A Doctor Finds Primal Balance

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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!

Dear Mark,

I’m a physician and budding blogger, and I’ve been a fan of MDA for a few years now. You are my blog-crush, always combining the perfect blend of serious scientific information with colloquial content. Primal living is about much more than just what we eat and how we exercise, and your posts always reflect that!

My story begins around the time I found your site and your book, The Primal Blueprint. A bit of background: I’m a very tall (over six feet) woman who was raised on Conventional Wisdom and the Standard American Diet, replete with Oreos for breakfast, bologna sandwiches for lunch, and spaghetti for dinner with Cheetos and Hostess snack cakes thrown in between! In high school, I was heavily recruited for athletics due to my height but was never courageous or confident enough to learn how to play sports. I focused more on my schoolwork and music studies, and I couldn’t have cared less about what was going on with my body. This all changed when I met my husband in my freshman year of college: a very tall and athletic rock climber who inspired me to exercise and learn more about health and fitness. My newfound love of fitness grew through our climbing adventures around the world, and it eventually prompted me to pursue a career as a physician.

Fast forward to 2007 and the transition from medical school to Anesthesiology residency, where I felt the healthiest and fittest I had ever been. The future was bright with possibilities in all sorts of outdoor athletics and my budding career as a physician. As many MD trainees do, I had developed some bad habits related to food – like eating junk because it was free and available at the time you encountered it, as you never know when you’ll again have time for your another meal. Ironically, the medical establishment perpetuates these habits by providing the unhealthiest food free for the taking during our required lectures and call shifts… doughnuts, cookies, pizza, you name it. But for a year or so, this poor eating style failed to affect me much and I was able to keep a semblance of fitness. The Chronic Cardio queen that I had become kept slogging through post-call runs, group exercise classes, or rides in an effort to “stay fit” and counteract my poor nutrition with the math of “Calories In, Calories Out”.

When I started my specialty training in Anesthesiology, I began to feel the effects of chronic stress on my body and mind. While I couldn’t put a finger on it at the time, in retrospect I was not myself. I began to suffer depression, sleep disturbance, and a general lack of vigor that affected my work and relationships. I suddenly hated going rock climbing. My poor eating habits worsened in a vicious cycle of treat/reward and overexercise/remorse, and my then 35-year-old body started to show the effects. My previously “toned” (read: skinny-fat) body that could handle eating a half box of Lucky Charms after each step class was slowly becoming fat-fat. Being tall, this wasn’t too noticeable to the outside world, but I fell into an even deeper pit of self-loathing.

And yet… I continued to chow down on free hospital doughnuts, cookies, and cake at all hours of the day or night. I tried severe calorie restriction with “cheat days”, but the cheats turned into huge binges and the frequency increased from once a week to every other day! My cravings for sugar became insatiable. Any exercise I did in attempts to counteract this out of control situation was deteriorating in quality. In fact, I began to suffer an incredible fatigue that left me needing a nap after even a short walk. Getting up for an early morning cases in the OR became a daunting task.

I knew deep down that something was seriously wrong, but I chocked all of these changes up to my stress level and the general process of aging. The only “medical” manifestation I could report to a doctor was the absence of my period for the past several months. After much laboratory testing, it was decided that I had stress-induced amenorrhea, which was basically akin to saying that I had self-inflicted menopause at age 35. I was devastated! My estrogen levels were so severely low that I had started to show the signs of osteopenia on a bone density scan. A 24-hour urine study revealed high levels of calcium in my urine. My thyroid labs were out of whack. There was talk of scanning my head for tumors, which I immediately shirked. At the time, it all seemed like a ridiculous, far-fetched Zebra chase!

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