From Surviving to Thriving: Power Couple Becomes Primal Team

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-1-2Primal eating happened by accident for my husband Pat and I. Although Pat and I took very different routes, and studied different research for different reasons, we’ve both found success with primal eating.

Our History

Once a vegetarian, Pat was a carb and sugar lover. He was a typical Scottish man that enjoyed his meal of carbs with carbs and a side of carbs. Macaroni and cheese with chips? Lasagna with chips? Definitely! When he was a teenager, Pat was an extremely active mountain bike cross-country racer. Like some of the Tour de France cyclists you see, he was skinny everywhere except his quads and glutes. The knowledge that carbs were vital for his racing and success were imparted to him early. As a teenager, he could easily eat an entire loaf of white bread in a sitting. As an adult, he could devour an entire Marks and Spencer Chocolate Swiss Roll in one go, eating it as though it were a candy bar. But Pat had many issues that plagued him: as a child, he was epileptic; he’s had bouts of depression; he deals with Seasonal Affective Disorder; he enjoyed his alcohol. He also had many food intolerances, which often left him with upset stomachs, and the results of these stomach aches, if you know what I mean.

Pat is also a landscape gardener, but would come home and have a nap every day after work due to his laborious job. If he didn’t take a nap, he would be in bed usually before 9 because he was so tired from the day. Finally, when Pat was hungry, watch out! He used to get pretty serious hanger, and wasn’t pleasant to be around.

As for me, I was of the mentality that as long as I was physically active, I could eat whatever I wanted because as a teenager, it worked. I played community and elite softball growing up, played on several sports teams at my high school, and dabbled with Olympic weightlifting in my 20’s. Over the course of my 20’s, my weight fluctuated as a result of periods of inactivity, coupled with this eat-whatever-you-want mentality. When Pat and I got engaged, I wanted to lose weight for our wedding, so I started running. And it worked. I lost the weight while still eating whatever I wanted, which included Pepsi on a daily basis, baked treats, gummy candies and French fries as treats. This on top of Conventional Wisdom’s healthy eating.

P and D weddingIn the years after our wedding, however, the weight started to pile on again. I was still running, and I admit to often baking treats to have in the house, as well as continuing to drink Pepsi, on top of eating 5-6 small meals a day. While I thought I was doing the right thing, I now know I wasn’t. I dealt with cravings often, the late afternoon blahs, brain fog, tension headaches at the end of a work day, frequent hunger, and would often have a sweet after taste in my mouth after a meal. I thought these were all just facts of adult life, and because I was now in my 30’s, my metabolism was slowing down. On top of that, I had a bad case of eczema on my right middle finger that just wouldn’t go away, no matter what cream or supplement I used. I’d reached 80 kg, the heaviest I’d ever been in my entire life, and this was after training for and running my first half marathon. What was I doing wrong??!?!?

aviemore half 2

Our early attempts

In the past, Pat’s solution to some of his emotional issues included escaping the dark, dreary Scottish winters for the warmer, sunnier climes of India and Israel, where his guts would suffer from the daily ingestion of daal made with lentils, or humus made with chickpeas. He sought the advice of his doctor, who suggested trying a SAD lamp, but was reluctant to prescribe medication. Once I was in Pat’s life, going away for three months a year was no longer an option. Two years ago, to start 2013 in the right direction, Pat took the first step in taking his emotional health into his own hands. He began daily 30 minute sessions of yoga, and joined the gym to “push weights” as he described it. He cut out alcohol, knowing it just masked any problems he had. He started looking into nutrition, albeit from body building websites and magazines. It was a start.

I wanted to lose weight, but I didn’t want to be deprived or resort to counting calories, which I thought was a last resort. One of my goals for 2014 was to learn more about food and what it could do for us, as I wanted to adopt a more whole food approach to my cooking. Our meals usually consisted of meat and vegetables, but we’d also have perhaps pasta, bread or sugary condiments on top of this. We also continued to indulge in sugary treats often.

I used to think I cooked us healthy meals, using whole-wheat pasta, vegetable oils, no other fats, lean meats, etc., but there was clearly something wrong with what I was making if both of us struggled with either emotional or weight issues. In February 2014, I reached out to a nutrition blogger I follow, and she suggested reading the work of a ketogenic diet expert. Which I did, and devoured it because I recognised myself in much of what was written.

Bumps in the Road

While I was pursuing ketogenic eating, Pat had also started his own research into ridding himself of depression without resorting to medication. Without knowing it at the time, both of us had come to the same conclusion: sugar and grain-based and processed carbs were bad.

Now you’d think everything would fall in line and would be smooth sailing because we’d reached a mutual conclusion. It wasn’t. Pat was very hesitant about the keto diet, but would still eat the meals I cooked because they were delicious. He still stuck to eating rye bread at lunch, and high fruit consumption. My husband learned most of his nutrition from body-building websites, most of which advocated eating lots, eating often and eating no fat. Pat wasn’t falling for keto. We had debates every now and again, about whose ‘diet’ was healthier, whose perception of eating healthy was better, with the basic intent of trying to change the other’s mind. This wasn’t at all working, and made the two of us more resentful to the other.

I had embarked on my keto journey just as I started training for my second half marathon. As my journey progressed, the weight started to fall off! But my muscles became void of glycogen due to extremely low carb consumption, which made threshold runs and hill sprints difficult. My legs felt heavy all the time! The only runs I could do were long slow ones. I patiently waited for ketosis to begin.

I don’t actually know if it ever did start, but after a very poor showing at a 10 km race I realised ketogenic eating + running fast wasn’t going to work. The night after the race, I gave in and had some rice, and had to rethink my approach to running fast but still grain-free and sugar-free.

Enter Mark’s Daily Apple

It was some time at this point that I found Mark’s Daily Apple. I had known about it for some time, but was too caught up in other’s versions of low-carb, high-fat eating to take any notice. But once I did, I couldn’t get enough. I signed up for Mark’s newsletter immediately, and bought, then quickly devoured, The Primal Blueprint. I also started following Primal Blueprint Fitness.

Pat started slowly coming around to primal eating. It helped that all the foods we ate on a daily basis were absolutely delicious; it also helped that Pat has a more sensitive gut than I do, and would still often deal with upset stomachs and whatever resulted from them, as a result of his previous chosen diet. He also knew that if he changed his diet, he could rid himself of his depression. What finally sold Pat on primal eating was when I showed him a photo of Mark Sisson, topless. He was in. If I knew it was that simple, I would’ve done it earlier!

I kid by the way.

So Pat and I became a primal team. We jumped into weekly meal prep together, sharing the responsibility of making our food for the week, together. I make a quiche, some kind of dish with ground beef, and fatty nut clusters (or Nutter Bombs as I call them). Pat makes a curry, using homemade paste, and our Fat Bombs, basically a more adult, fattier version of a peanut butter cup. And so much better too! This is our weekly routine, and takes precedent over everything else. We both work full time, on top of training for races and staying physically active, but we also want to eat real food every day. It’s time well spent.


food 2

We are also each other’s training partner, and spend our weekends doing a long run, sometimes on the trails and hills of rural Scotland where we live. We downhill ski together, go for walks together, but also do our own things for physical activity, including various PBF-approved body weight exercises. Pat and I do all of this not in the pursuit of fitness, body fat loss and improved musculature, but instead because we know that our bodies are up for the challenge, will respond to it, and will recover quickly from it.

Pat triathlon2

D and P Italian alps

10km finish

Primal for the Win!

Today, Pat and I are totally different people, inside and out.

While Pat’s weight hasn’t changed much, his overall body composition has. He has lost body fat and gained muscle mass, and there is a noticeable change in the way he looks. He’s buff! Pat is active five days a week, either running, swimming, cycling, or lifting weights. This is all done AFTER a hard day’s work. He has competed in many triathlons, often dominating on the bike section. He ran his first marathon in September 2014. He enjoys playing in the North Sea on his surfboard, or my paddleboard. More importantly, however, his emotional issues are gone, and he is happy all the time. Pat no longer deals with any gastrointestinal issues because we no longer eat the foods that hurt his guts. I know Pat has changed for the better, through his own doing, because he told me a few weeks ago “I don’t want winter to end!” – a far cry from where he used to be two years ago.

Pat before and after

As for me, I’ve lost 11 kg altogether. My body fat percentage went from 34% to 23%. Before my low-carb journey began, I had the metabolism of a 49 year old; now I’ve got the metabolism of a 23 year old, twelve years younger than my chronological age of 35! My fitness has improved significantly, and I’ve broken every personal best I have in running by minutes, aside from the half marathon (because I just haven’t run a half marathon for a while). I’ve built muscle and can do pistol squats and push ups – When I started PBF, I couldn’t do a single normal push up! I even celebrated my 35th birthday this year with 35 push ups, resting in plank when needed. I also just feel better and like I have limitless energy. My cravings have disappeared, and my mental capacity has increased. I teach teenagers with severe emotional and/or behavioural needs, and I feel my ability to handle the stresses of this job has improved as well. Finally, my eczema has disappeared.

Danielle before and after running

As you can see, both of us have benefited from primal eating in many ways, and our own way. We’ve also learned so much about our bodies in the process.

Pat is competing in his first half Ironman this summer, and has ambitions of eventually doing an Ironman – I know, chronic cardio!

I write about my primal journey, sharing what I’ve learned and recipes I’ve created over at my blog Eat Primal, Run Hard. I plan to become a Primal Blueprint Expert, and start my own nutritional consulting and catering business. I want to spread the primal word to Scotland!

Looking back, Pat and I were surviving; now, we’re thriving. Thanks, Mark!

Danielle and Pat

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79 thoughts on “From Surviving to Thriving: Power Couple Becomes Primal Team”

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  1. You guys are an awesome pair! My husband and i keep talking about cooking together. Your post is just the thing to get us going. I hope you have some meal ideas on your blog! Thanks

  2. Goosebumps! Awesome! Well done!

    Enjoy the new Us both the inside and out and continue to spread the word.

    The next best thing to transforming yourself and spouse and close family is helping as many others around you to transform as have open minds.

    Love the Fridays.

    1. Thank you! And thanks for your kind words.

      Having an open mind is the most important – I think the first initial steps to going primal are changing the way you think, which too many people find difficult.

  3. This story is awesome!!! I have been trying to get my girlfriend to go primal and start cooking with primal meals with me! Early attempts have failed but I’ll for sure send this to her! Congrats to both of you and wishing you two continued success!

    1. Oh god… Good luck converting GF lol. That’s akin to convincing religious extremists that all people in the world deserve respect

    2. Thank you! I tried to convert Pat early on, but as you read, he was resistent. I finally just learned to drop it and if he wanted to do it, he would come around himself. And he did when I stopped pressuring him.

  4. Great story! Love the kilt!! The food photos look awesome. What did you put on the fruit? It looks great and maybe you would share the recipe.

    1. Thank you! Standard wedding clothing for men here 🙂

      I always crumble a Nutter Bomb on top of my fruit and coconut cream – you can find the recipe to these on my blog, on the page ‘Primal Recipes.’ The title is something like ‘Recipe Redo – Nutter Bombs.’

  5. Great story. You really expressed the importance of teamwork. Those of us that suffer from PRSS(primal resistant spouse syndrome) suffer to achieve our goals. It seems your eventual collaboration was the key to your success.

  6. Love this success story! It has it all. Congratulations to both of you! Wish you both continued success on your primal journey and life.

  7. Haha, looking at Mark’s pics shirtless was the key that convinced my husband too! That’s how he wanna look like at the same age. We also cook our primal meals together.
    Great story!

  8. HI- I am so inspired and impressed with your journey back to health and wellness! I am fairly primal about 80 -90% of the time and realize I need to up my fitness level. Thanks for sharing, and your food pics look so delicious I’m heading over right now to your blog!

    To your continued health and wellness success,

  9. Wonderful story, congrats Danielle!

    I wish I could get my wife to buy in to primal eating. Over time, I have convinced her to ditch things like low-fat dairy and ease up on the bread, etc, but she is probably similar weight and body fat as the “before” description of Danielle. I think part of the problem is that she’s a picky eater when it comes to meat (white-meat chicken type of person). But if she modified just a few things in her diet, I know she’d drop 15-20 pounds, feel better and have more energy.

    1. Thank you Chris! I can relate to seeing someone I care about deal with diet-related issues and thinking “If they just ditched this, ate this, and tried this they would have success.” I know for myself, although I’m not as picky an eater as I used to be growing up, my tastes have definitely changed since going primal. As well, I now see the importance of eating certain foods, like sauerkraut, even if I’m not crazy about the taste of it.

      Presumably you do make primal meals with chicken at home? Who does most of the cooking?

      1. Yeah, I do most of the cooking so I try to make primal chicken meals when she’s up for it. It’s just hard given that she’s not a big meat eater, and I can only sell her on a chicken meal three times per week max. She has made little bits of progress over the years, but nothing drastic.

  10. Great success story! Would love to see your recipes for Nutter bombs and fat bombs!

  11. What a fantastic tell of transformation; I can also tell from your writing how much you love each other. Thumbs up!

    I live where supposedly you can get the best Hummus (warm and hand grounded in front of you, with a good dose of Tahina and freshly pressed extra virgin olive oil); and yet, I went from eating it twice a week to once a year and I don’t miss it a bit.

    1. Thank you! It’s so interesting how the foods we think we’ll miss don’t have much of an effect on us when we’re completely primal. I make us a tahini dressing, which is basically all the ingredients for humus minus the chickpeas. Pat loves it.

  12. I love starting my Friday’s by reading MDA! Very, very inspiring.

  13. Danielle, I visited your blog and everything looks amazing. And off course the Nutter Bombs which has all my favorite items mixed together (I’ll probably toss in some Macadamia nuts). Thanks!

  14. Lovely! Have you thought about introducing Primal (or at least healthier) eating concepts to the teenagers you teach, Danielle?

    I know food intolerances and general trashy diets can be linked to sub-clinical mental health problems, and often people who find daily life a struggle for other reasons don’t then make the healthiest food choices, which ends up doubling the problem.

    I’m guessing it would be an uphill battle and wondered if it’s something you’ve looked into?

    1. Thank you!

      This is definitely something I have thought about in-depth with regards to my students, and I know it would definitely benefit them. I work in a residential school setting, where my students are placed with us by their local form of government. Because we’re dealing with essentially the government, it becomes incredibly difficult. And, because primal goes against conventional healthy eating, despite it’s many health advantages, it won’t catch on. We have a doctor and nurse that works regularly with the kids, and they advocate SAD. It would require a massive culture shift, and months, if not years, of policies. I’ve been asked to contribute ideas and recipes to the meals the kids are given, but onlly because I’m a good cook, not because they’re primal.

      Instead, I set a good example for my students and answer questions when they ask about my diet. I also will make primal treats for bake sales, for the kids to try.

  15. Great story. I’m the only one who is paleo/primal in our household. The hubby recently switched (pretty much) from sweets to fruit and lost quite a bit of weight. I consider that a major victory. My son eats too many grain products but he also walks almost everywhere he goes, often 5 miles a day every day. That seems to burn it off as energy, so maybe it isn’t such a bad thing.

  16. I was nearly in tears reading this (that sounds very OTT) but I’ve been reading MDA for a long time and have never quite felt like I was reading my own story. I am busy, fit, do a lot of exercise and yet find myself still overweight. My eczema won’t clear up and I know that all of this is to do with my diet, and my diet alone. Thanks for sharing your story 🙂

    1. Wow, thank you for your comment. It really means a lot.

      The food we eat is THE major factor in how we look, and how we feel. I also wonder, diet aside, if your life + exercise is quite stressful? Which is also contributing to your weight? Do you do Primal Blueprint Fitness?

  17. Danielle, Congrats to you and Pat on changing your diets and improving your fitness! My husband and I train for triathlons and weight train regularly, but I struggle to be low carb and maintain energy for long runs/bike rides/swims. I am not doing anything over 90 minutes (except for the occasional half marathon), but I wondered if you could share what your sweet spot is for carb consumption? Do you eat sweet potatoes and fruit around exercise times? Do you aim for a certain number of carbs per day (like 100 grams)? Thanks for any tips!

    1. Hi Carrie, thanks for your comment and kind words.

      I hate to disappoint, but the only counting I do with regards to eating is the number of fruits and vegetables I eat in a day. I’ve never counted macronutrients. I use Mark’s strategy of Train Low, Race High, and eat sweet potatoes, white potatoes, white rice, beets or butternut squash about 4-6 meals a week. I eat three fruits every morning with breakfast, usually berries, a kiwi and a nectarine, apricot or plum.

      I time my carb intake to coincide with speed training or hilly runs with my club, eating my carby meals the night(s) before a session. I also carb-load with the above-mentioned carbs for races. I will also eat more carbs to help recovery, as per Loren Cordain and Joe Friel in ‘The Paleo Diet for Athletes.’ It is a process of trial and error in finding your own sweet spot, unfortunately. But using these stategies for fueling has helped me break all my running PB’s (including 13.1 by 10 minutes), and also running for over 2 hours without any mid-run fuel. The longest I’ve run continuously on primal was 3 hours, and that was up and down three small moutains, using mid-run energy chews (Honey Stinger).

  18. What an inspirational pair you are! I spent some time in Scotland a few years ago – loved it. The only downside was falling off the primal wagon while there. I should’ve taken a leaf out of your playbook 🙂 Well done and all the best as your journey continues.

    1. Thank you! Scotland is definitely not great for primal eaters, with their infinite love for white sugar and wheat flour. You do have to look around here, read menus and make your own meals most of the time. We have found places where we can modify menu items to make them primal-friendly.

      We both indulge in non-primal foods when we’re on holiday (which presumably you were when in Scotland?); the most important part is just getting right back on track when you’re home again.

  19. Fantastic job! My wife and I have done the whole primal thing together as well. Love and health, now that’s a great foundation for a marriage.

    Your blog looks great, it’s going right into my paleo recipe folder. Can’t wait to try the hamburger soup and the chili.

  20. Danielle and Pat, Greetings from Glasgow! Thanks for your inspirational story! So much of it rings true for me including gut issues, SAD, eczema etc. Plus I have a few issues all of my own including PCOS, insulin resistance and asthma. Seeing your transformations really makes me want to get all these issues under control. I don’t know where in Scotland you are, but I really wish I could meet up with you and plug in for some direct inspiration! I don’t know anyone else who is either Paleo or Primal. Everyone I know seems to think it’s a fad diet.

    1. Hiya pal! 😉

      We live in southern Aberdeenshire, so we’re a bit of trek from you. You can contact me via my contact page on the blog for regular communication if you like. That’s a start. And when you’re in our neck of the woods, or us in yours, we could meet up?

      And I agree, people here either think it’s a fad or make silly jokes to hide their unease about it. I truly think many people here want to make a change, but it means you become the odd one out, you’re susceptible to slagging and such comments as ‘Why would you do that?’ and that’s quite difficult for most people to do. That’s the reasons many of my Scottish friends have tried but failed.

      1. Hi Danielle

        Thanks for your inspiring story. I’m in Aberdeenshire too, not far from Huntly. I would love to get in touch with you but can’t find the contact page on your blog. Can you give me directions?


        1. Hi Nicky! Great to connect with another primal person in Scotland, someone in my neck of the woods-ish. I’m close to Fettercairn. My email for the blog is: [email protected]. Hope to hear from you soon 🙂

    2. Hi, I’m at the start of my primal journey and I’m in Edinburgh-you are welcome to connect with me via Twitter @primalgirledin or via the WordPress site

      Good luck!

  21. Wow. That’s an inspiring story. Thanks for sharing it with us!

    I am so happy to hear somebody say they struggled with bonking early in the program. I am just starting to get the hang of fueling before my mountain bike rides and road rides. At first, I didn’t want to “cheat”.

    Thanks again.

    1. Thank you!

      What is your version of ‘cheating’? Pat and both consume primal-friendly tubers and white rice to fuel our muscles, all of which are compliant according Mark. Now that I’m primal, I look at food as a source of fuel, contributing to my gut and skin health, or as a source of recovery.

  22. Solution to the chronic cardio vs ironman problem: Sprint train. Get the muscles for endurance at the same time you get the muscles for speed/power.

  23. Fabulous story. Getting rid of grain fixes my skin issues too, and if I have a period where I indulge in a few grain products during the week (perhaps a holiday time) I notice those itches return really quickly.

    You both look and sound so vibrant – that’s what it’s all about. Keep up your plan to spread the word, I’m sure those teenagers you work with would benefit from what you have to share.

    1. Thank you! I found I used to get eczema flare-ups if I ate too much dairy or too much non-primal food at a family gathering. That all changed when I ditched my moisturiser – I was using Aveeno, made with oats. Why put oats on my skin when I chose not to eat it? My flare-ups also disappeared once I starting taking a probiotic supplement, of 10 billion bacteria.

      Our way of spreading the word is to just keep doing what we’re doing, and if others want to hop on our bandwagon, we’re here to help! 🙂

  24. I don’t often comment here anymore but I had to say this: Best. Wedding picture. Ever.
    Your story is great too, of course 😉

  25. Beautiful story!
    I inherited my dad’s Irish/Scottish “constitution” (nice word for gastrointestinal problems :o) And I had the gift of cooking delicious high carb meals from his Scottish mum, my Grand. I am also enjoying the health benefits of Paleo! Love your blog and will be visiting often.
    p.s. I’m a Grand too now. :o) It’s never too late!

  26. Hi Danielle-
    I’ve really enjoyed your story and checking out your blog. Those pics of your nutter bomb and bullet coffee look great- and I am definitely going to try them both! I also really enjoy the section on what you eat on Wednesdays… It is inspiring to see what other people eat on a paleo diet. Keep up the awesome job and best wishes to you both!

  27. “What finally sold Pat on primal eating was when I showed him a photo of Mark Sisson, topless.” Priceless!!

  28. Congrats on the transformation. Very inspiring as I restart my journey.

  29. I’m sorry my comments are so late; I just read this! WOW! What a great success story! And I LOOOOVE the massive amounts of photos–usually we get just a few, but it’s so great to see all these photos!
    Thank you for sharing your story!

  30. Love this story – congratulations to the two of you! Just about to sign up for your WordPress updates…

  31. While a little older than you two, my wife and I draw inspiration from this testimonial more than most. Working together and being on the same page is difficult as partners are often in different places health-wise at any given time. I am inspired to start planning meals and trading off duties this week!

    1. Oh fantastic, Anthony! Great to hear!

      I think the most important aspect of one’s primal journey is having a supportive partner, no matter what 🙂

  32. You mentioned you had a sweet taste in your mouth. I have this too and my doctor has no explanation for it. What do you believe causes it?

    1. Hi Amanda, I don’t know the actual scientific reason for the frequent sweet taste I used to experience; I can only assume it was a result of a diet that was previously higher in sugar and higher in carbs. It could’ve also been the result of my frequent eating. Now that I’m primal, I don’t get this anymore.

  33. Waw congratulation and I can say that all what did you said about Pat is true as I know him for long time and we had planty of party together in Israel or even in Scotland. But he looks reaky diferent and more more healthy than b4. My wife just said that we should to do it as well.