Seven Years Primal: Healthier, Stronger, and Wiser Than Ever

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. In fact, I have a contest going right now. So if you have a story to share, no matter how big or how small,  you’ll be in the running to win a big prize. Read more here.

realifestories in lineToday’s story is an update (and compilation of lessons learned) from long time Primal veteran, Timothy. As you may know from past “Where Are They Now?” articles, I like to periodically check in with friends that have shared their success stories on Mark’s Daily Apple to see how they’re doing. Timothy’s transformation is an awesome one, and he’s maintained his improvements for years. So his words of wisdom come with a lot of clout.


“If youth but knew; if age but could.” – Henri Estienne

We don’t know what we don’t know. At 20 years old, I decided to live like a 100-year-old man given a second chance at youth. It changed nothing, of course, because we can’t simply decide to possess a lifetime of experience. I was at the mercy of Estienne’s paradox. But there is a way out.

Wisdom may be inaccessible to youth, but vitality is not inaccessible to age. That is the priceless gift of our primal lifestyle: the option both to retain our youthful capacities and to multiply them by the insight of our years; to live long in the true sense.

Now I am 40, and perhaps these comments addressed to my 33-year-old self might help you, too.

You’re not fat, you’re malnourished.

Well, yes, you could stand to lose a few pounds of fat, although much of what you think of as “fat” is actually chronic inflammation. But you could also stand to gain quite a few pounds of muscle, bone density, and organ tissue. The problem is that you’ve lived most of your life on a diet of empty calories and toxins and little else. You’re deficient in a staggering variety of vitamins, minerals, symbiotic bacteria and other growth factors. That’s why you’re still hungry even when your belly is about to burst. That’s why your moods turn black. That’s why you pack on more pounds every year even as you slowly starve to death. You won’t know satiety, health, or happiness until you repair your nutrient deficiencies, and that is going to take a long time and a lot of real human food. But it will take far less time to heal yourself than it took to drift into your present condition.

You think you enjoy fake foods, but this is nothing compared to real food.

Life without bread and sugar seems like a depressing, monochromatic wasteland of endless misery and want. You grant that these cravings may end, and that seems even worse: a door closed forever on the pleasures of the table. Your witty colleague says “I could never go on a diet—I love food too much!” You envy his gormless hedonism, but he has it exactly backwards. There will come a time when you will drink a raw liver shake with sour milk and shiver with pleasure. You will devour bone broth soup with beef heart from a giant cake mixing bowl and drink it to the last oleaginous drop. You will eat two pounds of bison with raw onion and garlic until your mouth burns and your body pours sweat and you will keep on going because it’s delicious and it makes you happier than all the fried ice creams you ever ate put together. The human palate working as designed is more amazing than you can currently imagine.

Two simple exercises will grant you Herculean strength: the squat and the deadlift.

You’ve messed around on the gym machines: the lat pulldown; the leg curl; the good-girl-bad-girl knee-separation apparatus. But these are instruments of profit, not health, and bear as much relationship to fitness as statins do to CoQ10-mediated mitochondrial metabolism (okay, maybe you’re not ready for that yet). Strength-building exercises are ancient and uncomplicated: heavy weight controlled by your entire body through space. Learn the barbell back squat and turn the tables on overpowering force. Learn the barbell deadlift and triumph from a position of strength. When you reliably dominate a certain weight, and no sooner, then you may add a few more pounds. There are a couple other lifts worth your time and I’m sure you’ll figure them out, but you will always come back to these basics, for which even a whole lifetime is insufficient to master.

Your ancestors carried stuff back and forth, and so should you.

Everyone around you is running on treadmills, running down streets, hither and thither, panting and flailing—if it worked we’d be a society of supermen. Slow down and pick something up. Carry water without spilling. Carry a heavy bag of stuff on your shoulders and learn to shift it so that as one set of muscles fatigue, another set takes over. Always keep your eyes up, your breath through your nose, and a quiet expression on your face. Discover the true meaning of posture and cadence the same way your ancestors did. Now you’re feeling the real endorphin response. This is what your body was made for: useful excursions provisioning the tribe, not running from fears real and imagined.

Your ancestors worked with tools, and so should you.

Now you are going to discover this by accident on the Internet in just a few days, and it seems a shame to spoil that for you, but I guess that’s what I’m here for. Your ancestors spent countless hours digging, chopping, paddling, hammering, club fighting, sword fighting, throwing spears—and you can simulate all that and much more with a simple sledgehammer! Start heavy, perhaps 12 pounds, because such ungainly weight will teach you principles of leverage, angular and linear momentum. You will learn to work efficiently, as your ancestors learned by necessity. Soon enough you’ll drill the gross motions into muscle memory, and then you can move to lighter weights and discover amazing finesse and precision. Eventually you’ll pick up a broadsword, just like your more recent ancestors, and you’ll learn the real meaning of finesse—but not yet, grasshopper. You haven’t earned it. Talk to me in seven years!

Testosterone is a hell of a drug.

You’ve been deficient in it your entire life. Your inability to grow a beard is not genetic. I’m sorry to say your serum levels are within the upper limit of normalcy for women. Your crippling social anxiety is not because you are a nerd per se, but because you lack the necessary hormones for confident social behavior. Now, you are going to have to be very careful with this. As with any hormone, prolonged deficiency leads to increased sensitivity. When you start eating like an alpha hunter, and training like an alpha hunter, the androgens will blow you away. Painting your face with your own blood during a deadlift workout may seem like a great idea, and it is pretty inspired, but perhaps not advisable in the company gym. Recognize your hormones and don’t let them master you. Indeed, by controlling your hormones, you control your reaction to events, which is as good as controlling reality itself, and true sorcery.

Your carriage will not turn into a pumpkin.

This will all happen so quickly that it will seem like a dream or a fantasy. And perhaps that is all life is anyway. But despite your nightmares to the contrary, you won’t wake up one day fat and sick and weak again. There is no going back. You have taken up the legacy of your ancestors, and forces far greater than yourself now carry you and your descendants into the future. You are a vessel in a mighty current. Just try it: make yourself fat again. Then lean again. Then fat again, then lean again. How many times have we done that now? A half dozen? Each time you only end up stronger, healthier and wiser. You can’t break yourself, you can only adapt and overcome. Now you are a human being.

before-after timothy


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74 thoughts on “Seven Years Primal: Healthier, Stronger, and Wiser Than Ever”

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  1. I love it, Timothy! Great advice there!

    Btw gardening is another way to get at the sledgehammer idea. Gardening seems tame (to non-gardeners, and even to me, every time) but even the smallest project always seems to involve digging, carrying heavy bags of soil, and more toil than one anticipates. One of the best things about it is that there is an immediate visual payoff, and a sense of accomplishment—not just for getting ones’ self a good workout, but something external as well.

    1. Thank you, Monikat! Yes to gardening! Our ancestors, even before agriculture, spent so much time digging — roots, grubs, water, who knows what else. “Shoveling dirt” was one of the first sledgehammer exercises I tried. It feels so natural and learning to shovel efficiently and with a rhythm is a fun challenge. But there’s nothing like working with real soil and living plants, is there?

    2. Yes – gardening on a hillside always makes my husband sore somewhere. Muscles he doesn’t normally use get fired up from squatting, bending, reaching, lugging, digging, etc. Hard work!

  2. Love it! Awesome transformation. Just the expression on your face says it all.

  3. Way to go, Timothy! You’re a great example for the rest of us.

  4. “You’re not going to turn into a pumpkin.” That encapsulates a fear that so many of us might have had at one point only to discover it isn’t true. Aging does NOT have to be the decline we expect it to be. Many of us have become healthier and happier over the years, not the opposite (as your example shows). Thanks for sharing!

    1. So true, Peter. Primal fitness seems at first too good to be true. It contradicts the conventional wisdom of age being a process of tragic decline. But as you said we have provided so many wonderful counterexamples. How much more fun to relish the future rather than long for the past!

    1. Rick, I hope you pick one up yourself! You won’t need any instructions — your own badass instincts will kick into overdrive!

      1. Do I need to pick up something to then in turn destroy with my sledgehammer??

  5. Incredible man, incredible. Keep going!
    P.S. I love the before pic…you’re face says it all.

    1. Thanks Kyle 🙂 carrying that much fat around is no fun! A bit like a weight vest you can’t take off. But when you burn it off primally, and with heavy lifting, you get to keep the underlying strength.

  6. You had me at Raw LIver Shake with Sour Milk….great story.

    1. For real, that is the most athletically powerful meal I’ve discovered since going primal. Protein shakes can’t hold a candle to it. Here’s my recipe. I started out gagging at the mere smell of liver but this way it tastes fantastic!

      .75-1.25 pounds raw grass-finished beef or bison liver
      One packet açaí pulp
      Some berries or fruit (raspberries seem to work best, strawberries also nice, figs too)
      Half quart kefir (or karnemelk, or yogurt)
      Bunch of sprouts (food for the probiotic bacteria)
      Add water to make drinkable

      Tastes best after super-intense workouts. One-stop shop for all your alpha-hunter nutritional needs! Get yours while raw liver is still legal 😉

      1. Thanks for sharing the recipe, I’ll have to try that eventually, probably with much less liver than you use, but some is better than none!

      2. Now I have an idea for the liver in my freezer that won’t make the whole house smell like liver. Thanks.

      3. I don’t think I could ever do the raw liver shake. But I am completely cool swallowing small chunks of raw liver with some lemon water in the morning. Gives me the most amazing energy. Vital Proteins makes a great grass fed liver capsule (definitely better than the others on the market) but I really like to do actual raw liver from time to time. And agree with you the whole aging thing just isn’t a thing anymore when you go primal. I just turned 50 and feel amazing.

      4. Update: I made a raw liver smoothie today after a tough workout with my 70lb kettlebell. I didn’t have kefir, but I did have coconut milk, blackberries, and liver. Used 3/4# of liver, half the can of coconut milk, and several large blackberries. I also used a dash of cinnamon and some cacao powder. I whipped it up in the blender and poured the result into a mason jar, not knowing what to expect. Instead of a furtive sip, I took a big gulp, thinking I’d slam it down before I could taste it. Totally not needed.
        It was better than I could have hoped, and I think I’ll eat all my ruminant liver this way from now on. Raw tastes so much better than cooked. The slight sweetness of liver really compliments the berries and the cinnamon, and the creaminess from the coconut milk made it absolutely delicious.

  7. Timothy, thanks for the great advise, it is real and true. As another long-term Primal follower and past SS writer, I can certainly relate to this post.

    1. Congrats Joe 🙂 I never would have thought this was possible except for the success stories that came before me. (Sterling Purdy, you’re the man!) Hopefully we can pass the torch to some new primalists just getting started!

  8. Awesome stuff, great write up. May I humbly suggest kettlebells as an added primal tool

    1. Kettlebells are a lot of fun. If I didn’t have my hammers they would be my next choice. Everyone knows the one-dimensional lifts, and these are great for strength, but three-dimensional swinging is a whole different game. Amazing for recovery and injury prevention. Neurologically, swinging graduates your cerebellum from algebra to calculus. An under-appreciated curriculum!

  9. Timothy, great stuff. I think you would be a great canditate for another Primal Published book. Very well written and concise. Grok on!

    1. Thank you so much 🙂 I have a lot of ideas and a couple of chapters, but this may take some time…

  10. Giving Sisson a run for his money as an inspirational health author! Powerful and eloquent with great humor also, and of course quite the transformation to show you walk the walk not just talk the talk.

    1. Thank you for the humbling praise! Mark’s writing not only convinced me to try primal, but made it blindingly obvious. Hopefully we can learn from his example and help many others claim their ancestors’ legacy 🙂

  11. Thanks for the inspiring read, Timothy! I think these stories of continued success are just as, if not more, important in motivating others as the original stories. I think we’ve all achieved weight loss and/or fitness success at one time or another. But most of the approaches out there fail. Hence, we gain all of the weight back. This is a real testimony to the long term effectiveness of being Primal.

    1. That is a really important point, Laura. When our motivation is just to look good or lose a few pounds, progress is hard to hold on to. But when our motivation is to explore the limits of our human legacy and build on our ancestors’ achievements, the fun never ends!

  12. Great point on the sledgehammer Timothy! – since I’ve gone Primal I think of yard work in a totally different light. A full day out in my woods trimming all the dead growth and battling the intrusive vines and thickets really gets my knuckles dragging…OOK OOK! 🙂

    1. Right on Jim! If you like trimming foliage, you’ll love carrying a club/hammer on your shoulder.

  13. Everyone, thank you for so many kind words! So glad if this gave you new primal ideas and encouragement. If you’re curious for more, you’re always welcome at the UrbanPrimalist web site, or on the YouTube channel of the same name. Of course I’m always available to correspond by email: Timothy at My greatest respect and happy thoughts to all my brothers and sisters 🙂

  14. One of the best success stories I’ve read. I’ve been on and off a primal diet for a couple years (old line of work didn’t leave a lot of spare time for home cooking), and managed to drop about 25 pounds. I’ve recently gone back to a primal diet, combined with a workout routine from Mark Laurens You Are Your Own Gym. 2 months into the primal diet, and one month info the workout routine, and I’m already seeing physical changes, and feeling a thousand times better. In the spring, I plan to get a license to chop down a bunch of trees, and add chopping firewood to the routine. I want to try your liver shake, but part of me is terrified!

    1. Well done, Steve! You know you’ve got it down when you look forward to chopping wood and eating good food. Totally understand about the liver. It took all these years to get over my fear of it and now I can’t live without it. Funny how it works 🙂

  15. Well, now you’ve done it. I have to go find something heavy and heave it into the air, then throw my head back and roar. My neighbors already think I’m weird.

    1. Letting go of what the neighbors think is a hard skill to develop, but well worth it. When they realize you’re doing it for fun, and not because you’re insane, most people are quite supportive! And it’s so liberating. I do all my grocery shopping wearing a kilt.

        1. Actually it is from Great value for a tailored kilt. I have one on the way from Utilikilt, but it was insanely expensive. You can also get kilts from “Damn Near Kilt ‘Em” on Amazon, but these are awfully tight on a squatter’s butt and thighs.

  16. Print this and stick on your refrigerator and look read everyday for the rest of your life!

  17. Timothy! Hammer-man! Missed you since the last PrimalCon. I am a human being too!

    – Gina

    1. Gina, great to hear from you! Missed you too. Also missing the PrimalCon hammer crew and our massed charges across the field. So epic! If we do it again there will be loads of new material 🙂

      1. It was an epic weekend! Maybe you can attend Paleo fx – thinking of going next year.

  18. That was by far the funniest success story ever written, and you can tell it was coming by that awesome before photo. Timothy you made my day, and your transformation is cracking

  19. Timothy: Tremendous advice. I also use splitting firewood with a maul, sledge, and wedges as a workout. I do it by hand, as apposed to using a log splitter just for the exercise aspect. I figure the workout is as primal as possible with the added benefit of heat for my family. Overhead swinging the maul then stacking the wood is an awesome day’s work and workout. I also refuse to get a riding tractor to mow my 2 acres of lawn for the same reason: just to keep the long movement into the routine. I get to take a 3 mile walk every time I mow the grass. There are many ways to utilize the primal fitness lessons while fitting in your day to day activities. It only takes an adjustment of perspective.

    1. Well stated Rene! When you think from an ancestral perspective, fun challenges are everywhere. You know from experience that chopping wood is more than just brute force: you need precision, efficiency, leverage, cadence, and these keep getting better year after year. We are amazing at adapting when we notice these fine distinctions.

  20. Wow, great story! Very funny and inspirational too. So true about being malnourished: primal food is just so delicious and makes you feel so much better.

    1. It’s so true! Many of us have been so malnourished for so long that we really don’t know what it’s like to be properly fed. Lacking vital nutrients means that the hunger never really ends as our bodies try in vain to get us to eat what we’re missing. This is still very underappreciated by the fitness community at large.

  21. Awesome! The before picture kind of irks me because he is clearly pushing out his stomach, which I find cheesy, but perhaps that’s what was intended? Still an inspirational article. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Glad you enjoyed! Not pushing out my stomach, just standing normally. Unfortunately that’s just the way bloated intestines and visceral fat overwhelm core muscles. Admittedly a bit of flex in the second pic though 😉

  22. Timothy, that was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read…I’m looking at my screen through tears. I’m going through a hard time right now and I realize how much this lifestyle is a godsend – for the strength of body, mind, and character that it instills in us. Eating like a human being has made me a better, more evolved person and I could never have made it through the trials God has put before me without this lifestyle (and my growing collection of kettlebells help as well).

    Among “regular” people I feel like an outsider – at work we have parties it seems every other week and I’m the weirdo who won’t eat the cake. I’ve even been accused of having an eating disorder.

    Your beautiful essay is a reminder to me to stay strong and to reach out and make friends who think like you and I do – it is rare to read something on the internet that you fully agree with and that moves you.

    I am asked for health and fitness advice all of the time (which then the person proceeds to not follow of course) but from now on when I am asked about the Paleo / Primal diet I will share this URL because you say it all – you went beyond the “eat like a caveman” magazine-cover garbage and distilled this lifestyle to the core. Thank you so very much. And thank you Mark for being our fearless, research-obsessed, handsome leader. Much Love, -K

    1. K, what a lovely response. So often we feel alone in respecting our human nature. Thank you for reminding me that we aren’t, even if those we live with every day misunderstand us.

      The most elusive element of primal life is the tribe. That community of like-minded family and friends, pursuing a common purpose, sharing each other’s victories and defeats, helping each other and being helped — all that was just as fundamental to our ancestors’ lives as their food and physicality. We need that just as much, but how can we find it? Sometimes we catch a glimpse of what it must have been like, or we feel that true sense of belonging for a few moments or days, only to lose it all again as modern life pulls us apart. That’s the sort of thing that brings tears to our eyes!

      I don’t have the answer to finding the tribe… maybe in another seven years. Or maybe it is something our children or grandchildren will discover. After all, our own lives are just one frame in an endless reel.

      But we can be sure that wherever we go, our ancestors go with us, and when we do our best to keep their traditions alive, we are not alone.

      Let the others think we have eating disorders, or that we’re fitness fanatics, or vain, or crazy. How could they think otherwise? They were born into this bizarre zoo just like we were. So let’s forgive them and never underestimate their human potential. If we could make the transition, so can they. Maybe they’ll even be in our tribe someday.

      I will never stop reaching out to them, by all means both open and sneaky. I hope you won’t either 🙂

  23. This is probably my favorite transformation post, it really hits home with me! Congrats Timothy! Would you mind sharing the liver shake recipe you used? As well as what steps made the biggest difference in testosterone for you? Keep being inspirational!

  24. I just stumbled on this article. What a great read, made and laugh and added to my enthusiasm to continue this lifestyle.

  25. I absolutely adore how this was written. So well done! I’m 3 years Paleo (I cannot tolerate dairy) and it’s completely changed my life. Can’t wait to see what the next 4 years bring. And EXCELLENT idea with the sledgehammer. I often marvel at what the guys and gals do at the ONit Academy (I think I’m spelling that incorrectly) and buying a sledgehammer is a much more fiscally reasonable tool to start playing with.