Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...Tell Me More
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!
This is a story of a fat man living to die…who is now dying to live.
I did not just wake up one day morbidly obese, on 17 prescription meds, a heart patient with three cardiac stents (having been “cathed” seven times with five angioplasties), and with type II diabetes, chronic migraines, hyperlipidemia, atherosclerosis, hypertension, sleep apnea, recurring bouts of kidney stones requiring hospitalization (due to medications), clinical depression, psoriatic arthritis/fibromyalgia (the doctors were split on that one), and PTSD…just for laughs.
I was always a “chunky” kid all throughout my school days. I was one of the kids that wore his Tuffskins tight, even in the new size “Husky.” “Big boned” was one of my favorite ways nice people would refer to me. There were plenty of others that were not so nice, but perhaps more accurate. I remember being 5 feet tall and 160 lbs in the 7th grade, and I was always either sick or had some physical injury, like ripped tendons and pulled muscles (no great wonder).
At 17 I enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. I was always in danger of being put into what they now call the “Body Composition Program,” although it was called by much less politically correct terms in my day. “Fat Boy Platoon” was one of the nicer labels. During Basic Training I got down to 167, and upon graduation of infantry training, I tipped the scales at 185 (I had added muscle to the leaner frame over the course of essentially six months of intense training…and I had just turned 18).
Shortly after my 23rd birthday, my active duty was up and I was honorably discharged into the USMC Individual Ready Reserves, and moved to New York City to seek my fortune (and starved). Two years later, my Military Service Obligation was up and I now weighed right around 200 lbs…despite (or perhaps because of) extremely poor nutrition. I was a bank teller by day, in retail at night and weekends, and selling some ghost writing. Not getting much sleep in the city that never sleeps.
I wandered into a mom and pop deli, and the help wanted sign was subsequently removed from the window. I learned to cook from scratch, old school, old world. I held a series of kitchen staff jobs for the next few years at trendy, but short-lived establishments (working for and learning from some amazingly talented, if bad tempered, Chefs), working my way up to Sous-chef. My weight was not an issue working in that environment, as the kitchens are hot, the pace is very fast, the hours are long and there was never a shortage of, shall we say, “recreational diet aids.”
When I turned 29, I had had enough of New York City and decide to see what else was in this country, as I had already been to some “interesting” locations internationally courtesy of Uncle Sam. In my early 30’s I decided to return to the area that I grew up in for a visit, and decided—after meeting my future wife—to stay. My weight was steadily creeping up. A few years later I opened up a deli of my own, had a very successful small business, a wife and an infant son. I now weighed around 250 and was famous for the line, “Never trust a skinny chef.” During the holiday season of 2000, I was 37 years old and had a massive myocardial infarction. It was not my first helicopter ride in pain, and heavily sedated.
I did everything that the docs said to do: cardiac rehab, very low fat, no saturated fat or cholesterol, whole grains and all around 1800 to 2000 calories a day. I followed this religiously as the cardiologist told me, and when I asked him frankly about his prognosis, he responded, “If you don’t change your diet and lifestyle to what I recommend, I give you between 18 months to 3 years on the outside before you are dead.” So, follow his advice I did. We sold the deli and the attached house and moved to Amish-land, for a less stressful environment.
All of my life I had suffered from acute migraines, and the frequency went from 3-4 times a year, to 3-4 times a week. I was feeling worse and getting more medicated by the year. My lipids were so high, at one point they were un-measurable. Shortly after, I was diagnosed as pre-diabetic and my cardiologist told me, “You might as well stop taking the medication I prescribed, if you aren’t going to follow the rest of my orders.” (I came very close to physically assaulting him…I WAS doing everything he told me to!) At this point I found a different cardiologist. I was now 38 and weighed 265 lbs. (I hadn’t gotten any taller.)
I found a new cardiologist and so a new round of medications and rehab began. I tried Dr. Dean Ornish’s ultra low-animal-fat, plant-based diet…I gained 20 lbs in two months (and wasn’t terribly fond of the taste of paste anyway). I tried Atkins and lost 30 lbs before gaining it all back and then some. (Most likely on the “replacer” Atkins Brand products.) My weight was going up, not down. I was gaining 10-20 lbs a year on this wonderful low fat, low cholesterol, healthy whole grain, PUFA soaked, chemically laced diet.
During the years between 2001-2010, I had six more catheterizations leading to angioplasties, or stents, for the crippling chronic chest pain I was getting often after physical activity or stress. By around 2006, I was up to 320 lbs and joined the YMCA. With two small boys in tow, I would work out for 4-5 hours a day. I managed to get back down to 250…but was really starting to feel worse and worse with constant joint pain, angina, migraines and the black lost netherworld of depression. I was working on the elliptical one day and got a very strong bout of chest pain…then I woke in a hospital bed after having my latest angioplasty and stent implant.
I saw my cardiologist in the spring of 2014. I now weighed 357 lbs and had been full blown type II for three years. He had a “heart to heart” (no pun intended), frank discussion with me. “Stu, we’ve seen some improvements in the damage that the MI caused, but I’m doing and have done everything that I can for you. I’m afraid you most likely will not be there to see your sons graduate high school. Do you have an estate plan or trusts set up? I’m afraid you really need to get your affairs in order.” I asked “How long do I have?” and was smacked with the cold hand of reality with his followup response. “Two years, if we’re very lucky. Less if not.” (One thing I’ve always liked about this doc, he talks straight.) If people will tell you that a heart attack is a wake up call, then THIS was a four alarm fire siren.
I spent the next couple of days in a zombie like fugue. Curiously, a few nights before my visit, I had watched a TED Talk with Dr. Robert Lustig on the stellar qualities of sugar we typically consume, and had decided to eliminate HFCS and added sugar from my diet (which was in three quarters of the “heart healthy” products I was eating). At the end of two weeks, I had lost seven pounds. I was now an expert on all things “Lustig.” This led me to do a self experiment on food additives.
Having been in commercial kitchens for a dog’s age, I noticed that products were not the same as when I started cooking. It occurred to me that not only were there a lot more sugar and HFCS in ingredients that I would traditionally use, but they had a lot of things that didn’t sound like food. I was used to the “usual suspects” being a “no” (as a “no added salt,” cardiac kid), but, there’s only so much preserving that food needs. I tried eliminating “alien” additives as well. I lost 15 lbs the next two weeks and I hit the internet hard.
I was familiar with the organic movement and various lifestyles, from veganism to the macrobiotic crowd, from many years of food service. I had always looked on the Weston A. Price Foundation folks as amusing kookaboos that were all going to merrily drop dead of coronary disease, when I realized I was about to drop dead of coronary disease! I figured I quite literally had nothing to lose by going to a diet rich in organic saturated fat and protein, and very little “healthy” carbs.
One day, I found Mark’s Daily Apple. I was intrigued as I had just been researching Dr. Loren Cordain. I rushed out and bought a copy of The Primal Blueprint. I started following it, and was losing 7-10 lbs a WEEK! I was virtually melting before my family’s eyes. I had an incredible amount of energy, and my mood was improving. I decided it was time to stop taking most of the medications I was prescribed. (If I’d told him, THAT would have given my Cardiologist an MI of his very own!)
I was down to 304 by June in this “before” photo and thought that I looked great! I did compared to where I was a few short months prior, when we were on a family vacation to Boston and the surrounding area. I was so proud of myself for being able to do the entire Freedom Trail. (A few years before we were there, I had to cut the vacation short after about 3/4 of a mile of trail…chest pains hospitalized me for one of my many angioplasties.)
I was following not only The Primal Blueprint, The Primal Connection, and Robb Wolf’s Paleo Solution, but was enrolled in The Primal Blueprint Expert Certification Program. It was now Thanksgiving of 2014, I weighed 210, my lipids were amazing, my a1c level was 4.1, migraines were down to 2-3 times a month, skin was clear for the first time in my life, and my joint pain was down 80%. My Cardiologist asked if I was back at the gym for daylong sessions, I told him what I was doing and he looked concerned and said “It can’t be that, it must be the meds.” I told him I hadn’t been taking most of them for four months, only the blood thinners, as I was concerned about all the vitamin K I was getting thickening my blood to the point of having a problem with the stents (that he had put in to save my life!). He looked at me in disbelief and clearly did not know what to do or say.
Then the chef in me decided I had to impress my family, friends and myself with all of the holiday goodies that I traditionally made…only primal versions now. And I ate them all. And made more. And ate them all.
I was close to completing my certification, and had gained 15 lbs back on a totally primal holiday binge! Oops!
In January 2015, I saw the Primal Blueprint 21 Day Challenge on Vimify. I signed up and successfully completed it. This was one of the best things I ever did in, and for, my life. The people were friendly and supportive, and the coaching was great. (Especially as there were thousands of folks to ride herd on.) This is how I was introduced to two of the nicest, most attentive and caring individuals with the largest knowledge and resource base in this lifestyle movement: Adam and Vanessa Lambert (both proteges of Mark Sisson AND Robb Wolf…check out their chops for yourself!). They were not only superb guest coaches for the Primal Blueprint 21-Day Challenge, but are the authors, shepherds and “Tribal Leaders” of BEE THE WELLNESS, and have gathered and cared for the finest group of individuals it has ever been my honor and privilege to be associated with.
At the conclusion of the “21 Day,” I was 198. Finally! Under 200!!! And I have been transforming a lot more of myself than just girth. I was 178 in the “after” photo. That was in June, near my 52nd birthday. Since then, my VA therapist cannot believe the change in my mental wellness. My sons are constantly amazed at the man that is their father (that they thought they knew), and my wife is famous for saying, “I’ve gotten my husband back!”
I saw my cardiologist a few months ago, and he sat me down for another “heart to heart” talk. This time he said “ Stu, I’ll be very surprised if you don’t live past 70 with the health you are in. If not for the MI damage, I would say 80’s.” Talk about good news…how about 20+ YEARS of LIFE being handed you!!
So to sum up this rather lengthy tale of transformation; I now weigh 175 lbs, I lost over 180 pounds (I LOST more than I weigh!), and my waist, formerly 56 inches is now 32 inches. My body fat percentage is somewhere around 15-18% (17% according to USMC tape standards…I was 20% 30 years ago!) My joint pain is totally reasonable for an active man in his 50’s. I no longer use a CPAP machine, or stop breathing while sleeping. My skin is clear (if still a tad large for me now). I have NO diabetes markers. My migraines are down to maybe once in 3-4 weeks, much more mild and not crippling (usually after I have poisoned myself with something SAD, by mistake…80/20 to the rescue!) No one thinks I am an alcoholic any longer (I’ve just plain lost all desire. It’s like I’ve forgotten to drink). My PTSD is better—still a struggle, but thankfully manageable. (This I credit to daily meditation and the camaraderie, support and goodwill of the “Tribe” at BTW!) I have energy, stamina and strength close to the “Kid Devil Dog, Two-Striper.” My blood pressure, heart rate and lipid panel are all amazing. (BETTER than in my youth in the Corps…Ooh Rah!) I’ve been given the GIFT OF LIFE! Thank you, Primal lifestyle, 21-Day Challenge, Primal Blueprint and Adam and Vanessa Lambert for outstanding coaching!
Full disclosure: I have had three chest pains in the past nice months (but not four or five in the same day as of old), and my wife says sometimes I occasionally softly snore!
If you have been on a fad diet roller coaster, or your weight or life is unmanageable, what have you got to lose? You’ve probably tried a whole boatload of things, right? What have you got to lose?
“Eat and Bee Well, Live Long, Love Strong, and Drop Dead Playing Happily.”
PS: Thank you, Mark Sisson, for the “Primal” books leading to my transformation, and for being a good sport about me shamelessly ripping off your motto and modifying it!