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

The Primal Blueprint 8 Key Concepts

With the Primal Blueprint 21-Day Challenge having just begun, it’s the perfect time to go over the Primal Blueprint 8 Key Concepts. I believe that fully grokking these powerful ideas is crucial to success during the challenge. As the saying goes, knowledge is power. Having a firm grasp of these key concepts will provide a framework for – and make you more resolute in – your daily decisions. Read them, commit them to memory, live by them, and you’ll be well on your way to a lifetime of health and wellness.

In the coming days and weeks, I will lay out the path to Primal health in greater detail, but for now, are you ready to learn the basics? Let’s get to it…

1. Yes, You Really Can Reprogram Your Genes

The popular conception of a gene is “a weird collection of DNA and chromosomes and other stuff that determines whether or not you’re going to get this type of cancer, how long you’ll live, and if you’ll get a coronary bypass at some point in your life.” There’s this idea that genes are immutable, that they represent a sort of cosmic destiny for an individual. But, aside from some heritable traits like eye and hair color or the number of fingers on your hands and feet, genes are actually programmable. They “express” themselves in different ways according to information gathered from our environment, our food, and our behaviors. They “turn on” or “turn off” in response to these environmental signals. Thus, though you might have “the gene for type 2 diabetes” – which is really just a genetic proclivity towards the disease, not a sentence – providing the right environmental signals will prevent the gene from ever turning on.

How we eat, exercise, sleep, interact with our social circles, stress, and spend time outdoors (plus tons of other environmental signals) determines how our genes express themselves; how our genes express themselves in turn determines our level of health. Genetic predisposition is not your destiny.

2. The Clues to Optimal Gene Expression Are Found in Evolution

While we can’t sit at a control panel and fiddle with our gene expression like a mad scientist just yet, we can make some very good guesses based on a powerful heuristic: human evolution. Reason being, two million years of selection pressure exerted upon the hominid line designed a healthy, successful, productive, vibrant organism. We didn’t just “happen,” after all. We look like we do and work like we do and have the genes that we do that express themselves the way that they do because of very powerful selection pressures. The habitats in which we lived, the foods we ate, the movements we had to perform in order to survive, the sunlight to which we were exposed, the stressors we faced – these environmental factors shaped our genetic code, and it is to these various environmental stimuli that our genetic expression responds most favorably. The clues to realizing our Primal Blueprint lies scattered amidst our evolutionary history.

Until that day when we can sit a computer terminal and decide which genes we want to express today, and how, the best we can probably do is use human evolution as a base level tool for making lifestyle decisions. You’ll probably refine the details later, but evolution is a darn good place to start.

3. Your Body Prefers Burning Fat Over Carbohydrates

We’ve evolved to be fat-burners (must be why we’re so adept at storing it on our bodies!). It’s easy to see why. Fat burns slow and evenly, providing all-day steady energy levels. Carbohydrates burn quickly, and they’re gone in an instant, leaving you groggy and depleted unless you “carb up.” Furthermore, carbohydrates are an inherently unreliable and fleeting source of energy for our body, with most people only able to store about 400-500 grams of carbohydrates on the body at any one time. Our storage capacity for fat, on the other hand, is virtually endless. Just ten or fifteen pounds of body fat, which is the bare minimum available on even the leanest individuals, can provide tens of thousands of calories. Luckily, reducing carbohydrates and increasing fat intake sends the epigenetic signals necessary to help us revert back to fat-burning, and it only takes a week or two to get things moving in the right direction.

Become fat-adapted, enjoy boundless energy. Free yourself from the shackles of a carbohydrate-based metabolism/dependency.

4. 80 Percent of Your Body Composition Success Is Determined by How You Eat

Food is the single most important factor in body composition. You can exercise all you want but as long as you’re eating garbage, and too much of it, you won’t get very far. For that reason, any real attempt to modify your body composition has to begin by addressing what you put in your mouth. I like to start with the quality of the food you eat. I don’t discount the importance of quantity, mind you, but I do find that honing in on the quality of the food is more crucial and effective. Case in point: 2000 calories of fast food will have a very different effect on your body composition, satiety, and nutrient intake than 2000 calories of grass-fed meat, wild fish, and produce grown in rich, fertile, nutrient-dense soil. The fast food won’t be as satiating, nor as nutrient-dense, as the real food, so you’ll likely be compelled to eat more of it. The fast food will primarily include trans- and polyunsaturated fats, sugary sauces, refined grains, and poor quality meat, which will promote insulin resistance and the storage of body fat while inhibiting fat burning. Eating Primal food, rich in animals, plants, and healthy fat, on the other hand, will normalize insulin sensitivity, thereby allowing fat burning. In effect, quality will determine quantity; you’ll eat less spontaneously when you eat healthy Primal foods. Quality paired with proper quantity will in turn determine your body composition.

Sleep matters, exercise helps, stress has an effect, but how you eat – what you eat and how much you eat – is the prime determinant of your body composition.

5. Grains Are Totally Unnecessary

Despite their exalted position in the Conventional hierarchy of healthy foods, grains are completely and utterly unnecessary. And yes, that even goes for whole grains. I mean, what’s so great about them, anyway? What unique nutrients do they provide? If you want fiber, eat vegetables. If you want antioxidants, eat colorful produce. If you want carbs, eat fruits and tubers. Humans got along fairly well without wide scale grain agriculture for many thousands of years, and there’s no real reason to buy in today, especially when you consider the grain antinutrients like gluten that impair digestion, reduce mineral absorption, and damage the intestinal lining. What is it, then, that necessitates 10-12 servings of whole grains a day? It’s madness. Besides, for all the supposed health benefits that the grain-obsessed like to say are supported with tons of studies, this just isn’t the case when you look a little deeper. Those studies invariably compare whole grains to refined grains, and in that case, the whole grain will generally win out. I’d suspect that if you compared a whole grain-based diet to a grain-free Primal way of eating, you’d get very different results. Unfortunately, that study hasn’t been done.

There’s nothing good in grains that you can’t get elsewhere, and plenty bad that you won’t find elsewhere. Don’t eat ’em.

6. Saturated Fat and Cholesterol Are Not Your Enemy

Another popular health canard is that dietary saturated fat and cholesterol are horrible, evil things that seek only to clog our arteries, thicken our blood, and pad our waistlines. That’s crazy, of course. Fat, especially saturated fat, and dietary cholesterol are important building blocks for sex hormones like testosterone. Saturated fat helps us absorb nutrients from our food. Saturated fat is inherently the most stable fat, able to withstand heat and light stress without oxidizing, and it’s incredibly satiating. Cholesterol is crucial in the creation of vitamin D from sun exposure. And contrary to popular belief and the protestations of “experts,” neither saturated fat nor dietary cholesterol have been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Sugar, refined PUFA oils, trans-fats? Those are the real enemies. Oh, and consider this: every successful diet is actually a high-fat diet. When you lose weight, whether it’s through low-carb Primal or high-carb vegan, you are consuming ample amounts of highly saturated animal fat. The only thing is that this animal fat is coming off your body, but it’s still saturated animal fat just the same.

A diet rich in animal fat and cholesterol is not just safe, it’s downright healthy.

7. Exercise is Ineffective for Weight Management

Exercise is healthy. Exercise is necessary for lasting wellness. Exercise builds muscle and exerts beneficial effects on hormone expression and function. Exercise gets you strong, gets you fit, and keeps you young. I like exercise; I do some form of it every single day, and I recommend that you do the same. But exercise alone is highly ineffective for weight management. For it to truly help manage your weight, exercise must be paired with a healthy eating plan, adequate sleep, effective stress management, ample sun exposure, and healthy amounts of social contact with friends, family, and loved ones. Sure, some people take exercise to the extreme, training for hours and hours on end, all in the quest to burn a few hundred more calories, to “make up for” those donuts at breakfast, to eradicate those love handles. And if you go long enough and hard enough, yeah, you’ll “burn calories.” But at what cost? Exercise is a stressor, after all. Maintained at a chronic, extreme pace and frequency, exercise becomes a chronic stressor that does more harm than good. It makes you hungry. It increases systemic and local inflammation. It depresses your immune system. It fatigues you, leading to less activity throughout the day. You’ll eventually and inevitably burn out unless you eat a massive amount of calories to make up for all that you’ve lost, and, at that point, you’re back at square one.

You can’t out-exercise a bad diet and poor lifestyle.

8. Maximum Fitness Can Be Achieved in Minimal Time With High Intensity Workouts

Study after study shows that the key to optimal health, aging, and fitness is muscle strength and mass. The more lean mass we have, the better we’re able to handle what life can dish out, whether it’s carrying groceries, playing with our kids, saving our own lives in a life-or-death situation, or engaging in the time-tested essential activity known as love-making. Luckily for those of us who relish our free time, the most effective, most efficient ways to build and maintain lean mass are through intense strength and sprint training. Twice a week, spend 15-40 minutes lifting heavy things using functional, full-body compound movements – squats, pullups, pushups, planks – and once every 7-10 days, spend 10-20 minutes doing 8-10 all out sprints. If you don’t want to move heavy weights, you don’t have to; bodyweight exercises are plenty of stimulus for most people. And if you’re not ready to run sprints on a track, plenty of lower-impact alternatives exist, like cycling, swimming, rowing, or even uphill sprints.

Make your short, intense workouts shorter and more intense. Round them out with lots of slow moving – walks, hikes, and the like – throughout your everyday life, and you’ll be incredibly fit and well-rounded, in a fraction of the time most people presume is required. This is Primal Blueprint Fitness.

So, that’s it – the overview of the eight key concepts that comprise the Primal Blueprint. There’s more to it, of course – the 10 Primal Blueprint Laws are elementary and should also be studied – but for the purposes of completing and downright killing the 21-Day Primal Blueprint Challenge, these 8 Key Concepts provide a solid foundation for you moving forward.

What do you say? Does this sound doable? Does this make at least a bit of sense? Are you ready to get Primal?

Let’s do it!

Prefer listening to reading? Get an audio recording of this blog post, and subscribe to the Primal Blueprint Podcast on iTunes for instant access to all past, present and future episodes here.

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. Awesome summary of the primal lifestyle. I enjoy reading these posts so much because it is constantly reinforcing what I should do, even if my body is screaming for a cupcake!

    Lauren wrote on September 13th, 2012
  2. So excited about finding your site through Peter Attia’s ‘The Eating Academy’. What a great time too with the 21 day challenge. Started eliminating sugar and wheat five months ago to lower cholesterol (365) and blood pressure. Have lost 17 lbs. lowered cholesterol to 303 in three months and blood pressure is now at a normal range. I have stayed away from meat/fish and was hoping someone would give input as to whether I could add it back into my diet. Dr. is thinking the cholesterol is hyperlipidemia? Ugh!!!

    Lulu wrote on September 13th, 2012
  3. What about regular ole potatoes and beans???

    charlie wrote on September 13th, 2012
  4. So, what if you are a road cyclist? Meaning you ride 100’s of miles per week at a very fast pace. Probably close to 10 hours per week, including interval training and base miles for endurance. I ride at 85% of my maximum heart rate at times, pushing it up to near 100% during sprints. Can burn over 2000 calories in one ride. (I do it because I like it. It’s fun.)

    I’m not sure how this style of eating would work for me during the summer. During a ride, I’ll eat 200 to 300 calories of simple carbs per hour. It has to fit in my jersey and be very easily digestible or it hurts my stomach when going that fast.

    Nathan wrote on September 13th, 2012
  5. This couldn’t be more timely. I’ve drifted the past couple of months and am starting to feel (and see) the effects.
    What better way to get back into the life changes than a back-to-basics refresher.

    Scott FM wrote on September 14th, 2012
  6. This one is really true 80 Percent of Your Body Composition Success Is Determined by How You Eat
    You defiantly can’t out work a bad diet.

    Womens Fitness Program wrote on November 30th, 2012
  7. Not impressed. You cannot over simplify the body like this. It is too complex to give this short of synopses. If I had to go through and debunk and properly reword every piece of information, it would take me hours. As an Exercise specialist I ask that you please keep misinformation off of the internet like this so as to avoid further misguidance of people desperate for advice. I cannot take anything you have stated here as scientific fact because you have not sited any research to support your claims.

    Heidi Moyer wrote on February 25th, 2013
  8. Hi Mark,
    As a nutrition coach, I agree on all of the above. One little statement however, is a totally new idea – if I understood it right, that is:
    …” Oh, and consider this: every successful diet is actually a high-fat diet. When you lose weight, whether it’s through low-carb Primal or high-carb vegan, you are consuming ample amounts of highly saturated animal fat. The only thing is that this animal fat is coming off your body, but it’s still saturated animal fat just the same.”

    Seems brilliant to me:
    The body fuels (if it can) mainly of animal Fat, saturated fat. If there isn’t enough in the nutrition it consumes its own fat storages if it can. Well, if high insulin levels for example don’t prevent lipolysis.

    Which explains perfectly well, why I personally could never lose weight if I introduced as much as a hint of fat to my daily nutrition and the body weight would drop fast on unlimited lean meat and vegetables (excluding those starchy ones). I know that phenomenon from my clients.
    They go 2 weeks on no fat added for food preparation and lose weight. Week 3 they are permitted 2 tsp let;s say of coconut oil and the weight loss stops in its tracks.

    But….. Isn’t that totally getting your point on nutrition wrong??? With all the animal fat ideas et all? Now I must admit I landed on your website by chance an am not really familiar with primal blueprint (though my idea on nutrition is hardly different I think)

    Did you maybe write something on . should weight loss clients eat fat or no… ? already somewhere else, then I apologize and maybe you can post the link for me?

    Thanks a lot!

    Fantanja wrote on February 23rd, 2014
  9. After reading this I have to show you my problem. I agree with your info. The problem I have is when I was about 9 months old I had ostiomylitis which affected the left side of my body. I didn’t walk till I was about 4, could not open my mouth more than a 1/2 inch beceause my left jaw was solid and left hip was almost destroyed, As a result I had my left leg was about 2 inches shorter than my right, I grew up with limited ability to eat properly and walk. To make along story short I have had 35 plus surgeries. In later life my spine was curved so I have hard time walking very far or lifting heavy objects or running. I have a very active stomach which raises problems with my digestion. In later life I gained a lot of weight with very little mobility. I have gotten into my diet and have lost almost 40 pounds. I would like your input on this and to procede with your input.

    allen mcgrath wrote on June 19th, 2016

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