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 physical health has been pretty good most of my life—I had surgery to attempt to correct strabismus (my eye muscles don’t work well together) twice when I was an infant. I’ve had very few injuries and illnesses, thankfully. My MDA miracle is much more oriented on the mental and spiritual health level.
I was always very squirmy and full of energy, and my restlessness surely got me into some trouble growing up. Even as an adult sitting still was incredibly uncomfortable until 2011, when I began the Primal lifestyle. I was tested and given therapy and medicated as a child to try and address my behavior and imbalance, and came to believe I would be medicated for the rest of my life. In truth, I was grateful for the changes the medication brought about once we found an effective combination and dosage, though the experimenting was difficult.
Due to my eyesight and lack of depth perception, I generally consider sports that use balls as cruel. I didn’t engage in sports or stick with any extra-curricular activities until my junior year of high school when I joined the swim team, and though not as regularly or rigorously, I still swim today. Looking back, I believe that not having a good outlet for my excess energy contributed to some of my behavioral issues, but there was no lack of trying on my family’s part—it was just that nothing stuck until swimming.
I’ve always been tall with long legs and arms, though also quite clumsy. At my heaviest I weighed over 180 pounds. I used to sleep a solid 12 hours every weekend and I drank coffee to try to maintain energy levels throughout the day. I grew up on boxed macaroni and cheese, occasional canned veggies and wonder bread. I put on the all too common “freshman 15” at college, and then some. Once on my own, I began to eat healthier, though still subscribing to the SAD (primarily grains). I found cooking or working with fresh food to be intimidating and annoying, and so I mostly ate pre-packaged frozen food.
In 2010 at the age of 26, I began to make some real changes in my life. I decided to stop drinking and smoking, and I began taking a yoga class. I met my husband-to-be and we reveled in our Monte Cristo sandwiches and takeout pizzas. Brimming with delight and new love, we were carefree with our extra pounds, and though neither of us was entirely negligent of our health, we did not have any real focus or approach to improving it.
In the Fall of 2011, a friend called to tell us how she had found a new way of eating, and living, that had profoundly changed her life. She specifically mentioned that after transitioning, she had been able to cease taking medication for her mental health. She told us that it wasn’t a diet and it wasn’t focused on deprivation or counting calories. We were intrigued and decided to read about it. She sent us straight to MDA.
After cruising the blog for a day or two, I was hooked and ordered The Primal Blueprint. Together, my husband and I read and discussed it, and agreed to give it a try. We cleaned out our pantry together and began preparing for our carb-flu, our stomachs anxious at the thought of letting go of staples like bread and cereal.
Learning this whole new way of identifying with food somehow opened me up to try cooking, and we began purchasing fresh food and even found a local farm for grass-fed organic meat. For the first few months I made “breakfast bars” from nuts, berries and shredded coconut to help wean us off our expected grain-filled breakfasts, and we slowly introduced more eggs and Primal fare. We began shopping at our local farmer’s market weekly as well. The online community had so many great recipes to choose from, and we had a lot of great successes! We found new things we didn’t know we’d ever like, and a few that we are still not overly fond of.
In the beginning, I tracked my carb intake to help learn about the content of what I was eating. I was so surprised at how many things were sweetened! We did indeed have the carb flu, though we persevered. I had some issues with migraines and my doctor advised me to try to cut back on caffeine, so I stopped drinking coffee.
Within a month we saw results. I began to wake up earlier and earlier on weekends, no longer taking my expected 12 hour rests. Our energy was more consistent throughout the day. We focused on the little things with exercise—walking more, parking farther away, and I committed to yoga and swimming sessions. I have dabbled in the Primal Fitness programs- sprinting and doing isometric exercises, though they have not been a consistent part of my story. I also have a standing desk at work that allows me to alternate between standing and sitting during the day. Often I eat lunch outside in the sunshine and breeze.
In our first months of transitioning, inches began to melt away and we found great happiness and satisfaction with our food. At my leanest I was down to 155 pounds, and my husband was down from over 200, to 180. We experienced a shift in our tastes as we were consistent with our minimizing of sugar and grains. Very dark chocolate (85%+) and berries were plenty sweet, though admittedly we did a lot more “primal baking” in the beginning than we do now! We began to find the art of eating out and eating while traveling. We found what restaurants we can frequent easily and bought a dehydrator making our own unsweetened dried fruit and beef jerky.
My absolute favorite change we went through is that my husband’s snoring decreased dramatically!
As far as what didn’t work, I would say the Primal Fitness program. I have found my own balance of moving slowly and often—walking, taking the stairs, tightening my abs randomly, and swimming and yoga. The sprinting and lifting heavy things just don’t come into play as often. I garden and have a saltwater fish tank that involves hauling 30 lb jugs of water every couple weeks, but I never bought weights or any of that. If I was unhappy with my strength or muscles, I would try harder to incorporate these things.
To be honest, I don’t think I could have succeeded it if I lived with someone who kept bread and cereal and cookies and chips in the house. When we have easy snacks like coconut flakes and yogurt, I always eat those first. Having a clean fridge and pantry enforces my clean eating. When my husband brings home gluten-free bread, I have him stash it where I can’t see it so that I forget it is there and am not tempted.
Potatoes/starchy veggies are often controversial in the Paleoshpere. We eat yellow and orange sweet potatoes (or yams, or whatever) occasionally and even a bit of chicken fried rice here and there. We try to stay aware and balance our intake, and stay conscious of getting those hearty greens daily.
We told our family and friends about our journey, and I even gave out a mini-cookbook of my favorite recipes for Christmas. We converted a few friends who have their own marvelous success stories. Over the years we have found a great balance where we can observe our own swings where we push the 80/20 rule too hard and need to “reset.” The more we stray, the more we crave. We have learned that if we want pancakes, we go share a big pancake. If we want cheesecake, we go have a slice of cheesecake (make it great quality!), rather than trying to make Primal versions of these things. We keep our treats spread out when we can, and I have definitely had my share of sugar hangovers (usually holidays or traveling) when I wake up groggy and headachy and crave sugar with a vengeance for a few days.
Our weight and size have fluctuated some, though we have never owned a scale. We can keep a pretty good eye on how we feel and how our bodies are responding. I’ve not gotten above 175 since going Primal and I usually sit around 165. My blood work continues to show very low risk for coronary issues though it reports both my good and bad cholesterol are high, but there is plenty of information out there about interpreting cholesterol results! I used to worry about too much fruit, but I’ve seen that a banana and an apple every day is just fine for my body. I am also fortunate that dairy has not been an issue with me, so I enjoy the delights of milk and cheese regularly as well.
We only shop at health food stores these days. Between farmer’s markets and CSA’s, we just can’t find the quality of food we want at traditional grocery stores. Of course it is more expensive, but it is an investment to our health, and we consider it well worth the cost. We generally follow the dirty dozen for what produce we buy organic, and we are careful with the food we grow (using peppermint castile soap mist for pesticides, etc).
Another noticeable change was how often (or how rarely, I should say) I get sick. I used to catch a cold or cough a few times a year, and now it isn’t uncommon to go a year without anything at all.
After a solid year of living Primal, I decided to take the plunge and spoke to my doctor about eliminating the anti-anxiety medication that I had been on for 13 years. I weaned off slowly, and found to my delight that with exercise, sleep, play and healthy fuel for my body, my mind was able to maintain a chemical balance. This was a great relief, and I believe it to be a powerful testament to living a new lifestyle. What started as a pantry clean out has become daily habits and redefined approaches, outlooks and overall attitudes. The heart of my success isn’t about before and after photos that blow you away, or my waistline, or how much I can bench press. The heart of my story is about my health—mentally, spiritually, emotionally and physically.
The Primal lifestyle is about so much more than how you look and what you eat. I brought play into my life and gave it high priority. I go on barefoot hikes and walks, I bask in the sun, I do yoga and meditation daily. I’ve even become a certified yoga instructor. I eliminated toxins (including toxic relationships) from my life. I have been shamphree since 2011 (I use the baking soda and ACV method), and we use Dr Bronner’s soap for all but the greasiest of dishes. I make my own deodorant with coconut oil, and we use soap nut concentrate for our laundry. We buy toothpaste with little or no sweetener. We try to use microfiber cloths and eco-friendly cleaning products as well. I began wearing minimalist shoes when I went Primal, and have had great success with that (though I’ve yet to buy my first pair of toe-shoes!). We also transitioned our pets to a paleo diet, and they both happily live on high quality grain-free food. We cut down on waste and paper products through such practices as using cloth napkins and reducing our use of paper towels. Even our wedding did not have cake or alcohol, instead, we served homemade mulled apple cider and chocolates crafted by my father.
We bought our first home a year ago, and the first thing we did was turn off the sprinklers so we could replace the grass. I am more in tune with nature, and I know how healing it is. Primal living (as well as some of my upbringing) taught me to love the earth under my feet and the sun and breeze, and I wanted to make our outdoor space sustainable and enjoyable. We tore out that grass by hand and xeriscaped it with drip irrigation. We put a patio in the back for lounging and garden beds for organic vegetables. We have a compost bin and hope to get some chickens someday!
Living Primal encouraged me to be more prepared and self-sufficient. I wish there were boy-scouts for adults where we could learn first aid and wilderness survival skills. Regardless, I now have 72 hour emergency kits for travel and hiking, as well as packs in the house and each car with the standard provisions, and I stay CPR certified. I made a bucket list a while back and backpacking and horse riding were on it, and I am fortunate enough that last year I went on a pack-trip in the Sierras with a dear friend and some of her fabulous mules and horses. We slept under the stars, skinny dipped in a mountain lake, and cooked tri-tip over the fire.
Every now and then my husband or I have that nostalgic curiosity about something like a Dr Pepper, but it is usually repulsive to our current tastes. On the other hand, we have had chicken and waffles or red velvet cake that was truly decadent. A general rule that has helped me with my previously insatiable desire for sweets, is that I can reach the top of the satisfaction bell-curve with a shot glass sized portion of any sweets. Does more than that still taste good? Of course! But is usually is accompanied by consequences such as discomfort, guilt or that dreaded sugar hangover. Without juice, soda or alcohol, I’ve found great variety and satisfaction with sparkling water and tea. We’ve even put a dash of cherry balsamic in our sparkling water beyond just the standard lime wedge.
TMI Detail: One of the most obvious and profound things we noticed when we switched our dog’s food was the consistency, color and quantity of his waste. I know this is TMI, but when we lived in an apartment with a little cement patio, all potties were done on walks, and so it was easy to notice this. It can similarly be observed for us as well—when we eat crappy, we crap crappy and can often experience indigestion, bloating and gas.
TMI Detail #2: Being Primal encouraged me to be more in touch with my body. I read a book on fertility (not out of any interest in pregnancy, but as referred by a friend) and I learned so much about my own body that I was never taught before (basal temp shifts during ovulation and menstruation, cervical position and fluid changes, etc). This more intimate knowledge of how my own body works allows me to feel less threatened or fearful when I experience changes. Health isn’t only about the doctor saying you are good to go, but about knowing your OWN body and being able to identify what being healthy FEELS like to YOU.
Lessons learned/tips: If you have any challenges—mental or physical—I recommend eating clean for 30 days (Whole30 or strict paleo). Cut out all those common offenders like gluten, grains, sugar and dairy and see what changes you experience. Yes it will be challenging, but it is worth it. You can introduce them back one at a time and potentially find a solution to what was previously thought of as a “chronic” issue! Why wait? Don’t let fear hold you back – feeling good is worth it!
Snacking: I often crave crunchy snacks, and I’ve found dehydrated zucchini chips, carrots and celery or raw almonds to do well for this.
Hunger: If I don’t want an egg or some turkey (protein or veggies), then I am probably not actually hungry. I try to have some tea instead. Eating Primal doesn’t always address the AMOUNT I eat—“I can have as much meat and veggies as I want!” she says, holding an aching stomach. I am working to be more aware of WHY I eat—is it boredom, comfort, habit?
Fast Food: Sometimes I need to eat out on a tight schedule. I have found Chipotle (burrito bowl with no rice) and In-N-Out protein style burgers (skip the fries) to be my go-to fast food places.
Traveling: Most of the time I can find a place along the way with salads or sandwiches I can take apart. For hotels, I seek those with hot breakfasts so that they will at least have eggs. I bring meat bars (as opposed to nut and date bars, as those are more of a dessert for me). Nuts also travel well. Most hotels will provide a mini-fridge if you request it for medical purposes as well.
Eating Out: Be fearless. Say “No thank you” when they bring that basket of bread. Swap veggies for fries. You are paying to be fed, so get what you want. You can always express your gratitude with your tip!
Pro-tip for Shamphree Travelers: Carrying a bag of white powder and a bottle of urine colored substance can be very suspicious. Even labeling them “baking soda and apple cider vinegar” might seem off, so often when I fly I just use hotel shampoo and conditioner!
Sleep: I now have a white noise machine, an eye mask and earplugs. I get in bed earlier and allow myself to transition to sleep. I’ve never suffered from insomnia or difficulty sleeping (I am just a very light sleeper), but I have been known to get lost in the rabbit holes of my digital devices before bed, so I try to put it down and turn off the lights at a good time!
Costco: We get some great stuff from Costco – coconut oil, organic ground beef, sliced almonds, organic chicken, almond butter and more!
Favorite Recipes: Coconut milk pops (1 can of pumpkin puree, 1 can of coconut milk and cacao nibs in a popsicle mold). Stovetop carnitas and bacon pecan Brussels sprouts. Runner up—beef stuffed butternut squash.
It’s been about five years now and I am still going strong, though my husband was varied and has dabbled in pescetarianism and ended up generally following the Mediterranean diet (through no failure of Primal—instead it was a decision based on ethical preferences). I have some staples that I eat regularly and some favorite recipes that I rotate around. I like to cook big and freeze individual portions for later meals. I usually do a Big Ass Salad for lunch and we keep 90% Lindt chocolate stocked at all times. I like frozen berries with cream and cacao nibs for a treat. Frozen banana slices are big hit as well. I feel balanced and healthier than I ever did before. I feel strong and capable, confident and full of energy. I no longer consider myself clumsy, and my overall happiness and satisfaction with life is fantastic. I face life’s challenges with optimism, though that isn’t to say I never break down or have a hard time.