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!!


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