Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
2 Nov

Dear Mark: Primal Advice for High Schoolers

It’s a question that frequently comes my way. Teenagers, who have found MDA and jump on board with the PB, have their brand of difficulties going Primal: skeptical – if not disapproving – parents, decidedly un-Primal school lunches and social outings, team fast food stops, etc. How does a high schooler go Primal when his/her family isn’t? What does the choice mean for navigating other areas of teen life?

Dear Mark,

I’m 17 and have been trying to switch over to the PB, but some areas are harder right now than others. I’m really getting into the workout ideas and love the simplicity of your Primal Blueprint Fitness ebook program. For me, the eating part is the most complicated. My parents are unsure about the diet and don’t offer much support for the choices I make with the PB. I think they believe it’s just a phase that I’ll give up if they just wait long enough. The social thing is a little bit of a challenge, and don’t get me started on the McDonald’s runs my basketball team makes every time we have an away game. Do you have any suggestions for those of us in high school? By the way, your site is great. I’ve even got some of my friends reading it now. Grok on!

Thanks to Dan for this week’s question. First off, to all the MDA high schoolers out there, kudos for taking charge of your health. You have the chance to benefit from your choice your entire life – a responsibility that truly deserves a big hats off.

That said, I recognize the kinds of hurdles my younger readers can face making a Primal transition. When you live under your parents’ roof and direction (not to mention financial umbrella), implementing some parts of the PB can be tricky. It certainly takes more work and thought. As in Dan’s case, the food issue seems to present the most problems. Although teenagers’ lives usually allow enough freedom to influence their own sleep schedule as well as outside/workout time, meals are another ball of wax.

Modern Family

Parents generally want the healthiest life for their child, and many are naturally suspicious of diet “fads” their kids appear to latch onto. (A number of us probably experimented with some novel diet or food obsession at one time during our teen years.) Nonetheless, there’s obviously a difference between the latest grapefruit cleanse and the Primal Blueprint – a cornucopia of taste and nutrition harkening back to the tradition of primeval families everywhere. (Doesn’t that sound convincing?) Speaking from the position of a parent myself – whose son goes by his own vegetarian version of a Primal diet, I can vouch for the power of good conversation and thoughtful initiative. I know I better understood my son’s perspective – and he understood my concerns.

  • Share specifics. In addition to explaining the general idea behind the PB, talk about some of the things that draw you to the PB. Print out some of the introductory articles (in addition to other favorites), and share them with your parents. If your parents are skeptical of the science behind the diet, invite them to explore the site themselves. Share some of the research we talk about on MDA. Let your parents know, too, what the PB means to you personally. Talk about your experience thus far. Tell them what you’ve changed in your lifestyle and what other goals you have. Even if they’re still doubtful, it’s at least a solid start. They’ll understand more of where you’re coming from and be more likely to take the next step.
  • Work out logistics. This is where the rubber hits the road. Show them you’ve thought it through and can make it work without adding undue pressure to the family finances or work load. Think about how much of your diet you need to change when it comes to home. What are the meals/dishes you can still enjoy with your family, and where will you need to fill in with other Primal additions? Come up with a plan for a sample week – complete with shopping list. Talk about the plan with your parents and how the list and additional food prep (your responsibility, as you can probably guess) could be incorporated into your family’s budget and schedule.
  • Go along to get along. After you’ve worked out the details as much as you can (this might take a few rounds over time), be prepared to head out on the grocery run. This may involve accompanying the shopping parent to the supermarket or using a specified amount of money your parents have given you to shop on your own. Either way, show them you’re willing to accept their rules and make it all work. If you have the freedom to shop where you want, you’ll likely find more Primal variety and possibly better deals at co-ops, farm stands and farmers’ markets if they’re available in your area. It’s doubtful that you’ll be cowpooling any time soon, but comparison shop for the best options given your circumstances and budget.
  • Share a meal. What would your parents say if you offered to make dinner for everyone? If it’s never been your thing in the past, forgive them their initial surprise. Schedule a night when it’s convenient and when everyone has the time to enjoy it together. Make it a real family event. Your parents will appreciate the quality time and obvious effort. As for winning them over to your Primal adventure: if a picture is worth a thousand words, imagine what the full experience of a Primal meal can be for tentative parental figures. We parents are suckers for an opportunity to relax while someone else cooks for a change. If you do the dishes, you’re golden.

School Menus

Ah, school. Even after you win over the most cautious-minded mother, there’s the truly epic quest to revolutionize the school lunch menu. (Anyone game?) While you’re trying to persuade the administration, there’s plenty you can do to keep Primal.

  • Bag it. Yes, it’s the obvious choice. With some ingenuity, an extra 10-15 minutes in the morning, and maybe a couple pieces of equipment (high quality thermos and insulated lunch cooler), you can sit down to a feast that will put those soggy pizza slices to shame. Pack up some soup, stew, hard boiled eggs, fresh veggies, my signature salad, or whatever counts as your favorite Primal fare that week.
  • Forage – and supplement – wisely. If you find yourself needing to make school fare at least part of your meal, implement your best foraging tactics. Charm the kitchen staff into giving you extra meat and veggies. Hit the salad bar if you have one. Keep some Primal snacks (sealed) in your locker or bag, or bring supplementary Primal foods to fill in the gaps if you’ll be doing regular school lunches on a daily basis.
  • Bring travel supplies. A similar principle holds for those dreaded fast food stops every high school team seems to make (e.g. football to debate). Forage as you can (e.g. order a salad or at least ditch the bun), and come prepared with Primal provisions so you aren’t totally dependent on the PB revised value meals.

Social Scene

The social scene will likely offer more temptation than pushback. Although you might get verbal support from your friends, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for them to give up late night pizza runs. You might find yourself sitting back while others dig in, but there’s no reason to skip the outings all together.

  • The key is preparation. Whether you’re going out to eat or just over to someone’s house, make sure you’ve eaten beforehand, and keep a stash of your own edibles if you think you’ll want them. (Primal bars are a great choice here.) There’s always the option of hosting your friends of course. Even if they choose to order in, you’ll have your own supplies ready and waiting.
  • Expand into new territories. Finally, you can always explore some other potential hangouts that offer at least some semblance of Primal fare. Many a greasy spoon diner offers both late hours and decent omelets. (The people-watching is much better to boot.)

Have ideas for the teenage PBers among us? Other questions or concerns to raise? Be sure to share your comments and tips. Thanks again to all the high schooler readers out there. Keep in touch and Grok on!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. I’m sure (most) parents will find it hard to argue that lots of veggies, some fruits and good cuts of meat are bad for you. You might have to go the lean meats route for a while, but you could supplement with coconut products. Cost wise, a can of coconut milk or half a coconut a day isn’t too large for them to say: “Nay!”.

    You don’t have to eat any grain products or legumes if you say that they make you feel sick.

    Good luck to all primal teenagers out there.

    Jason wrote on November 2nd, 2010
  2. Good advice for all of us adults, also.

    Primal_Joe wrote on November 2nd, 2010
  3. I’d just like to offer a word of encouragement for the teen PBers to stick with it. As Mark noted, it will be difficult at times, but you will never regret it. I only wish I would have found the guidance of the PB and community of MDA a lot sooner than I did. Grok on!!

    WRS wrote on November 2nd, 2010
  4. One of our fellow Tumblr bloggers is a girl in college that continually impresses us with how she comes up with Primal-friendly meals from the cafeteria. I’ll be passing along this link, bet she’d love it.

    The Primal Palette wrote on November 2nd, 2010
  5. Well, you are not alone in your struggle. I’m 32y/o and cant get my family to support me either. My wife, bless her heart, is a diehard believer in the food pyramid and all the whole grain propaganda fed to us as kids growing up. She still tries to “Get all the Food Groups” in every meal. It’s all pretty laughable to me, given all the research/debunking articles etc. i’ve read.

    Jiri Feala wrote on November 2nd, 2010
    • The trick is for her to realize, if possible, that there’s basically nothing in whole grains that can’t be acquired more healthfully (with more vitamins) and efficiently from other foods.

      Maybe the comparisons here will help drive that point home:

      Jenny wrote on November 2nd, 2010
  6. I’d imagine that while some parents and families won’t buy into some of the “gluten is toxic to everyone!” arguments, they’d be hard-pressed to disagree with this: “I feel like grains displace other more vitamin-enriched food I could be eating, so I’d like to eat more vegetables and fruit instead.”

    Plus that makes it more about nutrition than about whether your approach is “low carb” or not. (I know a lot of people automatically assume that a lower-carb diet is bad, too…)

    Jenny wrote on November 2nd, 2010
  7. I cannot imagine how these conversations go…

    “I have decided to eat a more nutritious whole food diet rich in vegetables, fruits, proteins, and healthy fats.”

    “Oh, don’t worry it’s just a phase…”

    Lev wrote on November 2nd, 2010
  8. I’m 19 years old and primal, and my family and friends have basically accepted what I do. Some of my family members actually introduced me to being primal. Sometimes, unfortuantely, my mom goes on about how I should be eating grains in moderation. She does not understand. I do help with the cooking though, always making something primal, and when I eat out I always make sure to eat as primal as I can

    Max Gazzara wrote on November 2nd, 2010
  9. I wish I had this advice in high-school. I used to eat at McDonald’s all the time then, because I thought it was a fad.

    Eduard wrote on November 2nd, 2010
  10. I have teenagers and fortunately for them I’m the food dictator in our family. So, it’s easy for them…

    However, many of their friends have decided they to want to be primal and they do not receive any support from their parents.

    Unfortunately, Mark is right in that you need to be very proactive in order to make the primal diet a possibility. Don’t draw a line in the sand and make the primal diet your Alamo. This will encite resistance and a closed mind from your family.


    Suggest meals that YOU can make for the family. Hamburgers are a great option because they are easy to prepare and you can very easily get rid of the bun and load up on the veggies.


    Dozer wrote on November 2nd, 2010
  11. Its hard to eat primally at a high school. If you say other wise try it… go ahead. Vegetables are usually corn or potatoes, when “actual” veg is served it looks dry and un-terrestrial (watch it long enough and it might start to move).

    Oh, and that thing in the plastic container in the corner, that might be a salad, might not, whatever it is prepare for a horror show if you open it.

    I find eating a big breakfast and IF for lunch or to bring lunch works best. As for socially, I never really mention it to friends. If I went to a place like McDonalds just a medium fries or unexpected IF for me.

    Luckily I’m home-schooled now and both parents are primal so I don’t have to worry about it now. (I’m 17 by the way)

    Someguy wrote on November 2nd, 2010
  12. I’m 43, don’t get me started on my Mother’s attitude to Primal!

    When my kids were teenagers the thing that persuaded us most with any of their apparent ‘fads’ was how long they stuck with it, if a month on they were still on track with whatever it was likely they wouldn’t give up and we’d look carefully and be supportive/invest as appropriate, so stick with it but be polite about it, never get into a teenage mood, and never scream and shout; quiet diplomacy should win out.

    Good luck to anyone trying to be Primal with their non-Primal relatives!

    Kelda wrote on November 2nd, 2010
  13. Lots of love for all the up-and-coming Padawan Groks. Even when I was trying to stay healthy by CW standards, I got blowback from my parents and had to make any runs for extra vegetables, lean meats, etc on my own time and dime, and pretty much forsook family mealtimes. There’s definitely some sacrifices to be made, and my dad still razzes me about being a ‘picky eater’–less than a month after needing bypass surgery for a heart blockage. Oy.

    Bennett wrote on November 2nd, 2010
  14. This post was so inspiring, I’m 17 so glad to hear that there are other teenagers out there who are primal. I feel lucky because my family understands (although I still get asked if I want a tortilla or some bread at times). I tend to do almost all the cooking and grocery shopping in the summers for my family, and help out as much as possible during the school year. My friends don’t really understand, but I don’t care since the effects of their diets will show up in 30 years.

    Ani wrote on November 2nd, 2010
  15. Great tips. I think one needs to simply do the best they can with what they got from where they are. When your friends and family members are not primal it can be easy to fall off the path as I have personally done so a few times. But, its easy to get back on since you are certain that living primally is healthiest.

    I have learned to not stress about certain situations. I spent Halloween weekend in Chicago with my brother and Friday night we ordered Pizza. I ate the pizza and moved on. My brother never has food at his place so it is a challenge when I visit him.

    But, I am not going to avoid visiting him just because we eat differently. We have gone shopping before and purchased all primal foods to cook at home but if pizza is the only option then fine. Thats where the 80/20 rule comes into play.

    Primal Toad wrote on November 2nd, 2010
  16. ANY kid who needs a new home where parents embrace healthy food choices can apply for any of the rooms coming vacant as my teenagers move on to college.

    Just be prepared to get the whole Grok package – yardwork especially :)

    Christine wrote on November 2nd, 2010
  17. As a fellow 17 year old, I can sympathize with Dan. Fortunately, my parents are supportive because of my Crohn’s Disease. I was on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet for about a year and healed enough to tolerate Grains again. Now, having relaxed my diet for at least a year, I have been struggling to get back on ever since I learned about evolutionary health philosophy (John Durant on the Colbert Report). I tend to enjoy the discussions that I get to have with friends, although I haven’t seemed to convince anyone entirely… Debate is fun. Anyway, Grok on!

    Will wrote on November 2nd, 2010
  18. I can only imagine how hard it would be if I found the PB when I was in high school. Good advice!

    Meagan wrote on November 2nd, 2010
  19. I too am in high school and trying to persuade my parents to follow the primal lifestyle is tough. My mom is unsure of not having dairy for the bones but I assure her i am getting enough calcium. (supplement) But my dad is starting to get high cholesterol. My family comes from the phillippines so they have rice pretty much everyday.

    Toni T wrote on November 2nd, 2010
  20. I’ve been eating (mostly) primal for about 7 months now and I’m in culinary school. Imagine trying to explain to a class full of up-and-coming pastry chefs why I don’t eat half the food we make! It’s initially a shock to them, then people get used to it and actually have a lot of questions and show a lot of interest. Planning ahead and bringing healthy snacks is a big help. Kudos to going primal in high school! It’s great to see the younger crowd focused on healthy lifestyles while most are double-fisting sausage McMuffins on their way to school…

    Sarah Due wrote on November 2nd, 2010
    • You could always make almond flour or coconut flour versions, I suppose. 😉

      limit the sweetener, etc, and you might be able to get it to a point where it is acceptable to eat.

      james wrote on September 19th, 2011
  21. Thanks Mark!

    I’m 16 years old and fairly new to eating primal and its been awesome. I’ve started this diet because I was tired of my acne, arthritis, and Irritable Bowl Syndrome. So far all have improved.

    One question concerning injuries, can this diet help grow back knee cartilage? I need terrible surgery because a of a knee injury and I have no cartilage left. Thanks!

    Matt wrote on November 2nd, 2010
    • Hi Matt,

      I don’t know if this is true, but Pete Egoscue hypothesizes that cartilage can grow back. You might want to look up his website. He has functional exercises that intend to realign the skeletal system in such a way that keeps the same damage from being caused over and over again. I have used them somewhat, to good effect, but don’t have enough experience with them to whole-heartedly recommend. Good Luck!

      Sophie wrote on November 3rd, 2010
    • Try a combination of horsetail and solomon’s seal herbs– I’ve had fantastic results with that combo for most cartilage/ joint injuries that I see, some of them pretty brutal. I’d do either a tincture (one part of each) 30 drops three times a day, or a strong tea, 3 times a day.

      rebecca wrote on November 5th, 2010
  22. Definitely great advice for all of us. I just began my PB transition and this article may be one of the best I’ve read thus far. I will certainly take the advice to heart. Thanks.

    Daniel wrote on November 2nd, 2010
  23. When I started 12 months ago (introduced to paleo from crossfit then moved onto primal after reading The Primal Blueprint) my family never supported me (except my fiancee who I live with has been joined in from day 1).

    But slowly over time I now hear my mother talking to her friends about my “lifestyle” (finally convinced her it isn’t a diet and its my lifestyle) and now I have my brother and his wife readying MDA and I hope they take it up (especially for their children also).

    It takes time but those closest to you will see the benefits just by seeing you energy levels and you weight lose and fitness.

    Paul wrote on November 2nd, 2010
  24. I agree that this lifestyle is very difficult to pursue in high school. I was fortunate enough to attend a private school where, at the very least, I had more food variety (salad bar, etc.). I’m currently in my second year in college, where I find it infinitely more simple to workout how you want, eat when you want, and do weird grok things when you want.

    The best I could advice I could give to a high schooler is “screw it.” I’m jealous of younger people who are doing the grok. I wish I had discovered this lifestyle much earlier in my life, and I often wonder the effects my body suffered developing under the SAD (permanent musculature impairment, anyone?). It’s four years—that’s it, and then you’re free. Besides, I’m not going out on a limb when I say that virtually NO ONE (double negative, I know) in your high school will effect anything outside your life beyond high school years, or even outside the high school property. If they do, you need to have a serious priority adjustment. Your health and happiness should not reflect the wishes of your peers, elders, or juniors (pun intended).

    Luke wrote on November 2nd, 2010
    • *I’m so skilled at proofreading.*

      Luke wrote on November 2nd, 2010
    • Love it.

      Toni T wrote on November 3rd, 2010
  25. Im 17 and the hardest part for me has been support from my peers. I started bringing primal food to lunch at school over pizza and received a ton of criticism. Not sure what the deal is here in Missouri but im hoping people will eventually learn.

    will wrote on November 2nd, 2010
    • Unfortunately, if they weren’t on your case about this, they’d probably find something else to snark about. That’s a big part of teenageryness…

      At least you’re 17 and will escape soon!

      Jenny wrote on November 3rd, 2010
  26. I guess school cultures vary. Most varsity athletes in our school preferred the soup/salad bar, because it was self-serve, whereas the other options (subs, nachos, hot lunch of the day) were portioned by lunch ladies. You could choose a large plate of salad and some fruit/dessert or a small plate of salad or sandwich and a bowl of soup (sometimes the soup tureen even had chili or lasagna!). As long as you could fit it in/on your dishes, it was yours — best way to fill up!

    Erin wrote on November 2nd, 2010
  27. I’m also in highschool – 16.

    I’ve been primal for a year now and going extremely well.

    I’m lucky that I have a job because I generally have to buy some of my own food, mostly meat. I live in a rural area, farms left, right and centre (grass fed), but my dad still buys cheap meet from the supermarket.

    Also, my mother thinks I’m crazy, and is sincerely considering sending me to a nutritionist / doctor.

    James wrote on November 2nd, 2010
    • wow hang in there

      DThalman wrote on November 2nd, 2010
  28. This is really great advice, wish I had known about the PB in high school!! What a great time to start creating good habits!

    Tara wrote on November 2nd, 2010
  29. what an opportunity, to start such healthy living early in life. and once again, well written, carefully thought out advice. a lot of it applies to me at 48 since i have severe food intolerances and can’t cheat at all on my diet without serious consequences. it requires a lot of work and preparation…but it’s worth it

    DThalman wrote on November 2nd, 2010
  30. I have the same problem when out with the Danish Home Guards. The fare is usually a stew with mash potatoes or rice and some salad on the side. I fill my plate with salad and pours the stew over that, and it usually ends up being both primal and quite tasty.

    Ulla Lauridsen wrote on November 3rd, 2010
  31. Also for at work and at school I wrote these dietary guidelines:

    Hans wrote on November 3rd, 2010
  32. Great post.

    San wrote on November 3rd, 2010
  33. I’m in my second year of college, but I suppose since I’m 19 I still count as a teenager. I started following MDA after I left home, but I’ve discussed it with my mom during my visits home. She’s supportive, but concerned that I should be eating whole grains to absorb vitamins. I’m not a particularly skilled persuasive speaker, but I do my best to help her understand. Part of explaining my diet is understanding it. I’m finding that the more I research and learn about nutrition, the better I can explain my diet.
    So that’s my advice for my fellow teens. Make sure you comprehend what it is that you’re under-taking. That way you can present your family with a solid introduction to your new lifestyle. The better prepared you are, the more likely they will take your efforts seriously.
    Even if you can’t fully commit in high school, hold out until college; everything is better there :)

    kweber wrote on November 3rd, 2010
  34. As a parent (of a 2 year old, so TOTALLY not a teenager), I’d be pretty impressed if my kid came to me and wanted to plan meals for the week. Seriously, no matter how wacky I thought his eating plans were, I’d let him give it a try. It’s great preparation for adulthood.

    jj wrote on November 3rd, 2010
  35. Hi Jenny

    Those charts in the link you sent have some good information; however,the nutrient list for sweet potato erroneously says it provides a certain % of vitamin B12. Vegetables do not contain any vitamin B12. All biologically active vitamin B12 is found in animal foods (those rich in protein) and vitamin B12 supplements made by bacteria in a laboratory.

    For a more accurate and detailed but short chart comparing the vitamin, mineral and antioxidant content of many veggies and fruits to grains, showing how the fresh produce contains far more nutrition, check out the chart taken from The Garden of Eating: A Produce Dominated Diet & Cookbook

    Chef Rachel Albert wrote on November 4th, 2010
  36. Being a primal parent with primal kids who also wish to “partake in the rituals of our culture”, I’d say go 80/20. 80% pure Primal. Mark gave you lots of good tips. Allow up to 20% of your diet to be a slice of pizza, really good burger, ya know? I’m hard core anti-fast food but you can find SOMETHING, even at McDonald’s to carry you over until you get home. Good on you. You’re not alone. My daughter is a hard core Primal Teen

    chiromamma wrote on November 4th, 2010
  37. I’m thinking we might need a Primal Teen page.

    chiromamma wrote on November 4th, 2010
  38. Hummm. Excellent post. I would be curious about your Son’s vegetarian version of PB. Would you share it out? Thank you.

    Robert wrote on November 4th, 2010
  39. Time for Carrie to chime in, Mark!
    It is a constant battle with the kids.
    Dad is an overweight carboholic, as is his diabetic mother with bowel and heart disease, Ooops, scratch the diabetes, she had Lap-Band surgery and lost a bunch of weight, (but still doesn’t eat healthfully)
    We work odd hours in the food industry, so 3 days a week I cook, and we have lots of salad, veggies, meat ( I always supply leftovers, they never get used) and fruit.
    Dad days are fast food, pasta, etc.
    Grandma days are pizza, Mac and cheese, chicken nuggets,diet coke and candy. OY.
    I set the best example I can, and hopefully the fact that Mom is healthy and can run and play with us..and Dad and Grandma aren’t exactly fit and would rather watch TV and play video games, (and could potentially suffer life altering health issues soon) will mean something someday. The kids are 6 1/2 and 8.
    Going Paleo/Primal had rid me of a lifetime of eczema (severe), allergies, sinus infections, migraines, I could go on all day..and STILL, they dont get it.. *sigh*

    Julie Aguiar wrote on November 5th, 2010

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