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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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April 29, 2008

10 Ways to “Get Primal”

By Worker Bee
162 Comments

Here at Mark’s Daily Apple, we advocate the Primal Blueprint Lifestyle, that is, a health philosophy that in large part acts to mimic the diet and physical activity of our pre-agricultural ancestors.

And, while we’ve explained in the past what it means to “Get Primal,” we figured what’s not to love about a bulleted list that reminds us how to incorporate these methods into our everyday lives.

Read on to learn how you can get primal on every level on every occasion:

Hike:

Whether it was searching for food, shelter or just greener pastures, our ancestors spent a lot of time taking the heel-toe express! (Though, it wasn’t exactly heel-toe in those days.) These days, of course, we have planes, trains and automobiles to get us from A to B, which means hoofing it has become our least likely mode of transport. To get back to the Primal Blueprint, set aside some time every week to participate in sustained activity as a way to return your body to its natural state (that is, being in a constant state of motion). And, although hiking was the primary modality for sustained exercise for our predecessors, feel free to substitute it for biking or any other low-level physical activity you can do for a long period with little interruption.

Sprint:

Although eat or be eaten is no longer really considered a threat in today’s society, for our ancestors, it was a pretty big (and potentially lethal) deal. The solution? Run fast, run hard, and run for your life! You can incorporate these same theories by adding a series of short sprints into your exercise routine (see Mark explain his sprint routine here). The idea here isn’t necessarily to be the fastest kid on the block (although that would be awesome), but rather to give all you’ve got for a brief period of time. Also, bear in mind that this concept of going hard and fast for a few seconds isn’t limited to the act of sprinting; you could try water sprints, power cycling, jump rope intervals or any other activity that requires short, intense bursts of energy.

Lift Hard:

Think Cavemen killed time pounding weights in a dingy gym? Think again! Our ancestors tested their strength only in real-life situations (as opposed to having a pose-off with the meathead in the cut-off shirt!) and grew strong by doing, for the most part, weight bearing exercises. Naturally, they focused on activities that would help them carry out real life functions. Want to work out like your primal ancestors? Try weight bearing activities such as squats or dead lifts, which our ancestors did when lifting a heavy rock or log for building; lunges, which mimic the action of transversing steep terrain or stepping into a throw; pull-ups and standing rows to mimic the movement of pulling a heavy object towards the body; pushing, to mimic the motion of… well, pushing things; and twisting motions such as medicine ball throws or cable woodchoppers, which our ancestors did when throwing spears or hoisting objects. For a new challenge (and an exercise that combines just about all of the above motions, try the Turkish get-up:

Ditch Grains and Sugar:

With the tagline “so simple even a caveman could do it,” the commercial suggests that our ancestors were, well, not the sharpest tools in the shed. But, clearly they were smart enough to shun grains and sugar (a feat that the majority of current day Americans have yet to accomplish). In fact, according to some anthropologists, our ancestors only consumed about 80 g of carbohydrates per day, largely because sources of carbohydrates – such as grains, beans and potatoes – are toxic in raw form. To keep it primal, avoid all grains, including bread, pasta, rice and noodles, and all refined sugar. It should also probably be noted that the majority (if not all) of processed foods are packed with carbs – either in the form of a grain, sugar, or both – so it’s best to cut those out too!

Eat Meat and Fish:

When dinner time rolled around for our ancestors, they weren’t exactly reaching for the yellow pages! Instead, they were reaching for a spear, ax or some other weapon to catch their meal. While we’re certainly not advocating that you begin hunting for your own entrees (people might talk!) we do recommend that you begin thinking about your diet in a way that resembles their dietary habits. That is, if you can’t catch it or find it in nature, you can’t eat it. In short, opt for meat and fish and don’t get hung up on the fat content. Not only is fat integral to health, it will also help keep you feeling satiated longer!

Eat Berries, Nuts and Unbridled Amounts of Veggies:

Again, when selecting foods, remember that you’re playing the role of the hunter and gatherer, so feel free to indulge in foods you would find in nature. Specifically, the Primal eating strategy recommends berries, which are low in sugar and packed with vitamins, antioxidants and other beneficial nutrients, and nuts, including walnuts, brazil nuts, macadamias and almonds (but not peanuts which are a legume and should also be avoided for fear of aflatoxins). When it comes to vegetables, seek out root vegetables including carrots, turnips, parsnips, rutabagas and Swede (but not potatoes or other starchy, high-carb varieties), leafy greens, tomatoes and other brightly-hued vegetables (which not only add color to dishes, but also seriously improve the nutrition value).

Drink Water:

Although there is some back and forth about how much water our early ancestors actually consumed (with some anthropologists suggesting that early man got most of his water from the vegetables he consumed as opposed to risking his life standing in line with the other predators and prey at the local waterhole), the reality is that even if early man didn’t consume that much pure water, he certainly wasn’t reaching for a Coke. Get back to your primal roots by ditching the Gatorade, the soda (including the diet ones – they’re nearly as bad!) and especially the juice. All you really need is water, and lucky for you, it’s as easy as turning on the tap.

Sleep Smart:

When the sun went down, early man started prepping for bed. When the sun sets today, most men (and women) will do the dishes, watch Grey’s Anatomy, finish up paperwork, pay bills and check their email before falling asleep with the television blaring Conan O’Brien. No offense to Mr. O’Brien, but when nature starts heading to bed, so too should you. To catch Zzzs like our ancestors, remove all electronics from the bedroom and focus on creating an environment that is dark, quiet and serene. Also, while it might seem counterintuitive to not close the blinds, allowing natural light to be your wake-up call is far more refreshing (and natural) then waking to the shrills of an alarm clock.

Relax:

As much as we harp on about how hard early man had it (what with having to work hard to survive and all that), make no mistake, early man liked his downtime too! Unlike our ancestors, however, many of us tend to spend our downtime plunked in front of the TV or computer engaged(?) in mindless activity for hours on end. To get back to our primal roots, select an activity that will clear your mind and help you recharge and refocus. And don’t forget that part of this getting up and moving around a bit.

Crack a Coconut, Spear your Dinner and Sleep in a Cave:

Ok, maybe we’re kidding on this last one. But imagine how primal it’d make you feel!

mutbka, Jasmic, hrtmnstrfr, Bern@t, Genista, paurian, Snap, jahdakine, Mai, OnuRoca Flickr Photos (CC) and nightowl27 YouTube Clip

Further Reading:

My Knee is Killing Me… No Really.

Would Grok Chow the Cheese Plate?

What Mark Eats in a Day

Subscribe to Mark’s Daily Apple feeds

Sponsor note:
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162 Comments on "10 Ways to “Get Primal”"

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Chris R
Chris R
8 years 4 months ago

I agree with all of the above. I’m a huge fan of sprinting. We all know hard sprints release GH. However, I think sprinting gets misrepresented. While noone knows for sure. It doesn’t seem likely we ran sprinting from animals when “cavemen.” It would have been futile and a waste of energy as humans are slow runners even when sprinting compared to most animals. We would’ve been eaten so most likely in those situations we attempted to fight back. The fact is we evolved for endurance (even if we choose not to do it now for health reasons).

Tim
Tim
5 years 6 months ago

You forget, the cave man did not need to be a faster sprinter than the cheetah, he just needed to be a faster sprinter than the slowest guy in the tribe!

Jonathan
Jonathan
3 years 10 months ago

Now that’s smart! I didn’t think of it that way.

Jeff
Jeff
5 years 4 months ago

While humans can’t sprint as fast as predators who would east us, it’s not likely our ancestors would be using the same starting line either. Seeing a predator coming would be the trigger to get to a tree or pile of rocks or other defensible position before the predator gets to us.

Tony
Tony
4 years 9 months ago

We probably sprinted while hunting for game, and not only because we were being chased.

Ben
Ben
3 years 7 months ago

Very few things, in “real life”, are done slowly at one’s own pace. Humans evolved large brains in order to not have to run or fight. “Endurance” activities simply are not useful in most situations. But, being able to do something quickly and forcefully is always useful, no matter where you are on the food chain.

charlotte
8 years 4 months ago

I’m dumb – what’s an aflatoxin? Also, can anyone give me more explanation about nuts and seeds? I eat a TON of them & I’m always confused about which ones are actually nuts (just the kind that grow on trees?) and which are seeds (cashews?) and which are legumes (peanuts, apparently). Does it make any difference if you eat them whole, roasted, raw or as nut butter? Obv. unsalted. Any help would be appreciated!

avi
avi
5 years 4 months ago

If they are seeds, it doesn’t really matter, since seeds are also part of the primal blueprint diet. I’m not sure if there are any that are legumes beside peanuts.

Paul Kemp
5 years 4 months ago

If seeds are part of the primal blueprint, then why not grains? Aren’t they just cultivated seeds, selectively bred for more yield?

Partha
Partha
5 years 2 months ago

Theres something called Google that the primal man did not have. You do!!!

Aaron
8 years 4 months ago

Thanks for the questions, Charlotte! I think we may have some more MDA post material. Thanks again!

primalman
primalman
8 years 4 months ago

Cool list. I would like to add “ditch the clock.” It is tough, but once you stop wacthing the clock constantly and letting it dictate your life you wil be a free person.

Less attractive additions:

eat bugs
stop shaving and using deodorant
poop outside

theo
theo
8 years 4 months ago
Mike, Is there any basis behind your primal theory ? Do you have any evidence that monkies or neanderthal human were healthier or had a longer life expectancy than us today ? You seem to have an issue with aerobic activities, on the basis that we have not evolved to work at a high percentage of VO2Max for a long time. Yet you suggest that sprinting is fine because when our ancestor ran for their life they sprinted. How do you know that how far and long and how fast they ran when they needed to ? Maybe they actually… Read more »
avi
avi
5 years 4 months ago

I don’t think this lifestyle requires entirely replacing carbs with protein. More protein than carbs, yes, but also lots of fats (except trans) and some carbs as well, mostly from fruits and vegetables.

sharon crawford
sharon crawford
4 years 6 months ago
Wasn’t the mean age of our ancestors around 26 years old. How did this make them healthier. I am trying this plan, but not sure I could give up all carbs. I still think some carbs are necessary to function. I also read that too much protein can cause kidney problems, and play havoc on your cholesterol. I am going to give it a try in hopes that if I fall off the wagon, I don’t gain all plus more. My goal is to decrease the amounts of carb, and so far, I am doing great. Hope it works. I… Read more »
Chris R
Chris R
8 years 4 months ago

Again, try outrunning a lion. The fastest human sprinter wouldn’t be able to do it. Primal man might have sprinted for other reasons but not to outrun carnivorous animals.

Markus
Markus
6 years 8 months ago

I don’t have to outrun the lion. I just have to outrun you.

Grok is Softball!
Grok is Softball!
6 years 7 months ago

a little late…but that made me laugh out loud. 🙂

Andrea R
Andrea R
6 years 3 months ago

HA!

Jeff
Jeff
5 years 9 months ago

You’re not lining up at the starting line with that lion. With enough of a head start, your goal in sprinting is to get to safety up a tree or some other defensible location before that lion catches you!

BlooEyedDevil
BlooEyedDevil
3 years 11 months ago

Super late to this, but you’re also forgetting that primal man hunting in groups would mean more than one target for a predator…predator appears, every primal man hauls ass as fast as he can; the slowest sprinter makes the dinner specials list for the predator.

bones
bones
8 years 4 months ago

Why do we insist on idealising the past?

There is plenty of archaeological evidence to show that in ancient times many people suffered painful debilitating illnesses and few were lucky enough to survive into their forties.

We are healthier now than we have ever been at any time in human history so don’t knock it!

Whilst I agree with some of the ideas – (excercise, fruit and veg etc) which are common sense, I don’t think the health of our ancestors is a very good thing to aspire to!

Chaw-win-is
Chaw-win-is
5 years 2 months ago
I have to chime in here. I am an Indigenous person from what is now known as Canada. In terms of my peoples history – we have been in contact with “industrial civilization” for just over 200 years here on Vancouver Island. The truth for Indigenous peoples here and all over industrialized society is that we are at the very opposite end of the spectrum in terms of our collective health. Native peoples here in Canada suffer from the highest rates of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, depression and addiction problems. This is a result of living within the entire industrialized society,… Read more »
John
John
5 years 1 month ago
The Canada Food Guide did not kill your populations and you are not still suffering from it. The Canada Food Guide is a RECOMMENDATION. In no way were your people required to follow it. You are simply ignorant to blame the death of your people on a guide that does not control you. The material in the food guide has been proven by scientifical means to be the most healthy diet that one can live by. Your people’s problem is that you started shopping at the same places as we do and you started buying the same junk food that… Read more »
darren
darren
5 years 1 month ago
Bones, not only did you respond with an arrogant,racist, and weak argument…and I will repeat one more time, racist you simply portrayed what ignorance really is. Indigenous people had no CHOICE! but to follow the canadian food guide. Need I remind you that settler people wiped out their main sustenance(Buffalo) and forcibly removed them from their land-base(which in my case, is the size of 3 states) to small reservations where they lived a sedentary lifestyle,(Unfortunately there were no gym equipment to use on the rez),my people did what was necessary to survive. I am Cree/Lakota and changing my diet to… Read more »
Chaw-win-is
Chaw-win-is
5 years 1 month ago
I am not sure where you read that the Canada Food Guide killed my people, how silly – I did say it was dictated to Indigenous peoples- and to be clear I mean forcibly IMPOSED through colonial laws and policies which out lawed our hunting and fishing lifestyles, through the banning of the potlach (which consequently still exists), and by restricting us to reservations or not adhering to treaties that were signed in various nations, as the previous person said, and by forcibly taking our children into residential school where our own diets were not adhered to. It is actually… Read more »
Biishigoneb
Biishigoneb
5 years 1 month ago
This is actually a response directed at both the user Bones and John. Firstly, if you examine history you will clearly see that in fact, Europeans left the mother country to seek refuge here in North America because of starvation, disease and of course malnutrition. You simply cannot live on grains alone. The life expectancy rate was mid 30’s at best. Here in North America Indigenous peoples life expectancy rate was in the 80’s. James Neel also examined this phenomenon in his study on the Thrify gene. I am not going down the thrifty gene road but his study is… Read more »
Mimi
Mimi
3 years 2 months ago

John and Darren need to get an education re: colonization.

Peter Hardy
Peter Hardy
4 years 4 months ago
Healthier then ever? Which world do you live in? One in three suffers from cancer, 60% is obese and so on and so forth. We only live longer because we have the medical knowledge to keep people alive. Just look at the few aboriginal peoples left in the world, those tyhat live the traditional ways, and you’ll see the difference. Or what modern types of food does to them, like the Aboriginals of Australia. Once healthy people who managed to survive one of the toughest environments, and now they are the unhealtiest in the country, and close to extinction thanks… Read more »
primalman
primalman
8 years 4 months ago

Org did not suffer from DM-II, hypertension, CAD, COPD and other chronic diseases associated with inflamation. These are the diseases killing most of us today. We have plenty to learn from Org.

Also, there is scant evidence that we are healthier now than ever before.

avi
avi
5 years 11 months ago

don’t you mean grok, not org?

Craig49
Craig49
8 years 4 months ago
I don’t think the post idealizes the past, bones. What it does is point to the things that were part of human evolution. For example, there is a reason why our bodies don’t do well with grains and/or a high carb diet. It is because our ancestors didn’t evolve whilst eating grains/high-carbs and are thusly not “built” for it. Sure, they lived tough, maybe even terrible existences, doing whatever it took to survive from one day to the next. But the fact that our ancestors died young (for lack of the medical treatment, antibiotics, sewage systems, good hygiene etc. that… Read more »
thefightgeek
8 years 4 months ago
I like the whole caveman thing, particularly in regards to working out. I just can’t accept the basic argument that “because our ancestors did this or did that, we should too.” It reminds me too much of christian fundamentalism. I guess the main thing that bothers me is the abandonment of ALL grains. I don’t really like diets that require giving up any type of food. I’m not a nutritionalist or anything, but making any type of food taboo seems counterproductive to me. And besides, I tend to think that what’s considered a ‘healthy’ diet can vary greatly depending on… Read more »
avi
avi
5 years 4 months ago

It’s ironic that this reminds you of christian fundamentalism, considering how this is partially based on evolution.

Regarding grains, while I would think that they would be okay in moderation, but I disagree that making any type of food taboo is counterproductive. Some food substances (such as MSG for one example) can be quite harmful even in moderation.

DMN
DMN
4 years 8 months ago

MSG is a food group now?

Naomi
8 years 4 months ago

Cracking a coconut doesn’t make me feel primal, as I do it by dropping ’em on the pavement.

jack
jack
8 years 4 months ago

“but when nature starts heading to bed”

An extremely large percentage of nature is nocturnal buddy.

Eric-Dillan Smith
Eric-Dillan Smith
5 years 11 months ago

We’re human, buddy.

brick2
brick2
8 years 4 months ago

Through the years of listening to health experts, the most important thing I learned is not to listen to the advice of someone who tries to sell you something. I am very skeptical about all the emphasis you put on protein and anti oxidant supplements, mostly because these are by no coincidence what you sell in your online store.
BTW, did you get a chance to read the new studies conducted by Danish scientists that showed anti oxidant supplements can be bad for you and those who took them had a shorter lifespan ?

laura
laura
6 years 1 month ago

He believes in the “diet” and so he sells it nothing wrong with that. Stop trying to find sinister motives where there aren’t any.

And who is funding the Danish “scientists?” Because somehow scientists stop being human beings and take on this super human all knowing being…

32Simon
32Simon
8 years 4 months ago
brick 2 – Mark has delivered quality, and in my estimation, very genuine and balanced health advice since 2006 to all readers for FREE. Apart from the odd (very infrequent) mention of supplements (and usually not even his specifically) there isn’t any sales pitch. I appreciate what he has done as his advice has helped me personally to get my life back on track from a health perspective. You can’t blame him if a small part of his broad health philosophy involves supplementation. Do you mean to suggest that the health philosophy only includes vitamins because he sells them on… Read more »
Aaron
8 years 4 months ago

One final point I want to clarify that I alluded to previously – Couldn’t it be that Mark sells protein powder, fish oils, anti-oxidant supplements because he is an ethical businessman and will only sell things that he believes in. It is rare to see a supplement company that doesn’t have dozens upon dozens of products. His line of products is short and to the point, and is consistent with not only his health philosophy but also countless others who have a similar approach. This is not at all the standard way supplement companies operate in my experience.

Still Dedicated

Dave C. - DaveGetsFit
8 years 4 months ago
I read brick2’s comment before leaving the house for a while. Others have expressed my sentiments very well. The only thing I would add is that there are no shortage of sites/blogs of people who are giving out health information, but they want you to buy their book or their program before you can get the details. I haven’t spent a nickel related to this site*, but I feel I’ve been given tools that are going to help me immensely. *not completely true, I’ve spent money on grass-fed beef and wild salmon that I might not have if I hadn’t… Read more »
Barry
8 years 4 months ago
I’ve always found total silence to be deafening when trying to go to sleep. I run a small fan near the bed to generate some white noise and circulate the air. It seems to help me a lot because I don’t have to hear all the small mysterious clicks and knocks that your typical house makes during the night. Then of course during the summer, the stupid birds are out at five in the morning when the faintest hint of sunlight is peeking over the horizon. Again, if you have nothing to block out this irritating noise, you’ll be waking… Read more »
Jenn
Jenn
4 years 11 months ago

I agree, with everything even the god damned birds!! ugh

Dave C. - DaveGetsFit
8 years 4 months ago

I run a small fan near the bed to generate some white noise and circulate the air.

Whaddya know! We’re in agreement on something–I do the same thing.

As for avoiding carbohydrates, there’s no point.

It doesn’t say that anywhere in the article. It says to avoid grains and sugar. You’re free to disagree with that of course, but at least disagree with something the article actually says.

Mark Sisson
8 years 4 months ago
Chris R, I guarantee your man had to run for his life fairly frequently, whether it was away from danger or towards dinner. Of course, we can’t outrun a lion in a hundred meter dash, but if we have 20 yards to the nearest tree and he’s 30 yards away, we have a good chance of escape. Bones, we are certainly NOT healthier now than at any time in history. Most of the archaeological evidence of illnesses is found in ancient agricultural groups. Pre-ags did not suffer the litany of diseases that grains and a high-carb existence brought on. Jack,… Read more »
Mark Sisson
8 years 4 months ago
Brick2, The Danish antioxidant study wasn’t a study but a rehash of old studies. It has been criticized as innaccurate and flawed by many within the science community. This from newsmax: Mike Adams of Healthranger.org simply calls the study a fabrication. “Faking a vitamin study to show supplements as harmful is extremely easy to pull off,” he writes. He says you can get any results you want by: # Use synthetic forms of the vitamins and avoid using natural, food-sourced vitamins. These synthetic vitamins – which are really just industrial chemicals – may be called “Vitamin E” or “Vitamin A”… Read more »
avi
avi
5 years 4 months ago

Doesn’t everyone have a 100% chance of dying?

Dan
Dan
8 years 4 months ago

I think most predators can climb, but thats not really here or there.

I question sleeping when the sun goes down. Many of the worlds most successful predators are nocturnal, as is much of the animal kingdom. I think getting the proper amount of sleep is important, as well as the getting it regularly. But the sun is irrelevant, for example what if you are in Alaska?

P.M.Lawrence
6 years 1 month ago

About predators being able to climb, that’s how you can tell the difference between a brown bear and a grizzly. Just climb a tree to get away from it, and if it climbs after you it’s a brown bear but if it just knocks the tree down, it’s a grizzly.

Oh, and as well as some non-daytime animals being nocturnal, some are crepuscular.

Mark
Mark
6 years 1 month ago

There is no difference between a Griz and a Brown Bear except the Brown lives close to the ocean and the Griz lives inland. Because the Brown is closer to a better supply of food he will be bigger on average than the Griz. By the way, neither can climb, It’s the Black Bears that climb.

mark
mark
5 years 9 months ago

P.M.,the Brown bear and the Grizzly is the same bear, the Brown’s are Grizzly bears that live and feed close to the coast. They get bigger because of the abundance of food. Neither climb trees after they are grown.

Mark Sisson
8 years 4 months ago

Dan,

Sun is far from irrelevant. Hundreds of studies show that people who work graveyard shifts and sleep during the day experience far more health problems than normal.

subwo
subwo
6 years 1 month ago

I agree with you Mark. I quit working straight 12 hour night shifts almost 2 years ago and find it hard to get back to a normal sleep cycle. I would have to take melatonin upon arriving home in the morning to help get to sleep. I gained a lot of weight due to the midnight gut most of us nightworkers develop which I am trying to take off with the paleo diet. Not 100% on it but better than before.

telly
telly
8 years 4 months ago

There’s a phrase for it, Dan… Circadian Rhythms. Look it up.

trackback

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OnuRoca
8 years 1 month ago

the title of the photo is just a metaphor
and
u can not find neither coconut nor sea arount the cave in the photo
(just wanted to say 🙂 )

by the way thanx for using my photo

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7 years 9 months ago

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Kevin
Kevin
7 years 1 month ago

Just found your site. Love how you keep it simple. That’s my personal philosophy too. I couldn’t help but laugh reading through some of the comments. Dude! People get all “weird” about keeping things so simple. It’s like they’re mad at you for writing what you think, believe, and live … on your own blog. haha What do they say?… You know you’re doing something right when your followers actually split up and either love or hate you..? haha

danny
danny
7 years 1 month ago

Nice web site.. the concept of what you are talking about is good.

Get back to basics to live a better life
away from processed foods.

Back in the days before we had gas cookers they made grains & seeds more palatable by germinating the grain to soften it for easier digestion.

See more details > http://www.thailandmuaythai.com/moreinfo/faq.html#gbr

Marie
Marie
6 years 11 months ago
I agree with the commenter who praised Mark for putting out all this info for free… and he rarely makes mention of his own supplement line. This is a very informative site. I hate meat and I have a sweet tooth and I ran my first marathon last May…but I can still appreciate that this way of eating works even if I”m not “there” yet…just look at Mark and his wife, as well as many of the reader success stories. I tend to think that life’s too short to not enjoy a great loaf of bread once in a while,… Read more »
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