Primal Eating Gave Me My Life Back

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-1-2Primal eating gave me my life back. Allowed me to stay in shape, enjoy eating, and not suffer. Living the Primal life is now my passion, it’s become that topic I always bring up to friends and strangers that causes my wife to roll her eyes and shh me – well, Primal and Star Wars…

I was born with a leaky valve in my heart (split aortic) and an enlarged aorta. When I was a kid I was told I could never play contact sports, weight lift or really do anything a healthy North American (Canadian) boy wants to do! It was devastating to watch other boys play…

BodybuildingI don’t know about you, but I hate being told I “can’t” do something. So, at the age of 22, after I quit smoking and drinking, I started weight training and quickly realized I had the right genetics to grow some decent sized muscle. I started on a path of competing as an amateur bodybuilder. I stayed natural (no illegal substances just over the counter supplements), so as to not worsen my heart condition any further. I had a pretty good go at competing. My stage weight was around 170 lbs at about 4 to 5% body fat. I had become really good at catering my diet on and off season to get the most out of what I was eating, mostly on a modified standard American diet. I always placed top three in my class and I am proud of my accomplishments.

In September 2013, I was at the tail end of prep for a show in October when I met with my cardiologist for a check-up that I will never forget. He told me that my aorta’s size was bigger and I was at a greater risk of an aortic dissection. Meaning if it got any worse, I’d be risking a tear –death or emergency surgery. Needless to say I was devastated. Bodybuilding was my passion, but I had to stop training. I was a new Dad and the thought of not seeing my daughter grow up was even more frightening than stopping a lifestyle that I adored so much.

From September 2013 to January 2014 I was a mess. I had no direction, no clue on how to change my lifestyle so I could remain healthy. All I knew was the old method of six to seven small meals, lots of protein, grains and training. In January, I met with a surgeon who later advised me that I could get back to the gym, but change my approach. He even said that I could run a marathon tomorrow if I wanted to! (I was never much of a runner and I’m still not) What a relief!

Before pitcure Jan 2015With light weights and high reps (to avoid the drastic changes in blood pressure and the Valsalva maneuver) I was back! Relief doesn’t even begin to describe the feelings that went through me. This gave me a new lease on life! Now all I had to do was figure out how to eat again. By this time I had put on a bit more weight than I was used to having. I was sitting around 190, and I didn’t look athletic at all anymore. My wife had been following MDA since around the same time, but I stubbornly refused to read much on it. So naturally, she would periodically send me some interesting MDA articles. Then she told me about The Primal Blueprint book. So I started listening to the podcast and reading the book, along with the 21 Day Challenge. I started to move towards the Primal/paleo lifestyle, but not as intently as I am now. Making subtle changes, and seeing improvements in overall health, energy and little bit of weight loss. Finally I had some direction.

I got sick less often. A flu bug would hit the house and I was miraculously spared! I was sleeping a lot better. It changed the way I approached eating and playing. I cut down my gym time to three days a week (much to my wife and daughter’s relief). Giving my body sufficient rest and improving the work-life-gym balance. On training days I am in and out in no more than an hour a day, and that includes 10 minutes of interval cardio with a minimum of 3×1 minute sprints thrown in. I no longer feel guilty if I miss a day at the gym. I know that I can make it the next day if I am not feeling up to it.

Since January of this year, I have taken it a lot more seriously. For a couple reasons to be honest. First, is to see how lean and how far I can go with this, and secondly, I have a friendly wager with my best friend. He is getting married down south in April and I’m his best man. So we decided to see who would have the best beach body with our different workout and eating strategies. The race is on. In January, I was 180-185 lbs and a solid layer of body fat. I went completely grain free, and incorporated the intermittent fasting approach. I usually don’t eat after 8 pm and won’t eat again till 10 or 11 the next morning. I have my coffee with full fat cream, no sugar or sweeteners and I do use BCAAs (branched chain amino acids).

I make sure that I maintain as much muscle as possible during this whole transformation. I eat about 3 to 4 times a day. Typically, I eat cashews as my 1st solid food, (coffee doesn’t count) then later on I have a solid 8-10 ounces of protein and a good portion of veggies slathered in butter, if I need one, I will have a whey isolate shake, then a complete meal later on in the evening. I cut booze all together. I do love scotch, but have abstained for now.

20150326_205651I love to eat, and am always taking old family recipes and converting them into a Primal state. They most often turn out amazing. I am becoming quite the Primal kitchen guru at home. My three year old daughter seems to love the food – She thinks my cauliflower mash is mashed potatoes – I am ok with that! My wife is down close to 20 lbs as well, however not as strict as me. I am now roughly 160 lbs and I am a very comfortable 6% body fat. I don’t deprive myself of things, as I love food too much, but everything in moderation. Even now, I eat cheese a couple times a week, 85% dark chocolate I have almost everyday (2 squares only) and I am happy. I have never felt this good, this healthy in a long time, and I owe it in great abundance to The Primal Blueprint and Mark’s Daily apple. I listen to the podcasts religiously. Sometimes more than once just so I better understand, and am able to incorporate more into the routine. I love the structure.

I don’t want people think this is hard, because it really isn’t. The toughest part of The Primal Blueprint is taking the first step towards a better you. Ignore what other people say, and do something for yourself. I want people to know that anyone can take charge of their life and make smarter, healthier choices. The food tastes amazing, and it really doesn’t feel like a diet. This is a strategy to make you feel good inside and out. I hope my story reaches someone, somewhere, somehow and inspires you to make a change. Change is good. Doesn’t have to be dramatic. The smallest of changes allows you to reap the biggest rewards. I am thankful every single day that I found The Primal Blueprint and Mark’s Daily Apple. It has been an incredibly useful tool. I have coined the phrase primalite as part of a blog that I am ashamed to say I am not as faithful on. It was more for me than anyone else anyways. So with all that being said. Peace, Love and Primal primalites and thanks for reading my story.


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41 thoughts on “Primal Eating Gave Me My Life Back”

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  1. You are an inspiration! I love that you still indulge in cheese and dark chocolate – my kinda guy 🙂

  2. awesome story! I agree- the principles of Primal aren’t a ‘diet’ and they certainly allow for lots of delicious, healthy foods!

    1. Hi Amber,

      I haven’t gotten an update as of late, however I have gotten an MRI done and I have had bloodwork done – my guess is no news is good news. I am happy with that. However will keep you posted. I am hoping to hear from them soon

    1. Hi There,

      I modeled my workouts much like it was when I was bodybuilding, but less weight higher reps. I focus on movement and less on weight, and still get great pumps. I do a max 3 exercises per body part. For example – Monday is legs day – so 10 minutes of cardio, then I will train Quads, Hams and Calves – 2 exercises each 3 sets of high reps 20 rep minimum. Wednesday is Arms and Shoulders and Friday is always Chest and Back. Then I am off the entire weekend to recoop and prep for Monday again. I still do walking and what not on the weekends and remain active – I also play airsoft during the nicer months so I am running all over the place, jumping diving etc. Great play example. I miss bodybuilding a lot, but my family and my over all health comes first.

      1. Your story is probably for me the most inspiring one. I have been primal for a long time and have had great results. I have been in the fitness industry for over 10 years and have had to tone back my workouts due to a shoulder and back injury. I am still quite fit but can relate to your missing of body building. I too have decided it is more important to stay mobile through life rather than lift heavy weights still. I do miss it, always will, but love that I am finding balance and hearing from others who do the same!

      2. Michael,

        Thanks for sharing this and congratulations on your health!

        Can I ask you how much you include fruit in your diet?


        1. Hey Ricky – I do eat fruit, basically what ever is in season. Mostly berries, usually about 6 ounces of berries and 40g of cashews as an evening snack. It was my go to when I was craving something sweet – since I had already had my dark chocolate earlier in the day. I do this 3 to 4 times a week. I didn’t over indulge. Hope this answers your question, and thanks so much for reading my story. I really appreciate it.

        2. Hi Ricky,

          Thank you or reading my story – I really appreciate it. I did eat fruit 3 to 4 times a week actually. Mostly berries and this was usually my last meal of the day – I would have 2 – 3 oz of berries with 40g of cashews as a snack. I usually only get what’s in season or what’s affordable. Being in Canada we sometimes get the shaft on quality or cost. So I make it work the best way I can. Hope this answers your question, don’t ever hesitate to ask any others. I love paying it forward.

  3. Thanks for posting this. After a year of health, family and job issues, I am getting back to cutting out sugar and junk and feeling much better for it. I’m starting to incorporate strength training aka Primal Essential Movements and just enjoying the process.

    You’re right that this isn’t hard. It’s overcoming the initial inertia and gaining momentum that’s the challenge. But once over that hurdle, it becomes much easier (and enjoyable!).

  4. I love that you realized the value of spending less time on perfecting yourself and more time just being with your wife and daughter. I volunteer with hospice and believe me, what really matters in the end is the people you love and the people who love you, not whether or not you have 6-pack abs. Although your 6-pack abs are pretty incredible — enjoy them while you can!

    1. I agree. I think the last photo looks much healthier than the first musclehead photo. Time with family and friends instead of over-fixating on the body can’t be ignored. Great job Michael.

  5. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the relationship between bodybuilding and Paleo/Primal, so the timing of this Success Story post is incredible.

    I moved into a new apartment four months ago and my new roommate is a competitive bodybuilder — pretty much where Michael was towards the beginning of his story. Supplements, small measured meals with proteins and grains, gym nearly every day. He works with a nutritionist/trainer and is very confident in his knowledge, but he hasn’t displayed much critical thinking. For example, he was positive that coconut oil should not be used for high-heat cooking and couldn’t remember why he thought that.

    The bodybuilder roommate also has trouble sleeping and hates waking up in the morning (always multiple alarms) and he seems stressed out in other ways…I’ve mentioned Paleo to him before but he’s so deep into his own thing that he dismisses it.

    Michael — back when you were in full-on bodybuilding mode, and imagining that the aorta issue did not exist, is there anything anyone could have said or done to get you to consider the Primal approach?

    I’m trying to avoid the Paleo Messiah role and part of my motivation is selfish: I’d benefit from more countertop space (fewer supplements) and more peaceful mornings (fewer loud alarms). Thanks and congrats on the healthy family!

    1. Steve,

      A couple of thoughts. Sometimes I tell people try these changes for 30 or 60 days not the rest of your life, see how it goes. But I always remember to tell them that their bodies and minds are use to certain ways of eating for years or decades. The immediate experience might be worse. People aren’t fat burners, they can’t use ketones in the brain. No machinery to thrive like us on Primal…yet.

      Also there is Jeff Volek and his book Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate living. He is a competitive body builder. Keith Norris one of the founders of PaleoFX looks pretty darn good. Dominic D’agostino scientist and bodybuilder. So some examples for him.

      I’ve gone from the most obese, sickest guy in the office to arguably the fittest in less than two years. I gave a work presentation. I have helped a number of people. But vast majority ignore. I like to tell people this is worth more than winning a lottery. How many people ‘dieting’ go oh man I wouldn’t give this up for all the money in the world. That is what Primal means to me.

  6. Primal has really brought a better balance into our life. And I’m thankful everyday I nagged you to read MDA.


    The wife

  7. You had me at Star Wars….

    Thank you so much for your inspiring story. I still have several months before I am able to submit my success story. The stories are what got me started reading MDA and from there, I just took off in the Primal direction and never looked back.

    1. Awesome stufff on 2 points Lisa – glad to hear there are other Star Wars fans out there, and so glad to hear you are taking charge of your life. That by itself is the most inspiring story of them all. Keep it up!!!!

  8. Awesome job! Just curious, did you limit or cycle carbs or calories to get your body fat that low?

  9. Hey Royce and Curtis – to answer your question I took the intermittent fasting approach. I focused on eating just enough that I was full and not over full. I changed my eating habits completely. I didn’t cycle carbs per say, I just had a re-feed of starchy carbs – Sweet potato or white potato slathered in butter to lower that glycemic level a bit. If I cheated, in the sense of extra calories I always made sure it was 1500 calories more than the norm on 1 day knowing full well that it takes 3500 calories for 1 lb of fat. So if I was craving something I had it. 80 – 20 rule right. I wanted to make this as easy as possible on myself with out depriving myself. I was in a state of ketosis off and on during this whole transformation and I am doing it with no real difficulty what so ever. I was under 50g of carbs a day and functioning quite well. Energetic, focused, strong. All of those things came into play. If you asked me how many calories I took in daily – I can’t tell you because I don’t know. I do know I stayed on track with eating habits and didn’t stray too often. don’t get me wrong, Pizza, burgers, and the occaisional poutine made its way in there, but for the most part it was clean cheats. Hope this helps.

  10. Thank you all so much for your kind words. They mean so very much to me. I set out on this journey to make a difference in my life, using Mark’s principle’s. It’s given me my life back and if my story can help inspire someone to make a change then I have paid it forward. More people deserve to be happy and if a slice from my life and help pave the way then I am happy too. If there is anything else I can do to help, or other questions you want to ask, please don’t hesitate to ask. I like being able to help.

    Have a great Easter holiday – Dark Chocolate people 🙂

  11. You’ll have to inform us what you cardiologist says when you go for a check-up, I’m curious to see how much influence this has on your heart. (I’m convinced it’s a good thing!)

  12. Way to go Michael–

    I would love to see the pictures of you and your best friend at the beach. Wonder who will win the wager? (I can guess)


  13. Great stuff! But I am amazed at the fast life-style change you made… It took me so much longer, going step by step. From cutting out candy, to baked goods (I love to bake, and to eat what I baked…), to cutting out pasta, and then, once I found my community online, to cutting out PUFAs. Probably over about 5 years… But I do find that now I never get sick, I have more energy, and I am retaining more muscle with less weight-lifting or biking/running.
    Good luck with your beach body contest! I’ve got some winter/holiday weight to pare off before it’s time to get my 56-year-old bod back into a bikini…

  14. Can you shave the chest hair or at least trim it and repost a picture. You strive to have a beach body and appreciate muscle but yet you leave your hair coat on covering up everything you have achieved. Hoping you at least trim down below so the wife doesn’t have to deal with that mess too

    1. I’m guessing a wax would go something like that scene out of “40 year old virgin”

  15. Incredible story.

    Your base line pre-Primal was excellent. Just goes to show that appearances can be deceptive even though you looked, in your bodybuilding days, the complete package.

    As an Irishman cutting out the booze would be the hardest part for me. Nailing the diet is fairly easy. Respect and kudos to you!

  16. Great transformation.

    You ever track food intake?

    So you eat protein-fat most days and 1 day re-feed with carbs, you also decrease fat on these day?

  17. After several months of receiving MDA emails, but not having time to read them, this one caught my eye and I am so glad it did. I was eating 90% paleo, but very stressed and not exercising enough. (Total hip replacement in 2013 & 2 young foster kids & I am 63). I have way too much belly fat from high cortisol levels and even though I have been working on this in recent weeks, your story has inspired me to not let pain and health issues be an excuse. The sun is shining in Winnipeg today. A good sign to get moving. Thanks so much for the incentive and reminder to heal myself.

  18. Thanks for sharing, update us to tell us who won the bet for the beachbody.

  19. Mike- I would LOVE an example of what you ate on a given day. I’m a competitive bodybuilder as well, about 90% paleo but still following the whole 6 meal a day thing. Every time I get done with a show I feel like I’m on a rollercoaster of gaining body fat then later trying to strip it off. It would be so wonderful to just live at a low (but not too low) body fat percentage year round. Thanks!!


  20. Hi Mike,

    Just reading your story today, so I’m not sure if you’ll respond but here it goes.

    I’m assuming from your BB background you track your calories? Do you increase your carb intake on your lifting days and do you try to eat them at a certain time? E.g. predominantly post-workout?

    I’m really interested in how a former BB combines that lifestyle wisdom with that of primal!