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!
“To inspire people to be their best and love the journey so they get the most out of life and make the world a better place.” – Benj’s WHY: the reason I get out of bed in the morning. Ok, if I’m being honest, that’s my second reason. The first is my home-made quad espresso (black, of course!).
My journey hasn’t been some monumental before-and-after story, but more an EVOLUTION (Grok-style). I grew up out in the “woods” 100 kilometres (60 miles) outside of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. I was always a super active kid, playing every sport in school, and then getting home and continuing the sports non-stop with my brother. My parents both got in on the act often, and were always super supportive. When I look back, our family was about half-Grok back then without even knowing it. We didn’t watch TV much (just some Hockey Night in Canada on the weekends), always had home-cooked meals (some food choices have since been adjusted!), and did a ton of stuff outside and in nature. Both of my parents are retired teachers, so we learned how to learn, problem solve, question authority, and investigate.
After high school, I earned a university volleyball scholarship and began my career as an “elite” athlete. I ended up playing 5 years of post-secondary volleyball, and was also fortunate to play 3 years for Team Canada and 1 year professionally in France. At the same time, I completed a Physical Education degree and a Master’s degree in Kinesiology (Coaching). I also figured out how to completely destroy my diet, going from home-cooked meals to almost exclusively processed food, fast-food, and the craziest part: averaging around 3 litres (3/4 of a gallon) of Coke/Slurpees EVERY DAY!!
I look back now in disbelief. I can’t imagine how much better I could have performed on the court, and how much less my knees, shoulder, and everything else would’ve hurt if I wasn’t pounding so much sugar and junk. Half way through my volleyball career, I got into weight lifting and once my playing career was over, I became a college volleyball coach and kinesiology instructor, and continued working out a couple of hours 5-6 days a week. I looked like a pretty fit beast (6’4”, 240 pounds, 12-14% body fat), but I certainly didn’t feel that way.
Gradually, I started reading more about health and making better choices. I reduced my Slurpee intake to 1 per day after my workouts along side my protein shake, and upgraded my diet from complete garbage to the Zone diet (30% fat, 30% protein, 40% carbs every meal). Unfortunately, I think my years of a garbage diet while continuing to pound my body with multiple workouts and practices added up. All my joints constantly hurt, I was often bloated and uncomfortable, and I ended up getting knee surgery. I just chalked it up to things I would have to deal with as a price for being an elite athlete…and here’s where the fun really begins!
I met my wife, Jolene, at the end of 2002 having just turned 30, and we married in August of 2003 (she was 25 at the time), so the rest of this is OUR story! Jolene was keen on working out, adjusting her diet, and so we continued with the Zone and working out chronically. The picture above was taken two months before our wedding.
At about this time I started having symptoms of pretty serious hyperthyroidism and was eventually diagnosed with Grave’s disease and in the spring of 2004 had my thyroid gland destroyed (I’m guessing the doctors would disagree with my description) with 2 doses of radiated iodine leaving me on the opposite end of the spectrum, with severe hypothyroidism. I firmly believe this was an autoimmune response to my decade of crazy carb intake combined with my non-stop sports lifestyle. It has left me having to take thyroid hormones (initially synthetic, but I switched to natural 5 years ago) daily for likely the rest of my life. Luckily, I haven’t had any major issues, I can tell quickly if I need to adjust my dose, and life has basically been good. I only wish I had learned about primal wellness prior to the radiation treatment, because I’m confident I could have reversed my condition and preserved a functioning thyroid gland.
Life continued for Jolene and I, and we became more and more fascinated with holistic wellness. I began reading and researching on all aspects of leading a healthy life and implementing what I learned into the Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness class I was teaching at college. I also became really curious about how people learn, how the brain operates, and how to create optimal learning environments, which I began experimenting with in my classes and with the women’s volleyball ball team I was coaching. After over 30 years of what I call incidental learning, it finally occurred to me that I had WAY more to learn and it became my passion to find out and implement all I could about each component of wellness. Jolene was busy running her own business as a massage therapist and helping others with their wellness. It’s been amazing that Jolene has been on board the whole way. And I had and have so much to learn from her as well. She has great awareness, kindness, empathy, and authenticity.
Fast-forward to the spring of 2011, I read my first ancestral health book, The New Evolution Diet, by Arthur De Vany, and it was a total game changer. After spending the past 7-plus years reading and researching, the book just put everything together. Jolene and I went all in immediately on a primal/paleo lifestyle and the results were instant. Although we looked to be in pretty “good shape” before hand, in a matter of weeks we both leaned out significantly. The picture above was taken just a few months after ditching grains, sugar and processed food (ages 38 & 33).
But the best changes had nothing to do with how we looked. I was able to get up and down stairs without my knees aching, I no longer had any gastrointestinal discomfort, I slept way better and needed less of it, I was more alert and in a better mood. And these changes happened in a matter of days. All these things were amazing, and I knew there was still so much more to learn. I just continued researching all aspects of wellness, and we applied what I learned, tweaking and adjusting our lifestyle. And then a couple of years later I finally came across Mark Sisson’s Primal Blueprint…BOOM! Everything we were working on, all covered in 10 Laws that lead to a good life! What could possibly make more sense than to understand that wellness is in our DNA and we have tremendous influence over how our genes are expressed?
Perhaps the coolest thing about this all is that it’s been a family affair. The same half-Grok family at the beginning of this story is now a full Grok-family! My Mom and Dad still live out in the woods, and are enjoying a full-on primal lifestyle in their retirement. My brother, his wife and their 6-year old daughter live in the mountains and honor the Grok way both at the kitchen table and with their daily hikes, mountain bike rides, rock climbs, or whatever else they choose to do.
As time goes by, Jolene and I continue to make adjustments that simplify and enhance our wellness. We now work out less than ever before, and do it intuitively. This usually means about two 20-30 minute intense strength sessions per week, a couple of 5 kilometre jogs keeping the heart rate in the aerobic zone, the occasional sprint workout, and plenty of walks with the dogs. Our meal plans are simple too. We eat delicious food W.H.E.N. (when hunger ensues naturally). This almost always means our first meal is in the early afternoon. Jolene feels at her best when she eats few carbs (less than 50g/day) and I hover in the 50-100g/day range to be at my best. And those are educated guesses because we never stress about it. We don’t measure or track anything, just eat things we know are good for us and don’t eat crap. We have found a primal lifestyle to be fairly easy and simple, and the benefits can’t be overstated! The above pictures are from April of 2018 at ages 45 and 40.
The latest chapter in our story is just beginning! When I first heard about the Primal Blueprint Health Coach program (now Primal Health Coach Institute), I signed up immediately and became certified at the end of 2016. It was such a great summary of everything I’ve learned over the past 15 years and now I’m hoping to inspire others with my passion for wellness and human excellence. This is what that looks like to me.
I’d love for everyone to enhance their wellness and I’m looking forward to starting my Primal Health Coaching career so I can help people with their journey. I’ve recently enrolled in a Primal Health Coaching Institute Masterclass in Miami and I’m so excited to get this off the ground! Thanks for taking the time to read my story, hopefully it inspires you to either start or keep going on a path of health and happiness!
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada