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Paleo Success Story – Ursula Grobler

Jeremy Hendon | November 5
Ursula Grobler paleo success story rower

This is a guest post from Ursula Grobler, a world-class rower who has competed at the highest levels across the globe.

My story is different than many “typical” Paleo success stories, but my results have been no less life-changing.

Who I Am

I am a competitive rower working toward my dream of competing in the Olympics. Unlike many of the people I train with and compete against, I found rowing very late.

I was generally pretty active as a kid growing up in South Africa, but for about eight years before starting rowing, I hadn’t done very much physical activity at all.

In 2007, I was laid off from my job, and I moved to the Lake Stevens area in Seattle, Washington. While there, I started rowing for fun at the age of 23, which is pretty old in sporting years.

paleo success storyHowever, I’ve never been the type of person who does much half-heartedly, and by 2008, I was competing at the top (Elite) levels of rowing around the world.

And I absolutely loved it (and still do).

What Led Me to Paleo

When I first moved to the US in 2007, I was generally pigging out on McDonald’s and other junk food. Tasty, but not fantastic for the sport I compete in.

As a rower, I must weigh in before any competition and be under a specified weight. So the idea is that I need to be as lean as possible while still able to perform and compete as well as possible. McDonald’s wasn’t helping. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for rowers (both men and women) to spend the week or weeks before a big competition trying to lose weight as quickly as possible.

Fortunately, in 2008, I was working in a local gym, and someone there knew and recommended that I get in touch with Nell Stephenson. So I did.

Getting Strict and Getting Results

As soon as I started to work with Nell, my diet got very strict. And being very strict was fantastic in some ways.

I ate extremely well and rarely cheated on anything. And, as you might imagine, it was almost immediately easier for me to stay continually lean without needing to lose weight for competitions.

But there were bigger benefits.

Suddenly, I had so much more energy. I didn’t think that I was always tired before I went Paleo, but my energy levels skyrocketed. In addition, I was able to concentrate and focus so much better.

All in all, I couldn’t believe how much better I felt. But I was being just a little bit too strict. At that time, like many athletes, I was weighing and measuring every bit of food I ate to make sure that I got exactly the right amount of nutrients.

It was obviously working better than McDonald’s, but I was a bit too obsessive at that time.

Slacking Off and Settling In

In 2009, probably because I’d spent much of 2008 being overly strict, I really slacked off and my eating habits declined. At the same time, I felt like I wasn’t performing as well and just generally didn’t feel as good.

Toward the end of 2009, I got back in the saddle and started eating well again. Only this time, I was much less obsessive about it. I still don’t cheat very often, but I don’t weigh and measure my food any more, and I just don’t worry about it quite as much.

Since 2009, I’ve really begun to realize how much of a lifestyle Paleo is, and everything has just gotten easier and more enjoyable.

The Hardest Parts

Looking back, there were at least a few difficult parts about going Paleo.

At first, I would go to the supermarket, buy “Paleo” foods from my shopping list, and then I’d walk around my kitchen and not know what to eat. I had all these ingredients and foods that I was completely unaccustomed to eating. It definitely took me a while to learn how to prepare better food.

Also, the support hasn’t always been there for me. When I first went Paleo, my partner at the time wasn’t on board at all. We broke up not too long after I went Paleo, but it made the first few months of going Paleo a lot harder by just having someone around who wasn’t supportive at all about my food choices.

In addition, as rowers, we routinely consult with physiologists and doctors. And generally, the advice is to pretty much live on pasta and bread. Athletes need carbs after all, and where else would you get them from except for bread and pasta?

All joking aside, I now have a very supportive partner who has lost a lot of weight by going Paleo, and having that support makes everything easier for me.

Letting Everyone Know

As I imagine you can tell by now, I love eating well. And because I do, I tell everyone I know about it.

Ironically, I’m often told that eating real foods is “too radical” (the doctors and physiologists often tell me this). In other words, they don’t think that they could convince everyone else to eat real food.

For the most part, though, I feel like more and more people are very receptive to hearing about Paleo. Certain people (hi Dad!) are tougher than others, but it’s getting easier.

My Favorite Parts of Paleo

Obviously, I love feeling better all the time. But there’s more for me.

I love being able – just through my individual buying power – to support both the environment and sustainable, humanely raised animals. That’s extremely important to me, and I think it’s one of the best ways that we can foster change.

My Favorite Foods

Mangoes – honestly, I love the mess.

Also, roasted chicken. So simple, but so delicious. Really, I love eating almost anything that’s fresh and Paleo.


As long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to compete in the Olympics. I was inches away from doing so in 2012, but luckily, there are second chances in life.

The key is to take control of your life, and living a healthy lifestyle is a huge part of that.

Images: Copyright © Ursula Grobler