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

Why Can Some People Eat Anything They Want and Never Gain a Pound?

The following are both actual and paraphrased versions of questions I regularly get from readers:

If grains are so bad how can you explain the leanness and good health of Clarence Bass?

How is it that this guy can eat 30 bananas a day and not gain weight, or this guy can eat nothing but potatoes for 60 days and lose 20 pounds?

How do the Kitavans or Okinawans maintain good body composition despite a higher carb diet?

Mark, how were you able to maintain a low body fat percentage despite eating a half gallon of ice cream a day?

Why can my brother eat anything he wants and never gain a pound?

All of these examples seem contrary to what we say in the Primal Blueprint. How can they be explained? Are they anomalies? Tails of the bell curve? Is something else at work?

These questions all bring to mind one of the main principles underlying the Primal Blueprint, which is that ultimately there are no right or wrong answers in life, just choices we make based on what we think we know or what we believe to be in our best interest. I happen to think we here at Mark’s Daily Apple have hit upon a range of choices within the Primal Blueprint – based on what we know about evolution and epigenetics – that can bring out the best in our health, fitness and energy. We seek to optimize our individual genetic potential using these principals and to literally influence gene signaling. Of course, there are other ways and other choices to get lean, some of which might even get you close to healthy if you do everything right. Me, I want the option that gets me the fittest and healthiest with the least amount of pain, suffering, sacrifice, discipline and calorie-counting possible.

The truth is, if you never undertook to live a Primal lifestyle, the chances are still pretty good that you might enjoy a “relatively comfortable” existence for a substantial part of your life – until the wheels inevitably started to fall off. Millions of people around the world “get by” just fine in their obliviousness on the SAD (Standard American Diet), only 10 or 30 pounds overweight, a little arthritic, maybe some GERD for which they gladly take a pill. Some people even appear to thrive for a while on less-than-ideal diet and exercise programs. Even I did “adequately” on the Conventional Wisdom plan for a long time, and I’m pretty sure I’d still be doing reasonably well today had I not adopted this PB strategy myself. Of course, I’d be a little more decrepit and arthritic, less energetic, a little weaker and sick more often, and I’d probably still have IBS. And if I didn’t know any better, I’d think all that was normal for a 57-year-old man, so I might even label myself “content.”

Of course, genetics has a lot to do with it. I got away with dietary murder when I was an endurance athlete because I was “genetically gifted” to be able to run long and hard enough to burn off a half gallon of ice cream (and a loaf of bread and a bowl of pasta and a six-pack of beer…) every night – as long as I ran long and hard the next day, too. But sometimes a guy can look lean, and not be healthy. And that was me. There’s a lot going on under the hood. Your 30 bananas guy above does the same things I did, but with a higher sugar – high mileage program that he advocates for everyone. In his case, he looks skinny because doesn’t get enough protein and he cycles endless miles in a valiant-yet-doomed effort to burn off all that sugar. He also takes in paltry amounts of protein, and it shows in the lack of muscle typical of a high-carb endurance athlete. His inability to gain weight while eating lots of carbs is actually a bad thing, since he’s constantly losing muscle mass and enduring all manner of glycation inside. I can’t comment on the 20 potatoes guy except to say that if the 19th century Irish lived on potatoes for decades and couldn’t gain much muscle, it makes sense that he couldn’t either in 60 days. The Kitavans and the Okinawans thrive partly because they typically don’t overeat (see: Calorie Restriction) and partly because they expend a fair amount of energy not sitting at their desk all day long (Primal Blueprint Law #3: Move Frequently at a Slow Pace). I suspect that their reliance on real food and low intakes of processed and high omega-6 PUFA seed oils also contribute to their metabolic efficiency.

Clarence Bass can look so great at 73 on a grain-based diet because he has spent his life focused on staying in shape, mostly as a body-builder. He understood very early in his career that lean mass was the main driver of health, and he orchestrated a workout and diet plan contemplated to keep him fit. He’s never really been out of shape and, from what I gather, he’s pretty strict with his diet in terms of macronutrient breakdown, calorie count and meal timing. That takes a lot of discipline. If you do it right, you can get pretty decent results. The fact that he includes grains in his diet and apparently suffers no ill effects puts him among a select minority who may not be as susceptible to their antinutrient effects as most of us are. Again, maybe he’s genetically “gifted” that way.

We’ve talked a little about genetic ranges before, but let me remind you of this point. Each of us has the recipe for a lean, fit, strong, healthy human contained within our DNA. Biological processes don’t really differ from one person to another (except in rare occasions). We all make proteins the same way, we all digest and process nutrients the same way, etc. But it’s the individual variations in our specific familial DNA (those pesky single nucleotide polymorphisms or SNPs) that often account for the differences in the degree to which we tend to build muscle, or burn or store fat. From there it comes down to the signals (those diet and exercise choices) we send our genes that maximize our ultimate potential or not. The truth is, some of us are just lucky enough to be able to “get away” with eating certain foods that aren’t exactly Primal, not gaining much weight and not experiencing noticeable inflammation. Others among us who may have genetic red flags really need to pay attention or we easily gain weight or develop health issues if we stray at all. There is for each of us a predetermined “range of genetic outcomes” that we do inherit from our parents. My job is to help you discover how to optimize your potential – if that’s what you choose to do.

Humans are among the most adaptive (short-term anyway) animals on the planet when it comes to diet. We can survive on just about anything, as witnessed by the plethora of obese Americans surviving on fast food and soft drinks. Over half the world stays “slim and trim” on a low-calorie, grain-based diet simply because there are paltry few food choices and they just can’t take in enough calories to gain much weight (store fat). But let’s not always confuse their leanness with good health.

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. Welome Mr. Foetid Fruit,

    Wondered how long it’d be before you showed up, DO come in and join our merry throng…

    There’s a nice bowl of fruit for you in the cage in the corner… Do go in and help yourself….

    Sarah wrote on January 13th, 2011
  2. I disagree with you here! I’ve “listened” to Mark for over a decade now and he truly knows his stuff! He has helped me with his knowledge become healthier than i’ve ever been with my eating and exercise. He has helped sooo many other people, as well! AND, let’s NOT forget his supplements “Damage Control Master Formula” in my opinion is TOP of the line, truly the best! Primal Blueprint has helped many others lose weight and feel their best ever!!!

    Donna wrote on January 13th, 2011
  3. That’s NOTHING to be proud of, Freelee; read the bit in the book (and on MDA) about ‘chronic cardio’. You stress your body too much you end up burning muscle, instead of fat, so you end up fatter than when you started. Not to mention all the other niceties, like premature ageing, osteoporosis (are you female? Better cut down then!) premature menopause (though that doesn’t bother Mark, obviously!). When it comes to exercise, less is definitely more…

    This was the main reason why Mark began the DA in the first place.

    Not really your goal, now is it…?

    Sarah wrote on January 13th, 2011
  4. Donna,

    You’ve not met DR before, have you…? He runs a fruitarian site/forum (which I am NOT going to advertise here) and he trolls the boards here occasionally.

    Sarah wrote on January 13th, 2011
  5. As much as I’m loathe to give these nutters any time or credence, I just have to point out (for any newbies thinking this is a healthy lifestyle). Fruit(cake)tarians have a higher likelihood of the following conditions: –

    Insulin insensitivity (leading to diabetes) – hard not to when 99% of your calories come from sugar

    Tooth decay – all that lovely sugar – MMM!!! MMM!!! Do you want cavities and gum disease with that…?!

    Vitamin B12 deficiency (only available from animal products – cow’s liver is the best source). Persistent lack of B12 leads to the following deficiencies: –

    Pernicious anaemia
    Decay of myelin sheath (the covering surrounding every nerve in your body) leading to brain and nerve disorders such as Parkinson’s and Altzheimer’s
    It’s also linked to many mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder, clinical depression and forms of psychosis.

    Early-onset osteoporosis, due to calcium deficiency.

    Severe muscle wasting (don’t believe what this nutcase says – it is IMPOSSIBLE for a fruitarian diet to preserve muscle tissue because plant sources of protein (whatever she believes) are incomplete (what’s that, do I hear you say “soy”? Yes, well I don’t think ANYONE wants the problems associated with gross overconsumption of that!)

    Now, please note, that she has been following it for 4 years – ONLY 4 years – and she’s young (early 20s) and she’ll likely counter this with more arguments that she’s healthy – but that’s due to her age, NOT her diet. A strict fruitarian diet WILL KILL YOU, it’s impossible for it not to (and I know of people who have died from following such a lifestyle – and WAY before their time too!)

    Right, Freelee, if you think your diet’s healthy, I want you to go for a full blood count, liver function test, bone scan and muscle strength test.

    Vitamin B12 is also essential, I should add, for the healthy regeneration of red blood cells (as is iron, and you’re gonna be deficient in that too – there’s only so much you can get from plants, y’know…). Let me ask you a question “Do you still have regular periods?” If you answer yes to that, I will have to conclude you’re either VERY lucky – or a liar.

    Women need more B12 and iron than men because we menstruate.

    There is one good side effect of the diet, though (and I hate to say this) – at least these nutters won’t be able to breed and inflict such a way of life on their offspring!

    Freelee, please contact me when you’re 50 (if you’re still around…). That’s the average lifespan of someone following this diet (if they’ve followed it for most of their adult life, that is). I’m predicting you’ll be dead by 45 (if you’re lucky!)

    You state you’re “very fit” – it’s all relative. You’ve only been following this ludicrous way of life for 4 years and, as I’ve already stated, you’re young – try cycling across Australia again in 10 years’ time – you won’t make it out of your borough – let alone the state!

    Finally, ignore what she says about “fat and fluid” – she’s confusing fat with muscle (or should that be muscle with fat), and there’s no fluid retention if she’s not eating grains either!

    Nope, just one final point – these nutters believe they’re saving the planet by not eating animals (because they believe that they’re not carving up precious rainforest to farm animals). Let me just inform her of this: – in the past decade, 10 times as much rainforest has been destroyed to grow PLANT crops (soya, coffee, tea, rape (mainly for biofuels) and deforestation (mainly for export to the West). Are you sitting on a wooden chair, Freelee? Or is it made of plastic? Either way, it’s caused environmental damage.

    Hey, here’s a thought: – if you don’t want to cause damage to the environment, why don’t you and your ilk simply stop living – your corpses will do plenty to enrich the ecosystem! (note I don’t mean this literally, obviously…).

    You wait until you need help walking when you’re 40 (because your bones are so weak due to the lack of calcium) and your muscles too (due to the lack of complete proteins).

    Whassat you say…? You take supplements…? How many pills a day do you pop…? Must be hundreds – I’ve not even mentioned the O3 you must be lacking (due to not eating fish). In fact, there are very few essential nutrients you are likely NOT to be short of!

    I URGE you people to read her webpage – then you can see what a complete loony she really is!

    Anyone (and I mean ANYONE) who believes this way of life to be healthy – and in any way sustainable long term – is in DIRE need of psychological help!

    But it’s your funeral, sister! Me, I prefer being healthy in body and mind (and you’re not sound in either!)

    Sarah wrote on January 13th, 2011
  6. I think you may have missed the point Freelee. Going on an Aushwitz weight loss plan is NOT an optimal way to express your genetic potential. It may work for weight loss, but it far from a healthy lifestyle.

    Asturian wrote on January 13th, 2011
  7. I’ve never met Mark either, but i DO listen to HIM!!!! Have a good day.

    Donna wrote on January 13th, 2011
  8. your insecurities bleed through the page my friend.

    Name one person who has been 100% LFRV for 5 years and has diabetes -haha
    thats impossible

    Name one person who did not have tooth problems coming into 811 who has them now?
    didn’t think so

    fact is , you know nothing at all about this diet, and it shows

    osteoporosis is caused by too much protein; especially animal protein; it has
    very very little to do with your calcium levels…

    notice how your diet recommends eating 95% acidic foods and 811 is 95% alkaline foods?
    think on that for second… whats up with that?



    We are , as a group, saving the planet, because our diet has such a low impact on the earth
    compared to a flesh diet. NOBODY ON 811 IS CONSUMING ANY : SOYA, COFFEE, TEA, RAPE-
    and we can’t afford brand new furniture- our food costs too much money for us to buy
    anythin except food ! ! ! 811 = zero supplements, only fruits and veggies, not hard to understand.

    Everyone seems to be deficient in b12- its not just vegans !

    If a good defense involves making baseless claims against others… you’re doin a great job.
    It’s clear you lack much understanding… have you ever read 80/1/1 or the china study?
    probably not

    jack black wrote on January 13th, 2011
  9. This is one of THE most incredibly rude and infantile responses I have ever read.

    Read The China Study. Stop killing people with your bad advice.

    Kim wrote on January 14th, 2011

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