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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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February 19, 2009

A Little Perspective

By Mark Sisson
70 Comments

A little perspective is always helpful. Usually, I take it upon myself to dole it out on this blog, but I could use a wake up call from time to time.

You may have noticed that we’ve been stressing the “perfect” Primal life: eating organic, wild, free-range foods, butchering or hunting our own meat, buying food directly from local farmers, growing our own produce, etc. But in our zest for attempting to perfectly emulate the quality of food Grok might have eaten, we run the risk of scaring off newcomers. Maybe you’re a college student unsatisfied with his dorm food and the Primal Blueprint sounds pretty intriguing… but then you read posts from the last few weeks and wonder how you’ll ever find the time or money to hunt a deer or buy an entire pig from a farmer or shop exclusively at farmers’ markets. I imagine it can sound a bit overwhelming to someone who just wants to improve his or her diet and health, and lose a bit of weight. Organic produce can be pricey, growing vegetables requires space, buying from local farms requires local farms, and butchering an entire side of beef requires time and know-how that most busy people simply don’t have. Striving for perfection is admirable, and we certainly condone it, but falling short of it (which, by definition, is basically inevitable) isn’t failure. It’s just reality. As much as I stress following a near perfect Primal lifestyle, I don’t want the perfect to become the enemy of the good.

Why? Because you can do a whole lot of good for your body by strictly shopping at a regular grocery store and buying conventionally produced food. Just stick to the tried and true ways – stay on the perimeter of the store, avoid the inner aisles, always purchase whole foods – and the rest will fall into place. Eating organic is, of course, ideal, but not totally necessary; I’d say that in most cases what you don’t eat is more important than what you do eat. Cutting out grains, starchy vegetables, legumes, and refined sugars is the most important aspect of the Primal diet – and their absence will make the biggest difference in your health and body composition. Whether you eat grain fed meat and conventionally grown veggies or grass fed and organic, as long as you cut out the agrarian staples, you will lose weight and feel better.

Look, no one’s perfect. We all have our vices, and that’s okay – they’re “allowed.” (Some vices aren’t even vices at all; like dark chocolate, fat, naps, or wine.) We don’t expect everyone to follow the Primal way with the zeal of a religious fanatic; we just hope that people follow the basic guidelines while allowing for a few compromises here and there. 90% of it is making a few simple lifestyle changes – cutting out grains and legumes, reducing sugar intake, getting daily exercise (in a pattern that blends both intense and casual), getting enough sleep, eating more fat and protein. The rest is just gravy (not literally, of course!).

To those of you opting out of fried chicken and potatoes for roast chicken and greens, we applaud you – regardless of how that chicken was raised, in almost all cases you are better off.

To those of you buying veggies at the grocery store rather than at a farmers’ market, keep up the good work – in the end, a vegetable is a vegetable with the same basic nutrient profile.

To those of you working out on a nautilus machine or just with your body weight because you have no access to a barbell and weights, don’t stop – just stay active everyday and your body will show it.

To those of you curious enough to question conventional health and fitness advice (including ours!), you’ve already won – and never stop asking.

Again, I feel eating organic/wild/free-range/hunted is incredibly beneficial if you can manage, but don’t sweat it. If our focus on organic and wild food and self-sustenance is what’s keeping you from going Primal, don’t let it! If you don’t have the time or inclination to search out obscure ingredients like pink Celtic sea salt or wild buffalo rib-eyes or Peruvian red peppercorns, it won’t affect your ability to benefit from the Primal Blueprint.

Remember: any step toward the Primal life is a step in the right direction.

Questions for readers:

What do you think? Where on the spectrum of “Primal” do you fall? Would you agree that going Primal can be done in baby steps, or is going Primal an all-or-nothing proposition for you? Do you let perfection get in the way of making good choices? Hit me up with a comment and let me know your thoughts. Thanks, everyone!

Further Reading:

The Secret to Health & Longevity: Are You Following the 10/90 Rule?

Fast Food Indulgence, Dirty Marketing Tricks and Personal Responsibility

How to Cheat

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70 Comments on "A Little Perspective"

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Almost There
Almost There
7 years 7 months ago

Thanks for this post Mark. Very well said. I believe it can be done in baby steps and following whatever one’s ability is at a given time is more important than doing it “perfectly.” I can’t afford grass fed meats and all organic produce (I do buy it when it’s on special though!), but I don’t eat any grains, sugar, processed foods, etc. The difference is outstanding and I’m happy. When I can take it to the next level I will, but I won’t stress about it until then!

Shannon
7 years 7 months ago

I absolutely believe it can be done in baby steps. I almost primal in my eating habits and as a SAHM I certainly am active, though planned out exercise only happens a couple of times a week. I think we should all work towards the “perfect primal”, but if you can’t right now then do what you can with what you have.

Katherine
Katherine
7 years 7 months ago

I really appreciate this article, as I’m working toward a Primal lifestyle and find it difficult to not take an “all or nothing” approach. I’m still enjoying sugar in my coffee and eating probably too much dairy, but I’m also working on significantly increasing my protein. Baby steps : )

Rob
Rob
7 years 7 months ago

Great article. I lost 30 lbs just following the basics – stop eating grains and starchy foods. After that, it has been a matter of continuous learning (that never stops) to improve my health.

Billy Saywer
7 years 7 months ago
Mark, Great article. I’ve been following your site for a few months and it is fantastic! Not being “perfect” is probably what a lot of folks need to hear. I tend to stress myself out sometimes when it comes to sticking Primal. I elminated wheat and gluten on my own, before you discovering your site and what an impact on my health. I would get colds every 2 months. My triathlon training, combined with lots of wheat and gluten kept me ill. Reducing my training and eliminating wheat has been hard, it is in everything, but also beneficial. I got… Read more »
gadgetgirl
gadgetgirl
7 years 7 months ago

Perfect timing for this article! I’ve had a stressful week and my eating has been a bit off. This is a good reminder of how far I have come. I don’t eat gluten, I barely eat any grains (just a little brown rice in my homemade chicken soup) and I’ve cut my average carb intake from 300+ to right around 100.

But I did not do all of this overnight. It has been baby steps for the past 2+ years.

Thanks again for your site!

Christina Jones
7 years 7 months ago
Thanks for this post, Mark. I have been trying to go primal the best I can since early January (when I quit – *gasp* – smoking). I am dragging my family along with me (kicking and screaming a little bit), and I do often wonder how to put these things into perspective – which changes are the most important ones. So, while we are making some smaller changes as well, we have definitely cut out all those yucky carb foods and are walking/sprinting 2 miles a day – every day. I think (hope?) that if we falter a little on… Read more »
Son of Grok
7 years 7 months ago

I probably fall towards the “extreme” side of primal. I have even planned my first hunting trip tahnks to chuck (turkey this spring). I sure didn’t start there though. It is just so easy to keep incorporating more and more that soon you are happily on the hardcore primal side. I wouldnt recomend starting there though. One step at a time is the way to work yourself in.

The SoG

Dana Law
Dana Law
7 years 7 months ago
Mark, I appreciate your clear approach to eating and exercise. I have learn a lot from you. Regarding where I fall on the Primal Lifestyle I’d say that it’s easier when I prepare my own food. Getting enough vegetables is perhaps the hardest. Having enough around and preparing them is challenging on a daily basis. It takes time. Forget organic. A waste of money. I can’t afford to be that healthy. The other difficulty is that I’m the only person in my family who wants to live and eat this way. I read your articles out loud to the wife… Read more »
Kat
Kat
7 years 7 months ago

I’m going as primal as I possibly can since I live in a somewhat isolated place and have less access to organic grown/ grass-fed food. But I eat natural whole foods and stay active daily while staying away from stress, both physical and mental. I’ve never been in better shape! I truly believe I have the body I’m meant to have because of this lifestyle.

carla
carla
7 years 7 months ago

i think it’s good to bring to light that it is possible to go primal within differents parameters and to encourage those to do so. my food is a mixture, mostly fresh ingredients lots of vegetables and always berries but the pantry does have canned items as well. i do what i can with what i’ve got. thank you for keeping it real 🙂

KIra
7 years 7 months ago

Thanks.

I appreciate you catering to us non-Zealots too 🙂

Ryan Denner
7 years 7 months ago

As a fellow first born perfectionist – I say Great Post! A little perspective is always welcomed!

🙂

Sean
Sean
7 years 7 months ago
Mark, Great Post. We have been following the Primal Blueprint for about 5 months. I stumbled onto your site about a week after joining a CrossFit affiliate, your Primal plan immediately made sense. I remember the anxiety that I felt when we started, mostly related to the intensity of the workouts, but also from the potential expense of really trying to make the right decisions about our lifestyles after a lifetime of mis-information. Your advice is spot on, you can’t make every change at once. We cut out the HFCS, soda, grains, sugar, processed crap first, then worked on the… Read more »
Spring Girl
7 years 7 months ago

Baby steps are probably the single most important thing you can do. If you make too many changes in one go you end up a walking craving and it becomes too easy to revert to old ways. But taking it slow you can, spend the time learning what your body likes and what you want as part of your lifestyle.

Rachel
7 years 7 months ago

I would put myself 80% of the way there. And I’m pretty happy with myself. I do eat organic, avoid starches, exercise regularly, get lots of fat and protein in my diet. Hell, I have even kicked adding Splenda to things, which if you saw m 6 months ago would have never believed it possible. If only I could totally kick this darn diet soda habit!

Rambodoc
7 years 7 months ago

I don’t know…. A while back, I started the Primal lifestyle (with its own imperfect modifications, as you just posted) and reading your blog, and keeping my daily carbs at 100 grams per day (IF also has had a big role to play in this). And guess what (what I said I don’t know), I am sprinting faster than most people in my running group. And I am older by a minimum of 15 years to all of them. Some coincidence, huh?

shel
shel
7 years 7 months ago
there’s always venison (moose,deer) in the freezer, i kill my own grassfed bison goat and lamb, and buy wild caught salmon. all these i eat raw or cooked about 50/50. i always have a bone broth simmerin’ on the back burner (Mark, you should do a post extolling the miriad virtues of bone broth. cheap, and a goldmine of nutrition). also, i do not buy conventionally raised meat if i can help it. …but i’m not a total snob. 🙂 i never buy organic produce: too much conflicting evidence regarding benefits. i buy canned salmon, tuna and sardines for the… Read more »
shel
shel
7 years 7 months ago

…oh, yeah. no spuds! the bane of the waistline on the average North American male. heh heh…

Evan
Evan
7 years 7 months ago
That second row of abs is my primary motivator most of the time. They’re just beginning to show from under a receding layer of belly fat (if the lighting is -just right-). When I stumble and give in to chocolate and ice cream, they disappear until I get back on track for a day or two. I try to visualize my belly swallowing them up again every time I’m tempted by something sweet. It’s funny how we have our different vices. My roommate has no problem resisting sugar but has deep cravings for breads and starches, but I can remember… Read more »
Danielle T
7 years 7 months ago
Small steps is good advice. Few things worth having are achieved easily or overnight . I try to temper my pursuit of perfection by appreciating how far I’ve come and looking to where I want to be, while still enjoying the moment and stage where I am now. I’ve had some things in my favor for going primal. #1, I get sick as a dog when I screw up, since I am almost totally wheat/dairy and sugar intolerant and really just can’t take more than 150 g’s of carbs in any form per day. #2, I love working out and… Read more »
David Young
David Young
7 years 7 months ago
Good to be reminded that we can get too extreme or obsessed about things, a Primal lifestyle is a goal, and that the process of getting there is as important as the achievement itself. My physical and mental health has made enormous strides since I first read Marc’s stuff 6 months ago and cut out grains and dairy more or less completely. I will never get down to his 100-150 carbs I suspect – I love sweet fruits too much. On the other hand nobody is ever going to convince me that eating half a grapefruit, an apple and a… Read more »
Matt
Matt
7 years 7 months ago
Great article. Currently, I’m studying abroad in Denmark. It has been great, but, I’ve relaxed a little on my primal lifestyle. I’ve been traveling a lot and I try to eat authentic meals from the country I’m in. Most of the time, this includes dessert (although I got Pork Knuckle in Berlin this past weekend). However, during the week, I try to eat primally. I feel that most products here are less processed to begin with, so that is good. I used to do Crossfit religiously. Now, I get to the gym when I can. However, like EVERYONE else, I’ve… Read more »
Cody
Cody
7 years 7 months ago

Baby steps don’t work for me. I usually go full gorilla on anything I’m interested in. Much to my wife’s chagrin. On the other hand, she is starting slowly getting into the PB. I say you do whatever works for you and are comfortable with it.
It’s obvious we all have different approaches to the PB, the bottom line is……..get on board. It works!

Andy
7 years 7 months ago
I’m somewhere in the range between full-on Modern Grok and the baby steps. However, I’ve been comfortably in that zone for nearly 4 months, and what’s the status? nearly 20 pounds off the frame, vastly stronger, illnesses (mostly) dodged (minor sniffles right now, but nastier things are going around that aren’t bothering me), and generally feeling more energetic and positive … which helps, since I was laid off last week! Now working on getting my wife to try it out: starting with a 14-day challenge for her, I think. Then coax that to the 30-day and see what’s happened… Primal… Read more »
Wendy
Wendy
7 years 7 months ago
I’ve been completely Primal for about a year and a half now, (with the occasional tiny bites of non-Primal food from my boyfriend’s plate on Saturdays only). I feel and look better than ever. But I am glad that to me, good isn’t good enough. I am always trying to make myself even better. As a female bodybuilder, I am at 8-9% bodyfat, but still look for ways to build more muscle while maintaining a lean physique, WITHOUT drugs. This is a challenge for female bodybuilders, more than men, I believe. You guys have the testosterone, it’s so unfair! Thank… Read more »
Ruth
7 years 7 months ago
@SoG: I agree. What I’ve noticed in my own life is that healthy changes introduced gently encourage me to continue making healthy changes, until I’m more “hardcore”, even though I didn’t start out that way. @Dana Law: I empathize. My husband is not Primal, but because we don’t have kids and he eats out a lot (and wants to eat his leftovers, not throw them), cooking for him is not an issue–I just cook for myself. Also, he’s supportive of the changes I’ve made because he sees they’re having good results, and he’s making his own baby steps to cut… Read more »
WT
7 years 7 months ago
I think gradual change is essential since this is something for the long term. Changing ones lifestyle completely at once is likely not to last. I think everyone has to experiment and find what works best for them. We are all different no one approach will work for everyone. For me the key is to keep it simple: No calorie counting, no exercise plans, no real rules, just be aware of the principles and try to incorporate as many as possible over time. This approach has worked well for me so far. Now that I’m comfortable with the changes made… Read more »
John Campbell
John Campbell
7 years 7 months ago
Cody Law, I feel your pain – a year into this, down 25 pounds and feeling great, yet my wife is still somewhat hostile that it is all too extreme. I am NOT extreme compared to many but I am largely primal. I have cut down on the preaching and even my comments have been reduced to almost nothing. I think the memory of my preaching and commenting is still there and affecting my wife. She is healthy and slim herself and has cut down on carbs quite a bit, but she still considers me a freak. I think the… Read more »
Nathan
Nathan
7 years 7 months ago
Mark, appreciate the article. Its good to hear this. I’ve been moving to the Primal lifestyle for about 2.5 months now, and I really enjoy it. But I am the only income in our family. I have 3 boys and wife stays at home with them. We wanted it that way, but because we chose for Joy not to work, the kind of Primal Lifestyle I would want to pursue is not practical in regards to diet and budget constraints. I have cut out virtually all grains, sugar, and processed foods. But my food is still store bought vegetables, fruit,… Read more »
trinity
trinity
7 years 7 months ago
Hey, this is a little OT but I wanted to thank Mark for such a great website, it has become a daily read for me. I am six days into my primal life and adjusting well. I am not overly hungry but still dealing with those stuiped carb cravings but less than usual. I figure it will just take some time to move past them. I agree with the above poster that sometimes there are budgetary constrains with this……I am still eating more dairy than I want to in the long run, but it is cheaper than meat and at… Read more »
Tom Parker - Free Fitness Tips
7 years 7 months ago

Good post Mark. Whilst I agree health and fitness blogs are a good thing I think they can be quite overwhelming to a newcomer. Some people may think they’re making lots of positive lifestyle changes but then become disheartened because they are not doing all the exercises they read about or because they don’t eat organic. Most of us don’t make significant lifestyle changes overnight. It takes time and I think it’s important for our readers to hear that every once in a while.

Trinkwasser
Trinkwasser
7 years 7 months ago
If you aim for mediocrity then that’s the most you can achieve. I kinda snuck up on this primal thing from behind, after a lifetime of carefully eating my Healthy Whole Grains and feeling increasingly crap (I was diluting them with good veggies meat and fish or I’d probably have disintegrated a whole lot faster) It took moving to a new area to find a doctor who didn’t blow off my symptoms and actually bothered to discover the diabetes. The diet leaflet she gave me was pretty much more of the same that I was already eating so I knew… Read more »
mary johnson
mary johnson
7 years 7 months ago

Excellent Post Mark! Keep up the great work, as always!! I love your Master Formula too. Take it everyday along with my “healthy” foods!!! I wish more people would follow this advice. Our nation would be so much better off. Have a wonderful day!

Carolyn
Carolyn
7 years 5 months ago

Good point.

I too am just a college student avoiding the perils of hostel food… I know when I go home I’ll eat far more ‘primally’, but for the mean time, I can only do what I can do 😉

One thing to say, there is an excellent farmers market 15 mins away from my house every Sat morning. Convenient, even if I can’t always afford it!

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[…] I feel like “going Primal” is an all or nothing proposition. Not in the least. Every little change counts. 60% Primal is better than nothing. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. […]

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[…] Don’t Let the Perfect Be the Enemy of the Good […]

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7 years 4 months ago

[…] A post on Mark’s Daily Apple several months ago reminded me how important it is to keep perspective on your goals. […]

Delmas
Delmas
7 years 1 month ago

My daughter is not a big meat eater, My wife and I however love most anything made of muscle. Does anyone have ideas on how to get my little primal princess to consume more animal? She loves bacon and some amounts of chicken.

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[…] often say, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” And for good reason. The target of the PB is deep-seated: the long haul of a healthful life, not a […]

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[…] advice: » Follow Mark’s advice & don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good. Do you have access to pastured pork, free-range beef, cage-free eggs, & organic produce at […]

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[…] that ends up being premium grass-finished from the farm up the road or USDA Prime from Costco. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Man cannot live on wild caught canned sardines and crushing angst […]

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5 years 5 months ago

[…] that ends up being premium grass-finished from the farm up the road or USDA Prime from Costco. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Man cannot live on wild caught canned sardines and crushing angst […]

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[…] to stick together when squeezed, and a light finger poke should easily break apart the clump, but it doesn’t have to be perfect. Again, this is a work in progress so we’ll see how things grow with my quick-and-dirty […]

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[…] to stick together when squeezed, and a light finger poke should easily break apart the clump, but it doesn’t have to be perfect. Again, this is a work in progress so we’ll see how things grow with my quick-and-dirty […]

Sean
Sean
5 years 1 month ago

Many thanks for this article and for all the sincere replies from those that also struggle! I really appreciate this community.

John
John
5 years 1 month ago

I deeply appreciate this article. I came across it at exactly the time I needed it, when I was feeling overwhelmed by what I was starting to think of as “requirements” of going Primal that were, at least for now, not really practical. I have had an amazing result in such a short time and I feel wonderful. Reading this recharged my determination that this is right for me and to continue along this path. Thanks!!

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[…] around the house, in the basement, or in the storage space that you can use. Like Mark Sisson says, Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Print PDF Did you like this? Share it:Tweet Posted in general health tips « Butternut […]

BillP
BillP
4 years 4 months ago

Well said and a good reality check, Mark. The more one delves into the nitty-gritty of the paleo/primal way of eating, the more one can obsess over the details, and begin to feel all sorts of angst about what is optimal to eat: too much focusing on the trees rather than the forest.

Keep up the good work; it’s always a pleasure to read your blog.

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