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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 09, 2009

Dear Mark: Don’t Call it a “Diet”

By Mark Sisson
29 Comments

Dear Mark,

I’m fairly new to your blog and have been reading your commentary on motivation/failure (the Oprah post, Excuses and Get Real) with interest. I’ve been moving toward primal eating in the last few months more for general health reasons than any need for weight loss. I’m curious though because it seems like a lot of readers use it as a weight loss plan. I have friends who are interested in what I’m doing but tell me they’re looking for more of a diet. What should I tell them?

Thanks to Carly for this week’s question. Of course, I’d tell them to check out the site and especially our readers’ comments on their weight loss successes.

Like you mention, however, people come to the PB with very different goals. Some are, indeed, looking for a way to take off weight to improve their health and lifestyle. Others are looking to – well – simply improve their health and lifestyle without much if any concern for the scale. (Of course, the PB has a great way of redistributing body composition for the better….)

Let me say this. The Primal Blueprint isn’t a “diet.” First, let me take apart the idea of PB as something that belongs in the weight loss section of your bookstore. The fact is, there’s no fat flushing, calorie restricting or food weighing going on here. The nutritional principles of the PB are based on how human biochemistry works and has worked across cultures and millennia, plain and simple. It’s a set of nutritional principles that provide your body with energy and nutrients while keeping hormonal systems functionally stable. The result? Less oxidative damage, less inflammation, less distraction of the immune system, less exhaustion of metabolic and sex hormone systems, less roller coaster action that signals your body to store more fat. When your hormones live in healthy homeostasis, your body ends up primed for progress toward other means of equilibrium (such as gradual weight loss that brings you to your body’s own natural and healthy weight).

It’s true that many of our readers choose to amp up weight loss potential by going lower carb than the moderate range generally targeted in the PB. However, because veggies are so central to the Blueprint, they’re still getting a good balance of fiber, antioxidants, fats and protein. (Not so with most low-carb “diets.”) Some readers stay in that range because they honestly feel better eating that way. (And isn’t that what it’s about?)

And because the PB is about eating as “clean” as possible, it doesn’t offer an excuse to gorge on chemical- and sodium- laden meats and hormone-laced dairy. The PB is about more than the macronutrient breakdown. It considers the balance of essential fatty acids and their optimum ratio for health. And, though it’s obviously informed by traditional and evolutionary eating patterns, it also takes into account the nutritional toll and chemical load in modern food production and processing. It examines the role of wise supplementation for combating the stresses and strains of our contemporary existence (e.g. indoor living, long work hours, high population density, longer life expectancy, pollution, etc.).

In short, the PB isn’t what I would consider a diet. It’s a way to eat for life. (For both the duration and quality of life…) It’s a means to experiencing real vitality (what so many people go without in their lives!), not just beating back cravings and making endless compromises between what/how much you used to eat and what/how much you’re supposed to eat on your diet du jour.

There’s the old statistic that 95% of diets fail. Although the number itself harkens way back to a single small study in 1959, it nonetheless rings true to many people. I recently read a very unscientific but nonetheless telling survey of dieters that showed the number one reason people fell off the wagon as this: they were “generally tired of dieting.” (Truthfully, if I had to eat some of the empty, unsatisfying menus a lot of them undoubtedly did, I might feel the same.) Related to that point, 21% reported that they felt their diet plans were “too restrictive” for the long term. There are a 1000+ fad, fly-by-night diets out there, but in my observation close to none have real staying power (e.g. Bob Greene, et. al.). Whenever someone asks me about the best way to lose weight quickly, I tell them I don’t believe in shortcuts. Diets are shortcuts. More comprehensive reviews of diet studies (PDF) and corresponding follow-ups showed that people who dieted more often than not ended up gaining back the weight. The “rate of weight regain” and amount of weight were the realistic questions.

But what does it take to genuinely sign on with a new eating plan, not to mention a new lifestyle and mindset like the Primal Blueprint? We’ve talked a lot about that since Jan. 1 and the start of the 2009 Primal Challenge. As much as I find fault with particular diets out there, it’s impossible to talk about weight loss success without looking at an individual’s commitment to the cause. And maybe that phrase hits the nail on the head. A diet doesn’t feel much like a cause. It’s at times a test, a diversion, or a desperate move, but somehow it always feels like an extraneous endeavor – easy come, easy go. As I’ve said before, the Blueprint is a guide for life – physiological principles and practical plans to gain the most vitality to live the life you want. The Blueprint entails nothing less than how you envision real wellness and how you act each and every day to advance your own health. In my estimation, that’s a cause worth supporting.

Your thoughts? As always, thanks for your questions and comments, and keep ‘em coming!

Christi Nielsen Flickr Photo (CC)

Further Reading:

My Escape from Vegan Island

Reflect, Regroup, Resolve

Study Spotlight: The Mood Diet

Weight Loss Plateau – 5 Ways to Get the Results You Want

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29 Comments on "Dear Mark: Don’t Call it a “Diet”"

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Methuselah - Pay Now Live Later

One of the problems with the word diet, is that it has more than one meaning. People could quite legitimately describe the Primal Blueprint, or at least the component of it that deals with food – as their ‘diet’ without intending to imply that they are using it to lose weight.

Son of Grok
7 years 7 months ago
Good question from carly and good answer from Mark. I like to think that not so much “I lost 60 pounds by doing the primal blue print” but more “I lost 60 pounds by geting healthy through the primal blueprint”. Does the difference there make sense? I think the goal of following the PB is to be as healthy as possible but the weight loss is a hugely beneficial side effect! So, in doing the PB, not only do you achieve better weight loss than a “diet” per say but better overall health and wellbeing. At least that has been… Read more »
David at Animal-Kingdom-Workouts

I agree with the point that Methuselah made. A diet is simply what people eat. However, in the modern world, diet is now seen as something you do on a temporary basis to lose weight in the craziest way possible. Then, you go off the diet, and put the weight back on. The entire diet industry is built on this yo yo approach, which is why the word “diet” is now seen in such a negative light.

– Dave

Alecia
Alecia
7 years 7 months ago
That’s what I love about PB. It’s not a (weight loss industry derogative term) “diet”. It’s not drinking only lemon water and depleating your body of anything good for x amount of time until you loose weight ie. muscle! I feel so much better, and confident that I always will feel that way, because of PB. I am healthier, doing WAY less cardio, spending way less time at the gym, and my body is finally starting to look how I want it to. great perk! I love it, and I think everyone should open their minds and realize how healthy… Read more »
Jane
Jane
7 years 7 months ago

I started following the Primal Blueprint lifestyle (cough cough i said “lifestyle” cough cough) because I agreed with Mark’s views on what to eat, how to work out, etc. I started following the PB with the intention of being healthy, not necessarily losing weight. I probably have a few pounds to lose, which I’ve tried to and have never been successful (darn last 3-5 pounds!). But guess who is now losing that extra couple pounds?!?! I’m not even trying. How much better can it get?

Marc Feel Good Eating
7 years 7 months ago

Good question and a great response.
Thanks Mark.

Marc

Filipa
Filipa
7 years 7 months ago
I’m following the Primal Blueprint since a week ago. Well, I still need to make some changes in my ating but the true is that I don’t touck in bread, pasta, rice or anything with flour since I’ve started and I don’t even miss it. But I have to admit that there’s a vice I can’t quite: Chocolate. I’m trying to eat only the 80% pure but I know that I’m consuming too much sugar. 🙁 in time I know all pass it trought! =) Oh, and its really easy to follow! =) I’m trying new recipes and I’m allways… Read more »
Roger De Rok
7 years 7 months ago
If there was a diet out there that worked (in the weight loss sense), EVERY fat person would’ve gone on it and all the companies thriving on people’s desire to lose weight would go out of business. I agree that a person needs to change their lifestyle completely rather than use a temporary fix to get the results and then going back to the same bad habits. I see the same people going in and out of the gym at work every day who look exactly the same as several months ago and then you see them eating fast food… Read more »
Jen
Jen
7 years 7 months ago

Roger,

Congratulations on your progress! 40 lbs/40% of your goal is incredible for just a couple months’ time! Good luck to you!

Son of Grok
7 years 7 months ago

Roger Rocks!
I have been seeing his results in person and he looks amazing. I don’t think his weight loss really accurately displays the change in his body compostion accurately. He has lost buku inches and looks much much thinner and overall way healthier. Now if only we could get him to cut his hair…

The SoG

jays
jays
7 years 7 months ago

Filipa, I still have a couple of squares of chocolate many days, 25-30g of 86% means about 5g of sugar, a teaspoon after a full meal. If that is the only vice you can claim then don’t worry. Couple of squares of choc or a glass of wine are not evil things, and if they make the whole lifestyle easier then enjoy them. I don’t think the PB is meant to be about abstinance to the point of removing all the pleasures.

Donna
Donna
7 years 7 months ago
Ever tell someone that asks you about their weight that they need to go on a “DIET?” (Tell them that, they don’t smile @ you nor call you for about a week…L.O.L.) On the other hand, if you politely tell them they’d look great if they’d eat healthier foods that would make them feel good and encouragement that they CAN do it-people would rather hear something motivational. It gets their attention way better. I believe the word “diet” has been ruined by all these quick fix eating plans that in the long run is not effective as eating healthy “alive”… Read more »
Trinkwasser
Trinkwasser
7 years 7 months ago

In the diabetes newsgroups and forums where I hang out we usually talk about a Way Of Eating rather than a diet.

Exactly as you say, it’s not a quick fix thing to use for a specific reason, it’s a way of regaining and keeping your health for the rest of your life.

In my case it’s also to undo the damage caused by the Heart Healthy Low Fat High Carb Diet. That was a quick unfix.

heykapo
heykapo
7 years 7 months ago

Way of Eating, oh dear.

Everyone is on a diet. Might be a reducing diet, might be a high-fat high-sugar diet, might be Grok’s diet. There are as many diets as there are people. It’s not a word to be vilified, just a neutral until modified. Words enjoy fashions, too. There’s nothing wrong with the word gay, or nuclear, or conservative. They just acquire nuances, and in tradition of fashion, lose them again. But to give you your due, Trinkwasser, I’d rather have a way of life, than a lifestyle, any day.

Donna
Donna
7 years 7 months ago

Trinkwasser,
I totally agree with YOU-well spoken!!!
Thanks for your comment!!

Terrilee
Terrilee
7 years 7 months ago

The Primal Blueprint WORKS.Period.

Sarah
Sarah
7 years 7 months ago
Hi Mark, I have been reading about the Primal way of living for some time now and I can see the benefits it could have on my lifestyle. I have been wondering though, can this eating style work for someone who is training for a marathon? I weigh about 160lbs and run 3-4 days a week and cross train 2-3 times a week, each session is usually over an hour. I will be building my mileage base over the next few months and don’t want to pass out from lack of carbs during a run! Is there a ratio or… Read more »
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Kay Stelter
Kay Stelter
6 years 11 months ago

Had to respond when I saw this, my husband has been following PB for at least 6 months now and our youngest son who is 10 loves to give him a hard time and offer him some food then say – “oh that’s right it’s not on your di…I mean ‘eating plan’.” That said PB has changed the way my husband looks and feels, cleared up his chronic sinusitus (sp?)and I find it encourages me to eat well too.

Natalie
Natalie
6 years 5 months ago

I can’t get around it- every time I come upon “PB” it makes me think of peanut butter! Which I love and used to eat a lot of but have since edited it out of my diet. Still, I miss the stuff. Not the sweet stuff like Jif and Skippy, but the natural kind. Yum.

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