Primal vs. The Pyramid – My 20 Year Weight Loss and Body Transformation Story

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!

A few years ago, after watching my weight slowly creep up (along with my age and my blood pressure) I decided it was time to do something. Something different. I had struggled with weight issues since the age of 10 or so, and outside of a serious bout of anorexia nervosa, had been slightly overweight for years. It was one thing to be slightly overweight and self conscious; however, now it was affecting my health, and it was clear that it would only get worse over time. Since I have a Master’s degree in Nutrition, I knew what conventional advice would offer me. I also knew it didn’t work. How many times had I done the numbers in the last 20 years?

Let’s see….

Ideal weight = x
Desired weight loss = current weight – x
(Create a calorie deficit of y + exercise like a maniac) * z weeks = Perfect Body

Usually for me, this worked out to needing about 1200-1500 calories a day and 5-6 hours of cardio a week, which should have gotten me to my goal within z weeks, no problem. This, of course, was 1200 calories carefully metered out into the following conventional recommendations:

60% carbohydrate, 20% fat, 20% protein.

After all, we all know that high fat and/or high protein diets are dangerous. Right?

And so, armed with my magic numbers, I would set out on my journey, with excellent resolve and motivation. And yet…week after week after week, no change. What I DID feel was hungry a lot of the time, grumpy, deprived, and finally frustrated to the point of saying, well, there is no point. I have enough education in nutrition and powerful tracking tools to know that I was actually eating 1200 calories. I would persist, and try again, and never, never a change.

After over 20 years of self-experimentation, it was so clear that everything I had learned about planning a healthy diet was not effective for weight loss for me. I was getting all the vitamins and minerals and fiber I needed according to the RDAs, but I was not truly healthy. I was overweight – not obese, but overweight. And my belly was big. Things were not as they should be. I thought maybe this is just “how my body is” and I need to accept it. But I still didn’t believe this to be true.

I started doing some internet research on alternatives, and ended up reading a few articles which talked about high fat diets as effective for weight loss and muscle development. Despite this, when I first started reading about eating MORE fat and exercising LESS, I was skeptical. In fact, I stopped my research, dismissed it as a fad, and kept up my high carb, high cardio ways. (I’m slow to accept change…) Finally, one day, I decided to give a different way of eating a 2-week trial. I was terrified I would end up gaining weight, but the following quote had caught my attention:

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”

Now, I’m not insane, so surely I wouldn’t keep up this dietary nonsense and expect to lose weight, right? And I started to try something different.

I continued with the low-fat, higher carb diet, but I changed my exercise habits to include a new form of exercise, bodyweight exercises, twice a week, in place of cardio. These exercises kicked my butt. I worked out a simple routine of 7-8 exercises that I could do in our small apartment, with no equipment, in 20-30 minutes. It took me weeks to work up to a reasonable set of repetitions, and I felt it in every muscle in my body. I didn’t lose weight (I had not changed my diet yet) but I DID start to notice my clothes were fitting more loosely. However, my blood pressure and my weight remained elevated.

I then read a book called Syndrome W by Dr. Harriet Mogul. She is an endocrinologist who works with women who have trouble losing weight and are developing related health problems. She has a treatment plan for her patients that seems to be very effective, and one part of this is eating a “modified low carb” diet, meaning that you don’t eat much carbohydrate before 4 pm, at which point you can have a few modest servings. I gave up my toast at breakfast and my sandwich bread at lunch, and that was the point where the magic began. I started to (skeptically) try letting myself have a little more fat – an egg every day at breakfast, a little cheese to replace the toast, a handful of nuts mid morning, plenty of olive oil on my salad, whole fat yogurt instead of low fat, and, to my amazement, the weight started to come right off.

During this time, I had also read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, and was getting more interested/concerned regarding the American food supply. We were living overseas at the time, but this book made me consider what I ate and where it came from as important parts of health and nutrition. Then, in further internet searching, I happened upon Mark’s Daily Apple, the fantastic blog of Mark Sisson, author of The Primal Blueprint and I began my education on the Primal way of life. At first I thought it sounded a bit extreme…no grains or legumes? Really? Aren’t those superfoods? That’s what I’d heard my whole life…oh yeah. Maybe it was wrong. With my background in nutritional sciences, I started to delve into the science behind these different dietary theories, and the evidence continued stacking up that, for most humans, this is a superior way to eat. I remain opposed to dietary dogma in any form, and believe there is always an exception to a rule, so I am flexible, but I do believe there are some basic principles that are good and safe for anyone to follow.

Despite understanding some of the science behind the grain/legume/gluten issues, it took me the better part of a year to develop the nerve to give up grains, in particular gluten. And I have never felt better, and will never go back. In total, over 2 1/2 years, I have lost 30-35 pounds, with a BMI around 21. My blood pressure is completely normal. On last check a month ago, my triglycerides were 42, my HDL and LDL were both in the 70s, and my HbA1c was at 5. These numbers are all improved dramatically from my last tests, done 5 years ago on my usual low fat, high fiber, high carbohydrate diet. I have never felt better or more fit than I do now. I eat delicious, whole foods, feel good about how I’m feeding my family, and desire to share some of this experience with anyone who will read. I also hope to start working as a nutritionist, finally using that Master’s degree, but with a Primal-inspired twist. Thanks, Mark!!


TAGS:  guest post

About the Author

If you'd like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!

76 thoughts on “Primal vs. The Pyramid – My 20 Year Weight Loss and Body Transformation Story”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Great story and congratulations on your success. It’s especially interesting considering your education. I was a vegetarian for 25 years before finding paleo/primal eating and I understand how hard it is to give up those “superfoods” of legumes and whole grains. But the difference between how I feel internally before and after giving them up was all the convincing I needed that they weren’t so “super” after all.

    1. 25 years?! This is easily the longest time span that I have heard someone being vegetarian for before going Primal.

      How do you define vegetarian? Did you eat eggs and dairy? Did you ever eat any meat in that 25 years? Fish?

      1. Toad, I don’t know if you have read The Vegetarian Myth, but I think Lierre Kieth, the author, was a vegetarian for a similar amount of time, if not longer. Her book is truly inspiring and highly informative.

        Great Story Emily!

      2. Toad, I became a vegetarian at 12 because I just thought meat was “gross.” I had never been much of a meat eater as a child, so it was easy to give it up. I did eat eggs in baked goods, and I am passionate about good cheese. That was my dairy. I was a vegan for a while but found my way back to lacto-ovo land for the cheese and baking. I ate a shrimp once without realizing it and was pretty sick afterwards.

        But…I also contracted Lyme Disease when I was 19. It took ten years to receive a proper diagnosis and was so sick most of that time that doctors were happy I was eating such a “healthy” diet. In October of last year, I found a doctor who specializes in “off the grid” Lyme treatment and his first recommendation was a paleo diet. I figured I didn’t have anything to lose, so I changed how I eat. Going from mostly grains and legumes to meat was very difficult. Like a lot of people, I lost weight the first few weeks but I think it was from me simply not knowing what to eat! I’d look in the pantry or fridge and not be able to grab what I was used to. I could only handle one or two bites of meat a day. I was consumed with food and read cookbooks and websites hours every day. I guess that could have been carb withdrawal, but it gave me plenty of time to find new, good recipes. I had three months of paleo eating before my first appointment with the doctor and I was feeling so good, I actually considered canceling the trip to see him.

        I’ve been on medications since January, and even though my current treatment keeps me in a semi state of sepsis and I hurt a lot, I feel great between medications. My doctor has said that I’m handling it better than his patients who aren’t willing to ditch the grains, sugar and dairy. It pains me to think that a big part of my suffering with chronic pain, inflammation and fatigue for so long was because of the “healthy whole foods” I was putting in my body. I can’t even imagine how miserable I would feel if I was still eating a vegetarian diet while being treated. I will never go back.

        1. Wow Debi, this sounds like quite the story! Do you think you’ll be able to heal the Lyme disease? Keep up the courage!

        2. Fascinating story Debi. I can’t help but point out the scary yet compelling fact that the same people that brought you the food pyramid also created Lyme disease. That being your own benevolent government. It is up to you to accept whether or not this is just coincidence.

          It takes courage to stand against everything you’ve ever been taught and make a choice in your own best interest. But this is but one battle in a war. And while you may choose not to fight further, they won’t give you any special consideration for it. While it is nice to hear about people who defied the experts and discovered the health and happiness they sought for so long, it saddens me to see the lack of corresponding anger and outrage. YOU should be outraged. This wasn’t a case of “I should have known better” this was a case of “I was lied to by everyone I know because they were lied to too.” And you suffered for this fraud for decades. Forget all the hooey about ‘spiritual wellness’ and ‘positive outlook’. People with psychological traumas are never cured until they get facetime and closure with their agressors. Similarly, neither you, Emily, nor anyone else will be fully healed/recovered/whatever until you allow yourself to fully accept and express the anger you have towards those who PURPOSELY PUT THIS PUNISHMENT ON YOU. I assert this to all Paleo converts and readers here.

          Until you do this there will likely be many other aspects of your life where you toil in the same futility, and struggle needlessly just as you did with your weight before coming to paleo. So spare the victory speeches until you’ve really faced and defeated the enemy. A size zero coward with ripped abs is still a coward. Being content with bucking the government food pyramid because it makes your government created disease liveable is to let those who put both of them upon you continue to assert power over you. This is no victory.

          VOTE like a caveman. Speak in mixed company like a caveman. Tear down the lies in every other aspect of your life like a caveman. Spread THIS message with the brutality of a caveman. Being satisfied with fickle, superficial comments about your appearance, while subjugating your life to the lies of an establishment that you know is lying to you (and with the worst intentions) is something Grok would not abide. Ripped abs or not.

          Understand that this is not to single you out, but just to use your story as an example. This message is equally relevant but notably absent among these success stories. So you used Paleo to escape one minefield set for you by the facists. If it is only for the purpose of navigating their other minefields with greater agility, then victory is still theirs not yours…

      3. I too was a vegetarian for 25 years before going Primal/Paleo. I did eat eggs and dairy, but never any meat or fish. Now, I can’t believe I did that for so long and thinking how “healthy” I was. Can you believe no bacon, no steak? What was I thinking? (well, for me it was the animals, but…) I’ll never go back!

        1. Great story Emily! Congratulations on your primal success! You’ve come a long way! Isn’t it great to finally feel good?

    2. Yeah wow! 25 years is a long time, that must have been incredibly difficult to change your mindset but I’m glad you found primal!

      1. It’s funny when I talk to people who have been vegetarian for so long. They kind of forget why they are vegetarian in the first place and have trouble answering me when I ask them why.

        1. I’ve been vegetarian for just about 20yrs.. and vegan for the past 12. I never forget why I made the choices I made. Health-related decisions have changed over the years, but I can’t in good conscience support an industry that I so fundamentally disagree with.

        2. That’s easy. Self loathing.

          Like JJ they choose to punish themselves for the crimes of an “industry they so fundamentally disagree with”. Even if it means punishing some folks they agree with fully. Like those who raise free range chickens, grass fed beef, and beefalo, or those who risk life and limb to catch wild fish by historic and humane methods. Doesn’t matter. Vegetarians will see them denied validation just to “punish” themselves in the name of some enemy. This in lieu of stepping up and fighting their enemy face to face.

          Its kind of like bombing a whole village, women and children and all, to kill one terrorist. This is the mindset of many vegetarians. This is the ‘humanity’ behind vegetarianism. Not surprised you or they have never been able to fully get their mind around it. Its totally irrational…

        3. As an environmentalist, I agree with JJ that the American meat industry is one I fundamentally disagree with, and the continuation of such industry will undoubtedly destroy the planet. Luckily, there are free range, grass fed, humanitarian options that support both the environmentalist and the primal (really, one in the same thing!) Please don’t attack vegetarians for wanting to leave less of an impact on the planet – our world cannot sustain current dietary habits.

  2. Emily,
    Thanks for writing up your story and sharing it. Coming from your nutrition background and change of thinking, it is a great article to share with ppl who can’t see past the CW dogma.
    You look so much healthier and prettier yet.

  3. Congratulations on finding the solution to your health and weight woes. I’m especially excited that with your nutrition background, you will be able to touch more lives in the future. My eyes have really been opened to the importance of food quality. There are so many issues that need to be addressed- farming practices, pesticides, animal raising practices- the list goes on and on.
    You look great, and it’s wonderful that you’re as healthy on the inside.

  4. Congrats Emily, you look fantastic! Also your little guys are very cute 🙂

    I’ve been there with the calorie counting and it’s no fun. Now I eat a buttload of fat all day, every day and my weight has never been healthier or easier to maintain. Great to hear others are doing the same, I’m all about spreading the word 🙂

  5. Super story– wonderful evolution from so-called optimal diets to primal eating.

    My wife is a wonderful cook– but bakes stuff all the time for the kids including bread. I now have no problemt passing it up nor do I have any problems skipping my former favorite peanut butter to consume primal foods which Mark lays out!

    1. Unfortunately, it’s easy (I think as moms especially) to equate baking with love. I also used to be an avid baker and now find that I might bake once every 2-3 weeks on a special occasion. I believe it’s better for all 4 of us. I have learned to find other, non-food ways to love on my kids.

      1. it’s so true! That old tagline, “Nothin’ says lovin’ like something warm from the oven,” is a sales pitch that’s warped generations of Mothers’ good intentions, I fear. Luckily the kids respond better to sharing time together and other “good rewards” than sugar and grain “treats” 🙂

        Thanks for sharing your story! It’s great to see what CW reversal is capable of. It takes a lo of brave to give something new a chance!

      2. There are so many delicious primal “bakery” items. just replace the flour with coconut flour or almond meal (or both) and nix the sugar. Tasty tasty treats.

        1. Or, go back to that good old tradition of rendering chicken or bacon fat for your kids. A great way to make home cooking cosy, delicious, and primal!

  6. Emily, where did you get the “bodyweight exercises” from? Are they similar to the one’s Mark has in the Primal Blueprint Fitness eBook?

      1. I will also second “Convict Conditioning” – it gives you a set of exercises that condition the different parts of the body, then breaks them down into a series of difficulties so that anybody can start and move up as they progress. It is worth a look.
        Also worth checking out is “You are Your Own Gym” by Mark Lauren. Good bodyweight info there as well.

    1. Thanks, everyone, for the feedback so far! I’m so excited to have my story shared here. I got my bodyweight excercise ideas from various websites. We were living in Turkey at the time, and this was before my discovery of Mark’s Daily Apple. I put together the handful of exercises that I felt gave me the best “bang for the buck”. You can read more of a detailed description on my blog at I also recently got the book “You Are Your Own Gym” by Mark Lauren to use with personal training clients, as well as to challenge myself. It has some great ideas.

    2. Hi. I discovered bodyweight exercises before Mark’s Daily Apple, but basically the exercises are very similar. I found all of my ideas from various websites. You can see an outline of my favorites on my blog in the archives for the month of March. Also really love “You Are Your Own Gym” by Mark Lauren to shake things up a bit or to use with training clients.

  7. Wow Emily – thanks for sharing! You easily look 10 years younger (or more) in your before and after pictures. I loved the description of your journey to Primal eating…I had so many of the same reservations (and still face aghast family members) Thanks for reminding me I gotta keep up the bodyweight exercises too. Keep up the great work!

  8. That is fantastic Emily! Have you considered advertising your primal nutritional services via the Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation? (Formerly the Weston A. Price Foundation).

  9. I suppose I should look into it, after a rather discouraging foray into trying to work in mainstream health/fitness settings.

  10. Thanks Emily for writing and all your help! I feel nice and motivated!

  11. Awesome results from someone who absolutely had learned all that CW can offer, the biggest win here is the change in mindset once that happens the results are almost guaranteed. I’ve told friends of mine if you buy the primal blueprint and follow everything suggested you will have success, I see it every Friday. Congrats Emily!

  12. I thoroughly appreciate your spelling out how you were doing it all “right” before, how you were very methodical and dedicated, exactly what you were doing in the “before” life. Often, we hear about and see folks go from doing it wrong according to about any set of rules, and so of course primal with its elimination of sweets and move toward whole foods should work… it’s very important to have heard from you, working the CW program faithfully and rationally, and discovering how it is the problem.

    Your little boys are adorable!

  13. awesome post! i have to agree with her that after giving up gluten, i’ve never felt better. if only i could get some family members to realize this! i think it’d be great to have more paleo inspired nutritionists instead of continuing the low fat/low carb craze.

  14. Thanks for sharing your story, Emily! You look great!! It’s so good to hear that someone who has studied nutrition has switched over to primal and seen better results.

  15. Great story, thanks for sharing Emily!

    Your kiddos are cute, I love their facial expressions in your first pic!

    Best of luck in your new n’ improved field!

  16. Great story, Emily! You look so happy. It’s great to hear the transformation occurs even in those who have been “conventionally” trained for so long. Congrats for using your own powers of observation, deduction, and FEELING as opposed to blindly following CW. So awesome!!

  17. Great story, Emily. I am a Registered Dietitian working in Long Term Care. I eat mostly Primal at home, still make some non-primal stuff for my hubby and son, (mainly lunches)but feed them Primal stuff at suppers and son gets mostly Primal breakfasts. It’s alot harder to remain true to these principles in my work, but I encourage better choices whenever I can. I have been dreaming of someone opening a Crossfit gym in my small city, and I could be the “Paleo/Primal” consultant on site (plus get free gym membership, of course). I’m older and not as fit as you are now, but my history (always a bit overweight, bloated belly on grains, chronic cardio(half-marathons, in my case)) is almost identical. Great that you found your way early in life. Best of luck to you in your nutritional career!

  18. This is fantastic. I wish more nutrition professionals would come to this realization. I went to my first dietetics conference last semester (for school, not by choice) and I was amazed at how many overweight dietitians I saw. I have to say it’s the norm rather than the exception. Maybe you can help change their mind!

  19. Wonderful story! And thank you so much! I have always “worked out” and eaten less calories and a pound has not budged. I too got to the point this is just the way I am made and nothing is going to change that. I have only been eating Primal for a week and I am seeing results. This was a prompting from my son and his wife who are “Primal”. We winessed their results, wow, amazing. I feel better all the way around. I still love my workouts 2 a week which is strength training and my trainer is working with me to get me fit enough to start the primal sprinting. My trainer is so excited for my journey she is logging it all for me! Again thanks!

  20. Well Played my friend….Welcome to the story of FACT…I am always pleased to see someone in a new light…GEE its bright around you!!! GROK ALWAYS>>>

  21. Good job – glad things are working out for you

    awesome background on the 2nd pic- where was that taken- i want to hike there

  22. The best part is the before and after of your smile! You are so radiant and confident in that last photo.

  23. What a great story from a professional in the area of nutrition! Good for you for taking this to the masses through your work. Congrats on the weight loss and health gain!

  24. This is an excellent story. As we get more and more success stories, it continues to validate that going primal is not a fad. It’s a true working lifestyle!

  25. Thanks, everyone, for the kind words and encouragement! This is a great community! My story doesn’t mention that I am also teaching an intro to nutrition course at a local college – great way to push back on CW!

  26. Well done fine lady. Though I have to say it continues to disturb me that university education in nutrition is so far off the mark of what should be taught.
    It’s fantastic that you now have the tools (and the proof – in your own life!) to teach others what is real, and get the CW out of education for good (eventually).

    Brava 🙂

  27. Way to go Emily! Glad to hear you’re feeling and looking so good!

    Always nice to have a nutritionist in the Primal fold. Grok on!

  28. You may have another chapter to write in your story, Emily, when your husband gets on board!

    1. He’s already on board – has been for over a year – and feels fantastic. Also have gotten older son off of chronic asthma medications after a lifelong struggle.

  29. Thanks, Emily – what a great story! It would be great if you worked as a nutritionist with a primal twist! I am a speech therapist working in rehab/long-term care settings. I am horrified at the food plans many of the dieticians I work with put together for patients. People with swallowing issues are fed oatmeal, hot wheat cereal, mashed potatoes, and Mac/cheese. It is super processed and salty…low-salt diets usually involve taking away the salt packets. Then when the patients start exhibiting behavioral problems, they are given drugs to calm them down! I would love to see rehab/long-term care diets change for our elderly, sick people. I am going to continue to eat grain-free and primally so that I am not sick in a long-term care facility in my sunset years!

    1. Yes, it’s pretty appalling how people are fed in institutional settings. I love it when someone refers to a lower carb, whole-food way of eating as “dangerous” or “extreme” and meanwhile they are swallowing a handful of pills every day. I hope that things change, though based on my limited experience so far, there are many, many barriers up against that change. Great idea to keep doing what you’re doing to stay healthy and stay off meds – walk into any walmart, shopping center, or hospital and you’ll see the results of CW all around you. No thanks.

  30. Great story. Congratulations, Emily. Eating fat to lose weight seems counter intuitive, but then we’ve been told a lot of things (such as stay away from fat) by “experts” that are just looking to pad their pockets.

  31. Times are changeing.In order to survive the change we must change too. So to must the people.

  32. Great to hear,coming from a trained Nutritionist,traditionally that is, going by. The dogma……..d.g

  33. Great story. And congratulations. It’s almost refreshing to see someone with your background and education on nutrition being so honest about the conventional not working for them. Thanks for sharing.

  34. Hey, in that first picture with all four of you, you’re in my territory! Hahaha, welcome to Niagara Falls, NY. You should drop by some time again! 🙂

  35. Emily, In your reply where you said, “I am also teaching an intro to nutrition course at a local college.”
    It’s to bad you have to use their curriculum. I can see the way Mark’s books-Primal Blue Print & the 21 Day Total Body Transformation are set up as a text book read and would be good for a classroom setting.

    Margaret I’m from WNY to-Jamestown.

    1. I like to use the traditional text, because a lot of the information is good but slanted. I point out the slantedness and discuss the original papers, using it as an illustration of the importance of the scientific method and being a critical consumer. It makes a good object lesson. I recommend other books (like Mark’s) for side reading.

  36. I love that insanity quote because it is so true. I could never lose that last 20-25 lbs until I went primal. So I know where you are coming from. Great story and spread the word.

  37. My story is quite similar to yours and I am sometimes sad about my lost years. But that I will now face menopause and the second half of my life in such a strong and healthy state…I’m over the moon. Congrats to you and your family. It’s also wonderful that your children will have this example to follow in their adulthood.

  38. I enjoyed the fact that you were brave enough to overcome the sketpicism you may have had from your education and take up the primal lifestyle.

    When I was at college I used to have big arguments with my roommate who was studying nutrition.

    Rather than discuss facts she resorted to “I study nutrition so my opinion counts more than yours.” My retort was always “College doesn’t have a monopoly on knowledge.”

    I think it would be awesome if you could spread the primal word as a nutritionist. All the best.

  39. Just moved to Germany after 6 years in Ireland which is firmly in the grip of CW. Imagine my surprise when my local GP immediately told me about insulin resistance, the role of insulin in weight gain and the importance of reducing carbs drastically in order ro lose weight and reduce inflammation. It’s definitley moving into the main stram here, everyday I hear on the media: “Drop flour, rice, potatoes for better health”, just loving it!