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

How to Deal with Common Primal Stumbling Blocks

A 30-day Primal Blueprint Challenge wouldn’t be complete without you facing some actual challenges. Yesterday, because we’re all in this together, I asked you to share your struggles with everyone in the comment board. We all face hurdles everyday, but it’s not often that we get to discuss them with other like-minded individuals, let alone get advice on how to surmount them. Today, I’ll give my two cents. I’ve read through all your comments and collated them to arrive at a couple dozen to briefly discuss. In the future, this post will serve as a resource for solutions to challenges commonly encountered in the Primal lifestyle, an FAQ of sorts. If I’ve missed any major ones, let me know and I’ll see about including them.


“I’m fearing the fat.”

What is it that you fear, exactly? Do you worry that saturated fat is going to induce a heart attack? Cause it won’t. Or maybe you’re worried eating animal fat will turn into fat on your body. Reasonable concern, but it won’t do that, either, assuming you don’t eat way more food than you need. And eating too much rarely happens when you’re focusing on fat, because fat is highly satiating. Fat, you see, is the perfect fuel source for the human body, and once you’ve gotten past the low-carb flu, fat burning mode feels really, really right. To get to know fatty acids more intimately, check out my definitive guide on the subject.

I’m all for fearing trans-fat and processed seed and vegetable oils, but good fats from meat, dairy, olive, coconut, palm, fish, and actual nuts? There’s no reason to fear those.

“I’m having trouble getting enough protein.”

It’s doesn’t have to be that difficult. First, consult this excellent resource containing the protein content of common foods. Then, make sure to include one of the protein sources at every meal. Just eat some meat, a couple eggs, some fish, and call it a day.

“I’m scared of getting too much protein.”

Healthy people can handle plenty of protein. It’s true that some patients with impaired kidney function need to rein in their intake, but protein doesn’t precipitate the problem. In fact, there is far more evidence that animal protein is health-protective.

“I’m fighting a major sweet tooth.”

Ah, the sweet tooth. A common nemesis, judging from the responses in the comment section. I’m sorry to say it, but you’ll just have to bear it out. Stick with the plan, and in time the cravings will vanish and you’ll notice astonishing, subtle sweetness is common foods. I would advise against going nuts with fruit or artificial sweeteners (although if you’re going to use one, go for stevia, which has ulterior health benefits) to satisfy a sugar craving, as they’ll just feed into it and fruit will become like candy (psychologically). Just hold out, let the cravings pass, and then you’ll be able to enjoy fruit and even a bit of honey without going crazy for it.

“I can’t give up grains.”

Sure you can. Like all difficult but necessary things in life, there’s a ten-step process for that.

“Staying Primal on the road.”

You’ve simply got to be prepared. If you’re on the road on a regular basis, and it’s not just a fluke, one-time road trip or vacation, you have to start planning. Fill a cooler with hardboiled eggs, jerky, fruit, veggies, and other snacks. Cook a big batch of steak the day before and pack it in ice; cold steak is delicious. Canned tuna, sardines, salmon, and oysters are fine choices, too. In other words, read my guide to staying Primal on the road.

“I’m running out of ideas for recipes that last the whole week.”

There’s a seemingly endless stream of quality Primal recipes going up around the net (just Google “primal recipes” or “paleo recipes”), but this page and the comments here should get you started for now. And don’t forget about the two cookbooks I’ve put out to address this exact problem: The Primal Blueprint Cookbook and Primal Blueprint Quick & Easy Meals. For weeklong batches of food, stews, soups, roasts, and curries are the ticket. The crockpot is your friend. Keep some homemade broth on hand, plus plenty of fresh herbs. The best part is that the cheaper cuts of meat are best for stewing.


“I don’t know where to start.”

I’ve got just the thing: Primal Blueprint Fitness. It’s an extremely solid fitness plan for beginners looking for simple workouts, but it’s also good for more experienced folks who just want to stay in shape without spending a lot of time in the gym. You don’t even need any equipment, besides maybe a pullup bar (though any horizontal structure that can support your weight works). With PBF, you’ll learn how to lift heavy things, move frequently at a slow pace, and run really fast every once in awhile.

“I don’t know anything about…”


Maybe you just don’t like running? Sprinting doesn’t have to be sprinting on a track. It’s just about moving yourself through space (or using a stationary machine to simulate moving yourself through space) at breakneck speed. You want to go all out, whether it’s on a bike, crawling on all fours, running stairs, or swimming laps. Leave nothing on the table. Here are a few more tips.

“Lifting weights.”

Strength training is an essential human activity, and it can be physically difficult, but it shouldn’t be scary. If you need assistance with performing the actual lifts, check out my guides to the five essential movements: the squat, the pullup, the pushup, the overhead press, and the plank.

“Moving frequently at a slow pace.”

Learn how to walk again. Here’s why you should. If you’re going to do so barefoot, learn how to do that, too.

“I’m struggling with my workouts. Like, I’m not completing them and I’m getting weaker.”

Sounds like you’re overtraining. First, establish that you truly are overtraining. Read this post and get back to me. If you are overtraining, read this post to learn a ton of ways to solve the problem. Eat more food, eat better food, reduce volume/load/intensity, get more and better sleep… those are but a few.

“I can’t find time to exercise.”

Focus on making your workouts shorter and even more intense than before. Think Tabata intervals at four minutes a pop. Take ten minutes out of the day and go sprint up a hill six or seven times. Do pullups every time you pass the bar (or ledge, or whatever you can use to do pullups). And while you may not have time to go for hikes or long walks, as long as you’re moving (through the grocery store, while chasing toddlers, through campus toward your next class, etc), that counts.

“I struggle to play.”

I find that people who can’t seem to play have one of two problems (sometimes, but rarely, both). They either can’t come up with any good ways to play or they can’t get out of their heads long enough to just let loose and get silly. For the former, I have a few suggestions. You can dance, you can play Ultimate Frisbee, you can play Grok tag, you can join a sports league, you can even wrestle with your significant other. You just need some ideas. But as for the guy who can’t bring himself to play, I suggest boning up on how absolutely essential play is to the human animal. We need it to form social connections, to learn how to interact with the world and its inhabitants. And most importantly? It’s simply fun. So do that cartwheel, throw that frisbee, and let yourself laugh. It’s going to be okay. I promise.


“I get sleep, but I’m still tired.”

Sounds like you need better sleep. Luckily, I’ve got seventeen ways to get better sleep. I won’t go into detail here, but let’s just say it involves candlelit dinners of beef heart, sweet potato, and chicken liver.

“I struggle with shift work.”

Shift work stinks, but it pays the bills, so you gotta do it. And yes, sleep matters, and a happy circadian rhythm is good for your health, but neither put food on the table. But, by embracing your situation, eating strictly, training smartly, supplementing wisely, and tricking your body into thinking that everything is normal, you can definitely make it work.

“I can’t deal with stress.”

Nobody wants cortisol coursing through their body on a perpetual basis. If you truly can’t avoid stress (and I can’t, nor can most of humanity), then you have to mitigate it. To lessen its load. To reduce its impact on your life. Here are 15 ways to mitigate, avoid, and manage the stressors in your life. There are some lifestyle changes, some supplementation, and some dietary modifications, but they’re all effective.

“I burn too easily.”

Don’t slather on the sunblock. Instead, bolster your internal, endogenous resistance to UV rays by employing any number of dietary and supplementary strategies. In other words, eat more cooked tomatoes, drink tea, eat more animal fat, eat fish, and take some vitamin D – to name just a few.

“I struggle with my doctor’s recommendation that I avoid all sun.”

Look, it doesn’t take a lot. I’m not saying you should lay out for two hours every day and develop a deep, dark leathery tanned hide. I’m simply suggesting that you get 15-20 minutes of unfiltered sunlight on as much of your exposed skin as possible. Vitamin D synthesis in the skin happens pretty quickly, and for a fair-skinned person 15-20 minutes of full sun are enough to produce 10-20k IUs. Barring that, of course, you could just supplement with vitamin D, but I prefer to get it from the sun.


“My partner doesn’t support my lifestyle.”

We can all deal with people who don’t understand the Primal life, but as for living with someone who’s blatantly hostile to it? That’s tough. Luckily, I wrote an article explaining how to deal with an unsupportive partner. It boils down to being comfortable in your own (Primal) skin, letting your results be the best argument, securing a little section in the kitchen for your foods, and finding a supportive community elsewhere (like here on MDA – see The Forum).

“Family dinners are impossible.”

If you think regular family dinners are tough, Thanksgiving is even worse. Whether you choose to politely turn down the off-limit items, try to convert people to your way of eating, sneak in Primal replacements for neolithic foods, or give in and call it an “80/20 day,” do so with confidence and without guilt. This is your family, and you love (most of) them, but it’s also your life, your health, and your body – and you love that stuff too.

“I can’t explain the PB to friends without sounding crazy.”

No problem. Just give them this PDF. And casually lift the bottom of your shirt to wipe your face as you do it, revealing rippling abdominals that serve as silent testimony to the program’s effectiveness.

“I feel weird eating with others when bad food is around. I can’t handle the strange looks I get.”

Don’t give in to the mob mentality. Either stick to your guns with confidence or give in to the compromise without guilt.

“I hate bringing my own food to parties. I look weird and it isolates me from the others.”

If you’re at a party, rather than nurse your raw lamb liver carpaccio in a corner, bring something to share with everyone else. I suggest something covered in bacon. Bacon-covered dates, bacon-covered dark chocolate (or the other way around), bacon-covered balls of bacon bits. Everyone loves bacon.

“I struggle finding things to eat when out with my friends.”

Sounds like you need the Primal Blueprint guide to dining out. There’s always something you can eat. It may not be perfect, but you can definitely mitigate the harm.

I almost didn’t write this post, because judging from yesterday’s comments, you folks pretty much know what you need to do to get past these hurdles. You have great ideas, oftentimes totally different from what I’ve written about, and I love that. This is all a great big mutual learning experience, after all. So – that’s my attempt at condensing hundreds of struggles into a single, readable post. I’m sure I missed a few worthy ones, so let me know about it in the comment section. 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 really enjoy this website & all the helpful info & insights. I started Low Carb in Jan, going sugar & grain-free cold turkey. Made it thru the carb flu & then moved onto the Primal lifestyle. My health has improved 100%. I try to walk 15-20 miles a week & have dropped 12-15lbs & many inches. However my progress seems to have stalled. I can tell that I still have some unwanted fat to lose but it won’t budge. I do not eat sugar,grains and very few carbs. My diet consists of fresh eggs, meat, poultry, whey protein, fresh veggies & fruit, nuts, butter, olive & coconut oil & lots of water. I get full quickly & can’t eat as much as I used too. I try to do IF but can no longer get my body into Ketosis. Guess I am just wondering if anyone else has hit this kind of wall & how to get beyond it. Thanks again for your wonderful website.

    grainfree wrote on September 21st, 2011
    • If I were you I would try cutting the fruit and nuts completely…

      Also, you should research whatever veggies you are eating, as not all veggies are created equal.

      If that doesn’t help, you can look into avoiding veggies which have a natural starch content. I’ve gotten a crash course as my sister has a medical condition that preclused ALL starch, and we’ve found that some produce has starch, and that the levels of starch can get really high if it isn’t harvested/stored/transported exactly right. Things like cucumbers and avocados. An avocado that was shipped properly comes up negative in a iodine starch test, other ones come up positive.

      Once you are not taking in grains/legumes, it is possible to get pretty much all of the vitamins and minerals you need from meat sources.

      James wrote on September 21st, 2011
      • Thank you for the reply. I am confused. I thought from reading Mark’s posts that avacados,root veggies, nuts etc.. were things we should be eating.
        I don’t eat potatoes, rice,peas,legumes,grains. As I said I do eat some fruit in the form of berries, peaches,& some bananas. I usually eat green beans, leafy greens,tomatoes,squash,zuchinni,peppers in addition to eggs, meats & fats.

        grainfree wrote on September 21st, 2011
    • Mark has several posts here on MDA dealing with your very problem. Try searching for “hitting a plateau” or “weight loss plateau” – something of that sort sort in the search box above and you’ll probably find something that may help you. Good luck and keep Groking!

      PrimalGrandma wrote on September 21st, 2011
  2. Awesome post. I bet this helps a lot of people.
    I found it inspiring to stay on track.
    With all the regular struggles I have to deal with I realize I shouldn’t be doing stupid things and adding any more extra, which I’ve been doing a lot of, so I’m taking some steps to fix those problems.
    Step 1: detoxing myself from evil big pharma chemicals. Enough tripping – I don’t need more stumbling blocks.

    Animanarchy wrote on September 21st, 2011
  3. I have no problem falling asleep. I could go to bed at 9pm, 10, 11…up to about 2am and will get up at 4 or 5am and feel great. I rarely sleep until 6am. My mind is alert when I wake. Staying in bed and trying to sleep longer is impossible. Later in the day though, I really want a nap. If I get one I feel great until I go to bed. If I don’t get a nap, then I have an hour or two of slugishness. Does anyone else experience this? I really would like to sleep 8 hours, but I can’t. I am not very stressed that I am aware.

    DB wrote on September 21st, 2011
    • DB..Sounds like you are doing fine with your present sleep patterns as long as you get a nap. If taking a nap fits in with your life then what is the problem? Not everyone is the same. No need to be concerned over something that isn’t a problem. Right?

      Maybe you just need to schedule nap time each day if that is possible and go with what your body is telling you.

      Sharon wrote on September 22nd, 2011
  4. Sometimes I crave the taste of baked sour cream cheddar chips so I chew a few and spit them out. Craving satisfied.

    Cheating? Yeah. But I noticed I do not have cravings if I eat a good amount of red meat each day.

    On days I eat fish my craving levels go up. I’ve been experimenting with adding avocado with various white fishes as well as chicken and I do not get cravings.

    If I get a real cheese craving I pound some kefir.

    liberty_1776 wrote on September 21st, 2011
  5. My stumbling blocks so far have been that when I first started, I was really, really thirsty. I think I had gone into ketosis and my body really didn’t like it. I was having to get up int he night to drink more, but nothing satisfied the thirst. Anyway, I found that eating a bit of fruit was enough to keep me losing weight without feeling as though my insides were drying out.

    My current problem is what to do when you get sick. A coupl eof weeks in, and I came down with a virus and was too wiped out for proper cooking and hadn’t yet stocked up my freezer with nourishing broth or started making water kefir to soothe my stomach and quench my thirst. So I’ve had a couple of days of eating a load of stuff that I shouldn’t, thinking of what to do for next time and practising not feeling guilty – tomorrow I’ll be back to properly primal eating again, and I’ll start now by going to bed and getting enough sleep.

    Clotilde wrote on September 21st, 2011
  6. I am sooo glad I have been eating Primal for a while,and low-carb for many years before that. Now that I am dealing with pain from sciatica, it would be so much easier to grab ready-made food….but I am in the habit of making most of what I eat,and not eating packaged food this isnt setting me back. I was inspired by “Daveman” bouncing back from surgery, and I hope I can bounce back(gently!) from this enforced exercise break!

    Hopeless Dreamer wrote on September 22nd, 2011
  7. I sometimes take care of my occasional craving for sweets by putting a few frozen dark sweet cherries in a bowl and pouring a bit of organice heavy cream over them. The cream solidifies and it’s very much like ice cream but without added sugar.

    mrplavick wrote on September 23rd, 2011
  8. Here’s one that appears to be rare. I get sick whenever I try to change my diet. I get nervous, jittery. I’m exhausted, but I can’t sleep. My stomach becomes upset and my intestines seem to shut down. I become impossible to be around; I’m not a party to be with when I’m normal..heh. I get crankier, depressed. My eyesight can get blurry. I try to wait it out, but at times I’ve become almost dysfunctional. I takes me a few days to go back to normal after I begin to eat the SAD (standard American diet) again. I wonder if anybody else had had such trouble? I’ve tried to make the transition gradually, quickly and everway in between. Same problem

    Idl wrote on September 23rd, 2011
  9. You don’t have to tough out the sweet cravings. Someone tool me about Chromium. I tried it–no sweet cravings. I took a couple of capsules a day until the bottle ran out, and none since. I really don’t miss it, or the carbs. My treats are really goo olives, butter and steak. I lost almost 15 punds in a few months, gained lots of muscle using power plates and Pilates. My alergies are gone and I feel great.

    Mary wrote on September 23rd, 2011
  10. I’m an avid homebrewer so I love a good beer. I try not to overdo it so I wind up giving most of it away.

    Still, nothing beats a cold one on a hot day on the patio.

    Trey Crowe wrote on September 23rd, 2011
  11. I feel like I’m the only person the low carb thing doesn’t work for. I have tried low carb/paleo vs Low fat/moderate carb Paleo same amount of calories for both and I can lose weight on low fat but not low carb.

    Serena wrote on October 12th, 2011
  12. I am a 54 year old male who took up cycling three years ago. I joined a group on a 900klm dirt track ride 12 months after starting. The following year I was encouraged to join some friends in a half iron man event which I finished in 6.25 hours and felt great after. Two months after that event I trained for a difficult mountain foot race (10klm with 1000mtr high). However, I become quite sick after this event and have spent the last 3 months trying to get over it. From what I am reading here, I have overtrained. I have taken it pretty steady in this time but each time I get on my bike, even to do a short ten klm ride I develop a sore burning throat, and other flu like symptoms.I find I can ride longer but I know I will suffer. How long will this take to repair, if at all?

    Peter wrote on November 23rd, 2011
    • Hi Peter
      Sounds like there is other stuff going on, 3 months is a long time to be feeling like that, I would visit the Doc to have a few tests, it may be something really easy like a bowel/bacteria overgrowth, but it could be something else which needs attention. I am similar age and cycle lots, it takes a while to recover from big events but not 3 months. Good luck

      BT wrote on April 29th, 2012
  13. Hahahaha, what a comic this YouTube video is! I’m still laughing, thanks to admin of this site who had posted at this web site.

    Leena Casale wrote on February 7th, 2012

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