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

The Snowball Effect: How Small Changes Can Have a Big Impact

SnowballI don’t think it’s any big secret that the Primal Blueprint flies in the face of conventional wisdom. After all, it’s a different way of eating, moving, and even living to some degree. Beyond the varying specifics like Primal snacks or yellow lensed glasses, however, I think there’s a more amorphous, underlying dimension to the experience. People tell me there’s something about it that changes their vision – how they see everything from marketing ads to cultural traditions, social expectations to personal values.

Adopting (and adapting) the Primal Blueprint involves participating in an alternative choice of sorts, living at least a little bit outside the mainstream routine. Some people relish this element of the experience. Perhaps they already situate themselves on a cultural fringe in some regard and just find the caveman/woman element that much more fun. For others, however, the alternative presents something of a vexation at times, even a stumbling block, particularly if those around them are seated squarely in the conventional realm. Yet, plenty of us make peace (and even find fulfillment) with living slightly on the outskirts of average, intentionally out of everyday touch with some of the central health habits and fads that direct our mainstream culture.

When people first begin toying with the Primal Blueprint, their transition revolves around elements like taste adaptation, menu planning, and exercise revamping. With time, other experiences come into play. They seek out different shopping sources, maybe ordering certain things online, becoming a co-op junkie, or growing some of their own food. They might buy half a cow at a time and start eating organ meat. They may start wearing those weird barefoot shoes (or just skip them altogether). Perhaps they join a different kind of gym or use their current one in a new way. Maybe they drop the gym entirely and work out solely outdoors or put together a CrossFit inspired home gym. They might change where they go out to eat or maybe just don’t eat at restaurants as much anymore. Perhaps over time they cut back their Internet or T.V. at night or spend less time on their phones throughout the day. Oftentimes, they start buying different books or magazines and change what they read online. They may cut some commitments to give them more weekend time outdoors or with family. They move. They switch jobs. They build new social circles. You name, I’ve heard it.

A person goes Primal, and two years later, oftentimes, his or her lifestyle is suddenly more fluid. Her view of work changes. His parenting style shifts. Her social life adjusts. A big time, stressed out suit in the city moves to the country, takes up farming, carries his one-year-old around in a sling, grows a beard and gets himself a Grok tattoo. Sure, that’s a pretty dramatic transformation, but it has happened. A million permutations, a million stories.

I think the key here is context. We accept new choices into our lives and are heartened, even blown away, by the positive changes we experience. Naturally, we want to deepen our commitments, try new aspects of the PB, expand our Primal horizons. To take on the new we inevitably have to give up some of the old. We migrate, perhaps unconsciously, in a new lifestyle direction. What we do with our time, where we spend it, and who we spend it with changes, and the end result often looks less conventional than it did in the beginning. We suddenly realize the personal distance we’ve traversed.

There’s real power in context, of course. As our inner mindsets change, our outer contexts shift and gravitate toward the people, environments, and events that in some way support the life we want to live. Our contexts help us grow into the commitments we make. We organize our schedules around our goals. Why shouldn’t we build our lives around the supports that help us get there, that help us feel good, that help us live well as we define it?

It’s a funny thing, how taking on a countercultural diet – maybe to lose a few pounds, address a chronic condition or gain more energy – can result in deeper changes than we ever anticipated. We start with Primal food or maybe fitness, and with time we end up questioning our participation in other standard practices or our feelings about other common choices. Maybe it’s nothing more than different magazine subscriptions or shoe wear. On the other hand, maybe it’s a major life metamorphosis.

Ultimately, I think it’s part of thriving – to foster congruence in our lives, to have our outer lives align with our inner intentions. It doesn’t mean every friend – or maybe any friend – is Primal. It doesn’t mean we’re raising chickens in our backyard (or would ever want to). It doesn’t mean we all do CrossFit, co-sleep with infants or relish a good liver and onions. The Primal Blueprint, after all, takes the shape of each person’s interest and aim. That said, there’s something to accepting a blueprint that dances along the edge of modern day social norm and the inherent community that this fact builds. It makes for undoubtedly great conversation, the occasional inside joke, and some much valued reflection.

Have you found you’ve shifted your external “contexts” as you’ve lived Primal? Was it a subtle or dramatic shift, an intentional or unconscious adjustment? I hope you’ll share your experiences and perspective on the board. Thanks for reading today, everyone.

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. I’ve been an outlier in differeent ways for a long time. Had a near-death experience at an early age that changed me completely. Basically woke me up and put me in the driver’s seat of my own life. Got a divorce, quit my job, moved, never looked back!

    The near-death part was due to pharmaceutical drugs and bad doctors. So I shed any notion I ever had that doctors and modern medicine were good, righteous and did no harm. Boy do they do harm – all the time.

    Fed my dog raw bones and meat and quickly saw how that one thing made people around me freaked out and horrified.

    It was a natural progression in my life to find the Primal Blueprint, MDA and all that comes with it. I was primed and ready to go further to peel off any remaining layers of BS in my life.

    PB essentially gave me an outline to put to my outlier-ness.

    Thanks for everything Mark and MDA community! I am blessed and feel happier and healthier than ever in my 53 years.

    Pure Hapa wrote on February 28th, 2013
  2. I’ve never really commented here but I love this post.
    I’ve been primal and loving it for five months now. I’m doing almost 30lbs the steady and healthy way.
    After losing my daughter last July (she was stillborn) I knew I needed a change, as I was over 200lbs.
    The changes I see now are not just in what I eat, but my entire being, my life and trying to get my family and friends to come enjoy the benefits of it…it’s going to take a while to convince them, but I hope I can!

    Liz Dean wrote on February 28th, 2013
    • liz, i am so sorry about your daughter. i just wanted to acknowledge your post.

      allison wrote on March 1st, 2013
      • I am sorry for your loss, Liz. Please don’t think that you are in any way to blame.

        DB wrote on February 27th, 2014
  3. Modern medicine?
    I’am with’s a joke..powered by BIG PHARMA.
    Last summer I experienced some problems, and my primary sent to all kinds of specialists for all kinds of tests(I felt like a science experiment.)The cardiologist I went to got his diploma from Smith Glaxo. Never asked me what I ate, just gave me a list of all the “bad” stuff, avocados coconut oil….
    then put me on a statin. My triglycerides were a little high, 151.
    A little research showed anything below 150 is normal. Statins? I don’t think so.
    Needless to say, I am very suspicious of CW/medical industry. Don’t get me wrong, sometime you need medication, in my case, at 75 enlarged prostate, I need something for that.
    On the bright side, since going primal, I’ve lost 40 lb, and never felt better.
    Light exercise: I walk 1.38km, sprint the last 60 meters.

    Fred Timm wrote on February 28th, 2013
    • My attitude toward modern medicine has also changed. Now I think that it’s great mainly for emergent problems – the ER is a fantastic place to be if you are in the worst pain of your life, or have broken your leg. It doesn’t seem to have good solutions for most chronic problems, which are often based in lifestyle or environment.

      Allison wrote on February 28th, 2013
      • Agreed. Modern medicine is the medicine of public health (vaccines) and war (surgery.) It excels in those two areas. Everything else is fair to middling (cancer) to awful/just plain crazy (“mysterious” diabetes/obesity/heart disease epidemic anyone?)

        Amy wrote on March 1st, 2013
  4. This really clicked with me:

    “We suddenly realize the personal distance we’ve traversed.”

    I look at myself three years ago and I am so incredibly happy with the way I am now

    WildGrok wrote on February 28th, 2013
  5. I can’t even list all the good things that have happened to me since going primal in August 2012. Maybe I should start a list for my future “Success Story.” :) I started at zero and had nothing to lose – except excess weight, stress, prescription drugs, and depression. Now I’m down 80 lbs, quit my stressful job, cut back on pain meds, and found true happiness in life. Thank you for MDA for helping me get my life back!!!

    The Beckster wrote on February 28th, 2013
  6. I had an article I posted a few months back about applying the snowball effect to health and fitness. Funny that it’s here now!!

    Evan Brand wrote on February 28th, 2013
  7. I embraced the primal blueprint, or at least thought I did in Oct/11. Emptied the fridge and cupboards. Got on board with the dietary plan, or at least thought I did right from the get go. Immediately began exercising based on all these new (old!) principles. My gosh it is hard to believe how two changes were like a launching pad for me. The past 17 months has delivered a continual cascade of positive benefits. I am 52 and feel absolutely amazing, physically, mentally, emotionally. I am so satisfied with this lifestyle. I never would have ever thought about herbs and spices the way I do now! I was a salt & pepper guy. Coconut oil, nuts, avocados, grass fed meat. Those sorts of things certainly were not on my radar screen prior to making a commitment to my health. Eating has never been so good. Vitamin D, vibrams, sprinting, a pull-up bar, interval training, long walks. Same thing with exercise, it has become a lot of fun especially knowing you’re in charge of your own health. Happiness, positivity, mental well being, emotional stability. It’s a sweet deal to be enjoying life. It’s pretty special considering it’s been diet and exercise that has fostered this. But also, all the changes that have and are constantly taking place between my ears is simply incredible. Thank you from the bottom of my heart Mark.

    Rob wrote on February 28th, 2013
    • Rob, I could of wrote exactly what you just did right down to the nosehairs. Even started Oct./11. It’s amazing really. Only difference is that I have you by 4 years. Thank you Mark, indeed!

      Nocona wrote on February 28th, 2013
  8. When someone heaps scorn upon my primal lifestyle, I simply stalk them and kill them. Usually by lodging a donut in their airway.

    erik wrote on February 28th, 2013
  9. That’s it Mark! You hit the nail on the head. I have found the little changes are so much easier and has certainly led to big changes fo me in the last couple of years.
    Thanks for the encouragement!!

    Bob wrote on February 28th, 2013
  10. As is the general story of my life I seem to have done it all back to front. I’ve always got a lot of flack since I was a teenager (I’m 37) for going against conventional wisdom and doing things my own way, generally the natural way that just felt right to me.
    It’s been an interesting journey in the last few years to see it become more accepted. Finding Primal Blueprint 18 months ago was one of the final links and a wonderful affirmation to discover others who also thought the same way.
    Finding a community where there are others that see through the messages of government and big corporations and have also thought about barefoot, good sleep, sun exposure, real food and natural movement etc as the keys to health and happiness is awesome. When people ask why I do what I do I send them here.

    Thank you Mark and all your team for spreading such an important message.

    Julia wrote on March 1st, 2013
    • In high school philosophy class, after I showed up with dirty scrapes on my legs from longboarding, one of the cutest girls in the class said, “You’re TOO hard!” One of the best compliments I ever got.

      Animanarchy wrote on March 1st, 2013
      • p.s. since going primal, I don’t get as many cuts and scrapes. This diet makes you leathery.

        Animanarchy wrote on March 1st, 2013
  11. Reading this post and the comments has been so uplifting! It’s made me take a look at my own journey too.

    This time last year I was so unhappy – it seems so long ago and I’m the happiest I’ve ever been now.

    Primal life hasn’t been the sole reason for this life change (I got married in December – yay!) – BUT after finally accepting that I would be obese for life, I came accross MDA after giving up sugar (my drug of choice) and it changed my life.

    Since then my world has been well and truly rocked by the paragign-shifting information on this site.

    I love that Mark questions everything, I love that it doesn’t add a subversive moral element to your food choices.

    I ate paella with my husband last night, OK that’s not ‘Primal’ but it contributes to my emotional well-being to share a dish that my husband adores. One meal isn’t going to de-rail my Primal commitment or my health and it actually helps prevent me from getting too up-tight (read stressed) about my food choices.

    I’ve always found moderation to be a difficult thing, but being mindfully flexible helps me to make better choices every day instead of sticking to a rigid plan and going completely off the rails when it gets too hard.

    My idea of ‘treats’ has changed beyond my wildest dreams too. How often to have them and what they should be, I watch my colleague eat 2-3 sugar laden ‘snacks’ every day at work (they’re low in fat through so that’s OK) – did I really used to wolf down the economy biscuits 3 or 4 at a time?

    I’ve lost 20% of my body weight (all fat) and feel great, but most of all I feel that my eyes are opened – I see the world for what it is, my values have been changed for the better.

    Thank you for everything Mark and here’s to seeing true value in the world around us.

    Primal V wrote on March 1st, 2013
  12. Awesome post – true story! Every little step that I have made in the last year has taken me further than I could ever imagine. January 2012 weighing in at 230 and so proud of myself for walking everyday. March 2012, weight: 165 and CrossFit 5 days a week. Primal Blueprint was the ember that started the fire…my life is so much better because of it!

    Lee Ann wrote on March 1st, 2013
  13. My idea of a “sweet treat” is a banana or a handful of grapes.
    Once a year, when we got to the shore (NJ)
    and the board walk , I’ll have a Kohr’s ice cream.

    Fred Timm wrote on March 1st, 2013
  14. Yes: I got more energetic and in the end more assertive. I left a bad relationship in an awful city and moved back to my beloved farm (I had been spending the academic year in said awful city). I got a better job–my dream job–and got more serious about growing more food at home. I started studying martial arts, a long-time aspiration. I started out just wanting to lose a little weight, and ended up turning into a much stronger, more autonomous, and assertive woman.

    shannon wrote on March 1st, 2013
  15. i am 52 now and celiacs forced me to take a hard look at my diet. i discovered paleo and that, in turn, introduced me to mark sisson and his complete lifestyle approach. my whole life i have, at times questioned the counterintuitiveness of many of our life choices- the things we eat, the stuff we rub into our skin, the way we care for our babies, etc… thanks mark for doing all the work and putting into print for me. i’ve learned a lot of new things and neat tricks from mark too. i now have bug lights in the lamps i use for nighttime reading and yellow sunglasses for nighttime tv watching. i tun the shower over to “cold” for a few seconds before i shut it off. i sent my best friends daughter a moby wrap for her new baby (sure wish i knew about these as a young mother). i also make more effort to spend time with the family and friends who live nearby- my tribe.

    allison wrote on March 1st, 2013
  16. For me it was kind of like a linear progression, well I should say is a linear progression since I’m still adapting and evolving certain parts of my life. My journey first started off over a year ago when I decided to quit sugar, after that Paleo/Primal kind of just fell into my lap, I stumbled across the Whole9 website and from there onto others and of course here onto MDA, then I started reading and reading and listening to podcasts (still do this of course) and then I started buying different Paleo/Primal books and reading those and then I just jumped right in and quit the SAD foods etc.

    I started walking more, lifting heavier and reducing my chronic cardio. I started my own blog based on Paleo recipes and started to look at everything differently.

    Some things came naturally to me because I had been doing them long before this, like barefoot walking but most of it was a BIG transition… one that I haven’t for a second regretted taking.

    And now reading the Primal Connection… other parts of this lifestyle are coming together, not just the nutrition and fitness.

    Naz wrote on March 1st, 2013
  17. Linkin Park, specifically, Mike Shinoda: “A blueprint is a gift and a curse, ’cause once you got a theory of how the thing works, everybody wants the next thing to be just like the first.”
    That lyric makes me think of posts by Mark that touch on “fringe” topics like negative ions and grounding, and spiritual experiences in nature, which can only be acknowledged by those who’ve had them.

    Animanarchy wrote on March 1st, 2013
  18. THe biggest shift was the end of diet, exercise and body image obsession in pursuit of good health and wellbeing.

    I now see my sexy body as a byproduct of a healthful lifestyle with the goal being energy and mental wellbeing.

    Zen wrote on March 2nd, 2013
  19. Great post and tropical salutes from Venezuela..been lurking in the shadows enjoying the site articles for over a year via Guy Kawasaki’s AlltopLifehack site…this post coincides with the launch of our back-to-basics classic style ecoadventures aimed at men stressed out by the modern ratrace lifestyle…thanks for inspiring us to make that final daring leap to do this.

    peter wrote on March 2nd, 2013
  20. It’s true. I look at everything from the evolutionary perspective. When I was pregnant I was highly active knowing that cave women would never have the luxury of putting their feet up all the time. I can never dream of feeding my baby anything form a box. He is 5 months old and has never had anything but breast milk. These are just a couple of examples. But it changes everything for the good!

    Aloka wrote on March 2nd, 2013
  21. Really great post.. the changes sneak up on you. LIfe is more relaxed now. It did start with food. Once I steered toward a primal diet, I didn’t need the chronic cardio to burn off all the carbs, and the guiit. I think I used my cardio habit as justificaton to eat whatever I craved. My “training plan” was like a second job. I’ver replaced a meticuloulsy programmed plan with daily, random, activities. No more alarm clocks to get to the gym by 6am. Better sleep, less caffeine. Less caffeine, more relaxed at work. More relaxed at work, less alcohol at night. Less alcohol, higher quality thinking, reading, exploring. Yes, one small change can have a massive impact. Thank you Mark.

    Rich wrote on March 3rd, 2013
  22. It just came natural to me to become more grok-like after the drastic diet change. After a month I began to do my workouts outside to enjoy the sun and the fresh air, going for a cold morning-swim, walk longer and more often than before…. Some people find my new life style weird and strange, especially the fact that I don’t eat carbs. But I look at them, ask them: don’t I look healthy and fit ( I lost 36 kilos in 4 months), and all do say YES. This lifestyle is right path for me – no doubt about that.

    Hanne wrote on March 3rd, 2013
  23. This lifestyle has given me so much more than what I thought possible. I started in order to alleviate back pain and ended up being much healthier and happier. I truly feel as if the small changes I made in the beginning have created the momentum for the much larger changes I’ve incorporated. My kis are never sick nor are my wife and I and we have become closer as a result of less tv, internet and more play time. You get out of the plan what you put into the plan and we have gone all in.

    Matt wrote on March 4th, 2013
  24. Hi everyone, I am actually going to go primal from tomorrow..I have decided and fingers crossed I hope to be fully committed to it.
    I live in London, UK. Does anyone know which would be a good grocery store to shop from cauliflower rice.. or things like that?

    zeeshaan wrote on March 5th, 2013
    • I dont think anybody actually sells cauliflower rice. Make your own, it’s very easy :)

      paleo headshrink wrote on March 8th, 2013
  25. Hi Mark! Love all the articles you have written, they’re really informative and applicable!

    I have been eating (about 90%) dice a month ago, and I jumped straight in because I was already eating a ‘clean diet’ and controlling carbs. The first 2 or so weeks were great, I incorporated IF with a split of about 14/8, had constant high energy levels and was slowing losing fat. I have been sprinting 1-2 times a week and lifting (currently using Stronglifts 5×5 method) 1-2 times a week. Last week, somehow my energy levels dropped and fat loss stalled/slowed down quite a lot.

    My diet consists mainly of veg, meat, nuts, fruit and occasionally some natural Greek yogurt. I also take whey protein (sweetened with stevia) about once every two days, but don’t rely on it for my protein. So far I have cut carbs to about 40g a day after my fat loss stalled. My stamina had been great, but I realize that it’s slowly dropping.

    I’m really at a loss now, could anyone give any advice? Thanks!! :)

    Chloe wrote on March 5th, 2013
  26. just read it and love it. thanks for sharing.

    Tim wrote on September 21st, 2013
  27. Nice post, and I think spot on.

    A few years in, I’ve quit my job to stay home with my son. Used that time to write an an iPhone and iPad app to help folks track their primal activities. I even grew the beard! It has definitely moved way beyond odd shoes and skipping pizza.

    (The app can be found at the iTunes Store )

    DT wrote on February 26th, 2014
  28. I retired 12 years ago after 25 stressful years of teaching middle school. In that time I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, suffered a heart attack, and had a double heart bypass. My doctor assured me that the carb rich diet he put me on over 15 years ago had nothing to do with any of this. I believed him until I started researching Primal/Paleo living. I informed him of my desires to try it. He told me, in very pointed language, he would refuse to treat me if I did. I told him he was fired. I have a new doctor now. I’ve been Primal for almost 5 months now. I’ve lost 33 pounds, my average blood sugar reading is 103 on HALF the diabetes medicine that I used to take, no statins, no blood pressure meds, and covering 10000 steps a day instead of 1500. This lifestyle works! It has proven itself to me, a retired 65 year old guy. I highly recommend it and Mark Sisson’s books to anyone feeling defeated and needing a change.

    Plugger wrote on February 26th, 2014

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