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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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July 02, 2008

How to Guide: Making the Switch to Primal Living in 6 Easy Steps

By Worker Bee
78 Comments

StairsPerhaps you’ve been reading MDA for some time now, finding yourself intrigued, maybe even testing the waters a bit. The Primal Blueprint sounds good to you. It speaks to you. It makes sense. The mind is clearly motivated, but the heart is, well, a bit trepidatious. Maybe the “Act As If” challenge interested you, inspired you, but you’re not quite there yet:

“Compared to my lifestyle now, I don’t know if I could make this big of a change.”

“Do I trust that I could stick to this kind of life?”

“Maybe this is just for diehards. Do I really have it in me to be part of something like this?”

It’s not uncommon to question our motivation, our ability, even our core confidence at significant turning points. There’s nothing like a big change to make us examine what we’re really made of. But far too many of us derail ourselves before we’re even out of the starting gate. Instead of guessing what we’d do, predicting where we’d stumble, anticipating how we’d eventually fail, how about throwing “foresight” to the wind and taking a bold leap of faith? Eh? Just so you know, we’re with you on this one.

It’s important to keep in mind that Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your Primal lifestyle doesn’t need to be either. Especially if you’re more of a “slowly slip your way into the pool” type of person, perhaps these steps will make your transition a bit more manageable – and more inviting.

1. Accept that your process will be unique

Low carb living, for instance, initially takes a different toll on everyone. You might be starting from a standard American diet of 300-400 grams of carbs a day, or you might be cutting back from a lower carb diet of around 200. Either way, you know the direction you want to go, and that’s the key. You may be a diehard endurance athlete or accomplished weightlifter who feels the need for a new direction, a new focus in his/her health.

2. Allow yourself to ease into it

Not everyone needs or wants to take this approach, but there’s nothing wrong with allowing yourself this option. If you’re up for a “dive in,” particularly if you’re facing major health complication like diabetes or obesity, a fast and furious beginning can reap major health benefits quickly. (And for some, it’s like the band-aid conundrum: they’d rather do the brief, intense rip that gets them where they want to be.) However, there’s plenty of reason to take your time if that’s your way. You’ll allow yourself to gradually but genuinely incorporate the news aspects of diet, exercise, and stress reduction without feeling overwhelmed. And for some aspects of the Primal Blueprint, slow and steady may have definite benefits. Some people respond differently to the reduction in carbohydrates than others (particularly at the ketosis level). Initially, you might feel sluggish or foggy. Take time cutting down. Hold steady at 150 grams a day if needed, and use the time in the holding pattern to ramp up your efforts in other lifestyle changes. When you’re ready, coming down 10 grams at a time may be a better approach for you.

3. Divide and conquer

Sometimes it’s easier to tackle one aspect of a project (or a lifestyle) than to attend to all of them at once. If you’re trying to cut carbs and kick a nasty caffeine habit, it might behoove you to take on one at a time or at least take one slowly and focus on the other. Although all the elements of the Primal Blueprint work together (and actually make other efforts easier), there’s nothing wrong with honing in on a few select areas. Make a commitment to total health, put yourself in the center, but take on only what you feel is manageable for now. If you keep the rest in sight, chances are you’ll begin gravitating toward those other changes anyway. Healthy choices have a way of begetting other healthy choices.

4. Track your day-to-day practices (and progress)

It’s easy to sometimes get wrapped up in the “vastness” of a goal: the long-term nature of your plan. Allow yourself to focus on each day, but give yourself the opportunity to concretely view your ongoing commitment. Keep a kind of food/exercise/stress management journal. In addition to the actual foods and exercises themselves, make some observational notes on how you feel, what you are able to accomplish, where you feel challenged. Looking back on your notes will give you a sense of how far you’ve come. It can also serve as a reminder of how you made it through challenges in the past.

We wholeheartedly recommend using a tool like FitDay or The Daily Plate to this end.

5. Ease up if you hit rough road

Back off a bit on the intensity of exercise, for example, if you find you’re having a hard time adequately recovering from strength training or “sprinting” bouts. If you’re hitting the wall with carb reduction, hold steady or bump up your intake by 10-15 grams to see if it makes a difference over a week or two. Progress is rarely a smooth, uninterrupted trajectory for anyone. The point is to do what’s necessary to keep your general momentum and motivation going.

6. Give it time

The Primal Blueprint isn’t about temporary fixes or fad gimmicks. It’s an overarching design with suggestions to help you live your healthiest, most productive life. This kind of change takes time, care and ever evolving commitment to create a new and genuine lifestyle.

What are your thoughts on making the transition? What was/has been the most challenging aspect that had you perhaps accepting a “two steps forward, one step back” approach? What finally got you over the hump, so to speak? Do you have advice for new “apples” just beginning the transition?

extranoise Flickr Photo (CC)

Further Reading:

30 Day Primal Health Challenge

Health Challenge Update

Have You Decided to Be Healthy?

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78 Comments on "How to Guide: Making the Switch to Primal Living in 6 Easy Steps"

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Cheryl L.
Cheryl L.
8 years 2 months ago

Thanks for the suggestions. It’s only been a couple days and I am already having some minor struggles. This list is encouraging and I’m sure will come in handy over the course of this next month.

McFly
McFly
8 years 2 months ago
I’m definitely a “Plunge into the deep end” sort of person. Of course, there are certain problems with this approach. Probably one of the most common problems with the plunge is my tendency to get excited, plunge too hard, and give up early. This might look recognizable to some of you… Monday: I’m doing it! I’m going Primal! Here I come, Grok! Tuesday: Yeah! Not a single Starbucks, no bread, just chicken and broccoli, I’m amazing! Watch me climb that mountain over there! Wednesday: Sore! Yeah, feel the burn it’s great, think I’ll go toss down another salad…! Thursday: Whew,… Read more »
Apurva Mehta
8 years 2 months ago
Hello everyone, This post is a great resource for people who are looking to make changes in their lifestyle. I have been running an experiment of my own for the last month or so. The experiment began with cutting out refined sugars and other simple carbohydrates (grains, etc.) from my diet, along with reducing fruit intake, reducing alcohol, and increasing my intake of meat and vegetables. I have learnt a lot from this experiment, and I thought I would share some of my lessons with the rest of you. I would like to think of it as my way of… Read more »
Apurva Mehta
8 years 2 months ago
Oh, and I forgot to mention a fourth very important realization I have had during the course of my ongoing experiment: It is very important to focus on the process rather than the goal. Patience is a big virtue here. It is important to trust your actions and focus on living cleaner and better everyday. It is important to have faith that the results will come if you give it your time and sincerity. Drive any idea of a particular ‘deadline’ or a quick fix away from your mind like the plague (or a cake 😉 ). This is important… Read more »
Mountain Beaver
Mountain Beaver
6 years 6 months ago

Excellent commentary. Thank you, this is very helpful for a PB newbie like me.

Sean
Sean
5 years 1 month ago

Very helpful indeed! Thank you for your detailed observations.

Phoebe Thomasson
1 year 10 months ago
Thank You! This is a great post and a fantastic comment. I’m having little forays into naughty territory at the moment and assessing my need to do away with the ‘micro-management’ system and instead go for ‘principal lead’ decisions. I think it’s much easier to do than to load every food stop with a whole load of facts and figures, though it is always helpful to read about them. We almost need to distinguish the map from the territory more clearly. The blueprint is not the building which we are constructing and I think to generate clear boundaries in our… Read more »
Jim
Jim
8 years 2 months ago

Do I trust that I could stick to this kind of life? This is the hardest aspect of doing the primal diet. I have reservations about my own resolve. But I am currently overweight and will implement the divide and conquer strategy. I am looking forward to loosing weight so maybe this will help with motivation. Does anyone know any good paleo recipes?

dragonmamma
dragonmamma
8 years 2 months ago
No plunging in for me. I’m a walk-into-the-pool-one-inch-at-a-time kind of person. I’ve had a great deal of success in carb reduction by focusing on one meal at a time. First of all, I eliminated the after-dinner-snack carbs. Then I eliminated carbs from my dinner, which really took a lot of attitude adjustment. If I was having stir-fried veggies and chicken, I wanted some rice to go with it, dammit! It took me a while to get used to it, but now my stir-fries are about twice as big as they used to be (and with cashews or nuts on top!)… Read more »
Rachel
Rachel
8 years 2 months ago
I was really excited about this challenge. I already eat fairly well and track what I eat, but I was still eating around 175 grams of carbs a day. Today I made a deliberate effort not to have sugar free gum (I usually chew a pack a day) and sugar free cocoa (provided by the office) as well as bring some protein to throw on the salad I normally get at work instead of relying on the highly suspect probably reconstituted cafeteria chicken breast. End result? Just finished dinner and I’m sitting at 75 carbs and feeling GREAT. I’m all… Read more »
Toni
Toni
6 years 2 months ago
I’m just getting into the primal mode and I really enjoy everyones input. I’m excited about the simple basic steps to get into this. But your post scares me.. I don’t know if you realize that sugar free gum or anything with sugar substitutes is not only not good for you, it is VERY dangerous. Look up “the dangers of aspartame” online sometime. I was a aspartame poison victim and I could tell you horror stories. And it isn’t that some people are sensative to it, it is poison and eventually your body can no longer filter it or protect… Read more »
Aaron
8 years 2 months ago

Rachel,

Just remember that if you cut your carb intake by 100 grams (400 calories) you are going to need to replace those calories with, primarily, fat; assuming of course you are already getting adequate protein. This may sound obvious, but many people that cut carbs make the mistake of not eating enough calories. I suspect this is one of the big reasons people feel as if they have lower energy levels when beginning a low carb diet. Good luck on the challenge and keep in touch!

Mark Sisson
8 years 2 months ago
Apurva, thanks for sharing those insights. Very helpful to all. McFly, I hear you on the salad repetition deal, but don’t forget, once you stop eating carbs, you can load up on fats. There are some killer creamy dressings out there. Dragonmamma got that when she decided to increase the stir-fry instead of adding the rice. I find when dining out that any restaurant will gladly double your veggies if you decide to can the rice or potatoes. Jim, if I could somehow convince you that once you start down this road, it’s no lonmger about sacrifice. You’ll see (as… Read more »
Bill
Bill
8 years 2 months ago

Hello everyone,
iam doing good so far the only problem i run into is eating enough carbs.Iam used to the Atkins style of thinking im stuck in induction mode 20 grams of carbs it just kills me to eat berries because of the carbs.But otherwise im primal.

Rachel
Rachel
8 years 2 months ago

Hi Aaron,
Thanks for the concern. I had a bunch of hazelnuts, walnuts, and almonds for dessert (I usually have fruit mixed with Fage 2% Greek yogurt) with dinner and I used whole coconut milk rather than my usual light stuff in my curry. I ended up at 1500 calories, which is my normal intake, but a much more significant portion of my calories came from fat than is typical for me.

Sally
Sally
8 years 2 months ago
Lately, the biggest obstacle I’ve faced with a primal-style diet is limiting fruit. I recently moved to LA and am surrounded with so much fruit, especially since it’s summer now and my favorites are coming into season (figs, apricots, cherries, berries – yum!). I have successfully eliminated/cut way back on starchy carbs (no more bread, rice, potatoes, corn, etc) and I’ve changed my workout habits (2 days a week of high-intensity cardio intervals + 2 days of weight lifting + a few miles of walking every day) but I still really want to eat fruit! Any tips? Am I sabotaging… Read more »
Bill
Bill
8 years 2 months ago

Heres a great website for recipies http://www.cleochatra.blogspot.com there all low carb look around on the site and also scroll down and look to the right theres a lot of veggie recipies.I made lasanua last night gluten free the crust was made of cauliflower to take place of noodles.yummy it was full of veggies.
enjoy

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[…] workout. Whenever I try to start the new plan I get overwhelmed and fail, so why even bother? Take baby steps and you’ll discover it’s absolutely worth the effort. Ease into it. Cut carbs slowly if […]

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Ron
7 years 28 days ago

Working at Starbucks can make going primal quite difficult.

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[…] How to Guide: Making the Switch to Primal Living in 6 Easy Steps […]

Jenna
6 years 21 days ago

Hi guys! I’m pretty new to this and I was wondering if anyone has tips as to how to stay full. I’m struggling with this and also with the fact that I babysit every day and they always have cookies and carbs and a lot of junk around their house. Any ideas? Thanks!

notivuga against the grains
notivuga against the grains
5 years 10 months ago
Hi Jenna! Welcome! The key to staying full is to eat your fats. Try to make more than 50% of your cals come from fat and with adequate protein intake (we aim for 1 gram of protein per lb of body weight around here) you should be satiated. As for having little children and their not so great eating habits around, I try to eat before I meet them or offer a healthy snack like apple slices and nuts. Specially children that are used to having a lot of crap food around them are happy to try my way, easier… Read more »
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[…] How to Guide: Making the Switch to Primal Living in 6 Easy Steps […]

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[…] 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), […]

Anna
Anna
5 years 9 months ago

I am new to the primal lifestyle and I have a question. When I am counting my carb total for the day do I count all carbs or net carbs. If I eat an apple that has 28g of carbs and 5g of fiber do I count the entire 28 against my goals or 23 with this plan?

Robin
5 years 8 months ago

I’m a certifiable sugar addict and I am very aware of how unhealthy it is for me. This year I gained 20 Lbs and my energy has dropped dramatically. My main problem is that after every meal I have a HUGE craving for sugar! It doesn’t matter what I eat or how full I am I want sugar. In fact I don’t feel right and can’t stop thinking about it if I don’t have it. I am hypoglycemic and totally out of control right now. Any advice you can give me?

wolf
wolf
5 years 8 months ago
For Robin In my experience the issue is MORE FAT and even more fat. So far I have lost 30 of 70 punds or about 2 inch on the belt, in just over 2 months and have no suger craving any more. 30 down 40 to go. I DID however had it, A LOT, but then i found out three things that worked for me. First i did nothing different for any meal, no breakfast lunch or dinner, just food. ie egg and bacon or salmon with béarnaise or hollandais souse or just the straight beef steak or burgers 50/50… Read more »
David
David
5 years 8 months ago
Great ideas and factual statements how to lose weight and control your appetite. I’m at the other end of the spectrum, which is a hard gainer but can’t seem to lose the last of the body fat. Have tried paleo and PB for about 3 years with good success to be more healthy. yet, losing the last 5% of BF has been the toughest challenge for me.Follow Mark’s PB to the T, but the last BF is like velcro…just sticks to me. My carb intake is between 35 to 70 grams a day according to fitday.com. Fat intake is between… Read more »
Jenna
5 years 8 months ago

Hey guys, Right now, I’m eating about 60% fats, 14% protein, and 24% carbs at around 1700 cals a day. Is this right? So far today I’ve had about 70 grams carbs. However, I feel like I’m gaining weight. I have been lifting weights a couple times a week but am really busy with school so I’m not working out as much as I probably should. Why am I feeling fat? What’s going on? Any insight? Do I need more protein?

Ashley
5 years 8 months ago
Hey Jenna, how long have you been eating primal? If you’re still in the beginning stages, you could have the “carb flu.” I certainly had it; I felt bloated, achy, and generally pretty crabby to be around. Then one day after about a week it all cleared up suddenly. 1700 calories for me would be way too little; however, I have a digestive disease and went primal to heal my gut and eventually gain weight. I’m 5’6″ and 105 lbs. Try as I might, it’s hard for me to get about 2400 calories a day on this diet, and I… Read more »
Hannah
Hannah
5 years 6 months ago

I’m so new to this! I have celiac disease and have already cut out many grains like wheat, rye, barley, and oats. I also have issues with dairy. However I have an addiction to sugar. I am getting the PB on Saturday I ordered it on amazon. I hope this can be the lifestyle for me. I just know there has to be a better way of living for me then what I am doing now. I’m tired of being tired. I want to change my life!
One small step at a time. Any advice?

Tammy
Tammy
5 years 6 months ago

Hello everyone. Very new to the concept of going Primal. We eat mostly vegetarian in our home, ethical reasons and earth sustainability.
Are there any words of wisdom for those of us that are vegetarian???
Thanks so much.

Katie
Katie
5 years 6 months ago

Thanks Marc,

I’ve been following you for two years now and got my new cookbook in the mail about a month ago.

On and off the bandwagon, kicking one habit at a time.

Thanks for being so encouraging and positive.

Had a hard time sleeping last night (gave up all social drinking for 40 days, on day 11) and I’m looking for sleep help… maybe I just need more bacon!! lol

Thanks,

Katie

Anna
Anna
5 years 5 months ago

Sooo… no answers regarding “net” carbs? Anyone?? Bueller, Bueller…

Dena
Dena
4 years 7 months ago

Anna,

Did you ever get an answer about your net carb question? That is something that I would really like to know since I am starting the PB in a few days.

Thanks!

bill
bill
4 years 6 months ago
I think you could eat all the fiber you could manage to pass and it still wouldn’t upset your blood sugar or require lots of insulin to control. I don’t think counting carbs is helpful. You should just not eat BS crap made of grains or laced with high fructose corn syrup (hfcs). Instead, eat all the veggies you want. Steamed, preferably. And steaming your chicken or pork cut in 3/4″ cubes and covered in curry powder for about 7 mins. is convenient and tasty enough. Cover it all with loads of good extra virgin olive oil and lots of… Read more »
Claire
Claire
7 months 3 days ago

Hi Anna,
I’d say fibre doesn’t count, as your body needs (soluble) fibre (which is a reason I think juicing is silly). So just the net grams of carbohydrate matter regarding going from a sugar-burner to a fat-burner.

Lisa
Lisa
5 years 5 months ago

So how do you do this when dairy, casein, soy, red dye is not an option????? My son is not a meat eater????

Deanna
Deanna
5 years 1 month ago

How about eggs (from pasture farmed hens)?

Wendy
Wendy
5 years 5 months ago

I stumbled upon this Primal website while searching for someting related on the internet. I am very intrigued! And I must say, this website is very comprehensive. My question is: has anyone struggled with, and found solutions for, trying to go Primal when you have a spouse that is not terribly interested in doing it 100% with you?

Ben
Ben
5 years 5 months ago

Yep. My wife was hesitant at first, but after seeing my results, she made the change. I suggest challenging your spouse to try it, at least. What can it hurt?

Wendy
Wendy
5 years 5 months ago

It kind of stinks to have to prepare two separate meals in the meantime, while I am doing it and he is not….. Did you have to do that too?

Deanna
Deanna
5 years 1 month ago

My husband will go along with what ever I’m serving. If he wants something else, he feels free to get it himself.

Jillian
Jillian
5 years 4 months ago
I am really trying to cut back on sugar free gum- I’m addicted! I’m worried about the carbs adding up in them though. I do count them as of now. I count my calories on LIVESTRONG, and it says i need 1326 calories a day to lose 2 pounds per week. I was reading other posts and people are having 1700 calories a day. Am I eating too little?! I feel as if I’m constantly in a battle between how many calories I should eat- too much, too little. I don’t know what i should be doing. If anyone has… Read more »
Hannah
Hannah
5 years 4 months ago

I am slowly getting into the groove I am having a really difficult time cutting out the dairy. I have celiac so I really have depended on the gluten free grains and dairy and fruits veggies and I go nuts without meat. Can someone help me?

Thank you I soon want to be saying Grok On with the rest of you!! 🙂

Wendy
Wendy
5 years 4 months ago
Im kind of frustrated. Hoping someone can comment: I started the PB 1 week ago. I’m down to 20 g of carbs per day, cut out all dairy, cut out all artificial sweeteners, and follow a PB fitness program. I HAVE NOT HAD ANY WEIGHT LOSS and although I haven’t measured my body fat, i don’t look like I have made any progress in that arena either. I could stand to lose about 20 lbs or more and thought I would have seen some results by now in the weight loss department. 2 days ago, frustrated, I also cut out… Read more »
fritzy
fritzy
5 years 4 months ago
Give it time. Everyone is different and I have heard several people say it took a few weeks for their body to get used to the change in diet and lifestyle. Personally, I was not seeking to lose weight (I got leaner anyway) but I did notice that many people on this site were talking about the ease of intermittent fasting. I couldn’t understand this, as I was CONSTANTLY hungry for the first 3 weeks, no matter what or how much I ate. Then, at about the 3 week mark, I started getting leaner, putting on muscle mass, and my… Read more »
Wendy
Wendy
5 years 4 months ago

Thanks, fritzy. That post was a great motivator for me.
I probably do need to add in some more fats. I have been so used to a low fat, low carb diet for so long (Weight Watchers), I have some mental trouble eating so much fat.
Even though I don’t think I look any different, I do feel better knowing that I have made a huge, necessary lifestyle change!
I will definitely keep on it and see what happens in the next couple of weeks.
Thanks!!

Hannah
Hannah
5 years 4 months ago

I’ve given up grains completely and have decided to use dairy only occasionally. I just got a couple of cookbooks and am looking for some helpful tips for weight loss.

I want to lose about a hundred pounds. I know I can do it and am very inspired by the before and after pics and testimonials. I am looking forward to tell my story someday and also include some pictures. So please wish me luck on my Primal Journey.

Hannah

fritzy
fritzy
5 years 4 months ago

Good luck, Hannah–I think you will be surprised by just how much better you look and feel living Primally. I will likely exceed your expectations–it did for me!

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[…] unhealthy habits and what they see as the coital repercussions. Still more are from folks transitioning to Primal living and going through a period of energy “adjustment” as they find the right balance in their […]

Lauren
Lauren
5 years 3 months ago
When using the tracker tools like Daily Plate, it’s tough for me to watch my calories climb above my “calorie goal” becaue I’m eating higher calorie, higher fat paleo foods. I’m keeping my carbs around 60 grams (approximately 40 grams net). It’s okay for the calorie goal to be surpassed if my carbs are in check? I am leaner since starting my paleo diet about a month ago, but I feel thicker. I’m a 5’5″ female weighing about 122 pounds. I’m just wondering if I’m going to end up with a net weight gain if I stick with lower carbs… Read more »
Dave
Dave
5 years 2 months ago
I dig this site. Helps to have others with same issues. I do primal with a slight caveat, I juice carrots in the morning, and put off eating(when I’m good) till dinner. Suprisingly, it’s not that hard. I even work out early in the morning, before work. When (and when is the operative word)I do follow this pattern, weight starts to come off and energy goes up. Like everything, it takes willpower, or better stated, discipline. Also, there is something so cool about waiting till dinner. It feels right to eat more in the evening, as long as it’s meats… Read more »
Sean
Sean
5 years 1 month ago

You guys are the best! Plenty of support and motivation in this community. Thank you!

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[…] you interested in trying Primal? Does this story sound familiar? Here is a How to Guide and Ten Baby […]

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[…] the benefits of going Primal, I imagine there are those of you out there that are finding the transition to be less than a walk in the park. And why not? Decades of bad habits and poor eating don’t […]

taylor
taylor
5 years 3 days ago

isn’t is really unhealthy to cut out carbs?

Liz
Liz
4 years 10 months ago
I’ve gone Primal and it really works! I got married 30 years ago at 120 lbs (I’m 5’6″). I admit that might have been a little too thin. Over the years while raising two kids I have gained 40 lbs. And, my husband stayed the exact same size while eating a big bowl of ice cream every night! (totally not fair–but he apparently isn’t insulin resistant). After three weeks of counting carbs and keeping them under 20, I can see a measurable difference in the mirror and my clothes and shoes are loosening daily. (I am also walking 3 miles… Read more »
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