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From Surviving to Thriving: Power Couple Becomes Primal Team

It’s Friday, everyone! And that means another Primal Blueprint Real Life Story [1] 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 [2]. I’ll continue to publish these each Friday as long as they keep coming in. Thank you for reading!

Primal 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.

In 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??!?!?

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 [3]. I also started following Primal Blueprint Fitness [4].

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 [5]. I plan to become a Primal Blueprint Expert [6], 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