Primal is simple, but it’s not exactly easy. At every turn, detractors and temptations appear. We have health authorities telling us we’re killing ourselves. Worried friends and family sharing news articles decrying the consumption of fat and meat and promoting wholly plant-based diets. Food companies employ food chemists to engineer delicious processed junk that hijacks our brains’ reward systems, making food that’s addictive on a biochemical level. It’s going to take a mix of concrete, tangible tactics and psychological tricks to stick with Primal.
Plan Your Meals Each Week
The modern world excels at rewarding poor planning. Its whole appeal revolves around convenience. It’s always tugging at us, leaving hints, suggesting easy ways to go astray. When you’re just starting on this Primal journey and things aren’t quite second nature…(like finishing your first 21-Day Challenge).
No time to make dinner? Grab a happy meal!
In the grocery line with your meat and produce? Hey, check out this 40 ounce sack of fried potato slices; bet you could finish half of it on the drive home!
Every week, plan your meals. Go shopping, get what you need, and have things ready to go. Keep a clean kitchen, so you can launch into cooking without fretting over dirty pots and dishes.
Look At Your “Before” Photos
You got into this Primal stuff for a reason. If you’ve seen benefits, lost body fat, improved body composition, gotten noticeably stronger and fitter, go back and look at those old photos. Look at yourself and remember. Immerse yourself in what it felt like before you went Primal.
Realize that it will all come flooding back if you go back to your old ways.
Think Of the Worst That Could Happen
A lot of things can go wrong in life. Many things will go wrong. But we don’t have to hasten the disintegration of absolutely everything. All the recommendations I make in the Primal Blueprint and on this blog are designed to reduce your chances of being reduced to that terrible situation. Read those words, feel them, and imagine yourself in that situation. Not great, is it? So, how about you stick with the program?
Imagine everything that could go wrong health-wise. Imagine you’re 20 years older than you are now. You’re on a slew of medications. Your monthly checkup with your cardiologist is the closest thing you have to a friend. You have a weight set, but it sits unused amidst the ruins of the great spider kingdoms that have come and gone over the years. Your bones are porous, your arteries are clogged, your blood sugar runs high, your heart rate stays elevated. Your muscles are marbled, your mind is foggy. Remember that each choice—including the one before you right now—has the power to determine your future scenario.
Realize That Perfect Is Not the Goal
Many people have the idea that going Primal is a life sentence of ascetic purity. That’s a big misconception. Actually, these are just guidelines. Recommendations. Modes of eating, living, and being that, from my reading of the scientific literature and experience coaching people, help a lot of people get healthier, fitter, leaner, and happier. But it all exists on a spectrum. It isn’t “all or nothing.”
Eating some rice won’t derail the whole train.
Skipping a week of training won’t dissolve your gains.
Even eating a french fry cooked in the most rancid of seed oils won’t imbue your adipose tissue with permanently imbalanced omega-3/omega-6 ratios (not that I’d recommend it, but still).
Unless you’re celiac or truly gluten-sensitive, ingesting a bite of gluten probably won’t perforate your gut lining and open you up to a month’s worth of bacterial endotoxins and allergens.
A date won’t set you back to square one on the keto journey.
Some heeled dress shoes are perfectly fine for a wedding or the office. They won’t ruin your feet or posture.
It’s not about Primal perfection. It’s about making the guidelines work for you to push your health and happiness forward.
Don’t Forget the 80/20 Rule
This dovetails nicely with the previous tip. The 80/20 rule is a built-in “get out of jail free” card. It’s not an actual, literal card, although that’s certainly an idea if an entrepreneur wants to get in on that. It’s the formal acknowledgement that if you do the right (healthy, Primal, keto, etc.) thing 80% of the time, you’ll be doing better than 95% of the population and garnering the majority of the benefits we can expect from living healthy.
What’s 80/20 look like?
It doesn’t mean eating fast food every fifth meal. It doesn’t mean eating 1/5 of a birthday cake. It means giving yourself some slack. It means realizing that you work hard, you eat well most of the time, and it’s okay if you slip up and have a beer or a few bites of pizza at the end of a long week.
The 80/20 rule helps prevent you from heaping additional guilt and stress and despair over a single bad choice onto the first order effects of the choice. It cements the reality that you’re going to be okay.
Join a Gym
If you think you hate the gym, you probably haven’t been in awhile. No longer must you do the globo=gym thing, where staff members frown at you for deadlifting and everyone’s preening for the mirrors. You can try CrossFit. You could try parkour. You could try BJJ or Pilates or kickboxing. You could find a great personal training gym, interview the owners and trainers, and find someone who melds well with your personality and goals. You can try FitWall. There are thousands of movement options out there. The point is throwing down the money and investing in yourself.
When you put down money, you put skin in the game. Rather than lose your sunk cost, you’ll be more likely to follow through and stick with it.
Buy New Cooking Equipment
Are you trying to cook incredible meals in damaged teflon skillets? Sear steaks on lightweight aluminum pans? Julienne vegetables with a blunt chef’s knife that hasn’t been sharpened since the 80s? Get yourself some quality equipment. You don’t need to drop $500 or anything close to that.
Grab a cast iron pan for searing steaks. Some heavy stainless steel pots and pans. A dutch oven for braising, if you do that sort of thing. Consider an Instant Pot. A decent chef’s knife. Maybe a small, simple food processor if chopping vegetables is keeping you from enjoying Big-Ass salads. It doesn’t take much, and it will make cooking that much more pleasurable (and effective).
Pick One Thing and Start There
Getting your entire lifestyle back on track is daunting. What, you expect a person to overhaul how they eat, move, consume electronics at night, interact with the sun, supplement, and sleep right away? Some people can do that no problem, but many people find it an intimidating prospect.
Just pick one thing, do it well, and see the dominos start to fall in other areas. Purge your pantry. Ditch grains and seed oils. Start walking every day. Get back into barbell training. Go to sleep at the same time every night. Doing all those things would be great—and not as hard as you think—but even just one will make a big difference.
Get a Friend Involved
Getting a friend to join you in sticking with the Primal way of life is a simple and effective way to keep you engaged. The hardest part is breaking through the resistance and mustering the willpower to enlist the friend. Then, once you’ve both agreed to do the thing, you have to do it. Neither of you wants to let the other person down. As social animals, we value the input and opinions of others. Especially when those others are close to us.
You could do family, like you mom, your brother, or your spouse, but in my experience those relationships can get testy real fast. Friendships are more durable, in a way. It’s usually easier to get strict and abrasive when required with your friend than it is with your husband or wife.
Some people can’t go all-in at once. They sputter and fail, and would be better served just picking one thing at a time (as I mentioned above). But some people thrive when they overhaul their entire lives. That’s how I am—I didn’t just change how I ate when I developed the Primal Blueprint. I changed how I ate, slept, exercised, and lived in general.
Maybe you’re going too cautiously. Maybe you need to go all in.
Work With a Primal Health Coach
Primal Health Coaches are well trained to help you hit your goals, work through tough sticking points, solve problems, and motivate you. This is quite literally their job. They combine motivational power with a strong knowledge base, so whether you have a motivation problem or a knowledge problem, they can help.
Hiring a Primal Health Coach also gives you that skin in the game effect—with a literal voice on the other end. For some people, that level of accountability is the linchpin.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of ways to get yourself back on track. This is the list of ways I find most effective at getting others, and even myself, back on track after an extended hiatus, or sticking with it when doubt begins creeping in.
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.