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

Dear Mark: Personalizing the Primal Blueprint

Primal life is good. You’ve lost some weight, improved some health markers, enjoy steady even energy throughout the day, and you finally look forward to exercise (and movement in general) for the first time in a long while. You love the food, and the compliments you’ve started receiving since beginning to eat it, and you’re generally content, but something’s missing. It’s not that you aren’t satisfied; it’s that you’re curious about what else you can tweak to make your body work a little differently. You want to see what makes your body tick, and why, down to the very last detail. I get that.

Luckily for you, your experience and the resources in this community give you the necessary wherewithal to find out. Let’s go to the question that prompted this post, shall we?

Dear Mark,

I’m really digging your recent posts on self-experimentation. I’ve been conducting experiments on myself much in the way that you describe for a few years now. I’ve had great success with intermittent fasting, and have found just the right eating window and frequency of IFing that works for me. I’m going to give biphasic sleep a try to see how little sleep I can get away with without sacrificing ANY mental acuity, energy, etc.

I know you and the Primal Blueprint are all about getting the best results with as little pain, suffering and sacrifice as possible. I’m wondering what other kinds of tweaks I might try out to help me personalize my Primal way of life. I know some people do better with dairy than others, so I’ll probably be testing that out, too. Although I seem to do fine with dairy I’ve never really tried going without it, so I’m going to give it up for a period and do it systematically – recording results and so forth. What else should I experiment with? Thanks for your thoughts. Grok on! 


Glad to hear you’ve found success, particularly by conducting your own personal experiments. It’s pretty powerful stuff, huh?

Further tweaks? Sure, I got those. What follows are some of the things that fall within the Primal Blueprint way of life, but that are individual-specific and customizable. I’m not going to get too deep into how to put together an experiment for each thing, since I gave you guys the tools to do that with the self-experimentation posts, but this will give you a nice head start.


Dairy can be a confusing food for a person to assess. You give up (or add) dairy, and notice results. What’s the explanation? Was it the lactose? The casein? The pasteurization? The animal’s feed? Without getting into more detail, we’ll never know, because “dairy” is so general a term. All it indicates is “food that comes from the milk of mammals.” We probably need to dig deeper and get more specific.

Test the removal or addition of dairy in general to your diet. Goat, cow, butter, cream, milk – it’s all fair game. Try or remove it all and put together an experiment.

Grass-fed/pastured (it can be difficult to find exclusively grass-fed dairy, so pastured, wherein animals get access to pasture plus supplemental feed, is a potential concession) dairy versus conventional/grain-fed dairy. Does dairy from grass-fed animals make a difference to you?

Animal versus animal. Cow milk (or butter, or yogurt, or any other product) got you down? See if goat or sheep dairy elicits a different response.

Fermented versus unfermented. Many people find they do better on yogurt and kefir than milk and cream.

Butter versus ghee. Find out how sensitive you really are to the dairy proteins.

A1 beta casein versus A2 beta casein. Goat, sheep, and Jersey cow dairy contain A2 beta casein, while Holsteins and other conventional dairy cows have A1.

Dairy fat versus dairy protein versus dairy sugar. What’s bothering you – the fats, the proteins, or the lactose?


Because they’re calorically dense, delicious, low-carb, and fit nicely in your hand, nuts are a common weight loss stall food. Not everyone, however, has problems with nuts. Are you one of them?

Nuts versus no nuts. Simple stuff.

Low nuts versus no nuts. Maybe it’s not the nuts themselves that are the problem, but the vastness of your nut intake. Try comparing a low nut intake to a zero nut intake.

In-the-shell versus shelled. For those who have trouble with overconsumption of nuts, I’m a proponent of keeping them in the shell until you want to eat them. That way, you can’t just grab a handful of walnuts and pop ’em in your mouth; you have to work for your nuts, just like Grok.

High omega-6 versus low omega-6. Compare walnuts (high omega-6) to, say, macadamias (low omega-6), or pine nuts (high) to hazelnuts (low).

Soaked versus unsoaked. Does soaking nuts affect your ability to eat and enjoy them?


Fruit has sugar, and we generally recommend avoiding sugar. Then again, fruit’s a whole food that also has phytochemicals and minerals and soluble fiber and vitamins, and we generally recommend eating whole foods. What’s the deal?

Fruit versus no fruit. Again, easy.

Low fruit versus no fruit. Is fruit the problem, or too much fruit?

High-fructose fruit versus low-fructose fruit. Check the table (PDF) to see which is low and which is high.

Types of fruit. Stone fruits versus berries, for example.

Offal and Other Odd Bits

Many people do fine without adding the weird bits of the animal to their diets, but plenty of people find that the addition improves things. See where you stand.

Offal twice a week. Does eating an animal’s organ meat twice a week change anything?

Liver versus no liver. Are you missing out on nature’s multivitamin?

Offal versus muscle meat. What would happen if you switched out your muscle meat for organs?

Bone broth versus no bone broth. Should you be making bone broth on a regular basis?

Bone marrow versus other fats. Evidence suggests that bone marrow was one of the first animal foods we scavenged; what happens if you replace your butter with, say, bone marrow?

Other Food Tweaks

For everything that doesn’t quite merit its own section.

Nightshades versus no nightshades. Find out if you have a sensitivity to foods from the nightshade family, including tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, eggplants, cayenne, paprika, and pimentos.

FODMAPs versus no FODMAPs. Are you sensitive to fermentable, oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols?

80/20 versus 90/10 versus 100/0 (and so on). What happens as you descend the sliding scale into more and more cheats and sensible vices?

Alcohol versus no alcohol. Does it affect your weight, your energy, your digestion, your sex life?

Eating Habits

When you eat, where you eat, and how you eat can all have different effects. Some people do best with a hearty breakfast, some enjoy eating on the run, and some thrive on just one meal a day.

Breakfast versus no breakfast. Do you need to eat breakfast? Do your energy levels improve when you eat it?

Fasting. In light of the recent women and IF talking point, how about trying it out for yourself?

Sit down meal versus eating on the run. What would happen if you sat down to a real meal every day instead of eating on the run? Would it be more satisfying (with less food)?

Eating alone versus eating with companions. Is the food more satisfying when you eat it with friends and family?

Eating before bed. Does a meal before bed affect your sleep, and if so, does it affect it negatively or positively? Experiment with different timing (1 hour, 2 hours, 3 hours before bed).

Exercise and Sleep

Exercise isn’t as simple as “go move.” That can certainly work, and it’s where I’d start, but you can get a little more specific than that. Sleep is tougher, because, well, “go sleep” is pretty much what sleep is all about. Still, you can fine tune that, too.

Workout timing. Are morning workouts more productive? More sustainable? Is your strength better in the evening? Worse? Test it.

Workout fueling. Test whether eating before a workout helps your performance.

Workout composition. Are you lifting heavy things? No? Try a couple days a week. Are you walking enough? No? Walk half an hour every day. Change the makeup of your workouts to see how they affect your results.

Sleep duration. Test whether or not you need six, seven, eight, nine or ten hours of sleep a night.

Absolute darkness at night. How does blacking out all windows in your room affect your sleep? Do you sleep harder but wake up later?

Now, obviously, this is just fine tuning of a fairly well-oiled machine that’s already humming along, as the PB is tried and tested and proven. However, there’s always room for improvement – or at the very least, some lateral movement that while not necessarily improving things or making them worse, does give you a different perspective that can be valuable and instructive. Ultimately, we all must personalize the PB and make it our own. These are just a few ways for us to do that.

So, if you ever get the hankering for some more self experimentation, or if something isn’t working for you, come back to this post for inspiration and ideas. There was no way for me to cover all of the possible permutations of variables, but I trust you’ll figure it out on your own.

Let’s hear from you guys and get some dialogue going. If you’re planning on testing one or more of the variables listed in this post, or anything else, tell us how you plan on doing it in the comment section. Thanks for reading!

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 was big cream (mostly for desert) for about a year and I didn’t feel bad (better than before I went primal), but I dropped it altogether in favor of dried fruit and nuts for deserts and I look and feel better.

    My experience is the less dairy the better and zero is best, but I know that’s not universal.

    Cheryl Boswell wrote on June 26th, 2012
  2. Ah,ha! For 30 years I have been trying to figure out the origin of my problem with dairy. Oddly, if I eat dairy, it makes my hips painful and creaky. If I eat enough of it, I cannot walk anymore.

    I did figure out that I can eat goat cheese and this week tried milk from a Jersey cow which seemed fine so now Mark, you post that goat, sheep and Jersey cows have a different casein than common milk cows. I have not seen that information anywhere else. Yea! I think the mystery is solved. I can tolerate A2 beta casein but not A1 beta casein.

    Now I need to track down cheese made from Jersey cows. This makes me so happy to have this figured out. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    Sharon wrote on June 26th, 2012
  3. Alright, longtime reader, first time poster. And I love the idea of experimentation, but I’m a bit frustrated at the moment. I’ve been paleo/primal for about two years now – left a healthy (i.e. minimal processed crap) vegetarian diet of 12 years as a result of research into human nutrition. I’ve never been overweight and always been active, but I dropped only a little fat during the first six months and have been plateaued since. I’ve been a 16-hour IFer for a long time (most days), sometimes longer. But I can’t make things change any more! I don’t eat nuts, I’ve recently dropped the carbs down to 25 net daily, and I stick to 1600 calories daily (formerly 1800). I walk daily. I workout, but there are handfuls of fat still on my legs. What gives? (If anyone needs to know, I’m 34 and about 139 pounds.)

    I just bought a container of high-quality whey and have now started to wonder if that counts as dairy. I don’t eat too much dairy, but I do get butter cravings when I try to drop it altogether. Some studies show whey supplementation helps weight loss. Does it? I’d welcome any opinions on this matter, as my community has no primal or paleo people to whom I can talk about these things. Thanks guys!

    Jennifer S wrote on June 26th, 2012
    • Forgot to add my height – I’m just over five foot nine.

      Jennifer S wrote on June 26th, 2012
      • Maybe your body needs that fat. Have you read any of the stuff at

        5’9″ and 139 lbs sounds pretty dang thin to me, especially if you are fairly strong. And if you’re not strong even with all that exercise maybe your calorie and carb restrictions and IF are hindering you. It sounds like you are putting a lot of stress on your body.

        I’m also a first time commenter and I’m sorry if this is way off base or totally pisses you off.

        Chelsea T wrote on June 26th, 2012
    • I know I’m going to get grief, but the best plan for me is paleo with my blood type diet specific foods. I just eliminate the non paleo food groups like grains, juice etc. I did strictly paleo for a few years but it wasn’t until I eliminated my blood type specific foods that I felt my best. I know people say there is no science behind it, but all the science I needed was what my body told me. Paleo/Blood type works like a charm

      Kristin wrote on June 27th, 2012
  4. Some of you may know me as one of Mark’s “Success Stories” featured in the softcover PB (aka Nick Laszlo). If you’re at all aware of my Primal journey, then you know that I’m no stranger to experimentation.

    Mu latest and I believe most compelling personal experiment is that I recently decided, after turning 50, to go genuine 99% Primal, while adding my own twist to the equation, the “twist” being that I have no given up all refined sugars, high-glycemic/high-fructose fruits, dairy, gluten, starchy carbs and all psycho-active drugs, which includes alcohol, caffeine, theobromine (similar to caffeine) found in chocolate, alcohol (for over 2 years now), nicotine (although I never smoked) and pretty much anything that makes me “feel good” artificially. The result has been that I have gotten to know myself in an unaltered psychological and emotional state, which I believe is the greatest Primal gift I could have given myself for my recent 50th birthday!

    Grok on, PB experimenters!

    Primal Nicky wrote on June 26th, 2012

      Primal Nicky wrote on June 26th, 2012
  5. Interesting post. With paleo I gained weight, so a week, I removed any type of nuts and yogurt (dairy product was single) but still I see no weight loss.

    Sally wrote on June 26th, 2012
  6. Great post Mark! I personalized the Primal blueprint about a year ago and it’s been going great! It’s just cool to know that a cup of coffee in the morning is Primal! gotta love the boost.

    Josh Singer wrote on June 27th, 2012
  7. Personalized my Primal by eliminating nightshades because the first paleo/primal blog I read recommended doing so. I have not missed them and therefore have not added them back.
    I eat limited dairy in the form of grass fed butter and ghee and also a little bit of heavy cream about 2-4 ounces a week. And I eat breakfast every day, love breakfast, I eat fruit but limit it to about 2 serving a day.
    for exercise i walk, lift heavy things at least once a week and sprint a bit at least once a week

    Gayle wrote on June 28th, 2012
  8. Some tweaks to the Primal Bluprint way of life are absolutely necessary for those of us living in the north who enjoy nature and spend most of our time outdoors – with snow on the ground for 4-5 months out of the year.

    Mark’s recommendations fit very well with Grok, assuming he was close enough to the equator that seasonal temperature stress and lack of vegetables for many months out of the year did not effect him much. In the north the Primal Bluprint Plan can work, but there are some major adjustments. Dealing with the stress of the cold is the biggest one. Muscles, tendons, ligaments, etc, tend to get and remain stiffer in people as they age, and this is much worse in the colder climates. Sprinting once in a while in a colder climate tends to injure an older person easily; so does lifting heavy things. People in colder climates wear boots a lot and the structure of the feet and ankles becomes weak and inflexible. Knee problems can occur easily as a result. But people can make a habit of working on these areas when they are sufficiently warm. Thge use of a sauna followed by or combined with stretching, yoga, or pilates works well. Also, doing regular saunas during the colder months helps maintain the ability to sweat and detoxify through sweating – this is something that certainly diminishes in the average person as they age in a colder climate. Getting your antioxidants and other beneficial nutrients, during the winter, requires storing food in a way to maximize its nutrition content – fermenting vegetables and some fruits (chutneys), as summarized by Sallon Fallon, in Nourishing Traditions, is a good idea. A very valuable thing in the colder climates is a winter greenhouse, like those of Elliot Coleman, so fresh vegetables are available. Also, a self-sufficient lifestyle requires a lot of physical work in the north. You have to prepare for a long winter, or be at the mercy of conventional food. One of the best ways to be self-sufficient on the north is to build your own passive solar home. Otherwise you spend a lot of money on heating your home or chop a lot of wood.

    All said, with adjustments, following the Primal Bluprint up north can work well. Maybe mark will take a better look at these things and expand upon them in a future article.

    David Marino wrote on June 28th, 2012

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