and pasta, cold cuts, and, well you get the idea. I was still taking my meds, but my blood sugar and BP was still high, probably because of all the bread and pasta I was eating, but I didn’t care so much. I was going to the gym four days a week again and feeling great. I was back down to around 245 lbs.
I have a younger brother and in late August of 2006 he went missing. Ten days later his body was found. He had committed suicide. He was only 21. I’m grateful that earlier that year in May we had celebrated his 21st birthday at my house. All of his family was there for one last time, I have some of the last pictures taken of him while he was alive. This really hurt me. My brother and I were close. We shared a room together while growing up and I can still remember all the late night conversations we had while going to bed. He was a very curious kid growing up and extremely smart. I have a tattoo on my left leg to memorialize him with one of the last things he said before he took his own life.
Needless to say, I lost my will power for my diet and stopped going to the gym and I sank into another depression. I started binge eating, not caring what I ate and when I ate it. Six weeks later I went to Stony Brook hospital emergency room because I was having really bad stomach pains. I was admitted for four days with what they said was IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and a bad case of pancreatitis. My triglycerides were threw the roof. They starved me for two days, no food or water, only an IV to keep me hydrated. They doped me up with meds and sent me on my way. I was feeling better. When I came home from the hospital I was still depressed, but I kept it all inside and put on a happy face because I thought that’s what you’re supposed to do, be strong. Soon after, the pain in my stomach was gone, but I still wanted nothing to do with a “diet” and sure as hell had no motivation to exercise. I don’t remember what meds they gave me for it because I stopped taking them soon after I came home. I was young and dumb. My first son was born later that year in December and for the next two years I went about my life.
In May of 2008 I weighed 315 lbs and because I had no regard for the food I ate. I found myself back in the ER with the same pain in my stomach only this time it was on my left side, a blood sugar of 400 again, and of course my BP was high. They didn’t admit me, (I had gone to Brookhaven hospital because it was closer). They gave me pain killers and morphine and something else for what they were now saying was UC (ulcerative colitis). I checked up with my doctor and he prescribed me a round of steroids and something else for it but I forget what. I think it was asacol and antibiotics. This kind of opened my eyes a little bit into what I was doing to myself, so I went on another “diet”. Actually, I went on several. This time I was sure that I would stick to it because I didn’t want to feel that pain again. I tried everything, South Beach, Atkins, no sugar “diets”, Mediterranean and any other fad “diet” that was going on at the time. I never felt satisfied and when I was hungry, I would find myself cheating on my diet again. The pain never really went away. It was just numb, not severe. I just learned to deal with it. I just said to myself “this how you are supposed to feel while trying to lose weight and have UC, this is normal”. I was also going back to the gym to get into better shape. My routines at the gym became boring, just like all the other times that I went and I stopped going and came off my “diet”. I yo-yoed a lot with my weight during the next three and half years. I’d lose 40 pounds and put back on 30. When I started having that severe pain again, I just went back on my diet and then stopped after I saw results and had that numbing pain. This happened several times during that time, but I managed to get down to 210 lbs.
This is the part where I received my rude awakening. Some parts may be a little graphic, but I tell you to give you a good idea of what was going on with me.
In late September of 2011 I fell off my diet. I started gaining weight again. I’m not sure how much I weighed at the time because honestly, I didn’t want to get on a scale. A few days after Thanksgiving of 2011, I started to get that pain in my left side again, only this time it was really bad and each day it was getting worse. It felt like someone was reaching in my intestines and squeezing with all their might. It hurt. I was also having bowel movements about 20 times a day and the only thing coming out was blood and mucus. I called my gastroenterologist at the time and told him what I was experiencing. He gave me a three week round of steroids and prescribed me Lialda, two pills a day. During this time I stopped going to work because I just couldn’t even get up off the couch without having to use the toilet. After about a week of this not working and still having about 20 bowel movements a day with the same stuff coming out and experiencing extreme pain, I called him up again and told him that it wasn’t working, I asked him if should go the hospital and he said that it wasn’t necessary, and that the meds just needed a little bit more time. So, I listened to him because, after all, he was the doctor. I waited another couple days and nothing got better, so I called my doctor again, but this time he gave me a stronger dose of steroids and upped the Lialda meds to four a day, saying that I should see improvement within a week. After about another week of excruciating pain and 20 trips to the bathroom daily, I didn’t see any improvement. I thought that it just need a little bit more time, so I started procrastinating saying to myself , “just one more day, and I’ll start to feel better.” This went on for about one more week and by this time Christmas was two days away. At this point I wanted to go the ER but I didn’t want my kids having a memory of their dad in the hospital for the holidays, so I waited until afterwards to go. In the early hours of 12/27/11, my wife finally drove me to the Stony Brook hospital ER, a whole month after this ordeal started. I weighed 205 unhealthy pounds. I was in so much pain that I couldn’t even walk inside to triage, they had to wheel me in. After a bunch of tests and an 18 hour stay in the ER (and tons of pain killers), they finally admitted me. The next morning the doctors said that I lost so much blood that I needed not one, not two, but three blood transfusions. After that they had me on a heavy dose of antibiotics through my IV and a powerful dose of steroids, all the while my blood sugar hovered around 450 because of the steriods. I was given the powerful pain killer oxycodone, 50 mg every 6 hours on top of the morphine every 4 hours and a host of other meds that I took orally and through my IV. I still had pain but it wasn’t as bad. I was put on a strict diet. After the ninth day I wasn’t getting any better and the pain was still there, it was just numb and I was still going to bathroom about 20 times a day. I told the nurses, the doctors and anyone else who was seeing me at the time. They didn’t ignore me, but I was thinking that they didn’t believe me. I honestly was thinking that they thought I was some drug addict who was making up my symptoms just to score some pain killers, so I took matters into my own hands. Let’s just say that I had a pretty bad bowel movement that day and instead of just flushing it away, I showed one of the nurses. She took one look at it and her exact words were “wow, that’s a lot of blood, let me go the doctor.” After the doctor came up and took a look, he ordered me for a colonoscopy for that Friday morning. After the colonoscopy I remember the doctor coming in and asking her if everything was normal. She looked at me wide eyed and after a long pause said “Mr. Pollack, your intestines are so badly inflamed that we had to stop the procedure because we didn’t want to risk tearing the wall of your intestines, we couldn’t see inside because of this.” This was not good. Later in the day the doctor came back and said that I have two options, the first one was that the next morning they were going to give me a medication called Remicade. I asked her what the second option was and what she said scared the crap out of me (no pun intended). She said that if the Remicade didn’t work, my only other option would be to have an emergency surgery in which they removed my entire large intestine because this was the only known “cure” for the type of UC that I had. That night I looked up on the internet (I had my smartphone with me the whole time) the procedure she was talking about and after reading up on it I thought to myself that this can’t be, how did it come to this. I thought I was too young to be having all these health issues, but in the end I had no one to blame but myself. The next morning they started me on the Remicade and thankfully, by Monday the pain, for the first time in six weeks, started to get better. I was in the hospital from 12/27/11-1/10/12, exactly two weeks and when I left I weighed 183 unhealthy pounds. I didn’t return to work until 2/15/12. I was out of work for almost three months. To this day, every seven weeks I have to go to the Stony Brook Cancer Center to receive the medication Remicade. I’m hooked up to an IV for three to four hours every time. As crazy as this sounds, I look at this as constant reminder of a time when I was down and out and I use this as one of my motivations every day.
After I came home I started to regain my weight before I started to go back to work and by the end of March, I weighed 225 lbs. All the while the pain was still there but it was like the numbing kind I mentioned earlier, and again, I thought that this was normal. Knowing now and fully understanding what was at stake, I wanted to get better, not just for myself but at this time my wife and I were pregnant with our third child. I had to be there for these kids and stop punishing myself for all the things that went wrong in the past. It was not fair to my kids or my wife. So I sat back and thought about all the times in the past when I went on these “diets” and what I did, down to what I ate. Now don’t get me wrong. When I would “diet” in the past, I would actually like the foods that I was eating, it’s just that they all said it was ok to eat processed food and grain based foods which is what my weakness was, and my body craved and eventually led me to cheat each time leading me to gain more weight. So I took a different approach. I said to myself, “what if I stopped looking at my diet as a ‘diet’ and started to think of it as a change in eating habits.” I knew what foods to avoid that would cause flare-ups to my UC and started to eliminate them from my every day consumption. This was fried foods, fast foods and sugary soft drinks. I did this for a while and started to notice that the numbing pain was getting less and less (but never really went away), but my blood sugar was still kind of high along with my BP. I didn’t care because now the pain was less and I was eating better and feeling better too. I still ate whole wheat breads and pastas and pizza and processed foods. I would treat myself to cheat meals and noticed that when I did, the pain would come back. But I thought that it was a small sacrifice for being good all week. My weight went back up to 250 lbs and hovered there for the next eight months. My new year’s resolution this year was to get off of taking my diabetes meds and BP meds that I was still taking every day and to try to find a way to get rid of this numbing pain in my left side.
I remember googling ways to get off diabetes meds and came across several blogs and forums that kept mentioning this thing called The Primal Blueprint. I googled the Primal Blueprint and it brought me to Mark’s blog and website Marksdailyapple.com and I started reading about what it was all about. It sounded simple and not complicated at all, and most of all it made sense: eat what our ancestors ate. This involved getting rid of processed foods and eliminating sugar from the diet and only eating foods that are not only good for you but that are also nutrient dense – things like any type of meat (preferably grass-fed free range), free range eggs, organic veggies and fruits, along with nuts and dairy, and most importantly, bacon. It also mentioned that I should incorporate more healthy fats into my foods. This put a smile on face because I was remembering all the “diets” that told me to eliminate fats. I thought, why not, nothing else that I have tried seemed to be working or gave me the results that I wanted, and looking at the types of foods that were allowed I knew I would like them because I have eaten them before. I could do this. I weighed 255 lbs when I started my new change in eating habits. I say change in eating habits (that’s why I was putting the word diet in quotation marks), because I believe diets don’t work. People approach them wrong. They see short term results and wind up falling off the bandwagon due the cravings their bodies have, and go back to eating what they ate before, leading to more weight gain. I realize and acknowledge that this is not the case for everyone who chooses a diet that works for them. I’ve always said, to each his own, but in my case I couldn’t look at this as a “diet” but rather a change in eating habits. So I started the Primal Blueprint in mid-January of this year and was eating all the different foods that were allowed. I found recipes on Mark’s site and others for some creative meals, and found that they were easier to make than some of the classic dishes like lasagna, chicken parmesan, fried chicken, fried french fries, etc., that I made before I found this way of eating. I found myself enjoying what I ate, it tasted good plus I knew it was healthy for me because I wasn’t using anything artificial or processed, everything was fresh. I ate when I was hungry, which was often, but only ate what Mark outlined and said was good to eat. I ate a lot, but was surprised to find that after a couple of weeks my appetite between meals was less and less and that I was also eating less food at meal time. I was feeling satisfied, but more importantly that numbing pain in my left side was getting better. I still had cheat meals and ate some sugary foods, but I would only keep it one meal. I lost 25 lbs in five weeks and at the beginning of March. I was feeling good and looking good. I figured that now was the time to experiment with no meds. Little by little I weaned myself off my diabetes meds and my BP one too. I was testing my blood sugar and BP six times a day because I was paranoid that it would get to high, but it wasn’t. My 30 day average for my blood sugar was 108 (when I started my 30 day average was 131), and my BP was steadily going down. By May, my 30 day average was 85 and my BP was 115/75 so I stopped taking my meds altogether. I still tested six times a day but found that as long I stuck to the Primal Blueprint, my levels were right where they should be. This made me happy because for the first time in seven years I wasn’t taking any meds for my diabetes and BP. I actually found something that worked without having to starve myself or go on a fad “diet”, and found that most of the foods that I was eating I really liked.
One of the side effects of the Primal Blueprint was that I had an abundance of energy. This was not a bad thing. I wasn’t going to the gym during the time I had started my new change in eating habits because I wanted to get to a weight that I was comfortable with where the muscle heads weren’t judging me. I knew the look that they would give and what they were thinking. I’ve seen it before all the other times I went to the gym and tried to get in shape. I wanted to do something different. While I was reading up on the Primal Blueprint and reading other blogs and forums related to this type of eating, people kept mentioning this thing called CrossFit. I knew of maybe two people who were doing this type of exercise and wanted to know more, so I googled CrossFit and tons of articles and blogs and sample workouts popped up. I started reading CrossFit blogs and forums and thought to myself that there was no way that I can do this type of exercise. These people were out of their minds. I mean after all, who does muscle-ups, burpees, wall balls and WODs called “Fran” and “Grace”? It looked hard, but the more I kept reading about it I found that most of them had one thing in common: they were eating the same stuff I was, paleo/primal. It seemed like the two of them went hand and hand, the ying and yang. The more I read the more to me it looked like a sport rather than a gym type of exercise and coming from an athletic background I started to get curious. So I did a quick search of CrossFit gyms (or boxes as we like to call them) and found that there was one within 10 minutes of my house called CrossFit Kryptonite. I went to take a look. When I got there I was talking to the owner/trainer Mariana Goncalves-DeTore. She explained to me what CrossFit was all about. I was able to see up close what these WODs were all about and noticed that people of all shapes and sizes, young and old, were doing them and more importantly for me, it seemed like nobody was judging you based on your ability. Mariana also explained that all the different types of moves and lifts can be modified to your ability. I mean come on, who can do muscle-ups right off the street without practice? So I signed up for the ramp classes (intro classes to get you accustomed to the lifts) and on July 1, 2013 I started my new workout regime. I weighed 228 lbs. I had a goatee for 12 years and shaved it off the day after I started CrossFit because I figured I needed a change in my appearance to help motivate me; nothing big but something to help me psychologically tell myself that I can’t go back to the old me – overweight, lazy and unhealthy. The first three weeks were brutal. It was hard. I was sore everyday (I still get sore after every workout) and my body had never worked that hard before. The summer heat didn’t help. I just wanted to give up. But a funny thing started to happen and by the end of my one month trial (that’s the amount I gave myself to see if this was for me), I noticed a HUGE difference in the way I looked and felt after I completed the WODs. I liked the fact that CrossFit challenged me the way that no other gym based workout could and most of all I liked the fact I was in competition with myself. The fact that Mariana and Scott (her husband and an owner/trainer himself, he won the 2011 CrossFit games, masters division, with Mariana as his coach) were extremely friendly and eager to assist me in reaching my goals, and that everyone there was friendly and willing to help and explain certain ways to train that have helped them, I knew that this is what I wanted to do, so I signed up for three more months, and after those three months were up, I signed up for another three months.
I now look and feel incredible. No one recognizes me anymore and they all ask me the same question, how did you do it? My answer is simple. I tell them that there is no magic pill, that it’s just good old fashioned diet using the Primal Blueprint, and exercise. Since I started CrossFit back in July, I have lost a total of 35 lbs and 63 lbs in combination with the Primal Blueprint. I currently weigh 193 lbs and my body has gone through a transformation that even I didn’t expect. I don’t feel tired during the day or have hunger pangs, and gone are my cravings for sweets and processed foods. Never did I think that I would look and feel this great after just a few short months. The pictures speak for themselves. With the help of the Primal Blueprint and CrossFit, I’m happy to report that I have no pain in my left side, nada, zip, zilch and that I no longer take my diabetes medicine or BP meds. My current A1C level is 5.1, my BP is 110/70, and my triglycerides have gone back in the normal range. My gastroenterologist is starting to lower the dosage of the Remicade and the frequency at which I receive it. Getting off the Remicade is my next challenge.
I don’t know how to end my story because quite frankly, I’m not finished. I’d like to one day in the near future open my own box and share with as many people as possible my struggles with my weight and my journey that led me to the Primal Blueprint and CrossFit. To show them that it is possible to take control of your health and life. I hope that my story has inspired you to do the same. I’d like to leave you with a line from a song I feel suits me and my situation in terms of my new lifestyle. It’s from the band Audioslave from the song “Show me How To Live”: “is this a cure, or this a disease.”
Special thanks to my wife Kelly – for without her support I would have never been able to accomplish my goals – Mark Sisson for creating the Primal Blueprint and to CrossFit Kryptonite in Center Moriches, NY.