10 Common Primal Mistakes You Might Be Making

10 Common Primal Mistakes You Might Be Making FinalMost of us go Primal to solve problems created by Conventional Wisdom. The importance of whole grains and daily cardio, the dangers of dietary fat and animal protein, the primacy of carbohydrates for “energy,”—these untruths are promulgated so widely and fail so conclusively that you can’t help but look to the people saying the opposite for direction. That’s where we come in. Most of us go Primal to solve problems created by conventional dietary and lifestyle recommendations. Often these solutions involve doing the opposite of what the authorities are telling us. For the most part, it works.

Sometimes eschewing conventional advice goes too far, though. Sometimes we make serious blunders in our pursuit of Primal perfection.

1. Bacon gorging

Bacon is the forbidden food. It beguiles vegans and tempts die-hard low-fat statin-munchers. So when you learn that bacon won’t kill you, your bacon intake tends to climb. After all, it’s delicious. No one disputes that. But that doesn’t mean you should eat bacon for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. That doesn’t mean bacon should be your primary protein source. You don’t need to gorge on it.

These days, I treat bacon more like a condiment. Chop it up and sprinkle it on salads. Sauté it with Brussels sprouts. Toss it in with roasted sweet potatoes and apples. And yes, I love a good slab of it with some eggs, but not all the time. Don’t be like the college freshman getting drunk at 10 AM in his dorm because his parents aren’t there to stop him.

2. Fat bombs

When you realize that dietary fat can be a force for good—improving nutrient absorption, increasing satiety, upregulating fat metabolism and fat adaptation—and excess refined carbs a force for fat gain, you increase the former and lower the latter. But realize that otherwise healthy fats like butter, coconut oil, olive oil and avocado oil are still refined foods. They’re removed from the source. They’re concentrated. And they should probably not comprise the majority of your calories. Now, these Primal isolated fats are far more nutrient dense than the isolated PUFA-rich fats we avoid (your corn oils, your soybean oils, your canolas) but they can’t compare to fatty whole foods like eggs, ribeyes, avocados, nuts, or seeds. Get most of your fat through foods like avocados, nuts, meat, fish. Reserve fat for cooking. You can still eat a high-fat diet without relying on a quarter cup of coconut oil.

3. Paleo treats

I like a good Primal-approved treat—when the situation calls for one. Almond flour, coconut flour, and other gluten-free nut-based flours can be useful and versatile allies when these situations arise, but as a regular staple food? Eating Primal is about more than just the ingredients. We’re trying to change our relationship to food, not replace the junk wholesale with slightly healthier junk. That’s the province of the gluten-free dieter swapping out Oreos for Oreos made from rice flour and wondering why they gained all that weight.

Are you eating a handful of almonds sliced over yogurt with raw honey? Or are you pulverizing several hundred almonds into flour to make into chocolate cupcakes sweetened with raw honey? Same ingredients, different intent, different outcome. At the end of a day an almond flour pancake is still a pancake and a coconut flour cupcake is still a cupcake.

4. Too much chocolate

[Dodges pitchfork.]

Dark chocolate is absolutely a healthy food. Dozens of studies support it for heart health, mental function, and anti-inflammatory activity. And once you hit the 85% cacao and up range, you’re getting a nice dose of prebiotic fiber, cacao polyphenols, healthy cocoa fat with moderate amounts of sugar. I got nothing against a nice piece of quality dark chocolate. Eat it several times a week, sometimes more.

It’s still candy, though

Explore other avenues for cocoa ingestion. Look into cocoa powders. Make hot chocolate (use coconut milk if you prefer). Incorporate cocoa into your cooking (Oaxacan mole sauce, anyone?). Try unsweetened full-cacao baking chocolate. The sugar is just a way to get more people to eat what is essentially a bitter, initially unpalatable bean. If you can use unsweetened cocoa and control your own desired level of sweetness—or better yet, get used to unsweetened cocoa—you won’t be missing any of the benefits.

5. Too much sun

The dermatologists aren’t all wrong. The sun is a powerful force. With the right exposure, it’s a force for good, reducing the risk of many cancers, improving cardiovascular health, building stronger bones, promoting proper sex hormone function, building happiness, and leaving your skin glowing. But with too much exposure, or exposure at the wrong times, all those hysterical warnings about the sun and skin cancer can actually come true. You don’t want to get burned. You don’t want your skin peeling. You don’t want irregular moles and spots appearing and shifting on your skin. They’ve put millions of people at risk with their zero-tolerance stance on sun exposure, but too much sun can actually be dangerous.

Beef jerky’s awesome. Skin jerky? Not so much. Make sure you’re doing all the right things before you start laying your naked body out in the sun.

6. Avoiding all cardio

Chronic cardio is bad for most people. It’s boring. It sucks the life out of you. It hurts your joints and relationships. And it’s not even very good at reducing body fat and improving body composition. You can get many of the same benefits and a ton of new ones in a time-efficient manner by increasing the intensity and reducing the volume of your workouts. If you aren’t getting paid to do it, don’t do it. That’s settled.

However, a jog around the block isn’t going to kill you. Not all cardio is chronic. Chronic cardio describes the moderate-high intensity, high-volume training people think they have to do to “get fit.” A nice easy jog is fine. A long hike is great. The occasional race-pace longer run is helpful.

Maybe it’s just running a mile every once in awhile. But you don’t have to go hard all the time. There are other worthwhile exercise modalities besides strength training and sprinting.

7. Going down every rabbit hole

On this blog, I discuss a lot of concepts. I’m a curious person and I have a large readership, so whenever I come across an interesting new idea or think of a new approach to an old problem, I share it here.

You don’t have to try everything you read about. You don’t have to go into ketosis, fast, do carb refeeds, try every single permutation of squat and deadlift, sprint uphill/downhill/on a bike/in a pool, hike barefoot, and try the potato diet. These are all just options, choices to be made. I provide information, offer my interpretation, and make suggestions. I don’t expect everyone to do everything. That’s impossible. That’s a recipe for added stress and certain failure.

8. Romanticization of Grok

Some things about our modern existence are screwy and ridiculous, and when we spend our days sitting down, completely isolated from nature, from other humans (in the flesh), from edible plants and animals in their original packaging (absent some fur, perhaps), problems arise. You can’t expect that ignoring the reality of the environmental inputs that shaped our genome can lead to anything but poor health and happiness. Finding modern corollaries that create some of those same environmental inputs really seems to help solve most of our health and lifestyle problems. “Grok” is a helpful frame of reference.

But you don’t need to wear a loin cloth. You don’t need to leave the city and build a home in the forest using primitive skills (that’d be pretty awesome as a summer home, though!).

9. Eschewing modern medicine

Doctors, by and large, want to help you. I would take their lifestyle and diet recommendations with a large slab of Himalayan rock salt, but they’re great technicians. They’ll keep you alive when you have a heart attack, fix a broken bone, remove torn cartilage from your knee, pull a tooth, stop an infection, and save the lives of mother and child during a difficult birth. And sometimes meds are necessary. Do your homework. Don’t take their word for everything. They aren’t omniscient. But don’t ignore them, either.

Being Primal is about taking advantage of both ancient traditional wisdom and modern science. We have the best of both worlds at our disposal. Take advantage.

10. Buying too many things

This isn’t exactly the most self-serving. I sell supplements and Primal Kitchen fare, and I’m damn proud of all of it. But these are supplements to an already healthy diet. They’re meant to buttress anything missing from your diet, to support you when you can’t quite get the nutrients you need. They’re insurance.  And the mayo, avocado oil, and salad dressings I sell aren’t replacing real food; they’re enhancing it. They’re making tuna taste better. They’re giving you a reason to eat more leafy greens. They’re providing a way to healthfully sauté your meat and veggies.

If you find the Primal/paleo way of life is leading you to buy more things and eat more processed food, it’s probably the wrong way. At its heart this movement is about eating real food and enjoying life.

Any of that sound familiar? Fess up. What mistakes are you making? Also, which other common mistakes do you see Primal folks make?

Thanks for reading, everyone. Take care.

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.

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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119 thoughts on “10 Common Primal Mistakes You Might Be Making”

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  1. My own primal mistake? Eating too much of the “good” fats in isolated form……doing a better job of eating real food these days.

  2. This article is a good reminder to those who lean in the direction of, “If a little is good, a lot more must be better.” (I read those kinds of comments on this and other websites all the time.) Moderation isn’t just a word in the dictionary. It pays to put it to use as pertains to each of us personally. IMO, the key is to learn as much as you can from reliable, NON-self-serving, NON-extremist websites like MDA (thank you, Mark), then continue with your own research so you can make healthy, well-informed decisions for yourself and your kids.

  3. Thanks Mark,

    I am definitely guilty of #6 and #7. I need to up my cardio a bit and incorporate a few more sprint sessions into my life… I’ve actually looked into my local Ultimate Frisbee Rec League!

    #7 is probably the worst for me. I have this need to optimize every aspect of my health, but in the process it seems that some very important pieces to the puzzle get diluted.

    Thanks for the tips as always!

  4. I’d also add “taking primal (and this blog) as gospel”. Primal is made up. it’s a social construct. It’s a collection of ideas that share a common theme. Grok is an abstraction to use as a general reference point. Grok never existed. Just because Mark says you shouldn’t eat grains doesn’t mean shouldn’t either. Same with beans and legumes. Is coffee with sugar primal? I don’t know. Does it matter? Mark likes coffee with sugar and has made piece with it. Good for him. You do great eating beans? Great. Eat beans. You enjoy a good bahn mi and you feel great eating a killer fresh backed french roll…then eat it. The whole world isn’t gluten intolerant or have celiac disease and leaky gut syndrome. Grains aren’t evil or poisonous by nature.

    If you refuse to eat a good slice of pizza at your parents 50th anniversary party (assuming wheat isn’t an issue), avoid wedding receptions because the food isn’t pure enough, or feel that you’ve ruined your whole week and you’re a big loser because you ate a cupcake or a bowl of ice cream, then you are missing the whole point. Life is for living.

    Primal is just a handy set of complex ideas in short hand form to use a common starting point for discussion. If you take it as gospel, you’ve kind of ruined the beauty of the experiment.

    1. “Primal is just a handy set of complex ideas in short hand form to use a common starting point for discussion. If you take it as gospel, you’ve kind of ruined the beauty of the experiment.”

      Perfect! I hate hate HATE when I try to explain to folks about adopting a primal lifestyle and they instantly assume I am some militant anti-grain person! I have the Christmas dessert, a taste of Thanksgiving stuffing, the mandatory beer on 9/11 in my brother’s memory – and do not feel in the least bit “compromised” as this is about life, not doctrine 😉

      1. Kathy,

        I worked in 4 WTC. We got out OK. I’m sorry for the loss of your brother.

        1. Thank you, JPM! I’m glad you got out – every life spared that day is a miracle that we are grateful for 😉

    2. Your comment is as good as the article itself. I actually started a blog last week because I had gone down one too many rabbit holes and had just become paralysed with indecision in terms of how “best” to live primally. As you say I was ruining the beauty of the experiment. In fact I basically found myself obsessively reading about a primal life while living and eating very un-primally! Frozen with indecision on whether I should forgo my smoothie because I didnt have any almond milk and was ‘afraid’ to use cows milk just this once led to me abandoning the whole idea and eating cookies instead! ha! I’m actually laughing at the ridiculousness of it.

      Thanks for the post Mark and thanks for the great comment Clay

      1. I avoided all grains a few years back and after 6 months my body was worse than when I began. Since then I’ve added maybe 5 servings a week and usually Einkorn wheat sourdough, but if friends are serving a grain and I’m their guest, I include it . . . just not much. My body seems to work better with this. Now to not eat so much dark chocolate 😉

    3. This is one of the best comments on this website ever. Way two thumbs up, like, etc. I have done much better this year by following much, but not all, of Paleo/Primal and not beating the crap out of myself when I don’t. I don’t fold the whole tent when I make a “mistake”.

      Thanks for the sage advice.

      1. This comment reminds me that Mark just did a podcast with Keifer and his sidekick…..your comments reverberate the overall sentiment of that podcast.

    4. If you can handle grains, enjoy. I developed food allergies and was completely wrecked. This may be fun and games for you. But, Paleo saved my life.

    5. Absolutely! The reason I prefer reading MDA over other primal/paleo sites is that Mark is not nearly as dogmatic about his primal guidelines as others are. It’s precisely that reason that I’ve managed to get other family/friends into eating in a (roughly) primal manner.

    6. Clay, your post calls to mind my all-time favorite saying…”If, of all the truths, you choose just one and follow it blindly, it too becomes a falsehood and you become a fanatic”.

  5. I can’t stand 85% dark chocolate, the taste is too strong. The taste of sugar that is.. 100% unsweetened Baker’s bars are the best! They come in labeled 1/4 oz squares too, so I always know what I’m getting.

    1. Wow, that’s hardcore. I don’t mind the occasional pure chocolate bar, but I find most are extremely bitter. TCHO makes a really smooth 99% bar, but even that’s a bit brutal. I find 85-90% is the sweet spot for me (no pun intended). My wife accidentally bought me 72% the other day, and it tasted like milk chocolate!

  6. So you can anyone provide a high calorie primal diet (say 3000kcal) whilst avoiding mistakes number 2 and 3? Sometimes it is hard to stay primal if your energy needs are high.

    1. Avocado, nuts and seeds will boost your calorie consumption really fast. Mark was warning against overdoing processed fats ( meaning fats removed from their source). Avocado, nuts and seed are whole nutritious foods. Gobble them up. You can add 200 calories of quality fat with just a palm full of macadamia nuts. Delicious, nutritious and it won’t hurt your appetite one bit. Do that twice a day after a meal and that’s 400 calories right there.

  7. I admit I’m very confused about the ‘chronic cardio’ notion here. Every time I think that I understand it, I read something and get confused again.

    So I’ve started training with weights (machines – but I’m a beginner, have bad knees and wish to get to a certain comfort level prior to going free weights) but feel cardio is important. Since early Feb, I’ve been shooting for 150-200 minutes of ‘heart rate goals’ per week. The heart is a muscle which needs to be exercised and there are so many documented benefits of cardio that I just don’t understand the dismissive tone here and other sites (mainly free weight and body building oriented places).

    There are times when I’m doing Pilates (on the machines) where my heart rate goes up, but I don’t think that’s enough. I attempt to put in interval training be it incline and/or speed in each cardio workout, but think endurance/stamina is a serious goal as well.

    Any assistance in clearing up my confusion would be appreciated!

    1. When Mark talks of chronic cardio you need to keep in mind that he was a profession endurance athlete back in the day. His theories around that were the result of his deteriorating health, even though he was super fit. Most normal folk will never get into chronic cardio territory. It’s take a pretty big commitment over a long period of time. If you have fun doing cardio, and feel great day after day, I wouldn’t worry about it.

      1. Thanks – that’s something I’ve thought (at times). I think most people who come here are not professional endurance athletes and might seize on that as an excuse to cut down on cardio. While it makes me feel better, I don’t really consider it fun.

        So now I understand where he’s coming from – I just wish he’d add a caveat now and then so an to prevent confusion to newbies.

        1. Also keep in mind that in study after study, weight training alone produces fantastic cardio results. The idea that you need to keep your heart rate up at 75% for 30 minutes to get cardio advantages is bunk. Dead lifts and squats build some seriously strong heart muscles and increase your oxygen efficiently dramatically At the end of the day, the best exercise routine is the one you enjoy the most. If you don’t get a kick out of it, you won’t stick with it nor do it with the gusto you need to see real results. Better to be someone who can’t wait to hit the tennis courts every day than someone who dreads 30 minutes on the treadmill.

  8. Totally true. I’ve often wanted to scream at individuals who profess to recognizing the need to change their eating habits only to look for ways to STILL eat cookies, muffins, pizza etc., on a regular basis using a combination of foods they see as “legitimate”. I agree that all of these items can be eaten on occasion but wouldn’t we be better off as a whole if we planned our eating around whole, nourishing foods rather than constantly looking for a way to turn a healthy head of cauliflower into a giant pizza?

    1. +1. I’ve never been in favor of substitute or replacement foods. If I want a piece of pizza–which is rare–I will eat a small piece of real pizza (80/20 rule). The real thing once in a blue moon is more satisfying for me personally than trying to reinvent it into something that will always come off as second best.

      1. Totally agree with that. I eat real pizza once a month but I eat a salad too and half the amount I used to eat. If I liked cake I would handle it the same way. Eat it as your twenty percent.

      2. I’ve never had the faux pizza, but if I were to have the real deal, I would regret it for days! No 80/20 here.

    2. It can be frustrating from the outside, as when an alcoholic thinks “cutting back” or “substituting” is “just as good as” abstaining. But have some compassion for those of us (and there are many) who are actually addicted, physically, behaviorly and emotionally, to that sugar/grain/dairy/chocolate pancake/cookie/pudding/trail mix rush. For us, the only solution is total abstention, just like with alcoholics. But that’s so scary and difficult that we maintain our denial by substituting…but then we eventually binge.

      The only “approved” treat I haven’t binged on …yet… is the Primal Kitchen dark chocolate almond bar. But I probably will at some point, so those will have to go too. I’m working my recovery very hard, because as an auto-immune sufferer I must have a very pure diet or I will literally lose my ability to walk, not to mention the constant pain. But until I reach “whole food sobriety,” the paleo-processed/home-baked stuff is a crutch I sometimes need.

      So please don’t scream at me.

      1. No screaming from me, for sure! Even if you are eating processed paleo, it probably has better ingredients than commercial junk food. Even if you are baking from scratch, that is better than commercial as well. I think the true problem is when those of us that enjoy paleo treats then wonder why we don’t lose weight, like all those success stories. When I count up the calories from the paleo treats I have, then I know why my tummy pooch remains.
        BTW, I love, love, LOVE Primal Kitchen’s dark chocolate almond bar! I eat it for the collagen mostly. And I find I enjoy it most when I’ve weaned myself off anything with forms of sugar for a few days. It’s not as sweet as most things, but I love the texture. And that’s enough for me sometimes.

        1. Thanks for the support. Crossing my fingers that my brain keeps recognizing the delicious PK bar’s perfect not-too-sweetness and chewy collagen base as food (“that was good”) rather than drug (“I want more”). So far so good.

      2. Though I don’t suffer from the autoimmune issues I find I need to (mostly at this point) abstain as well. I don’t use primal baked good substitutes anymore because they are just a pain in the ass to make. They were helpful in transitioning, though.

        After several years doing this, I’ve discovered I can make No-Knead bread using eincorn flour and it doesn’t trigger the “must eat all the things” addictive reaction that bread usually triggers. I still make that only once or twice a year in the winter around the holidays, though.

        Rye crackers don’t trigger me either and I do keep those on hand to occasionally eat with pate or sardine spread. I have to keep them in a vacuum container though, because they will go stale before I get through an entire package.

        Thinking deeply about what my body was telling me with the specific cravings and binge triggers was one of my biggest breakthroughs. Strong ice cream cravings really just mean I need a good whack of fat. Chocolate cravings mean I need magnesium. Crunchy snack cravings mean I need more salt. Bread and saltines have always just been a butter delivery device so I just eat the butter, sometimes on salted radish slices.

        My main point here is that abstaining for several years can bring some people to the point that some of their triggers may no longer trigger them, especially if they are eaten with or after a good meal of non-triggering foods.

        I still need to completely avoid potatoes, rice, and anything made with processed starch or heavily sweetened and expect I always will. There is no such thing as one piece of pizza or one Oreo or just a few m&m’s in my world. Those will all trigger a binge that’s hard to stop.

  9. Well said. I over did it with the grass-fed butter and I am paying the price – luckily, I’ve learned plenty over the years and know how to tackle the problem. From now on, it’s strictly for cooking and the occasional bullet proof coffee. I also love extra dark chocolate (always opted for the very bitter), but as of late, started to alternate with cocoa nibs. A 1/4 teaspoon hits the spot and I am set for the day (great with a few Macadamia nuts)

    1. Me too. I was indulging on butter and heavy whipping cream and had chronic steatorrhea for 5 months but dismissed it.

      I came across an article from Konstantin Monastyrsky, the author of “Fiber Menace” and he said that excessive fat consumption causes bile to leak into the colon where it is converted by bacteria into carcinogens.

      It also turns out that steatorrhea is damaging to the colon and the gut flora and this can also cause colon cancer and appendicitis.

      Too much of a good thing can be bad.

  10. This entire post could be summarized by the statement “USE COMMON SENSE.”

  11. #1 — I’m currently in a love affair with bacon. Question: Would two slices a day at breakfast be considered overdoing it?

    1. Might depend on the kind of bacon you buy. Some brands are better than others. Most brands are horrendously high in salt. We usually buy the reduced sodium brand that Costco carries, and we don’t eat it every day.

  12. As with everything, it seems that a bit of balance is key! I must admit I get too caught up in buying a bunch of separate “primal/paleo” goods. These are the kinds of things that gives the primal life somewhat of an “expensive” stereotype, when it should actually be just the opposite.

    1. I like to buy primal/paleo goodies because it feels like some big company knows my needs. I know it’s not cost efficient, but I do like having something healthful on which I can snack. It’s not every day, and it’s not even every week, but, in the spirit of this article, I find that buying a paleo product is a bit of indulgence combined with some relatively healthy food.

  13. Going down every rabbit hole is my issue. I haven’t went down every Paleo rabbit hole, but I’ve gone down many–not to mention all of the diets I’ve tried since adulthood before I found Paleo 8 years ago. Weight and body size has always been an obsession of mine and unfortunately willing to do what I can to achieve my goals.

  14. No lo intiendo.
    Mark’s comments on bacon (I’m a huge fan) and butter (Mark didn’t mention cream — does it fit here too?) say “don’t eat much of it” but they don’t say why — what’s the downside?. Does it put on weight? Or is there something else going on here? (To paraphrase Gary Taubbes, “there is no evidence that animal fat causes human fat”).
    Is it back to counting calories? Once you’re off simple carbs, is the next step to make sure you don’t eat excess yummy “real food”? (I lost a bunch of weight going low-carb, but my belly still has some bulge while other parts seem over-skinny)

    1. I think the downside to “too much” of anything is that it displaces other stuff. There’s only so many calories you need and your stomach can only hold so much.

      By overdoing one food, you displace some variety on others.

      So when it comes to calorie dense foods…well it’s just a lot of calories and no matter how efficient of a fat burner you are, or how high your activity level, at some point you will eclipse your energy needs. Especially when you get into your forties. I’m almost 50 and I don’t need as many calories anymore. Paradoxically, my nutritional needs are the same or even higher as when I was in my 20’s. So I need to make every calorie count. Overdoing one food, particularly a calorie dense food, reduces my options for achieving the most wide array of nutrients.

      So a killer slice or two of quality pizza is fine, but the next meal will need to focus on veggies because pizza is not the best source of “leafy green vegetables” and it’s incredibly calorie dense.

      It’s more art than science. Everyone’s balancing act is different.

      1. So nice to see your thoughtful comments again Clay.
        A reminder to be kinder to myself and to create balance over a few days at a time rather than at each meal. As one teacher of mine said, “everything is an experiment. ” and I would add, ..” so try it on and collect your own data.”

    2. as far as eating bacon goes, the problem is not the fat in it or apparently the nitrites and nitrates since her body makes many more of these that are present in the bacon, but the AGEs, glycation end products that are the result of heating protein and sugar in high heat and then following that with several other common reactions in the body. In general these are called Maillard reactions in chemistry and result in nearly indestructible bonds. This means that bits of bacon as glycated material and up stuck in your capillaries mostly in your joints creating pain and stiffness and that they’re very hard to break down. it is thought that they even are one of the things that causes nonhealing foot sores in diabetics. Google AGEs, check Cordain’s table of amounts of AGEs in various foods (to be found in The Paleo Answer) — bacin, being nearly all surface, is orders if magnitude higher in these than other sources.

  15. Yes, most would agree that there is some need for conventional doctors at this time but to air positive comments about them is a bit too much. Consider, the medical establishment has connections with the criminal underworld and well as the legal thugs such police, judges and such to harass.

      1. Very serious. The health/sickness industry is forcing us to poison ourselves with compulsory injections of mercury and aluminium both known neuro toxins. Most, not all, modern doctors are little more than pimps for the pharmaceutical industry. The promotion of low fat foods has been the greatest creator of both heart disease and cancer this century. I stay well away from these witch doctors.

        1. Nobody holds a gun to anyone’s head. It’s up to us as individuals to do the research based on individual needs–not to abdicate our personal responsibilities to the various for-profit industries out there looking to make a buck. Those who are too lazy or too unwilling to do their own thinking are the ones who will pay the price.

        2. Agreed. Avoid doctors as much as possible. NEVER see an allergist and run like hell from drugs. Some doctors do mean well but the results are ALWAYS catastrophic.

        3. Elaine, I think most doctors mean well. Unfortunately, they are products of an increasingly bad system. I tend to avoid them too, for that very reason. Allopathic doctors are good with trauma. For anything else you might be better off finding an experienced naturopath. There are almost always cleaner alternatives than pharmaceutical drugs.

        1. I agree that naturopaths are a great asset, and sometimes a necessity. The only concern I have is that we need to be teaching society self-responsibility, that there is not a pill to ‘fix that,’ whether it be natural or allopathic.
          This is where chiropractic is so valuable. Especially those chiropractors who work to encourage people to become aware of their bodies self-healing abilities….assuming of course these people are also working towards eating right and moving properly as well.

  16. Such valuable advice! It all boils down to common sense and listening to your body rather than just jumping on the latest bandwagon. And I have made some of these mistakes myself…too much chocolate, even though it is 90% cacao. Lately I’ve been putting a bit of cacao powder in my coffee, along with coconut oil (but not too much!) and collagen (which is the holy grail as far as I’m concerned). Definitely trying to get my other fats from whole foods like avocado, some raw nuts, and meat. Thankfully never got too into the paleo treats…just seems like too much work!

  17. I think the number one primal error I have made is concentrating on the diet and exercise portion and not changing the rest of my lifestyle. Thus I’ve been trying to get my sunbathing in, actually take lunch with friends, and walk outside in nature rather than ” gyming it ” as I call it.

  18. I second El Piloto’s comment. Butter, coconut oil and bacon make up a large portion of my daily calories in the form of bulletproof coffee (2-4 tbsps), coconut butter ( 2-4 tbsp per day right from the jar) and well, bacon. Plus using butter and coconut oil for cooking and eating a mashed avocado or avocado smoothie most days. I’m still losing about 1-2 pounds a week. What’s the downside?

    1. I had steatorrhea for 5 months from bingeing on butter and heavy whipping cream. I could eat 8 oz of butter in the morning and then 4 oz at night. When it came to heavy whipping cream, I could drink 2 pints in one sitting.

      That turned out to be too much fat even for a high fat diet. For those 5 months, I had chronic steatorrhea, which I eventually found out was carcinogenic to the colon because fat in the colon causes inflammation and the bile salts leaking into the colon, which can be caused by excessive fat consumption, is converted to carcinogens by gut bacteria.

  19. To Clay: Always like your comments, would love your input on the above as you seem quite knowledgeable on these topics!

    1. Sure, which part of the above? Dark chocolate and collagen? I actually just had a bit of both a half an hour ago.

      1. Ugh, sorry Clay my previous comment is awaiting moderation it seems. Basically, what’s the downside of too much fat? Most of my daily calories come from butter, coconut oil, coconut butter etc. High fat moderate protein low carb. Mark started too much fat might not be a good idea but didn’t say why.

        1. I’d say here some possible downsides:

          1. Butters and oils are lacking in fiber (soluble and insoluble) don’t have many vitamins, mineral and oxidants and have no carbohydrates or protein. So getting the majority of your calories from isolated fats is missing a really good opportunity to expand your nutrient profile. You’re doing the primal version of someone who takes Metamucil every meal instead of just eating beans and oatmeal. Try nuts, seeds, avocado, whole olives, whole coconut flesh and full fat dairy. Tons of great fat plus all the other stuff you need as well. Tastes way better too!

          2. It’s easy to eclipse your calorie needs with so much concentrated energy.

          2. Depending on how you respond to fats, it might not be so good for your lipid profile. Everyone is different. Some thrive on a super high fat diet, some do best with a moderate amount. This would be the smallest of my concerns though. It’s also the easiest to check on with a simple lip profile. But I think the first two (lack of supporting nutrients and being calorie dense) are a more realist concern.

        2. There may also be non-weight or nutrition reasons to not gorge on fat. Fats may be related to certain digestive issues. There’s some research on saturated fat and triggers for Irritable Bowel Disease.

          I was strictly primal and then also keto for a solid 6-12 months and during that time developed Crohn’s disease. Since then, I’ve realized that fat (particularly animal fat, my favorite kind) is a clear trigger for my symptoms. I never would have paid attention to this type of comment when I was primal/keto, but it’s no joke.

  20. I would toss out there that maybe the key is to be primal to live not to live to be primal. I am prone to get sucked into some serious rabbit holes to the point of obsession, and this lifestyle has worked so well for me that there are times when I need to remind myself to be a little gentle around slip ups or overeating. Not to be on my soapbox too much, but my goals, as it turns out, are a moving target. Being that this is the case, I had better learn to be happy to be on a journey with this Primal stuff rather than looking forward to some goal that may or may not be attainable.

  21. All the “paleo” baked goods recipes seem to be making the rounds on my facebook feed in the last few months as my friends discovered it before their annual new years resolution. Often, they’ll tag me if they’re around me (physically) enough to know how I eat. Not sure how anyone would intend to meet their goals eating so much almond four and date sugar…
    Several have given up because its so hard to find paleo ingredients. I haven’t got the time to spend on facebook as a free nutritionist to help them with an actual primal/paleo plan. Now that I think of it, maybe I should change careers.

    1. A company that sells excellent dips and pastas at the farmers market now sell paleo/primal treats. The usual suspects – coconut oil, date sugar, almond flour, cocao, etc.

      But it’s still a treat. I saw a package of Newman’s Own organic oreos yesterday..

      Sometimes I think the concept of healthier junk is more damaging than actual junk. Like organic cigarettes. You can’t fool mother nature, and organic crap is still crap, but you feel so much better feeding it to your kids!

      Probably better just to own up to eating crap from time to time, enjoy it thoroughly, and move on to something else, rather than feeding the beast with bait and switch primal treats that allow you to pretend it’s health food.

      1. I completely agree. To me the whole idea of Primal/Paleo packaged treats is absurd. It’s pretty hard to make a product with a long shelf-life without the adding a few stabilizers, preservatives, or too much salt and sugar. It comes awfully close to being just a new kind of artificial food in yet another environmentally unfriendly package.
        And yes, if I am going to eat a special treat once in a while, it’s going to be exactly what I want, and hopefully of high quality and freshly made.

  22. I think I realized the part about fat when I joyously lobbed a golf ball sized portion of coconut oil into a saute pan for doing vegetables. I finally realized “Hey, I don’t need that much fat in there.”

    There’s probably an effect that comes when you realize that the SAD isn’t the place to be and Primal is. It’s liberating in a way and you tend to slip down into the rabbit holes without a parachute.

    Understanding that even though it’s good it shouldn’t overtake your common sense is a worthy first step. Above, someone said, be primal to live, don’t live to be primal.

    That’s key.

  23. thanks for bringing us some balance, mark! i’ve done a few of these mistakes, and learned from them!

  24. I thought paleo ingredients included things like meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruit, (whole) nuts, and water. I don’t get why that’s so hard to find.

  25. Thank you Mark, for your reasoned and reasonable post (what i love so much about your work here on MDA). I DID recognize myself in several of your “mistakes” and at the root of all of them–and the reason I lost my Primal Way for a few years–was my lack of honesty. I knew in my heart, as i obsessed to find ways to make ‘primal fast food’ (granted i was working like a maniac at a busy job) that I wasn’t, at the very core, really being primal. And since finding my way back, with a new honesty, I’m much more relaxed and whole-food focused. No cream in my coffee, just because i can (oh the heartburn!) I’m even pulling way back on honey and maple syrup, and lo and behold! Blueberries all by themselves taste sweet! As my palette changed, so did my perception of taste.

  26. Concerning the sun:
    I’m one of this light-skinned high-risk person to get a skin cancer. Although from very young on everybody cared for my skin with sun-protection-lotion I suffered from regular skin-burns. Until now I’m happy that every check is okay so far.
    What I discovered after allowing my skin to sunbath much more and esp. without s-p-lotion is, that I simply feel when it’s time to seek the shadow and I feel much better without chemical protection. But the most amazing fact to me is, that I didn’t suffer from sun-burn now for several years, since I changed my habits!
    It’s like I simply can trust my body and I do. The only time that I am still using lotion is e.g. on a hike, when I’m not sure if I’ll find enough shadow if necessary ????

    1. Most people don’t realize that the body has to process those chemical SPFs. They are toxic. Shade, hats, UPF fabrics are great. That self awareness you refer to is priceless.

  27. So glad you posted this, Mark!

    Now that paleo-primal is more mainstream, there are some pretty misguided messages out there regarding what a *healthy* primal eating plan looks like.

    Of the ones you list, what I see most often in clinical practice is a tendency to overdo paleo sweets and packaged goods. Also nuts and bacon:)

  28. How did you see my pitchfork?
    Yeah, I might eat a little too much chocolate (and bacon).

  29. Ah yes. I’m guilty of a few of these. I’ve been trying to rearrange my goals as I re-embark on my Primal journey. I’ve turned myself into such a guinea pig doing various experiments, I lost sight of what I actually wanted. I’m also likely guilty of adding a bit too much fat to things. Exercise is always a struggle. The past two years of extreme stress led me into a junk food spiral. Sure, I was gluten free, but I gained a lot of fat back.

    My new approach is to write down three goals I want to achieve: be in as little physical pain as possible, spend more time doing things I want to do and less time worrying about food, and achieve some semblance of physical fitness.

    So that’s what I’m doing. I’ve made some Primal Blueprint Pumpkin Nut Muffins the past couple weeks and I eat one as my breakfast because I just don’t have time for much else. I thought about changing it up because it’s a muffin, but my boyfriend reminded me that it seems to be working for me at the moment and is keeping my stress levels down. He’s right. I know it’s still a muffin, and it’s not a forever thing. It’s just to get me through this current job in the morning and I’m okay with that right now. Things are moving in the right direction for me – and in order to not stress myself out I need to be okay with certain things, especially if they are working for me. Diet is fluid. My needs will change and it’s okay if they are where they are now. So yeah, maybe I’m guilty of some of these things, but I want to stop with the experiments and just do what is working.

    1. Loved your post; thanks for sharing your thoughts and experience. The three goals you picked make so much sense. May I borrow them?

  30. Hey guys, need some advice. I’m doing keto and found out through using a food scale and tracking my food for the first time in my life that I naturally eat less than 1000 calories a day. So, trying to up my calorie intake by about 500 a day (1400 total) but I’m maxed out on protein and carbs. I’ve been fat bombing my food to make up the extra 500 calories (no-no #2). How do I up my fat/calorie intake without screwing up my protein and carb ratios? Are there any keto people out there who could give me an example of your daily meals that allow you to meet your goals?

    Also, do I ACTUALLY need to eat 400 more calories if I’m just not hungry?

    1. I guess a lot depends on your goals. Are you doing keto to cure a health issue? Curiosity? Losing weight? Gaining muscle? That will partly answer your additional calories question.

      For most people, going into ketosis offers little benefit for the amount of work needed to sustain it.

      Also, calories are approximations of energy contained in a food. Like everything in nature, it varies. Just like one orange may have almost no vitamin C while the next one is loaded with it. So you many not be eating under 1000 calories.

      Why are you maxed out on protein? Does that need to be low to stay in ketosis? If not, add some more protein as well.

      The trouble with just piling on fat is you don’t really increase your nutrient profile except for the fatty acids. And since so many essential nutrients come packaged with a bit of carbs or protein, going keto comes at a cost.

      That’s why keto folks fat bomb their diet. Naturally occurring fats come with other stuff that can take you out of ketosis.

      Macadamia nuts is an excellent whole food fat bomb. It has the highest fat and lowest carbs of all the nuts. Pretty much 200 calories of pure fat per serving (1/4 cup). Better than just eating spoon fulls of coconut oil or butter.

      1. Clay,

        I’ve been playing with Primal off and on for about 4 years. I mostly stuck to it, but then would have a beer or sushi (rice). I started doing keto because I’m really bad at the 80/20 rule and ended up gaining a ton of weight (when I initially went primal, my weight dropped to the low 130’s, but in the past 3 years it’s slowly climbed to the low 160’s. I’m 5ft tall, so ideally I should weight 120’s maximum.

        Since I started doing keto 3 months ago I’ve actually had a lot of success. My clothes are extremely loose, I can go almost all day without feeling hungry (while doing manual labor) and I just started a second job as a waitress and have been MUCH less stressed than I was at my last waitressing job. It’s not too difficult to sustain until I try to up my calories or cook. I usually have two hard boiled eggs for breakfast and a cup of almond milk, and for each lunch and dinner I have a large spinach salad with half an avocado, some goat cheese, and Primal Greek Vinaigrette dressing with a small side of baked fish/chicken.

        I got some inexpensive ketone test strips from CVS and was able to stay in ketosis until I started trying to up my calorie intake with a second avocado or an additional piece of meat. From what I understand, excess protein is turned into glucose, so to stay in ketosis you have to limit it.

        That’s a great point about the excess fat. I will keep that in mind. Thanks for the tip on macademia nuts! I will have to get some of those.

    2. If you just naturally eat 1000 calories a day and are in good health, I certainly would not worry about trying to artificially increase calories. If it’s working for you, more power to you! Wish I were like that!

      1. Haha thanks! It’s less about will power and more about eating my weight in spinach…

  31. What drew me to the Primal life was Mark’s attitude toward it. 21 days, don’t believe me, try it for yourself, very Buddha-like. He admits to wanting to LGN.
    Chronic cardio…… I enjoy running more now because my goal is to enjoy it. I walk more now because I know it’s good for me and it’s enjoyable. I know that sun exposure is good but I’m smart enough to not overexpose myself. I lift heavy stuff because it contributes to my enjoyment of the other things I like to do, and helps me LGN!
    When I eat a non Primal dessert or have bread with butter, so be it. Just not everyday or every week. I’m not deprived of anything! It’s my choice.
    Some days I’m 100% Primal other days 80%. I sleep better, I feel better, I’m leaner, stronger, eat a lot, don’t feel hungry.
    Working in the medical field, I see what CW does for people. There are good providers but taking care of yourself is the best medicine there is.

    1. Amen!
      I gave it up for years b/c peanuts are legumes. The horror!
      Then my son really wanted some peanut butter so I got him a jar of organic natural (as in just peanuts & nothing else) peanut butter. Licked the knife one day & it was all over for me. LOVE me some peanut butter!
      And since it has had no ill effects on my energy, digestion, or body composition, I’m going to go ahead and enjoy it!

  32. Great post. I eat one bite sized piece of 85% chocolate every day. Most evenings I have a glass of organic red wine with my last meal (8 hours after my first one), my family makes fun of me because I measure exactly 3 ounces LOL.

    I think the only thing I’m really “guilty” about on Mark’s list is #6, I’m suffering from foot problems so I’ve been doing shadow boxing and circuit type training in my “basement gym” but probably not a much burn in the lungs as I should. I’m going to kick myself in the bu** and do more swimming, I do have access to a pool all year long.

    Best of health to one and all.

  33. Wow. If even a small portion of your readership needs to cautioned in #8 in the capacity that you mentioned, I can see how your endeavor got so large…aside from the great advice and lifestyle recommendations, of course.

  34. I find a big mistake is being too rigid with primal eating and lifestyle. I aim for about 80% of the time primal on the food front, which leaves lots of room for having nonprimal foods if and when I want them. Which, interestingly, if I keep a flexible approach with 80%, ends up meaning I I usually hit 90%+ without even trying.

    Very freeing, and it’s made my primal food and lifestyle so much more fun, taking perfectionism out of the mix!

  35. I just saw yet another of Those Articles with a subhead of “Paleo is Stupid,” and continuing on about the “massive amounts of protein” we eat…I had to restrain myself and just closed out the site. If they actually READ anything about it…? Pretty moderate…and very sensible.

  36. My favorite food at the San Diego County Fair is chocolate covered bacon. Boom!

  37. This is EXCACTLY what I needed to read!!! Weight loss has slowed and I think I am over doing the fat. Too much cream and butter (and cheese) and Mac nuts. I tolerate dairy well. (Too well). Definitely am guilty of using chronic cardio as an “excuse” to not push too much. Lots of come to Jesus moments in this post. Thanks!!

    1. I can relate Pam! It’s just too yummy!! Mine is the 90% chocolate… Forget a square, pass me the 100g block!!! ???? No wonder I’m getting fat haha

  38. I have to say that I only eat real food, but maybe too much of it. I’ve gained more weight during this pregnancy than I have in either of my other two (and I gained weight within the recommended limits, maybe 25-30 lbs with each) and that was with a gestational diabetes diagnosis that was controlled rather easily with food. This time I have eliminated grains and dairy, but I’m thinking I’ll have to cut down on fruit, nuts and I don’t know…portions? I don’t eat a lot (there isn’t any room!) and I never eat after 7 pm, but good grief. Gaining a lot more weight during pregnancy stinks. Each meal is something ridiculously plain and easy–eggs with sauerkraut for breakfast, salad and leftover protein for lunch, zoodles and meatballs for dinner. It’s like a broken record of eating–protein + very-many-vegetables (mostly low starch ones since potatoes and sweet potatoes are a no-go). Snacks are apples, celery and nut butter, or nori, nuts, and carrots, or a hard boiled eggs with pickles. My glucose is really great, so I am not gaining weight because my glucose levels are bouncing around all day. I’m not exercising as much, though I walk nearly everywhere–at least 45 minutes a day, sometimes more. Sigh! I wish I found the eating plan that just works for me so I could boast about it more often, but I haven’t. I added in pastured dairy in the form of cheese and yogurt during the first two trimesters, maybe that’s why? I’m at 33 weeks and have gained 35 lbs. Sigh! Seven more weeks to go.

  39. I have to cop to bacon gorging… And the fat bombs! But the worst of these is when they coincide with my occasional indulgence in my old pleasures – such as my own homemade sourdough bread, or homemade ice cream! So, between my 80-20 allowance of bread or pizza, and a few fat bombs or bacon wallowings, the pounds can creep right up! I am contemptuous of the supposedly “Paleo” snack bars and treats that one can buy, but have created my own fried apple or fried banana treats at rather too-frequent moments! I also have to beware the dried fruit!
    Yes, I became aware that I CAN follow all the rules, and still be a fat, self-indulgent pig! BUT I still don’t get sick anymore, and have no tartar deposits on my teeth! Primal fatness is not the same!

  40. I am secretly guilty of nearly all of these! ???? No wonder I’m getting fatter not leaner 🙂 thanks for the timely article ????

  41. I enjoy living primal as much as possible for me. I like basic meat and vegetables and coconut oil. When it comes to making all the deserts etc. with almond and coconut flour I would rather not have it.

  42. Excellent points Mark. I am always pointing out to folks that if I’m in an accident, I want a Dr by my side not a fitness guru…despite my railing against modern medicine. Just a few months ago I had a bad bacterial infection and it took two rounds of strong antibiotics to knock it out, and I was thankful for that so I can move on with my life.

  43. Dark chocolate with sea salt, almonds and, to a lesser extent, honey are my downfalls. I’ve felt great with primal for the past 1 1/2 years, but I’ve failed to any loose a significant amount of weight, lol.

  44. Guilty of every single thing on this list at one time or another. Always trying to do better though.

  45. Great post Mark! Very good reminders… As many said, everything lies in the balance… and everyone has to find his own.

    Good, now it’s time to eat chocolate dipped bacon while running 50 miles barefoot at the peak of the day! 🙂

  46. Agree with all 10 points. But though we say we’re genetically ‘adapted’ for the primal lifestyle, what differentiates us from other animals is that our brains transcended and lead us towards technology. While most of our genes may be adapted for lots of play and social relaxation, our modern society doesn’t reward this. We are forced to live in a modern, fast paced world. Mark Sisson himself is a busy, successful man doing what ‘modern successful’ man does: utilising technology and science, becoming highly specialised in a certain field through intensive study and research, working long hours etc., all to leverage his positoin in society to be ‘something’. If people are too simple and laid back in the modern world, they get trampled. If you live like Grok – with hours a day of rest and play, you will likely be physically healthy, but also at the bottom of the socio-economic heap. There was no income inequality in Grok’s day, no billionaires. Whether winning an Olympic gold medal, or becoming a successful entrepreneur, it takes the non-primal side of our identities to make that happen. It takes the technologically, strategically savvy brain, not the savanah adapted physical genome that Primal lends itself to. So yes – I love Primal diet, I love to try and build rest, play, sunshine and sleep into my life. But it doesn’t end there: i stlil need to go out and compete like a maniac with all the other competitive maniacs out there and win the modern technological and sociological war.

  47. Great advice. When I first went paleo, I definitely went overboard with the bacon and dark chocolate. It did help me get through the detox phase of wheat withdrawals though.

  48. Great advice. I defiantly overdid the dark chocolate and bacon when I first went paleo. It did help me get through the wheat withdrawals though.

  49. Great points Mark,

    I’d add another that’s the opposite of the rabbit hole one –
    You don’t need to be sceptical about everything just because conventional wisdom got some things wrong.

    In Paleo-land you’ll meet people who are sceptical about climate change, smoking, omega 3, sugar and so on.
    There is probably such a thing as being too sceptical. It’s a perverse form of gullibility.

  50. Well Mark. I love pretty well everything you write but this has to be in my eyes your best article yet!! Thank you, thank you. It just stopped me in my “rabbit hole” tracks! Whoa, there girly. I’ve also leaned a lot from all the diverse comments. Thanks to everyone. I can breathe now!

  51. Great post, especially the one on fat. Just as Grok didn’t have access to concentrated sugar (free from the associated fiber and water in fruit), he also didn’t have much access to concentrated fat. He would have gotten incidental fat from meat, avocados, olives, etc, but not from letting the cream rise to the top of a milk bucket and churning it. I love butter and use It regularly, but it is concentrated calories, which still matter. I do better with weight management if I keep this in mind. Same with milk, liquid calories, they go down too fast! But it’s good healthy food to the extent you need the calories.

  52. ‘You don’t have to try everything you read about. You don’t have to go into ketosis, fast, do carb refeeds, try every single permutation of squat and deadlift, sprint uphill/downhill/on a bike/in a pool, hike barefoot, and try the potato diet’….

    awwww we don’t??… but I love being obsessive 😉

  53. Maybe i developed colon cancer on this diet from using coconut oil as the bulk of my calories.

    I was surprised to see blood in my stool one time.

    Then i realized that Grok wasnt drinking coconut oil by the spoonful.

    Your body needs nutrients to fighr cancer. If you are eating a coconut oil diet supplemented by four eggs in the morning, two chicken thighs, and 5.36 oz of ground organic beef, you may be in for some trouble.

    Maybe i developed the cancer from something else like second hand smoke, carcinogens from supplements, or sedentary lifestyle. Maybe i already had the cancerous polyps before.