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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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January 12, 2009

Dear Mark: Common Stumbling Blocks

By Mark Sisson
51 Comments

Dear Mark,

As a newbie to MDA I’m interested in doing the Primal Challenge for the year. I’m sold on the idea of PB and understand how it should work. The problem is I’ve had one failure after another when it comes to diets, and I’m a little gun-shy going in. The PB is definitely different than diets I’ve tried in the past. I just want to feel prepared this time for the stumbling blocks and know what to look out for. I’d love to hear your advice and tips!

I’ve been hearing from a lot of new folks since the New Year’s Primal Challenge. Thanks for your comments and questions. I’m thrilled you’ve all joined us!

Diet stumbling blocks… The eternal question for a lot of people, I know. But the lucky thing is this: the Primal Blueprint isn’t another diet. It’s a way of eating for life. Nonetheless, it is (or can be) a major transition for most people. As I’ve said in the past, eating PB-style totally goes against the grain (yeah, yeah – unavoidable pun) in our society. In a culture of bread, bakeries, chips, popcorn, pasta, rice and potatoes at every turn, it takes a real turnabout in thinking as well as eating. Initially, the concept of the PB may feel restrictive to someone who’s had a lifetime’s worth of sandwiches, pizza, fast food, etc. But if you can get past the ingrained (O.K. – last one, I promise) mindset, you’re good to go. It’s why it’s crucial (as we’ve said in the past) that you focus not on what you’re giving up but what you’re taking on – the change you’re welcoming into your diet and lifestyle. Once people stop carrying the torch for the habitual/comfort foods, they see that the PB actually opens up their diet to a world of possibilities (as well as energy, satiety, etc.) that the old foods could never match.

Some people might have an issue with cravings for a while. Again, it’s natural that it takes a while to get past the old way of doing things. We’ve talked about cravings before, and for the most part they’re psychological. If you come up against this stumbling block, ask yourself first whether you’ve been having a rough time lately (at work, in your personal life, etc.). So many of us, even if we aren’t really “emotional eaters,” still tend to half-consciously/subconsciously turn to (or think about) certain comfort foods when times get tough. When you recognize that it’s an emotional desire rather than a physical need, you can do something to get at the real issue instead of sabotaging your diet. If it isn’t emotionally-connected and you find yourself truly overrun by cravings, however, you might want to visit FitDay and do some calculations of your daily diet. A lot of people starting out on a low-carb diet don’t include enough fat right away. Oftentimes, it takes some tinkering.

I’d be remiss to not include something about the social scenario. For some people, their families’ eating habits can impact their efforts. For others, it’s more the evenings out with friends or the business travel that leaves them foraging for primal fare in the midst of fast food offerings.

The fact is, the social aspect has the power to work both for and against us. Sure, it helps to have everyone around eating and living with the same standards, but I don’t know how many readers can really say that’s the case for them. I would guess very few. The “bad” news: if you live with people who have very un-primal eating habits, you’ll have to be O.K. doing your own thing and maybe work on some kind of logistical arrangement that addresses your own participation in their habits (food prep for the kids, etc.). The good news is that you don’t have to be dependent on your partner, family or close set of friends for motivation itself. Shake things up a bit and branch out in the name of new change. Expand your support system. One of the things I love about the MDA community is the support and constant flow of new ideas. Everyone’s comments offer stories to identify with, perspective to learn from, and new angles to bring to your own PB practice. A goldmine, I say. (Thanks, guys.)

The ultimate point for going primal, as for every life-changing vision, is this. It’s not about the end result off in the distance. It’s the day-to-day effort of putting one foot in front of the other, making one primal choice at a time. (Check out the primal transition “6 Steps” post.) This kind of change is and will always be about daily commitment no matter how long you’ve been doing it. It’s not a static goal you can achieve, but that’s the beauty of the PB. You can’t “fail” at a lifestyle. A “diet” can seem like something you live up to or you don’t. But you build a life. You evolve through it. Some of it is great, and some of it isn’t pretty. But it’s yours – every day of it. Your primal lifestyle will be no less.

Beyond the psychological/social traps, there are indeed a few temporary physical effects to expect in the transition. Check out my take on the latest “study” suggesting that low-carb living compromises you cognitively. (Utter hogwash research.) That said, there is an inevitable transition time, as I also say. For most people there’s a little short-term memory haziness and for some a (usually very) modest physical fatigue as their bodies get off the constant carb merry-go-round. Any physical fatigue usually resolves itself within a few days but occasionally can take a couple weeks. Short-term memory fog lifts within a three-week window. Cutting carbs slowly over time (a few weeks) will definitely minimize this effect. Also, if you’re looking for quicker weight loss and want to eventually end in lower carb territory (50-100 grams), consider taking a few weeks to hold steady at moderate levels (100-150 grams) and then gradually step down from there. (It might help you avoid the one step forward, two steps backslide phenomenon that plagues a lot of dieters. Stability – slow and steady progress – can be the best approach sometimes. Good luck, and let me know how it goes!

Apples? What am I missing here? Advice, anecdotes, perspective to offer up? Thanks, as always, for the great questions and comments. Keep ‘em coming!

beautyfromashes Flickr Photo (CC)

Further Reading:

The Definitive Guide to the Primal Eating Plan

2008 30-Day Challenge Final Results

10 Ways to “Get Primal”

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51 Comments on "Dear Mark: Common Stumbling Blocks"

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Son of Grok
7 years 8 months ago

Congrats to the author of the e-mail and everyone else jumping on the primal challenge! I hope that you discover it to be as easy and wonderful as I do. I anticipated a lot of difficulty and “stumbling blocks” going in… but I never really hit any that weren’t easy to “hop” over. It was far easier than I ever imagined.

The SoG

Andrew R - Go Healthy Go Fit
7 years 8 months ago

Mark,

I like your suggestion of one day at a time. That is really the way people should look at a lot of things. It helps me keep from getting overwhelmed for sure!

All the Best,

Andrew R

Chris - Zen to Fitness
7 years 8 months ago
I find a stumbling block many “Fit/healthy” people have when starting this way of life as oppose to their usual high carb ways they don’t notice any difference in the first week or two. Rather they notice a lack of energy/brain fog as they are in transition. This can trhow people off and make them see paleo/primal as a waste of time. I think its important all people starting primal try and stick to it for at least a month before making a decision on whether the eating plan is working for them and if they need to make any… Read more »
JE Gonzalez
7 years 8 months ago
I remember when I first went on Atkins how terrible I felt, but the thing is that I saw it as a diet with the intention on having ice cream at the end of every meal afterwards. Now I’ll have it once a month, twice tops. If there is one stumbling block for me it has been calories: I ate too many to lose fat but enough to build lean muscle with an iota of fat loss. A whole avocado and butter will certainly do that to you. Just to let everyone know in 1 month of higher-calorie Primal, I… Read more »
Holly
Holly
7 years 8 months ago

The first week for me was a total motivator. I dropped 3 pounds in the first 7 days or so and was feeling great. It was the end of the 2nd week/beginning of the 3rd that was difficult, as my weight loss didn’t increase any further and I started getting a little tired and having some cravings. Pushing through that time was somewhat difficult, but really not too bad since there were so many great voices here at MDA. To all the newbies – you can do it!

Mariann Jelinek
Mariann Jelinek
7 years 8 months ago

Just started PB, and am finding roadblocks are of the “see food” sort — if I SEE it, I want to EAT it! (Cookies … Sourdough bread … pasta …) But to balance that out, the fat and protein, plus lots of romaine, broccoli, etc., etc. veggies has me feeling both “lighter” and sharper. I forgave myself an occasional slip, got right back at it, AND I took off 5# over Christmas-New Years! If I can do it, YOU can do it!

Tara
7 years 8 months ago

Im in the middle of beginning the PB. Its easier than I anticipated in some aspects (food, eating out), but harder in others (have yet to get to a gym…). Once Im done with this heeefty school assignment Ill have a lot more time to devote. Right now Im just doing what I can!

JE Gonzalez: How much fat were/ are you consuming? Im trying to figure out a nice balance for myself and would love some input!

Thanks!

Dave
Dave
7 years 8 months ago
The biggest stumbling block for me has been the grocery store. I’m absolutely dumbfounded by the amount of products that contain grains, sugar, or high fructose corn syrup (sometimes all three!). You really do have to shop around the periphery of the store and limit your time in the middle aisles. Read all labels very carefully. This site has been a godsend as it provides great recipes. Getting off processed food hasn’t been as hard as I thought and I don’t really miss bread products all that much. I’m really pleased to have lost two pounds in the first week… Read more »
Lauren B
7 years 8 months ago

Mark, I think adapting your tastebuds to fresh whole foods takes some time, but makes this WOE so much easier. It makes formerly “boring” foods like carrots truly exciting to the palate. After the induction period, it’s nice to have a recipe arsenal of natural “sweet” treats, using stevia and erythritol. That has helped me through many a holiday celebration! 🙂

Special Kay
Special Kay
7 years 8 months ago

the social scene is definitely one of my biggest strengths/weaknesses. I talk about my “diet” with my friends, which helps keep me accountable. By I do enjoy a few drinks and appetizers with the ladies on a Friday (or Wednesday) night!

BEE
7 years 8 months ago

All this chatter is so motivating! I’ve been grain-free for 7 days now, and have had so many benefits. Had a little bit of a setback this past weekend, but all it did was put it all in perspective. Thanks (as always) for the inspiration!

Conny
Conny
7 years 8 months ago

To BEE: Any hints/inspiration about being grain-free for 7 days? That seems to be my stumbling block. I make it two days and stumble on the third day. Grains are so darned convenient, and I don’t want them to be.

I took the Primal challenge last year and am soooo glad I did. Completing banishing grains has been the hardest part for me.

BEE
7 years 8 months ago
Inspiration- day three is the hardest. By far. I almost caved a few times, especially because my office is FULL of snacks that are very convenient. I got some dried fruit (no sugar- apples and pears were my fav) and raw nuts and they really helped. They were especially a good first week thing about once a day. Helps with that “I want something crunchy” type of craving (I usually get that in the mid-morning or mid-afternoon). Keep those primal snacks on hand. At ALL times. Nuts (protein) helped a bunch because after I ate them I didn’t feel that… Read more »
Psychological effects of IF
7 years 8 months ago

“Some people might have an issue with cravings for a while. Again, it’s natural that it takes a while to get past the old way of doing things. We’ve talked about cravings before, and for the most part they’re psychological.”

Yup… most people don’t seem to realize that these psychological aspects can be overcome.

Rodney
Rodney
7 years 8 months ago
One of the best and most rewarding parts of the dietary changes for me has been my introduction to spices. I tended to eat fairly bland food, but once I started eating more veggies and less sweet stuff I found I needed a little something extra. Experiment with spices! That doesn’t have to mean “spicy” if that isn’t your thing. So many spices have real health benefits and they take the blandness out of eating veggies as you transition to real food. Once you adjust I bet you will keep using the spices since they are simply awesome! Check out… Read more »
Apurva Mehta
7 years 8 months ago
I think Mark’s advice of taking it step by step, one choice at a time, is the totally spot on. Along those lines, I would like to share a few attitudes that have really helped me. I have found it extremely beneficial to think of a Primal life as a direction to move in, rather than a goal to reach. If one buckles down and takes satisfaction from simply making an honest effort in the primal direction everyday, that is all one needs. You may not always make the ‘optimal’ choices, you make backslide, etc. But if one avoids making… Read more »
Jesse Bastide
7 years 8 months ago
I just have to give you props, Mark, on the work you and your team put into this site to spread the virtues of the primal blueprint. I’ve been an endurance athlete for most of my life, and for at least a decade suffered from frequent upper respiratory infections as well as endocrine issues and gradual weight gain. Within the last two years, I decreased my training hours (I just cycle, trail run, and nordic ski for fun now), dramatically reduced refined starch consumption, and increased the good stuff. For the new year, I decided I would also cut out… Read more »
BEE
7 years 8 months ago

Oh yeah- Rodney good point. I forgot hot sauce and salsa! They’ve saved me many times. I’m loving experimenting with new tastes as my buds are resetting themselves.

And I love some salsa on eggs. My next experiment is making my own salsa!

Rob
Rob
7 years 8 months ago

I started by just cutting out the grains. All of them. Bread, Pasta, Cereal. Wheat, Rice, Corn, Oats. I got immediate results. Then I plateaued out. I realized that I was eating way too many berries, which had become a substitute for sweets. I cut back on the fruit, ate more fish, and started losing weight again. Two and half months and 25 lbs later, I’m now at my target weight and feel great.

Tracey
Tracey
7 years 8 months ago

I think it would be helpful to have a grocery list of sorts for the primal lifestyle.

anna
anna
7 years 8 months ago

My setback/ stumbling block are get togethers and parties.. its very hard when you are with friends and theyre wondering why youre not drinking or taking a bite out of that tempting white chocolate brownie, but in the end the reward is much worth it when you feel healthy, never bloated and feeling good about what you see in the mirror.

its definitely a lifestyle, and im not going to lie, i did it kicking and screaming but it definitely got easier along the way. in the end, its my health that im going to choose.

JE Gonzalez
7 years 8 months ago
Tara: I was consuming anywhere between 150-180 grams of fat aswell as 120-150 grams of carbs ( alot of fiber). Right now I am dropping with about 100 grams of fat and about 100 of carbs. Mark: I was having lunch with a sister-in-law. She started to suffer a severe nervous system disorder that had accumulated over the years. She was seemingly healthy, but I immediately gave her the links to your site to see if it would help out. Plus, I showed her how Multiple Sclerosis can be treated with a Paleo diet. Two months later she is looking… Read more »
Mariann Jelinek
Mariann Jelinek
7 years 8 months ago
Ah, salsa! Homemade is BEST! You’ll never eat a canned/bottled salsa again! For best flavor, use 2-3 different kinds of tomatoes (beefsteak, yellow, heirloom, cherry, sun golds …) Throw a handful in the food processor, add 2-3 cloves garlic (more if you’re a fiend), and a tomatillo (Mexican “Green tomato”) if you can find it. Add in a good TBSP olive oil, juice of a lime, a a quarter to a whole finely chopped hot chili (habanero is good, or Thai), chopped green scaliions or chives, a bit of parsley, oregano and a dash of tabasco, salt to taste (mix… Read more »
Tara
7 years 8 months ago
JE Gonzalez- Thanks! Thats about where I am, well about 80-100g carbs but slightly less fat. I started Jan 1, so we’ll see what happens. Ive always eaten very healthy so I dont think this is as big a change for me as it is for most people. No sugar in the tea, no sprouted grain toast in the morning. Smaller smoothies with no honey. The thing for me is *special occasions*! Dinner parties , bdays… bah! Its all about being adaptable! One BIG perk for me so far: everything tastes sweeter! Since Ive cut out sugar things that were… Read more »
Keith Norris
7 years 8 months ago

My “go to” trick is to take a tablespoon of coconut or olive oil to quell the carb. Jones that tends to derail most newbies in the first few weeks. A few other ideas here:
http://theorytopractice.wordpress.com/2009/01/10/q-a-the-journey%E2%80%99s-initial-steps/

fasching
fasching
7 years 8 months ago
On the topic of cravings: Personal experience with a low-carb / high-fat diet is that cravings are virtually eliminated from the get-go. I include dairy products, and I am perhaps a bit lower on the carbs than Mark’s reccommendations, but very to similar to the PB overall. What remains are phantom cravings, that are more intellectual in nature. The old, primal (pun intended) cravings, that would practically pull you to the store to get Ben and Jerry’s have gone away. You might still *know* that Ben and Jerry’s would be delicious, but you can’t *feel* it. And hence, they are… Read more »
Star Trec
Star Trec
7 years 8 months ago

Has anyone out there been Primal and Pregnant? I’ve read a lot of posts, Mark, but I don’t think I have come across anything about pregnancy. I know I’ll probably get the “check with your doctor” mumbo jumbo, but I KNOW my doctor will say that about 60-70% of my intake should be from grains…Help!

tee
tee
7 years 8 months ago

Hey Mark, when are you going to bring back the forum?

Jen
Jen
7 years 8 months ago
Star Trec, I’m 8 months pregnant now and have been trying to stay as primal as my food aversions allow through the pregnancy. Although pregnancy might not be the best time to push yourself into truly low carb territory (less than 60 grams) particularly if you’re not used to it, moderate carb intake like Mark talks about (150 grams) seems not only reasonable but very healthy. Your doctor should know that a pregnant woman doesn’t need more carbs but she does need more protein and healthy fats (esp. omega-3s). Redistributing the diet away from carbs will allow you to eat… Read more »
Donna
Donna
7 years 8 months ago

I believe you get accustomed to what you eat. For someone just starting to eat healthy soon notice they feel better, look better, and never want to go back to that unhealthy way of eating. I’ve talked to some people who has made eating changes and all have said the same thing. Eating healthy foods gets easier and easier as you see and feel results. You really do get accustomed to WHAT you eat.

John Campbell
John Campbell
7 years 8 months ago
This is a great post with great comments. After almost a year of PB for me, almost all of the comments ring true for me, but I believe Apurva nailed it. This really is a direction to move in rather than a goal as Apurva said. And as Richard Dreyfus said to Bill Murray in “What About Bob” – “baby steps”. Everyone’s path to greater health and energy is different, but the journey is infinitely rewarding. Learn all you can, but jump in and try things – experiment and listen to your body. And be prepared for the naysayers who… Read more »
Star Trec
Star Trec
7 years 8 months ago

Thanks for the info, Jen and Mark!

APPLE AL
APPLE AL
7 years 8 months ago
Mark, If your readers would allow me to make a wild assumption about cravings. I feel that the cravings early in the primal diet are caused by fungus producing mycotoxins which stimulate us to crave carbon ie. grains, sugars and starches. In nature fungus are saprophytes. Their primary function is to break down carbon based materials. The C:N ratio of a fungal body is approximately 50:1 meaning that they have to feed on carbon to survive. The C:N ratio in the human body is more nitrogen based making it difficult for them to survive so they become parasitic, living off… Read more »
Dr Dan
7 years 8 months ago

As someone who has lost 10 kg this way I highly recommend accepting that it will still be difficult but at least it is POSSIBLE. its best to be as strict as you can be and that way when you do slip the diet is very very forgiving.

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[…] Dear Mark: Common Stumbling Blocks Published in: […]

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[…] tough, there’s the inclination to lean toward items that make us feel warm and cozy on some deep cultural or hazy psychological level. But the concept of “stretching your dollars” at the grocery store, for many, begins to […]

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[…] comments on the boards/forum threads, and others have written me personally about the difficulty of breaking through this first “wall” on the way to going Primal. When you’re addicted to sugar (or carbs in […]

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[…] way to self-justification. And so the cycle continues…. Primal focus and/or motivation wane, practical planning apparatus isn’t maintained, and daily habits begin to […]

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[…] comments on the boards/forum threads, and others have written me personally about the difficulty of breaking through this first “wall” on the way to going Primal. When you’re addicted to sugar (or carbs in […]

Guy Giard
6 years 21 hours ago

Health is possible when you apply yourself to it. I’ve lost 70 pounds so far, I am starting october 1st a full paleo challenge combined with an exercise program, I even create and post paleo recipes with photos. This for me and my visitors at http://guythehealthypaleoguy.wordpress.com/ to make the Paleo lifestyle more and more known. Come and visit and help spread the Paleo lifestyle! It’s fun!!!!
Guy

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[…] PBers! Share your stories, and enjoy those of others in the community today. Grand accomplishments, stumbling blocks, inspiring (or comical) anecdotes welcome! Have a great weekend, […]

Nicole
Nicole
5 years 2 months ago
Hi Apple, I like that theory. I was thinking the same thing. Last week I decided to go 100% primal and simply had lamb cutlets fried in butter for a late breakfast. By 2pm I was not going well at all. All I can say is that I felt angry, frustrated and violent. All I could think of was that it could have been candida die off. I searched the web and could not find anything on this issue. I’m not sure what you ment in the end of your comment which says “which may also be the cause of… Read more »
Tasha
Tasha
5 years 2 months ago

Mark,
I think a bit more attention on emotional eating is due. Many people are not aware that they need to deal with their underlying psychological reasons for eating first, so they end up sabotaging themselves and think that the diet/lifestyle choice was wrong.
I’ve just completed a program called shrinkyourself.com which has given me insights into and tools for handling my emotional eating. When those cravings for comfort foods come on, I’m ready for them!
I’ve also quit sugar three months ago, so I feel I’m quite ready to go Primal. Today is day 1 🙂

Tasha

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[…] can never stay on a diet.” Here’s my post about that. And see Mark’s Common Stumbling Blocks. Come to Mark’s Daily Apple forums any time you need […]

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