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!
I contemplated writing this Mark’s Daily Apple success story a few times over the last three years and every time I decided it wasn’t a good idea, mainly because I thought “who am I and who would really care anyway”? The other reason is the last thing I wanted people to see plastered on the internet are my before and after pictures, how embarrassing! Being comfortable and confident with my body is never an attribute I have possessed. I actually even used a before photo that was about 10 pounds lighter than when I was my heaviest, but that was because I didn’t even want to look at myself in the mirror at that point, let alone take a picture.
Despite all of this, I think sharing my story (and those pictures) is important because I think it can help people, it can show the powerful changes that can be made in health and body composition by making some very important lifestyle adjustments. I wanted to use the words “simple” or “easy” adjustments in that last sentence, but they are not always simple and easy. Yet, they are important.
I don’t think my exact formula will be right for everyone, but the majority of people can find something that they can apply to their life to make a positive change. And whether or not you find something in my story that inspires you, I have just landed you on one of the most powerful websites to change your health and your life, so for that you’re welcome. I think it is important to take your health into your own hands—research, read, ask questions—because it is obvious conventional wisdom and general health/nutrition information are deeply flawed, and Mark’s Daily Apple can help in your quest for knowledge!
Below I have organized my story in categories- “Before,” “After,” “Resources,” and “Moving Forward.” If you want to jump right into the details of how I went from 220-plus pounds to the 180-185 pounds I consistently stay at now, then scroll down to the “After” portion and start there.
Below is a summary of the different phases of my life until five years ago when I turned thirty-years-old.
I was born in the 1980s and grew up in the 90s, which seems to be prime time for the low fat era. At home, school, and in the media we were taught that fat should be avoided in our diet, and we had to make sure we get our 6-11 servings of cereals, grains, and pasta. For me that was not a problem, I could eat carbohydrates all day long!
I loved to play sports growing up and tried to be outside as much as possible playing football, basketball, and baseball. I never really thought about how food affected my performance in sports, or my body composition, I just ate whatever I could as fast as possible so I could get to the next game. My weight fluctuated when I was younger. I was never obese or even too overweight, I would describe myself as “slightly chubby” at times. There were other moments during growth spurts, and highly active moments of a sports season, where I was normal weight and not carrying any extra fat on my body.
Once I got to high school I made the brilliant decision as a five foot ten inch tall, fairly slow kid, to focus on playing basketball. I was consistently carrying 10-15 pounds of extra weight, and not only was I teased a bit for it, but I wasn’t the best player I could be due to the extra weight, and that is what bothered me the most. Of course the comments about how my body looked hurt a bit, but I was a good enough player that most people looked past it and appreciated me for my play on the court.
The food environment in high school wasn’t always great, with getting older came more independence and opportunities to eat outside of my home, which lead me to fast and affordable food choices.
I really had no clue what healthy eating was. In fact healthy for me was heading to a juice place for a sugar filled beverage and a soft pretzel. Thank goodness I played a lot of basketball and was introduced to lifting weights at the same time, otherwise I have no doubt I would have been considered obese.
Even with a few extra pounds on my frame at the end of high school I had become a good enough player that I was able to move on and become a member of the men’s basketball team at a NCAA Division 2 university. Thanks to the support of my family and coaches I was able to live my dream of playing college basketball.
Once I got to Sonoma State University (located in Sonoma County-Northern California) it was obvious that physically I was going to have a tough time on the basketball court. It took me a few years to get in good enough shape to consistently make a contribution in games, but eventually I would be an all-conference guard and conference champion my senior year (for more on the many basketball related adjustments I made check out my book “Bench Rules: A Guide to Success On and Off the Bench” on Amazon). In fact, one of the strategies I joked about with my teammates, but it had a little truth to it, is that every time I went to a fast food restaurant I just stopped ordering french fries. Boom! Ten pounds lost very quickly.
The biggest adjustment I made was tracking what I ate. I started to add a lot more real food in my diet and eating less food that came from a box, package, or fast food restaurant. It was far from an optimal diet, but the actual process of writing it down made me think about what I was
putting in my body, how it made me feel and perform, and that helped me make better decisions.
I had a short stint in a European basketball league, which enabled me to live in beautiful Vienna, Austria for a few months and get paid to play a game I love. That experience also helped me realize I had reached my full potential as a player, and I was done putting my body through the stress it took me to perform at that level. I decided it was time to move on to a different stage of my life.
A couple years after I left Vienna I married my college girlfriend Megan, who was a soccer player when we were at SSU, and a couple years later we had our first child. In those four years of not playing basketball, and not really making any adjustments to my Standard American Diet (I was still tracking what I ate on and off), I managed to put on more weight than I ever had.
Now, at this time I was still lifting weights and running, my two preferred forms of exercise, but this was not enough to keep the weight off as it was nothing close to the volume and intensity of exercise I endured as a basketball player.
With the increase in weight came some minor health issues, for instance I was diagnosed with GERD. I would get constant heartburn that felt bad enough to make me think I was having some kind of heart attack. I even got hooked up to an EKG machine at one point because I was so convinced something was wrong. A doctor I saw recommended I take a Prilosec pill everyday and eat a low fat diet, which I followed religiously until I saw I was putting on more weight. It was extremely frustrating to see zero changes in my body composition with an increased focus on my health and diet. There had to be something else I could do!
Finding A New Way
I was turned on to primal/ancesteral health when I was told about a cbssports.com article on nutrition in the NBA. The story revolved around Dr. Cate Shanahan and her work with the LA Lakers. The whole series of articles led me to a Google search and one of the first websites I found was Mark’s Daily Apple (MDA). The website piqued my interest right away, it was so informative, filled with many wonderful articles and success stories, and ultimately I knew I had to give it a try.
One of the first inforgraphics I saw, and it still sticks out in my head to this day, is the Primal Blueprint Carbohydrate Curve. This is one I still share with people who ask me how I eat now, that and of course the ten primal laws. Mark’s Daily Apple is still my “go-to” source when I have any question on health or nutrition. What I love about MDA is that if I have a question about any topic, I can search for it and I am guaranteed to find an article with Mark’s point of view and links to any necessary studies or additional information. It is also an absolute must to check out the Primal Blueprint 101 section if you are new to the website, everything you could possibly need to know is there!
Below are the major adjustments I made to my life. Growing up in organized sports, and as a victim of conventional wisdom, I thought any weight issue could be solved with exercise. It wasn’t until I bought into the idea that “80 percent of your body composition is determined by what you eat” that I saw real change. It is for that reason that “Diet” is first on this list, and by far the most important. I am now low enough in body fat to somewhat see my abs, this was never the case even in 2-3 hours a day of college basketball practice over a five-year span (I spent one year as a redshirt). I had to make a change to my diet for this to happen, and I exercise less than I ever have.
Inspired by the Primal Blueprint Carbohydrate Curve I limit daily carbohydrate intake to less than 100 grams per day. Most days I aim to stay under 50 grams, and often I decide to restrict low enough and consistently enough to dip into in to ketosis. Aiming to keep my carbohydrates low has helped me to EAT REAL FOOD and avoid most processed/packaged foods.
I also eliminated sugars and grains from my diet. Obviously these calories had to be replaced so I started eating more healthy fat- olive oil, coconut oil (MCT Oil as well), and butter. However, the majority of my food is animals and plants along with nuts, healthy fats (listed above), and some fruit and dark chocolate. Check out the Primal Blueprint Food Pyramid, I also like Time Noakes’ Real Meal Revolution Food List.
This way of eating becomes very easy very quickly. Like I said above I like to keep carbohydrates fairly low, so once you learn the macronutrient make-up of food you can easily make a selection of what to eat anywhere you go. I suggest tracking what you eat at first, but eventually there is no need once you get used to it. I do not want to demonize carbohydrates, I like what world renowned strength coach Charles Poliquin says about them, his thought is that you must “deserve your carbohydrates. Your levels of muscle mass, volume and intensity of training, percentage of body fat and insulin sensitivity will determine how many grams of carbs you can afford. Some people obviously need to restrict their carbs to 10 licks of a dried prune every six months.”
If you restrict carbohydrates enough your body will be forced to start to use your own body fat for fuel. Transitioning your body to a lower carb eating strategy, essentially turning your body into a fat burning beast, can be tough for a few days up to to a few weeks, especially the first time coming from a Standard American Diet. Give it time, trust the process, it works.
I don’t count calories, or feel they are the whole story in relation to weight loss, I also believe the effect on hormones in the body is very important to normalizing/losing weight. In relation to calories I do think a low carb high fat diet is more satiating, while also not subjecting your body to insulin spikes all day, and ultimately causes many to eat less food. That is the case for me anyway.
I do occasionally eat foods that are higher in carbohydrates, foods that are definitely not “healthy” by anyone’s standards, and I usually feel terrible after eating them. Probably the one thing I found that aggravates my stomach the most, the one that hurt the most to eliminate, was beer. I will still drink a beer on rare occasions, and naturally my digestive system and sleep suffer because of it.
Food quality is not something I worried about at first. Initially I think it is easiest to just worry about limiting carbohydrates and eating as much fat and protein as necessary so you are never hungry. Once I adapted to the diet and got my bearings, I started to worry more about finding properly raised meat and local organic vegetables. While it does cost more, and I realize I am lucky enough to be able to afford these costs, it is important to both my health and the environment.
I have experimented with intermittent fasting, both 16-hour fasts and some 24 hour fasting. This past month of July I did a 18/6 fast every day, and while I don’t find it hard to skip breakfast in the morning, I like to eat breakfast. I generally workout first thing in the morning and find I feel better eating post workout. I still may occasionally fast on a non-workout day, simply holding off breakfast until early afternoon. Now I just let my hunger dictate meal timing, if I am hungry I eat, if I am not I don’t eat. Hunger on a low carbohydrate diet is much different than hunger on a diet filled with carbohydrates, my family still jokes about my “Hanger Issues” from the past that were constant because of the types of food I was eating.
Since beginning this new lifestyle my wife (Megan) has joined on and she has also seen big improvements in her body composition following two pregnancies. She has allowed me to share a before and after picture of us, in the before picture she has the excuse of only being three months out from having a baby, I did not have the same excuse. What is also impressive about my wife’s improvement in body composition is that she has done it with pretty much zero structured exercise, which to me shows the power of changing what you eat to change how you look and feel. Megan was a soccer player at Sonoma State and she is now at the same weight she was when she was practicing/playing soccer six days a week for 2-3 hours, again with zero structured exercise. Our next task moving forward is to navigate the world of raising children, trying to give them the best life we can, and helping them face the food environment they will encounter in school and beyond.
Next up for me is to use the training I received from the Primal Health Coach Program I just finished last month. I have seen such drastic improvements in my life I was inspired to start the program earlier this summer with the hope to use my increased knowledge to help others. I currently work in a high school setting (PE and Athletics), I love what I do and the people and students I work with, and I have no plans to leave there to start a health coaching business. I will at first offer to help my friends and family in any way I can and see where I go from there. I look forward to sharing the amazing resources and knowledge I have gained from the program with anyone willing to listen. Combining that with my past experiences will be a good foundation to help others better their lives in any way possible. Hopefully, I can make an impact.
— Kevin Christensen