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From One of My Lowest Points to the Best Shape and Health of My Life

Posted Sep 30 2011 1:50pm

It’s Friday, everyone! And that means another 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 2Five years ago I was 30 years old, 5′ 9″, and hovering around 210 pounds. I had consistently high blood pressure and cholesterol in the neighborhood of 250 (I know cholesterol numbers should be taken in context, and the context wasn’t good). I was a veritable garbage disposal for any and all kinds of food at all hours of the day or night and never had any interest in reading the labels on what I was eating. I worked at a bar and consumed $50-$60 worth of beer and shots almost every day, smoked cigarettes, smoked pot several times daily, and sporadically (but still consistently) used cocaine and painkillers. It goes without saying that my sleep schedule was nothing short of catastrophic. I always was suffering from heartburn, and frequently gagged or even vomited from something as innocent as a bad smell or heightened stress. Living in Vail, Colorado, I owned all the outdoor gear I could get my hands on, but my poor health and destructive lifestyle prevented me from truly enjoying any of it.

Around this time, I met my girlfriend at the aforementioned bar. Although she was nowhere near the drug-using mess that I was, she was involved in the same late night party scene and was a regular drinker herself. Shortly after getting together, we decided to dedicate ourselves to living better lives. It was surprisingly easy for me to make the commitment, because for the first time in my life I truly cared more for someone else than myself – a motivation I’m sure you’re familiar with.

We pledged to start going to the gym together and not to eat after 8:30 PM, although we didn’t really make any changes to our diet. Hey, it was a start, right? I began spending an hour almost every day on a stationary bike, watching every second tick by, staring at the TV, and hating every minute of it. Even so, I began losing a considerable amount of weight (given where I was coming from, how could I not?) so I kept at it. After all, I’ve always had a fairly high tolerance for discomfort, and I felt that if I let up even a little bit I would slip back into the life and body I was trying to leave behind. I had no idea how I could keep it up though.

The following summer, I dedicated myself to getting on my mountain bike and riding it up mountains for hours at a time, everyday. I also started swimming, eventually working my way up to 4000 meters a day. While this was considerably more fun than sitting in the gym staring at a clock, and I discovered a surprising level of endurance within myself, it definitely became a compulsive behavior. Nevertheless, the weight continued to come off at what became an alarming rate.  My appearance was approaching what I would call scrawny, and my skin remained undefined, pale, and pasty, probably due to my continuing to eat cheap Chinese food and Marie Callender’s pot pies. I still felt a ton of pressure to sustain this enormous load of cardio, and was worried that I couldn’t.

After about a year of that, I was browsing through a bookstore and my girlfriend pointed out Laird Hamilton’s book on the shelf. I’d always been an admirer of his sheer presence, physique, and skill as a waterman, so I decided to buy it. The section on food was an eye opener for me to say the least. In addition to exposing me to information and opinions on food additives, nutrients, local and whole food eating, and supplements, it also introduced me to Paul Chek, who as we all know has VERY thorough, strong opinions on diet, exercise, and life in general. I instantly became more of a label reader, and tried to implement both of their workout strategies. This led to a lot of standing around at the gym, occasionally interrupted by weight lifting. I found this boring, and both Laird and Paul are such genetically and physically talented animals that it didn’t seem realistic to me. That old defeatism reared it’s head again, and I continued with the obsessive, endless riding and swimming.

The improved diet definitely was helping with the appearance of my skin, and the swimming gave me more definition, but I was getting even more scrawny and tired looking, replete with sunken cheeks and dark circles. I still worried that if I didn’t keep up the intensity, I would get fat again. Given that I foolishly believed that I was working out enough to eat as much as I wanted, I was probably right.

Then, on September 25, 2010, during a truly epic mountain bike season, I blew out my knee. Complete ACL, partial MCL, meniscus, and tibial plateau fracture. Needless to say, my greatest fear was realized and all physical activity came to a screeching halt. I had surgery a month later on October 25, and recovery began. In addition to the obvious atrophy to my left leg, my entire body began to soften and deteriorate, and that old defeatism came back, this time accompanied by a decent amount of depression. I began to think I was too old to get in shape again, that 34 was a bad age to try and fully recover from this type of injury. In the back of my mind, I feared my brief stint at being in shape may have been coming to an end, and I let my diet slip a little.

Eventually physical therapy progressed to the point where I could begin exercising again, which meant the spin bike, swimming, and extremely boring exercises targeted at leg strength and flexibility. My heart wasn’t in it, but I forced myself to continue, because I wanted to recover and get back in shape. I still read a ton on the topic of health and fitness, and at one point while reading about nuts, I stumbled upon Mark’s Daily Apple. The line “Primal Living in the Modern World” really spoke to me, not because I had ever had any involvement with anything Paleo, but because I knew right away it meant simplification.

After spending a considerable amount of time in hyperlink wormholes on MDA, I began incorporating Primal eating into my diet, and in a surprisingly short amount of time, I noticed my skin and hair looking noticeably healthier. I made the effort to moderate my chronic cardio and spend more time on low intensity activities, body weight lifting, and functional strength exercises like kettlebells and sledgehammers. Instead of swimming 4000 meters 3 times a week, I started swimming a mile followed by Tabata sprints in the water. I still go on intense mountain bike rides, but try to make it a combination of cardio, sprint, and play when I do.

graham

(Yes, those are both the same person.)

My diet is now about 90% Primal – taking into account occasional chocolate, rye whiskey, and beans – and I think the results speak for themselves. I’m completely and easily drug and pharmaceutical free, and I only have a couple drinks a week. I no longer have any heartburn or other GI issues whatsoever. I sleep soundly at night and awake full of energy. Most of all, I’m in far greater shape than ever before while working out a fraction of the time, and enjoying every minute of it. I no longer have the defeatist fears that I can’t keep it up, because I know I can. It’s a fun, fulfilling way to live and I love it. All aspects of my life beyond health and fitness have improved as a result.

So thank you, Mark, for your astounding dedication to your work and the selflessness with which you share your knowledge – we all appreciate it. The PB helped me go from one of my lowest points to the best shape and health of my life.

I know you love to snowboard, so if you ever find yourself in the Vail/Beaver Creek area, feel free to email me for a few runs, a Primal meal, or a sensible vice or two!

All the Best,

Graham Olson

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