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...Tell Me More
Remember that PDF flyer from last week’s inaugural 30-day Challenge post? If you haven’t already, go ahead and download it (PDF). You may not have noticed, but right along the bottom I listed ten Primal mini-challenges to be completed. They’re technically optional, but not really (you know how I feel about the “optional” small stuff; hint – it isn’t really optional), so you should give at least a few of them an honest chance. Also, you should note that although these are billed as mini-challenges, they are intended to get you acquainted with vital aspects of the Primal lifestyle. Don’t just do one once and never again; instead, take them to heart and realize that these are mainstays. If you plan on living Primally, these will cease to become challenges. They will become ways of life.
You know about eating more animals, healthy fats, and plants. You know you should be ditching grains, refined sugar, and processed, refined seed oils. You know to favor whole foods that come out of the ground or off some furry quadruped, and you know to avoid things that come in boxes. But to realize all that knowledge, to turn it into action, you have to purge your pantry. You have to remove all the grains, flours, breads, sugars, boxed food, prepackaged meals, processed junk, pastas, cookies, crackers, chips, and candy that occupy both physical and mental space. This could quite possibly be the most basic transitionary action you take this month, for by purging your pantry, you physically remove the temptation to stray and lapse back into old, unhealthy habits.
Easy first step – Get out the Hefty bag and start filling it with the boxed stuff, since that’s never worth keeping.
Finding healthy stuff in today’s modern foodscape is arguably more difficult than it was for Grok. Sure, he had to catch his prey, pick his berries, and dig up his tubers, but at least he didn’t have to pick through actively toxic, easy-to-obtain foods being presented as healthy and/or delicious. But we do. Everywhere we turn, “heart healthy” whole grains and non-nutritive, hypercaloric junk food greet us. Staying Primal when you’re out and about (rather than at home, nestled in between your chest freezer full of meat and pyramid of coconut milk cans), then, can be difficult. To do so, you must forage in this modern world. But that needn’t mean trapping squirrels (and stealing their nuts), picking dandelion greens, and processing tree bark into something edible. Instead, you could simply look for the diamonds in the rough, the raw mixed nuts in the gas station convenience store, for example. You know what foods you should be eating and what you shouldn’t; now apply that knowledge. Make the Primal Blueprint eating plan work at fast food joints, chain restaurants, roadside diners. When you’re on the road and hungry, hit the nearest grocery store. You may not have to venture outside of your food comfort zone right now, but this month I want you to do it anyway so that you’re prepared when it really matters.
Easy first step – Go rustle up a ready-to-eat meal at a grocery store, then eat it outside on the curb (or on the bench, I guess, if you want to be fancy about it).
Going Primal is about personally controlling your own health, happiness, and well-being, and one of the most fundamental ways to do it is to cook your own food from scratch. See, by preparing a Primal recipe, you are literally controlling every nutritional component of the meal. Nothing enters your mouth, gets digested and incorporated without your express consent. Don’t want to fret about the oils used to cook the meal? Cook it yourself. Worried about the sugar content of the sauce on those ribs? Smoke ’em yourself. Love gravy, but hate the wheat flour used to thicken it? Make it yourself. Luckily for you, there are thousands of Primal recipes available, on this site and on others, so you really have no excuse not to do it. So do it.
Easy first step – Try one of the quick and easy (15 minutes or less) Primal recipes.
The human foot is unlike any other piece of equipment. It wasn’t like a craftsman put together a blueprint for the human foot based on what he thought would work best for the required job (walking, running, balancing, sprinting, jumping, landing); the blueprint was literally crafted by what worked and what did not. And I’d say that with several million years of ongoing, continuous testing, with multiple billions of subjects, the human foot is proven… so why would you want to stick it inside a shoe? Don’t do that. Let the 15-odd thousand nerve endings in your feet do what they’re meant to and feel the world. It’s not even about running or exercising while barefoot (although that’s awesome, too). I just want you to ditch the shoes and experience the horizontal plane in a new way.
Easy first step – Spend an entire day barefoot.
A flurry of recent research has linked excessive amounts of sitting to poor health outcomes; everything from cardiovascular disease to obesity to early mortality seem to correlate with how much we sit. There are tons of possible explanations for the connection, but I know – and plenty of others have confirmed to me similar findings – that I just feel better, more energized, and, quite frankly, more alive when I stand to work than when I sit. Physically, my posture is better. My hip flexors aren’t as tight as they were, and my glutes are no longer turning off from going hours without being engaged. So why don’t you try it yourself? Instead of slumping over in a chair, stack some books and bring your laptop/computer keyboard up above your navel. Stand at work. Stand to work. If your boss looks at you funny, say you hurt your back and need to do this for a few days.
Easy first step – So you don’t have to deal with work, try standing up all day long on your day off.
Human brains are plastic, which means they retain a lifelong ability to rewire and reorganize neural connections based on new experiences. Our brains stop growing, but they never stop changing. This is a good thing, especially for hominids living in an environment fraught with danger – stronger, faster, more ferocious animals; poisonous plant matter; rival tribes vying for the same resources; heat, cold, rain, flood, drought. We could rarely rely on sheer physicality to see us through difficult times and situations, so we learned. We observed. We taught each other. We analyzed. We conquered the world using nothing but our brains. Today? Today, things are spoon-fed to us. We can hop on Wikipedia, get any answer we want about any subject at all, and then promptly forget it. We don’t have to think about how to get our food; we just go buy it. We just turn up the AC when it gets hot and turn on the gas when it gets cold. Things are easy, and I’m glad they are, but that means it’s on us to go out and use our brains. So go out there and learn something today. I don’t care what it is. Just learn it, and learn it well.
Easy first step – You know that little thing you’ve always told yourself you’d learn to do? Maybe it’s tying a knot, or fixing a tire. Go do it on your next free day. If you lack curiosity about the world and can’t think of anything you’d like to learn, watch a TED talk (without flipping around to other websites).
I suppose it’s good that we come with stress response systems installed. In dangerous situations, they kick in and make us alert. They help us respond and react to life or death situations. Awesome for Grok, I get that. But the problem is that our bodies often interpret traffic or work or bills as life or death situations, thus triggering the stress response. If we only hit traffic once in a blue moon and never had to worry about money, we could probably handle it okay. But most people deal with this stuff daily, so the stress becomes chronic, rather than acute. So stress as we know it blows, but it’s a part of modern life. You probably can’t avoid it altogether, but you can reduce its impact. How? By being replete in micronutrients, by avoiding food toxins, by eating animals, plants, and healthy fats, by maintaining a good exercise plan, by getting enough sleep, by going outside, by shutting down the computer and closing the laptop and turning off the phone every now and again. In short, you need to cover all your bases so that the stress doesn’t become overwhelming.
Easy first step – Take a half hour each day to do nothing productive. Don’t check email, don’t use your phone, don’t worry about work. Just be.
What inspires you? A book? A public figure? A family member? The natural world? Everybody is inspired, even if they don’t consciously acknowledge it. Maybe not to “do great things,” but certainly to make it through life with the people you love and the things you care about. Maybe you want to improve the lives of the ones closest to you. Maybe you just want to be the healthiest you can be. Maybe you want a job that you love. These are all valid and valuable aspirations, but they all require inspiration. Inspiration can be “selfish” or “selfless,” internal or external, but as long as it gets you moving and striving and evolving, it’s worthwhile. Get out there and find it.
Easy first step – Visit the Success Stories archive.
Squatting to poop? Now, this may be one instance in which you say, “Whoa there, Sisson! I’m with you on grains, animal fat, bacon, standup desks, and Vibrams… but you’ve lost me. I just can’t imagine myself perched up on a toilet like Gollum. I just can’t.” And that’s cool. I’m not going to suggest this is a necessary challenge to undertake, let alone adopt for life. But just as sitting down all day to work, wearing big bulky shoes, eating vegetable oil, and spending all day indoors are fairly recent conventions to which we may not be totally adapted, the same can be said for sitting on a toilet to evacuate your bowels. There’s evidence that all that straining, grunting, and grimacing some do aren’t just products of poor diets. There’s evidence that sitting actually constricts the passages, thus making evacuation more difficult and time-consuming. Squatting opens up the recto-anal angle (yes, that’s a perfectly scientific term) to allow easier passage. Don’t believe me? Give it a shot.
Easy first step – Next time you use the toilet, sit down and place your feet up on a chair in front of you. It’s not quite squatting, but it’ll give you an idea.
Dance is the universal human expression. Not all cultures have or had the written word, a numeric system, or the fine arts, but they all had some form of dance. Well, allow me to edit. Every culture, save for adult Americans who are too cool or embarrassed to do it, has a form of dance. I think that’s a shame. I think we’d be a lot happier, healthier, and more well-adjusted if we danced on a regular basis. For one, it’s movement. It’s simply a way to move your body through the different dimensions and take advantage of all these muscles, joints, and limbs we have at our disposal. You could do a lot worse for your body than dance. Secondly, dancing is fun. You laugh when you’re doing it, even if you’re laughing out of embarrassment (laughter is laughter). Finally, dancing is sexual, especially when it’s with a partner, and there isn’t anything wrong with more good sex.
Easy first step – Dance with your significant others and/or children. No style required. Alternately, take dance lessons.
I hereby issue the aforementioned challenges. Read them, try them, and report back. How did you do? If you’re already doing them, how would you rate yourself? What needs work and what’s going well? Let me know in the comment section?