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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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June 30, 2016

Why Fear May Be Blocking Your Primal Path (and How to Overcome It)

By Mark Sisson
43 Comments

Why Fear May Be Blocking Your Primal Path (and How to Overcome It) FinalGetting healthy. It’s an admirable, enviable endeavor, you think. In fact, it’s what you’ve wanted, maybe desperately, for a long time. And then you came across Primal. You’ve been convinced for a while now that it’s a good guideline for how to live—reading the blog, maybe trying a Primal-friendly meal now and then. You’ve even read a book (or cookbook)—or two. You have the knowledge. You have the interest. Maybe you even feel a fire lit under you by a recent diagnosis, an additional medication, or an added 10, 20, or 50 pounds. The next logical step would be to put a Primal plan into action, right? Take it on, make it happen. Change your life for the inconceivable better. But, for many of us, that’s where fear rushes in to gum up the whole process.

It isn’t that fear is an unnatural emotion. It’s one of the key primal instincts. What, after all, could be more steeped in clear evolutionary purpose? Fear is what’s enabled survival for eons. But no one is facing down a large-fanged predator here as they consider retooling their health. There’s no inter-band skirmishes to charge into, no earthquakes convulsing beneath one’s feet. There’s not even a precipitous cliff—at least not a literal one.

Regardless of the evidence, and all the positives to be gained, for some of us fear is still the loudest voice in the room. And it can immobilize us. It can keep us locked in a way of life and a condition of health in which we have no real interest in staying.

Sure, sometimes there are genuine logistical concerns that get in the way of pursuing our health goals. But when the legitimate considerations are covered to all reasonable extent, it’s time to look at the emotional phantoms straight on and put them in their place.

Many fears are the fears of endeavor—grounded in unsupported anxieties and false distinctions. These are the fears that we fumble to determine solutions for or simply ones that undermine our ability to be confident in our capabilities at all. Some tell us we’re somehow different than other people. Some raise specters of self-doubt, insecurity, or inadequacy. These are particularly slippery, and they’re often the fears people deal with when they envision taking on significant health and lifestyle change.

Let’s look at some of the most common fears that come into play when people of different bodies, ages and backgrounds move toward Primal-aligned health goals. And let me offer (and invite you to share your feedback on) some practical takeaways for overcoming situational fears as well as a few emotional insights for calling fear’s bluff.

“I feel like I’m too far along in life to make significant changes. What if I’m just too old or too steeped in chronic illness to make a real difference in my health?”

The body is a resilient organism, and it remains so into advanced age. And although more care is needed to shift or reverse interconnecting dysfunctions in the case of chronic illness, the body’s resiliency is nothing to be underestimated. I’ve knocked out 60 years and then some, and so have many others in this community. Even if you’re well past 60 or 70 and just starting major health change, know that the Primal Blueprint is as applicable to you as it is anyone else.

Research supports our ability to get into great shape and even be as fit as those decades younger than us. Yes, the body benefits from being in good health throughout life, but taking up an exercise program or shifting to a better diet in later years can still slow or reverse aging processes. The same can be said of mitigating or even reversing chronic illness. (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

Are you more inspired by personal accounts rather than research? Check out Faye’s success story. Even after a heart attack and years with diabetes, her choice to go Primal teaches what’s possible at 87-years-old.

“What if I can’t do this the way other people can? How can I live up to what other people in the Primal community do?”

You’d be surprised how often I hear this. It’s a case of comparison, which can at its best inspire us and at its worst can paralyze us.

Everyone is on their own path, and ours is intended to be entirely its own landscape.We come to the PB with unique histories, varying tastes, individual interests, and different emotional states. It pays to be patient with each of these and expect that they’ll all play a part in transitioning to a Primal way of living.

Because here’s what I’ve found. The people who take the mentality of undoing, of exchanging themselves for a “better” version, are the ones who ultimately struggle the most. On the other hand, those who move into the Primal Blueprint with a mindset of “intactness”—an assumption that who they are and what they enjoy will find a comfortable place in this lifestyle—tend to be much happier and more successful over the long term.

I promise you there are no Primal police that will be watching you. Everyone in this community does Primal their own way, and all of them I know have nothing but support and admiration for anyone looking to take up the lifestyle.

Read the stories and posts when they truly inspire, but give yourself space to grow into new practices. Focus on the beginner articles and forum threads for a while to let yourself be in the transition and feel encouraged there. This also applies if you’re a Primal veteran who’s hit some snags. It’s never a bad time to go back to the basics.

“I don’t know how I’ll be able to afford this way of eating.”

As significant and legitimate as this fear is, it’s thankfully one of the simpler anxieties to quash.

Let’s start with diet. There are the basics of primal eating, and then there are the ideals. The basics (e.g. low to moderate carb intake, ample protein and healthy fat intake) are what set the stage (supported by the non-dietary aspects) for a healthy metabolic profile and fat-burning default. The additional, “ideal” features of organic, pastured, grass-fed, etc. are preferred when possible. Few people can conform every day and definitely every meal to this standard. It’s never about perfection.

Over the decade this blog has been around, we’ve had many a post highlighting cost saving strategies for everything from low budget veggie ideas to cheap meat cuts. Likewise, we’ve talked sourcing with tips for hunting and gardening, purchasing direct for meat and produce shares, and most recently, benefiting from the bulk power of wholesale pricing and online retailers.

But I’d be remiss if I didn’t point you in the direction of the MDA Forum as well. Let me tell you, I learn something there every day. This community will take up any question you have about shopping and living well.

“How will I explain my lifestyle to people outside the Primal community? What will people think of me?”

I don’t profess to have sway over all the people you’ll come across. Probably a fair number of people will at some point have a question or be thrown by your aberrant shoes, food, sleep schedule, or other Primal quirks. Some will participate in an annoying chorus akin to “You’ll shoot your eye out.” Others will be intractably and personally offended at your rejection of conventional practice. (These are generally people who have a hard time separating choice from righteousness.) The good thing in life (and one of the upsides of living in large communities these days) is you can ignore what the vast majority of people think of you because you won’t see them that often.

For the people you have to and want to see on a regular basis, understand that you’re under no obligation to explain yourself. Even if you feel following that will be hard, accept this truth and then decide if you want to respond to their questions or concerns. Viewing it through the lens of choice automatically lets you off the hook and opens up possibilities. Know, too, that you aren’t responsible for how others feel.

If you wish to say something about your decision to live and eat Primally, keep your explanation simple and personal. It’s an individual choice that makes you feel good and that has offered you benefits. Give yourself the freedom to not proselytize. Some people will be genuinely interested in hearing more and may want to try it themselves. In those situations, you can feel free to share your stories, but keep it simple and encouraging for those who are fearful or concerned. Finally, for the truly antagonistic, walk away when you can and set a clear “to each his/her own” boundary when you can’t. You answer to no one but yourself.

“Conventional wisdom seems so diametrically opposed to what the Primal Blueprint is all about. What if I make my health or weight issues worse?”

I understand this fear. I truly do. It feels risky to go out on that limb when you’ve heard contrary messages your whole life. If the health condition you’re in is already serious, it can feel scary to think about the prospect of making things worse.

I can give you every scrap of science here supporting the Primal method of taking charge of one’s metabolic health and greater well-being, but I have several books that would do a better job than a paragraph here. And in these cases, I think it’s more personal than taking my word for it or even science’s word for it. It’s a fear of losing control, of surrendering power over one’s health. Because in these circumstances, we already feel so disempowered.

More than anything else, I’d suggest you hold onto that self-authority. I’m not saying run back to CW. I’m saying try the Primal Blueprint for yourself on your own terms with full skepticism in play. Don’t come at the PB as truth. Come at it as a completely self-directed trial—a rational, strategic exercise in self-experimentation. That’s all. If you can even consider 21 days, that’s generally enough to give you a good view into what the PB can change for you when you approach it earnestly.

If you genuinely follow the Primal principles and get negative results, you’ll simply know something isn’t working for you. But for now, start it—knowing you can dump the whole thing whenever you want. You can always get your previous health and weight back with no questions asked.

But chances are (because I’ve seen it thousands of times again and again) you’ll see changes, feel changes, and suddenly start believing in change again. Having tasted the initial benefits, you’ll want more, and more time with the lifestyle. Experimenting your way to how it works best for you long-term will bring you more of those shifts, more of the vitality you’d given up on, more of the life you thought wouldn’t be yours to live.

In this as in all cases, let fear inspire an attentiveness and deliberateness for the path in which you seek out the answers, the support and the experimentation that will let you truly claim this plan as your own. Because there’s inconceivable potential to come if you just keep going.

Thanks for reading, everyone. What fears have you faced when going Primal, and what advice do you have for others in dealing with those fears along their Primal path?

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.

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43 Comments on "Why Fear May Be Blocking Your Primal Path (and How to Overcome It)"

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Elizabeth
10 months 28 days ago
I have to admit I didn’t face any fears initially. I’ve always been into healthy eating and this was a natural progression that made sense to me. But for the people who are afraid of explaining it to others, I would say don’t make a big deal about. I’ve never really labeled myself, even when I was a raw vegan, or vegetarian. And there’s no right or wrong way to do it. Reading the success stories is so inspirational because you see so many different paths that people took, yet they all made tremendous progress. And as far as the… Read more »
Julie
Julie
10 months 28 days ago
Most obstacles I have to PB lifestyle are those I put in my own way: 1. My husband doesn’t believe it has validity or he believes that it’s too extreme (we’re working on that). 2. I’m not perfect (duh). 3. But Conventional Wisdom is Conventional Wisdom for a reason — all those fancy schmancy doctor types should know what they’re doing, right? RIGHT? Counterpoints: 1. My husband does see the effects that eating certain foods have on me and has begun to encourage my abstention. It may not be that he says “go Primal already!!” but he does at least… Read more »
Alex
Alex
10 months 28 days ago

Point #3: A-mazing! Hahahah.

Ashley
Ashley
10 months 28 days ago

Fantastic summary, Mark. You hit the nail on the head for most of the major fears I had going into this, especially the fear that it simply wouldn’t work. Once you’ve tried for so long to see change and it hasn’t come, you start to give up hope that you’ll ever see it.

Tim
Tim
10 months 28 days ago

Don’t forget the fear of offal. That stuff had me running at first. But now, it’s made an appearance in a number of unlikely places (tomato sauce and pureed liver over cauliflower rice, anyone?).

Julie
Julie
10 months 28 days ago

That sounds amazing.

I love liver so I’m not offal-put by it.

His Dudeness
His Dudeness
10 months 28 days ago

Try heart. Much closer in taste and texture to a steak.

Allen
Allen
10 months 28 days ago

It’s interesting. Although Conventional Wisdom may have failed us time and time again, when you’re about to make the primal plunge, it’s still hard to shake the fear that it won’t work or is a threat to your health. But all it really takes to get over that fear is to look at how miserable your present predicament may be and think, “What do I have to lose and what do I have to gain?” by giving it a shot.

Julie
Julie
10 months 28 days ago

Right and if 21 days (or so) of eating veggies, fruit, good fats, and good meats is gonna kill me…I suspect rice and sprouted breads and hummus would have too.

Charles
Charles
10 months 28 days ago

As far as fearing what other people think, not giving a hoot can pay dividends in many areas of your life. To think that I’d let someone’s uninformed opinion or judgment stand in the way of better health makes me, well, sick (pardon the pun). 😛

Shary
Shary
10 months 28 days ago
I find I’m a bit chicken-hearted about fermenting veggies. Nothing could be easier or healthier, or more primal, presumably, than making a batch of sauerkraut. What could possibly go wrong (other than making myself and my family sick)? I bought an excellent book on fermenting (“Fermented Vegetables” by Kristin and Christopher Shockey), and I have read through it several times. Still I drag my feet. There’s just something about leaving raw food to bubble and fizz on the countertop for a week or two that goes against the grain. I do buy commercially fermented foods, such as Bubbie’s, but am… Read more »
Jessica
10 months 28 days ago

Jump in! I was always scared to do it too, thinking I’d kill everyone with food borne illness. But just this year I finally cracked open my copy of The Art of Fermentation, and I’ve been a full-on fermenting fanatic ever since. And I haven’t killed anyone. I’ve made pickles, kombucha, shrubs, and cider. As a famous shoe company says, Just Do It!

Jack Lea Mason
Jack Lea Mason
10 months 28 days ago
The best place to start is cabbage. Sauerkraut is simple, just cabbage & salt. The key is to ensure complete submersion of the cabbage in the saline. The species of lactobacillus that lives on cabbage is very good at over powering the nasty microbes that can spoil the party. I’ve never had a batch go south. Cucumber pickles are much more challenging. My best batches were when I spiked my saline, with the juice from a jar of Bubbies. When I started buying Bubbies it was about $3 a jar. I started making my own when the price passed $6… Read more »
Shary
Shary
10 months 27 days ago

Thanks to Jack and Jessica. You’ve inspired me to get with it already.

Groktillyoudrop
Groktillyoudrop
10 months 28 days ago

The price tag of going Primal scared me for sure. But Mark’s point is spot on: don’t let the ideal get in the way of the good. I certainly choose to buy more grass-fed/pastured products and organic produce. But when I can’t, I don’t beat myself up about it. Plus, I really do see any extra money I spend in better quality food as saving me medical costs down the line. Would you rather pay it now (and feel better) or later (and feel MUCH worse)?

ShaSha
ShaSha
10 months 28 days ago
I can relate to facing fear about such a drastic change after almost 40 years of conventional wisdom being “in your face” about health 24/7. Its enough to make anyone give up. What I have found is that, because of that type of bias being drilled in, it took me awhile to really get started because I had to do all my own research and really feel that my question was answered (the question being, will it really work/and or will I harm myself if I do this.) I finally understand (I think) what is the correct way to eat,… Read more »
Dave
Dave
10 months 28 days ago

Also, I’ve found that the primal community is super supportive. Every time I’ve had an issue, plenty of people are willing to chip in their own advice, resources, etc. Fact is, many of us started off from different experiences and backgrounds, but all found something positive about this experience we’d like to share with others.

Julie
Julie
10 months 28 days ago

My devotion to this website helped the child of a co-worker so for that, if for nothing else, I am happy. And that in and of itself convince me to recommit.

HealthyHombre
HealthyHombre
10 months 28 days ago

As someone who suffers from panic attacks, so fear is something I constantly have to combat, these bullet points (except maybe the last point) seem more like excuses than fear. To accomplish any positive goal be it earn a college degree, start a business, take charge of your health etc. requires a little discipline, research and goal setting and eventually you have to take a leap of faith (enroll in that first college course for example) and “just do it”. Apologies to Nike LOL.

LemonCactus
LemonCactus
10 months 28 days ago
Fear of cost: When I am on the primal wagon-which is not always, but I keep returning to as my default way of eating…the food that I buy-grass fed meat, dairy, etc. can have sticker shock, but it balances out. I’m not buying convenience foods & I’m rarely eating out, both of which saves about the same as what I spend on higher quality foods. It kind of evens out. Plus the health benefits and how much better I feel physically, mentally, emotionally tips the scale for sure. Now if I could just get my inner toddler on board and… Read more »
hogbackmts.
hogbackmts.
10 months 26 days ago
Inner toddler here also needs to get on-board… and grow-up. I have read Mark for over 2 years, I introduced his Primal way to my husband. I cook his meals he has been primal for over a year. He is HOT lost 50lbs, energetic, muscles, off all his HB pressure meds, chronic headaches are now few and far between. I KNEW he would benefit and LOVE this lifestyle. He may even get a grok tattoo. not me… I am about 70-30 grr on a good week 80-20 I swear I am a toddler and refuse to get on-board.. Must be… Read more »
luke
luke
10 months 28 days ago
I tell people that I have a family history of health problems and I take care of myself by not drinking excessively, smoking, getting good sleep and by eatting right/exercising. Since when do you have to explain why you take care of yourself? The biggest challenge I faced was the idea that all food needed to be organic. It doesnt have to be!! Conventional meat/produce is perfectly healthy, and because of higher turnover its fresher then the expensive organic stuff that has been sitting around. It also local, since when was the frozen grass fed steak all the way from… Read more »
Shary
Shary
10 months 27 days ago

Good points, Julie. We buy some things organic and some not. My spouse isn’t convinced it’s worth the extra money, which can add up to quite a bit. I like the organic chickens from Costco because they seem to taste better, but I don’t notice much difference in red meat. Organic food is supposedly healthier, but I’ve read that much of it isn’t nearly as “organic” as we’d like to believe.

Jessica
10 months 28 days ago
I had to make a giant leap of faith when I went Primal. I had grown up in a household where we followed the DASH diet due to my father’s heart disease. Of course his disease wasn’t caused by nor resolved through diet. He had and died from Cardiomyopathy. From there, I went vegetarian for 20+ years. So making the switch to eating all of those things I had grown up being told would kill me, that was hard! Now, after about two years Primal, I’ve been on a low carb/high fat diet (still Primal) and am feeling even better.… Read more »
TF
TF
10 months 28 days ago
I finally started this 24 days ago. My biggest fear, I guess you could call it fear, was not being able to eat sugary foods. I had a serious sugar addiction, and especially this one brand of gluten free cookies, and a real problem with amp energy drinks. I was addicted on and off to mixed berry flavored amp (and then strawberry limeade once they changed all their flavors) for 5 years. Energy drinks should really be prohibited for teenagers. (I was 14 when this all started) Having dreams about drinking amp again after trying to quit and waking up… Read more »
hogbackmts.
hogbackmts.
10 months 26 days ago

thanks for that addiction thing. I know that is what is holding me back. And i agree w/ you about the AMP i have never tried it but my son now 22 started drinking it hen he was a teen and he has never kicked it. It makes me nervous that they let kids buy this.

Eric
10 months 28 days ago

For me it’s not fear at all. It’s all the old bad habits that need to be eliminated, and new good habits that need to be installed. Frankly, I’d be better off in more ways than health if I changed my habits.

hogbackmts.
hogbackmts.
10 months 26 days ago

+1

Becky D
10 months 28 days ago
The #1 concern I’ve heard is that primal requires too much time in the kitchen. I remember being there. It’s not that the recipes and cooking from scratch is the hardest part, it’s wrapping your head around a different concept of food and recipes. With grains composing the basis of our meals for most of our lives, we suddenly don’t know off-hand what to stock the pantry with. Our go-to menus are now off-limits. This change requires some practice and effort. I remember when I first started. I was used to going to the grocery store, buying what meat was… Read more »
Caroline
Caroline
10 months 27 days ago

My experience exactly, Becky. It has become easier over time and I no longer worry about how to keep my children filled up without the ubiquitous flour/sugar products. Having a weekly supermarket delivery booked online has helped me hugely (we’re in the UK) so that the meal ingredients are at hand.

Kate
Kate
10 months 28 days ago
Good article, and I definitely had my concerns. Admitting, to myself first, then friends/family, that I was no longer a vegetarian (after 36 years!) was hard and scary for me. Trying to handle, cook and eat meat safely was gross and scary. Explaining to my vegetarian children that I was changing everything I raised them to eat, and will no longer provide their favorite treats upon visits, like homebaked bread, truly homemade mac and cheese, muffins and pies and cookies (oh my!). And hearing their reactions to my changes was uncomfortable, and opened some interesting dialogues. And as Becky D… Read more »
Jack Lea Mason
Jack Lea Mason
10 months 28 days ago

Water, Buckwheat flour, ground ginger, grass fed butter and molasses. I don’t have a recipie as I am more of a chemist than a cook. But I’d start with the former and see what happens.

Kate
Kate
10 months 28 days ago

Thanks…I’ve never used buckwheat anything, so I don’t know if I will react well to it or not, but nothing ventured, nothing gained!

Pam
Pam
10 months 26 days ago

Try a drizzle of black strap molasses in your coffee. Mark just did a post on this topic. It is delish (drinking some now) and it may help scratch that itch. I add cream and whip it up to make a hearty froth on top! Yum

Becky Stanek
Becky Stanek
10 months 28 days ago
Mark, you nailed it as usual: “…you’ll see changes, feel changes, and suddenly start believing in change again.” That newfound belief in change is so empowering and energizing that all sorts of other potential changes in one’s life seem within reach. I’m in my fifties and had basically given up on my weight and my health after decades of fad and yo-yo dieting. The Primal Blueprint gave me back my mojo! I’m 30 pounds down and in the home stretch…loving every step on the journey. For those of you who may be on the fence about trying a Primal experiment,… Read more »
jen
jen
10 months 28 days ago
I had a fear of coconut oil. Before I found PB I was reading Mary Enig and Sally Fallon. I bought a jar and it sat in my pantry for several months before I had the nerve to try it. Weird, because I wasn’t afraid of butter or cheese or bacon. It was just so different from anything I grew up eating. And so SATURATED. CW really had their hooks in me at the time. Hours and hours of research later, and now, I wouldn’t be with it. Homemade coconut butter is simply wonderful.
Nannsi
Nannsi
10 months 28 days ago

“Primal eating is expensive” is a total myth. The cost fear is totally unfounded. I’m not eating bread, crackers, chips, pasta, ice cream, cookies/pie/cake, canned goods, pizza (either make or take), prepared soups, frozen entrees, lunchmeats, milk, vegetable oils, fried foods, or fast foods. If one is not spending money on all this crap, the savings more than cover real food. How can you not come out even, or ahead?

Rick
Rick
10 months 28 days ago

That’s an excellent point

Kate
10 months 28 days ago

I ran into that difficulty of explaining it to family, all right…they were sure I was going to die! Funny, after 4 years, at least, I’m healthier than ever and most of the family is pretty primal by now, too.

Makes me smile…

Mitch
Mitch
10 months 28 days ago
Good Post. Addressing a couple points listed: “I don’t know how I’ll be able to afford this way of eating.” For me its actually cheaper even with freerange/grassfed foods. Skipping breakfast more often than not – is the cost of a home made coffee. Cooking dinner and having left-overs for a couple days of lunches is much cheaper than takeaway lunches. Batch cooking and prep etc. I would guess my food bill is about 1/3 of what it used to cost – maintained for years now Doctor/medication/illness cost for Me : Zero —- “How will I explain my lifestyle to… Read more »
Old Hank
Old Hank
10 months 26 days ago
I was afraid that the food preparation time would be extreme and that we might eventually get lazy and succumb to easier eats. We soon discovered numerous recipes that were no more time consuming than our normal meals. We always have precooked meats and plenty of raw veggies (carrots, celery, cabbage, lettuce etc.) on hand for those days when we’re on the go. A cooler full of these foods travels with us on road trips so we can eat normally away from home. Also, we sometimes just skip a meal altogether (which causes friends and family to question our sanity… Read more »
Pauline
10 months 26 days ago
I have found I can go further on less food eating primal/paleo. I can easily skip a meal and don’t really have major hunger pangs since I dumped the grains and sugar. I’m 68 and take no medications. My weight has stabilised and I work out at the gym 3 or so times a week when I can fit it in as I’m often out with friends. An occasional glass of wine is a treat I allow myself as I still have to live in the real world. I’ve given up trying to explain my lifestyle to people who think… Read more »
Tanya
Tanya
10 months 21 days ago
I’m on the fence currently and this post was helpful but I am still struggling to take the leap. I believe in this lifestyle and know the benefits will be huge to me and my family but I struggle with the following things that all play into each other: 1. it’s hard! By that I mean that this takes a lot of effort in the beginning to redefine your habits. It takes planning and brainstorming and rerouting your brain and learning new things. For a single working mom of two young children, that can be quite daunting. 2. my body… Read more »
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