Skeptical Journalist Turned Primal Advocate

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-1-2A few weeks ago, I had a doctor appointment with a new primary care physician. As the nurse took my blood pressure, he asked a series of questions, marking off my answers on his clipboard. Do you exercise regularly? Yes. Do you get adequate sleep? Yes. Are you on a diet? I paused. If you want to call it that, sure. It’s called paleo. He looked up quizzically. You know, what people ate before agriculture. Before diabetes. Before Monsanto. Before sunscreen. It’s not really a diet—it’s just people food.

I didn’t always think this way.

During my freshman year of college, after I had already packed on 15 pounds, I decided vegetarianism sounded sexy. I had no idea what I was doing, but that didn’t stop me. It was more of an identity than anything, which made it much easier to sneak a grilled steak and charred peppers one evening while working as a camp counselor over the summer. It was one of the best meals of my life. That was until I joined some other counselors for a mountain biking trek over Lake Tahoe. After hours gasping for air at that elevation, we stripped to our underwear and bathed in the lake, dressed for dinner and collapsed into a booth overlooking the water. I ordered a burger. It must have weighed a pound. It was transcendent.

Unfortunately, I still kept up my vegetarian ways by day, which led to one of the worst summers of my life. Depression and anxiety were my constant companions. Psychosis would not be too strong a word. And, I was still fat. My diet was, admittedly, atrocious. I remember eating cinnamon rolls, brownies, dipped ice cream, and frozen pizza all summer, with a few iceberg lettuce salads tossed in for good measure.

After the summer, I came to my senses and acknowledged that I liked eating meat, so I dropped the act. My emotional health and weight improved somewhat.

Fast forward to my mid-20s. I had graduated with a degree in writing and married my college sweetheart. Anxiety and depression still haunted me. Medications had helped, but without health insurance, I was forced to approach it from a more holistic perspective. In desperation, I picked up a copy of Julia Ross’ book The Mood Cure at the health food store. In it, she advocates strongly for eating eggs, fish, meat, and other sources of protein and fat. She also identifies several “bad mood foods”—namely wheat, corn, sugar, soy, and industrial oils. (Sound familiar?) For the first time, I began to look with suspicion on wheat and dairy, though I didn’t remove either from my diet at the time. Nevertheless, I did notice a substantial improvement in my mental outlook by eating more protein and fat.

Emotionally, I felt better, but I still hung onto a few pounds from college and decided to tackle them the only way any child of the 80s knew how: step aerobics and cutting calories. I lost all of the weight and then some, but not without a substantial amount of insatiable hunger and dramatic mood swings. Just ask my husband.

Pamela at 29In my late 20s, I redirected my writing career toward health and fitness. I enrolled in a certification program to become a personal trainer. I hoped that in my study I would learn the secrets of weight loss and be able to convey this to others in my writing. However, the course material only proffered the conventional wisdom. Weight loss was a “calories in, calories out” equation. It had worked for me, sort of, so that’s what I went with.

I began taking clients shortly after earning my certification while I built my writing portfolio. I remember working with one woman who was desperate to lose weight. She was in her mid-50s and carried about 30 excess pounds around her midsection. I did everything I knew to help her. We trained as many as three days a week. She did interval training. She lifted weights. She stayed active between workouts. She kept a food diary and limited herself to a mere 1,300 calories a day. I was sure she would be successful. After a month, I took her measurements. They hadn’t budged. I felt like I had failed her. How could calorie restriction not work? It was science. Hadn’t her visceral fat ever heard of the law of thermodynamics?

Around that time, I began writing for LIVESTRONG on health and fitness. I continued to toe the line of conventional wisdom on healthy whole grains and calorie restriction. I even explored veganism and created a vegan food blog.

After a few years writing for various health publications, I landed a position as a health and fitness editor at a web startup in Southern California. It was my dream job.

As I packed up my apartment, I also picked up a book a friend had recommended, Good Calories, Bad Calories, by Gary Taubes. I devoured it. Mind blown. No wonder my client wasn’t losing weight. No wonder I felt so miserable restricting calories and trying to burn fat through chronic cardio!

I was given a significant amount of editorial freedom in my new job and pursued as many interviews and covered as much emerging research as I could, inviting my writers to do the same. In the course of the job, I began exploring the paleo diet. I was skeptical. Didn’t cavemen die before their 30th birthday? In an effort to confirm that this was all just a fad—that was certainly the opinion of nearly every other health publication—I sent an email to UCLA’s evolutionary biology department and requested an interview. They directed me to Aaron Blaisdell PhD, founder of the Ancestral Health Society.

10 year Wedding AnniversaryThe interview forever altered my perspective and led me down a new path of understanding human biology. One of the things he said that resonated with me was, “Nutritionists say you cannot cut out a whole food group. But, a food group is a human convention, not a natural thing.”

The idea of cutting out entire “food groups” had been disconcerting to me, but in my interaction with Professor Blaisdell, everything began to make sense.

And that clarity brought change.

I began by cutting out grains entirely (like most on this site, I had ditched gluten a few years earlier). Immediately, my energy levels skyrocketed. I was waking up eager to tackle the day. I also felt greater mental stability and peace. Throughout this initial period, I read many of Mark’s posts and slowly adapted my personal habits to those that would support my health. I began lifting much heavier weights. I found that building muscle is incredibly challenging; it certainly didn’t happen by accident.

Finally, I decided to give the Primal Blueprint 21-Day Challenge a try. Saying goodbye to half-and-half in my coffee was hard for a few days, but my palate adapted quickly. I saw an immediate and dramatic improvement in my skin. Previously, I had been a slave to full-coverage foundation and powder to cover blemishes and the consequent pigmentation. However, after ditching dairy, I soon skipped the powder and eventually switched to a tinted moisturizer alone. My skin just looked radiant—why hide it?

Saying goodbye to dairy also improved my gastrointestinal health—bloating and irregularity all but disappeared.

Initially, I was drawn to “paleo desserts” (an odd concept when you think about it), fruit, and nuts to fill the caloric void. My favorite snack was a paleo energy bar that combined dates, raisins, almonds, pecans, and dark chocolate and bound them together with almond butter and honey. Oh, it was good! Not surprisingly, I gained a couple pounds.

Pamela after PrimalBut, eventually, I took a serious look at the carbohydrate curve and planned ahead to make sure I was getting sufficient calories from meat and vegetables and healthy fats, such as avocado, coconut oil, and olive oil. That essentially eliminated my cravings for paleo sweets.

Although I didn’t approach primal living for weight loss, it has certainly improved my body composition. I have had two children via caesarian section and gained at least 30 pounds with each pregnancy. I think most women just expect that pregnancy relegates you to hang onto excess weight forever. It just isn’t true! The primal approach allows me to lead an active life, enjoy food, and feel good about my body. That said, I love that the primal approach is not about being less, it’s about more. More nutrients. More muscle. More life. That’s so attractive when most of the messaging to women is about being less—eating less and weighing less.

So here I am, nearly a year after my first honest look at the primal approach. I’m thrilled to say it is a sustainable way of life that I now share with everyone I can. And, my formerly vegan food blog is now devoted to scrumptious primal foods—you can visit me at PamelasModernFamilyTable.com.

Pamela

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52 thoughts on “Skeptical Journalist Turned Primal Advocate”

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  1. Nice real life story! I’m glad you get to live in So Cal, that’s where I long to live!
    It sure is a process for most of us. I hope you got in contact with your 50 year old client and let her know the “truth about food” so she can experience better health and weight.
    Thanks for sharing!

  2. And I just printed your Salmon Gremolata recipe, thanks for that. Looks wonderful.

  3. Awesome job! Very good insight as im on day 3 of the challenge and starting to feel more energy.

    Gonna beat this tough break up 🙂
    Cheers to all

  4. Great story Pamela! Happy for you! I read Julia Ross’ book in my early Paleo days, it’s a great motivator!

  5. Can you explain a little more about how you plan ahead to get sufficient calories from meat, veg, and fats? I wonder if I am getting enough in those departments, because I sure crave sweets.

    Thanks for the great article!

    1. Some people just crave sweets. Like some crave salt. Or meat. Particularly women I’ve noticed run a stronger sweet tooth then most men. Most of the women I know skew heavier towards carbs. I suspect it’s probably related to hormones and the fact women need to bear and feed children. I know that everyone will tell you that a Paleo diet will kill those sweet cravings but it’s not true for everyone. it does for me. Eating sweets for me just fuels the desire for more. Eliminating sweets eliminates the cravings. At some point, if the cravings don’t stop, you just need to accept it and just choose the best sweets you can.

  6. Great first paragraph. Knew it would be a good read. Congrats Pamela on your Primal journey. Just loved that funky thingy you are wearing in the first grilling pic.

  7. Thanks for the love, ya’ll!
    Julie, great question! First, I make sure I shop thoroughly with meals, especially dinner, planned out. Second, I don’t worry too much about being creative; I tend to eat very similar meals each day: eggs and bacon for breakfast, a “big ass salad” for lunch, and a piece of fish or meat for dinner with two sides of vegetables.
    Another thing that is helpful is preparing food immediately when I get home from the grocery store – peeling carrots for a quick snack, washing and chopping greens for a salad, and whisking together a homemade vinaigrette in a small jar to last for a few meals. Some “convenience foods” that are helpful to me are avocado and grass-fed beef jerky, which I buy at Trader Joe’s.

  8. I’m home with my first cold in 3 years (the only one I’ve had since going Primal!) feeling crappy. This story totally lifted my spirits! Can’t wait to look at your blog. Another great Friday, yea!

  9. Good for you Pamela and thanks for hammered another nail into the coffin of conventional wisdom (-:

  10. I changed thoughts in mid sentence and didn’t correct…. hammering (some sites provide a preview before hitting send – hint..hint)..it’s a 3rd language for me

  11. Wow reading your story is kind of bizarre- it is eerily similar to mine. I also had my life changed by the Mood Cure and Good Calories, Bad Calories following a mostly vegetarian time in my life which of course lead to out of control anxiety. I am so happy to see you glowing with health and spreading the good food news through your site. It’s also inspiring to see that having kids doesn’t mean losing your hot body 🙂 I’m hoping to share that experience as well, haha.

  12. Always great when the skeptics come around.

    Great job! Keep up the good work!

  13. Mucho Congrats!!! Also glad you left the beggie lifestyle. A good friend of ours would come and visit us about once a eyar and would have wheat grass green stuff for breakfast and carry all her veggies with her while we ate normal food.

    I however would devour my steak tartare in front of her and tell her that there has never been a vegetarian who has lived passed 100 years. Well lo and behold, after a few years she found MDA and finally gave up on vegetarian fare– and heartily endorses the primal lifestyle– even shard some staek with us on her last visit.

    Your story should be an inspiration to all who have swallowed the misinformation and obvious poor science of the standard food pyramid thinking!

  14. It’s funny that you mention living to 100, Dave. As a kid, I grew up watching the Today Show and its happy birthday messages to centenarians. Even then, it struck me as odd that someone credited his longevity to eating a whole egg for breakfast every morning, knowing it flew in the face of conventional wisdom.

  15. Well done, and thanks for the inspiration. Just about to start on a 21-day challenge myself.

    I got a LOT out of both The Diet Cure and The Mood Cure. Some supplementation advice that’s helped me a LOT!

  16. Great self-work Pamela!! I have a friend who is vegetarian and I wonder if I will be able to say enough about living primally that may get him to consider eating meat again. I think he said he has been vegetarian for 9 years.

  17. I constantly love reading stories of people who have tried other alternative ways of eating, and found them lacking. Then they research, find the paleo option, and can write eloquently about how fabulous they feel now they are eating great quality healthy food.

    Love your work Pamela! Setting a great example for those littlies of yours too!

  18. I see once again a demonization of dairy. Since going primal myself, I have had to depend on dairy for calories and to stay full. I love eating hard cheeses, cottage cheese, grass-fed butter, and heavy whipping cream every morning in my coffee. I lost the gas and bloating when I gave up grains and sugar. I don’t experience breakouts on my face or elsewhere. I also don’t have mucus thickening in my sinuses as a result. I also effortlessly lost about 7 pounds without even thinking about it. I went primal to augment the good health I already experience, and the desire to stay healthy as I age. I have heard people comment that humans are the only animals that drink another species milk, therefore we shouldn’t be doing it. Will someone tell me how other animals would be able to access another animal’s milk? I can’t see a female zebra freely giving up her milk to the male lion who decided it might be a tasty drink. Also, I am told most of the world’s population do not have the enzymes to metabolize dairy properly. Some populations did hang onto the enzymes and have no problem with it. Early man had to stay alive, and ate what he could find. I can’t see him being too picky if the choice between dairy and starvation was on the proverbial table. To me it was a clever adaptation to harvest another nutrient rich source of food. I just hope that anyone reading these posts don’t think they have to give up dairy if it is not causing problems.

    1. I’m with you on this, Tiff. I like mark’s description of ‘small quantities of high-quality dairy’. I just think people are so different in what their bodies can tolerate. I can’t overdo dairy but good quality cream (organic and/or speciality such as Cornish clotted) and cheese are a useful addition, particularly to my children’s diet. The only way I can think of that dairy would be available to people pre-agriculture is obscure: I read years ago that Kalahari bushmen highly valued eating the stomachs of young animals when they were full of milk.

    2. She didn’t demonize anything, just shared her experience.

      I love dairy as well, but when I ditched it completely I also experienced benefits. That said, I still have it in my diet from time to time.

  19. Pamela, I just loved your opening paragraph and your simple description of Primal as being “people food”….brought tears to my eyes. I have also had my success story published, so understand the search for knowledge and the truth. Good luck to you and your family.

  20. So well written!!!!…and so appreciated!!!!! Thank you for your encouragement. Your final photo is pure incentive! Bravo!!!!

  21. Wow I relate to this so much – experimenting with vegetarianism, fighting anxiety and depression for years, AND even seeking a career as a writer!

    I’m just beginning the journey (just finished reading the Diet Cure and it’s helping me stick with the PB). Looking forward to seeing what I might become one day.

  22. Doesn’t that ridiculous statement, “But you’re cutting out ENTIRE food groups”, usually accompanied by handwringing and a worried look, just make you see red? I get that every once in a while when someone notices that I don’t eat sweets or grains. My usual response: “Since when does junk that makes you fat and sick qualify as a food group?”

    1. Nothing wrong with cutting the Poison food group. Witness how hard it is to buy a bag of paint chips these days.

  23. awesome testimony –
    🙂
    favorite part:

    “I love that the primal approach is not about being less, it’s about more. More nutrients. More muscle. More life…”

    1. Thanks! One of the biggest ways this truth has impacted me is in my workouts. I used to spend most of my time trying to lose fat, thinking that I probably had some glorious muscles buried underneath. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a very life-giving approach. Now, I focus on lifting heavy things (ha, like my body weight) and not on losing that weight. From standing, now I can knock out about 10 chin ups! I feel so empowered by this approach.

      1. yeah and for me, I realized that even with studying health on and off – well in my mind I was so indoctrinated by the fat-free movement of the 1980’s – and even though I read things from ann-lousie and also just felt better when I had good fats – I was taught wrong early on and it still creeps in here and there when I am enjoying some things that “feel wrong” but are in fact giving me more vitality… or as you say it..
        “More nutrients. More muscle. More life…”
        🙂

  24. So well done Pamela! I am really only half-way good with my eating (but still with good results), your story is encouraging me to work harder and eat better.

    1. Thanks, Vanessa! I love that the Primal Blueprint isn’t about perfection or rules. For me, some days are better than others but feeling good is motivation enough to make better choices the next day. Good luck!

  25. Hi Pamela, I also tried veganism and lots of cardio (running) to lose weight, only to gain belly fat! Since going Paleo, I have stopped having PMS cramps and bloating. I couldn’t be happier!

  26. A nice read, but what concerns me is that, even before you knew much about exercise and nutrition, you were giving advice via Livestrong etc. No wonder millions still pursue pathetic and pointless regimes, only to feel failures. Pleased that you are now more experienced and able to proffer advice that is more sound.

  27. Wow some of these comments are way off topic.
    I think you look absolutley amazing. Loved your story. I look forward to every Friday’s success’ and yours is one of my favorite because I can realte to it so much. Thank you for sharing your typical day of eating. What do your workouts look like? And how often do you work out? You look so great!

    1. Hi Mishelle, Thanks for your kind words! My workouts are quick and dirty. I live near a park with a dirt path that I run around a few times a week at a slow, steady pace and then, if I’m well rested, throw in a few sprints. I also surf about once a week, more in the summer. Finally, I do pushups, squats, and chin ups and pull ups at the playground after running. I don’t think my workouts are ever much longer than 30 minutes.

  28. Love the story and the recipes. Unfortunately, the salmon we get here in the south of France comes from farms in Norway and they receive lots of antibiotics. We basically hardly eat fish anymore but we used to a lot. Fresh fish is too costly for our budget right now.
    I have started making kefir with raw milk (legal in France). It is amazing.

  29. Very inspiring story 🙂 I’ve experimented with being vegan (but I love my meat too much), whole foods, calorie counting. I don’t gain weight, but I don’t lose fat either. So I’ve struggled to find a way to lose the fat without losing weight. Then I found paleo, and shortly after, primal. It took me a long time to figure out that even though I could eat so much I was never hungry, and still be well under my calorie goal (not on purpose), I was eating the wrong kind of food. Grains, convenience foods, boxed food. Primal is perfect. I don’t have to give up meat, and I have no problem cutting out grains, and I don’t have to obsess over calories. I’m really intrigued that you’ve had two c-sections, and still managed to get rid of that pooch. I’ve had 3 c-sections, and it never goes away, so I’m excited to find out if it will. 🙂

  30. I know this story is from a while ago but i would love an update! Are you still primal??? Still looking crazy awesome?? Feeling good?