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 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.
In 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.
The 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.
But, 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.