The Struggles of a Navy Man: Fighting Bad Conventional Advice with Primal Successes

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-1-2I am unbearably angry! Wait, I apologize. That’s not a way to begin this story. Let me try again.

It’s January 2014. I find myself 39 years old, recovering from wrist surgery, and uncertain about my career. You see, I’m in the Navy, and they do not like overweight individuals. As such, I was looking at my previous 16 years potentially meaning nothing if I couldn’t turn things around. Unfortunately, I am clueless. I have listened to all of the recommended “good habits.” I am tracked meticulously by my job. I have attended the required two week course on fitness. I’m not an idiot, am I? How am I such a failure at this? Why all the cognitive dissonance? I have consumed the knowledge, tried adhering to all of the experts’ recommendations. I mean, it’s simple, right? Yet I was unable to reconcile my results and experiences with all of the advice, research and guidelines.

To give you an idea of what I was going through, let’s do some math and check out some of my well-documented failures:

First, there’s the typical calories in/calories out equation as it related to my activity level. I play competitive racquetball five days a week for two hours at lunch and sporadically after work. But since I don’t want to overestimate my level of activity, I’ll assume I practice 90 minutes at a time. Now, at a weight of 200 pounds, the Myfitnesspal app says that equates to a total of 1,021 calories burned. I also have mandatory workouts five days a week at 6:30am in the morning. They’re mostly core workouts to “spot reduce belly fat” (a phrase taken from the Command Fitness Leaders) and a 5k. We also have to run 1.5 miles in under 14 minutes. We then keep that pace for 5 kilometers for approximately 25 minutes. That’s another 375 calories burned. Finally, I add an additional 240 calories burned for the other 25 minutes of aerobic exercises.

Second, three days per week we have command exercises, which are the same basic exercises as outlined above. So add 600 more calories burned per day three times per week. Then, on Friday evenings from 5pm until 8pm and Sunday from noon until 2pm, I play wallyball with a regular group of guys. That should equal 950 more calories burned per session Also, for part of the year, I play on a co-ed soccer league or volleyball league, depending on the season. Myfitnesspal lists casual soccer for 60 minutes at 600 calories and volleyball at 200.

That’s great, but what does all that mean? Add up all these calories along with my resting metabolic expenditure for a week ( and you get: 5,000+3,000+1,800+1,900+200+15,400 = 27,300 calories burned per week. Or, to put it another way, approximately 3,900 calories burned per day. Now, since I’ve been steadily gaining weight, I must obviously be eating more than that. Easy fix! So on to my diet…

Luckily I’m required to keep a food log. So I can’t be too out of control with this, right? Let’s see how much I’m lying. What would it take to reach, let’s say, 4,000 calories per day (I’m gaining weight, so the number has to be above 3,900 calories.)

I’ll assume a lot of the calories are hidden ones (because fat people are dumb—kidding, of course!). I like Dr. Pepper, so I probably drink the 20 oz version. That gives me 250 calories/bottle. So six per day gives me 1,500 calories. Luckily McDonalds makes this easy. The Bacon Club House Crispy Chicken sandwich is 750 calories. Large fries are 510 calories. And the Big Breakfast with hotcakes is 1,090.

Bingo! I figured it out. On an average day, when you add up all these numbers, it equals 5,100 calories per day. That’s an extra 1,210 calories per day or 8,470 per week. This means I will gain 2.42 pounds per week! Solved! But wait. I mentioned a food log, right? And that I’m in the navy? So every day I eat with those same people at the galley or on the ship if underway. They know what I am being served. They weigh me once per week. And they review my log. You’d think one of them would mention my excessive eating at meal time or during the review.

09325ECCF178000053100003-attachment-1-IMG_11211161600809Weird. I am somehow being monitored working out, being weighed each week, eating the dietician approved, portion controlled servings at meal time that I’m logging, yet I’m still consuming way too many calories! Man I suck at this.

But maybe I’ve done something to ruin my metabolism. Yeah, that’s got to be it. I’m not eating 6-8 small meals per day to rev up my fat burning mechanisms! Oh damn, how do I do that? Meals are served at the same designated times each day, with no snacks in between. They must hate me! Sabotaging my weight control attempts.

I’m at my wits end! That’s the big three, right? Exercise, calories, and metabolism. As long as I adhere to what I’ve been instructed to do by the experts and our government guidelines, I will drop weight no problem! There was a time when I wasn’t obese like this. A day when I didn’t care what the rules said and when I ate what and when I felt like it. How did all of this “correct” knowledge get perverted in my application? Being in the navy brings unique challenges with weight problems. I am reminded of how I am a failure at my job (since fitness is part of my job!) If you are overweight you are also not likely injured (You’re just being lazy! Trying to get out of exercise and not really injured!)

Nothing made sense. When I’d go to medical for required check-ups, I’d have good blood pressure, cholesterol, etc. and be told I’m in great physical shape, except for, you know, being fat. I was eating low fat, healthy grains, exercising excessively, and a complete failure.

Then by happenstance I came across a documentary called “Fat Head.” Things started clicking. My mind was racing. I began reading even more. I read a very thorough deconstruction of The China Study. I drew on my personal experience with fasting (I had skipped meals like crazy for no reason other than I was fed up with everything and had no appetite. I lost weight and felt awesome, but “knew” I was harming myself because I was ruining my metabolism). So I began researching intermittent fasting. And that’s how I ended up here on Mark’s Daily Apple.

I read everything. Bought The Primal Blueprint. Read and re-read so many of the success stories. Shared all of this with my wife. We talked. And we consumed the information again. Things that seemed like common sense that we had ignored for years were now being confirmed by this wonderful site and others like it.

So in March 2014 we began our trip into the Primal lifestyle. And the weight started coming off like crazy. I had gotten to 230 pounds, which wasn’t sitting well on my 5’6″ frame. The fascinating thing was that my wife never really worked out and I was still in a full arm cast with orders not to get my blood pressure up via exercise. Yet, here we were. Both feeling really good. Losing weight. And enjoying the successes together.

In July 2014, I had all the hardware removed from my reconstructed wrist and was returned to full duty. I weighed just around 200 pounds, but by the navy measuring system my body fat percentage had gone up. Damn, another failure. Sucks when you lose 35 pounds, several inches off your waist, but the official paperwork says you are getting worse.

06318517BF3C0000F5400003-attachment-1-2014-10-12_19In October 2014, I had another physical fitness weigh in and had made my goal weight of 170 pounds. What?! 60 pounds lost! The first time I had made my weight since 16 years ago in boot camp (if you are over the weight limit they measure your body fat so it’s possible to be over the weight limit and still within standards)! I was so excited. And so incredibly mad!

I had spent years doing as I was told. Following the guidelines from my immediate leaders, the FDA, and all the experts—and being treated as if I was the problem, when really the information was wrong. The results didn’t match the science, but that couldn’t be right because the science said it wasn’t. So I was what was wrong.

I’m sorry that this has been so angry. Filled with so much sarcasm and vitriol. I have written, and rewritten this story several times and I don’t know how to sanitize it for this negativity without losing the frustration I have with the “conventional wisdom” I was trying to follow, but failing at.

Being overweight comes with many pitfalls, but those become magnified when you work in a job that uses it as a basis for retention and promotion—and when you know you weren’t promoted for over seven years as a result, it’s very frustrating. It’s hard to think of all the lost pay and opportunities (you can’t be an overweight instructor for example) despite your adherence to all of the “rules of health and fitness.” It’s shocking to discover how easy it can be to be healthy—the realization that so many things that felt intuitive were actually correct. But I had ignored them because of all the science and advice.

It’s been a whole year now. In June/July, when I was returned to full duty, I was required to do a full physical. This month (January 2015) I was also required to do our annual Physical Health Assessment (required once per year in your birth month).

Here are my results:

  • Total Cholesterol is 253, up from 218 in July
  • HDL is 69, up from 44
  • LDL is 166, up from 130
  • Triglycerides are 91, down from 216
  • My cholesterol ratio is 3.7, down from 5.0
  • Blood pressure is 120/79
  • Weight is 170, down from 200 in July and 230 from March when I started.

And how was the information met? With dissatisfaction. I can’t begin to describe the disappointment and anger I felt as I sat there being told (I’m paraphrasing), “Your weight is down by 60 pounds, your good cholesterol is up, your triglycerides are down, your ratio is great, and your blood pressure is awesome. You need to change everything you’re doing and follow the Mediterranean diet.” What? How can you call yourself a health professional, yet sit there and see evidence that should lead you to examine the research, but don’t. Just keep recycling the same information without an understanding of why some evidence doesn’t support the structure. Frustrating!

06318517BF3C0000F5400003-attachment-2-PicsArt951414616879187Anyway, since late fall we have been sharing our story with friends and family that have asked about our changes and we are hoping many of them can enjoy the same benefits we have. And I’d like to thank Mark for all of the valuable information and support. I just wish there was a way to help all of the sailors who lost careers and opportunities by following the wrong advice.

But mostly, I want to thank each and every one of you that shared your stories with us. They are so very inspiring. They provide clarity and motivation every time I read them (and I do re-read them).

Happy Primal living!


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