2009 Primal Challenge Progress Report

We?re closing in on half a year now since I first announced the 2009 Primal Challenge ? the invitation to take on the Primal perspective and make it your own this year. Since then, we?ve come a long way, and I hope you have too. You?ve seen our redesign. Now I want to ask, how is yours going? To review, we started out the year with this question: on the scale of true wellness ? real vitality, where would you rate your life today? Remember your answers? What does that picture look like now? What continues to surprise you? Have you hit a new plateau? Experienced a new breakthrough? What?s the next leg of the journey for you ? the next summit? Pull up to the PB round table and let?s compare notes?.

Sure, when working toward goals it?s usually best to keep your eye on the ball, but it can also help now and then to look back at your progress. Remind yourself how far you?ve come, question what you?ve learned, gather up motivation for the next round, or realize that it?s time to reboot.

We love a challenge. We relish the brainstorming, the lofty intention. We?re smitten with the early rush of enthusiasm, driven by that initial impulse. Then we do the work. We spend our days building new routines, gathering new resources. We gain ground, feel results and continue doing what we?re doing. When we settle in, we naturally slow the pace and at some point begin to look around. It can be exciting to find ourselves in new territory ? or occasionally it can simply seem foreign and suddenly feel disorienting. In the last few months, you?ve likely adopted a series of PB steps, but a good question now might be this: do you feel you?ve actually absorbed them as personally meaningful principles? Does it seem to ?fit? yet? Do you feel like the PB is something you?ve been practicing or something you?ve been living? If it doesn?t feel like a natural part of your life, the disorientation ? the disconnect ? can be enough to stall momentum.

Perhaps you find yourself celebrating your Challenge experience and the new vision it?s given you. Or maybe you suspect you need to hold steady for a while, get a better lay of the land, and do the personal work of getting more grounded in your new lifestyle. (Take it as a sign that you?re truly invested.) We?ve likely all found ourselves in both places ? and everywhere in between ? at some point. Junctures like this are part and parcel for authentic change.

I always say that the PB is more than a diet and exercise routine. It?s a full lifestyle and holistic means to a healthy, vitality-filled life. And that leads me to another question ? this time for you ?old timers? out there who have been on board with the Primal Blueprint for a while now. What are you doing with that vitality? In the beginning of the PB (or any new journey) we often get motivated with the prospect of big change and inspiring goals. Sure, we get serious and focused as we move forward, and we enjoy constructing our routines. But flip the funnel, and return to that big picture of anticipation. What have your primal inspired changes opened up to you? What can you do now that wouldn?t have been possible before? Where is that unfolding vitality leading you?

For those of you who?ve joined us recently, I want to personally invite you to jump on the bandwagon. Resolutions don?t have to start January 1st. With summer upon us, it might just be the perfect time to begin a more effective workout program, eat better, de-stress more, and flat out change your vantage point on overall wellness. Even if you didn?t begin the year with us, there?s a full seven months left. Where do you want to be by year?s end? Why not get started now?

A note for those who are looking for a shorter term challenge ? either to give the PB an initial test run or to go for broke in the midst of a more gradual path (a PB sprint of sorts): we?ll be unveiling another 30- or 60-day challenge this summer. Check back then (and every day of course!) as we gear up for the Challenge. Although I?ve heard from some of you who finished The Primal Blueprint book already (speed readers!), I think a July start date will coincide nicely with many readers finishing the book.

In the meantime, whether you?re newly committing or continuing your Primal progress, we?ll be doing our part by offering up more recipes (to take the guesswork out of food preparation), as well as contests, giveaways, video features, workout suggestions and other Challenge tips and info. Regardless of how long you?ve been with the PB, tell us what you want for the Challenge. Tips for beginning baby steps (for yourself or others you?re encouraging to get on board)? Perspectives on digging deeper or delving into less explored areas of the PB? I want this challenge to be interactive so let us know your thoughts and what we can do for you.

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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38 thoughts on “2009 Primal Challenge Progress Report”

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  1. I really do love the primal way of life but I have no single friend or aquaintance or family that thinks any of this is valid. I do find this hard at times 🙂 I am fortunate in that here on the mediterranean we already eat pretty well, LOADS of fresh veggies, fruit, olive oil, fish etc BUT there are still a lot of carbs in the diet, the infamous baguette and croissants to nam just two 🙂

  2. I didn’t do the formal primal challenge, but I did start doing the Zone back in March, which turned into something that looked a little more Paleo based, that now looks a little more primal with zone-like proportions. Just the fact that I’m eating healthier and more balanced foods overall has made me feel a ton better overall. I feel better throughout the day, I’m performing a lot better in the gym (crossfit) than before – better performance without getting gassed as easily. Adding more sleep has helped tremendously as well.

    I do want to echo Jedi’s sentiment in that it’s hard when friends and family don’t really “get it.” Some shake their head. Others go overboard in trying to over-accommodate the primal menu when we share meals (I try to explain the 80% idea). Many tend to look at it as “a Diet” (capital D – like weight watchers) rather than “diet.” Why is that “D” word so ingrained into our heads that we think it’s a set period of time where you eat food you hate? I’m eating food I love (hello – whole avocados!) AND I’m maintaining my weight while losing fat and getting stronger. It’s exactly as you teach, Mark – this should be enjoyable and good for us. I’ve never been healthier or happier with how I’m living. It’s great!

  3. I’ve just come across MDA several weeks ago, and we’re contemplating going primal. The problem is, our lunch/supper meals are centered on rice, pasta, and potatoes. I’d love to find a substitute for them to gradually transition to the primal way.

    1. you don’t “need” to sustitute, just pass them up! but if you need something pasta-like, several of us like spaghetti squash

    2. I am the only one in my family who is trying to go Primal (I am vegan so used to being different.) I either go with out or I use the stems of either cauliflower or brocolli – cut them into smaller pieces and cook in boiling water. I also like brocolli stem sauteed in olive oil with garlic and then a little bit of rock salt.

      1. Hey Phil.

        You’re vegan but you are trying to go primal?

        Does that mean you are trying to live paleolithically, but without the meat, or that you are transitioning into eating meat? I’m curious because you used the present “I am” and didn’t mention meat at all in your post.

        How do you hope to get enough protein to not only support the functions of your body, but live up to the other aspects of living primal such as building muscle?


  4. Andrew,

    Try incorporating more veggies instead of rice, pasta and potatoes. Mark’s big ass salad is great idea for lunch.

    For dinner I usually have lean protein–chicken, fish, or beef, with two sides of veggies.

    Some of my favorite primal vegetable side dishes are green beans, mushrooms, broccoli, spinach, roasted tomatoes, carrots, and greens of all types, like kale, collards, and radish tops.

    I was afraid of satiety by limiting refined carbs, but as research suggest, refined carbs can be filling, but they can increase hunger due to insulin spikes.

    So, in short, salads for lunch and a lean protein with two vegetable sides for dinner. I usually have fat fat greek yogurt for breakfast.

    1. I agree. Curries are your friend too. They don’t need rice! Meats, veggies, coconut milk and spices. Heaven! Remember, you’re trying to satisfy your TRUE hunger and taste, not your crack-addict sugar-insulin response.

      It’s tough at first for sure. Your body definitely goes through a bit of shock as it adjusts. The breakthrough is AMAZING though.

      As Jose wrote, you feel “stuffed” on loading up on carbs, but really not satisfied. As Dr. Eades mentioned once, no matter how full you are, if sweets come around for dessert, how likely are you to pass up because you are “too full” (compared to another delicious slice of marbled steak, that is)?

      The best part about giving up all that junk is that I am much more aware of my satiety. 6 stalks of asparagus and a bunch of broccoli and a typical pork loin cut sauteed in butter and I’m … “satisfied”. Not just full.

      Good luck!

  5. 25 pounds gone since February following 80/20 Primal. I turn 40 in September and am on track to weigh what I did at 30 – only with a better muscle to fat ratio. Woot!

  6. I’ve been following a primal lifestyle for more than two years now and it has made a significant difference in my life. In fact, it’s a major part or what helped me recover from chronic fatigue syndrome.

    As Jedi said, most people around us are so brainwashed by mainstream media and what they see around them that the idea of living according to the principles we evolved on is completely lost on them.

    1. I’ll agree that people are so inundated by a consistent message that fat is bad and “healthy” carbs are good.

      I hesitate to use the term “brainwashed” though, as that implies intent.

      As I see it, it’s just a self-perpetuating myth. It’s “accepted wisdom” that fat is bad, so studies appear to prove it (due to the ingoing bias), the media accepts it because it fits in with the current “fact” so that’s what they tell, manufacturers produce products that consumers want and the cycle repeats and reinforces itself.

      It’s really unfortunate that there is such a lag time between real innovative research and public perceptions.

  7. I love eating primal. My friends all thought I was crazy… but as the size and pounds melt away, some of them are starting to ask questions and actually listen. I do great when I can spend some time cooking and bringing my meals with me. But if I leave my house without lunch in the morning or something happens that makes me lose out on cooking time… I end up in trouble. within usefull distance of work, my only options are: McDonalds, Subway, Penn station, a cash only chinese place (which deters me because I don’t keep cash on me due to the part of town I work in), a local pizza joint, 3 or 4 kinds of fried chicken places, and a long john silvers… it’s enough to make me want to take a bite out of the tree in front of the office heh heh. What would anyone else do in that situation?
    Otherwise, I’ve been taking a 1 credit hour physical education class at the community college every term in order to stay active. It works really well for motivation because I think of it as a class and not as exercise. It also ends up cheaper than the gym’s in the area. 3 terms per year at $80 per credit hour makes $240 yearly, $20 monthly… which is equal to or better than any gym I looked into, and you get individual attention, a less pretentious atmosphere, and variety by choosing what you do each term. I did fitness center in the spring (general weight lifting and light cardio), I’m doing Tai Chi this summer, and am signed up for Pilates in the fall.
    We’re almost done doing repairs to the house (painting and moving furniture is great exercise btw) so I can get back to cooking. My goal for the summer is to continue fat loss (working to eventually be down to 9 or 10% fat, currently around 17%)and getting consistantly to the 80-100% primal range.

    1. On the days that you leave the house without lunch, you can use it as an opportunity for an unplanned IF.

      Also, I try to keep some “near” primal foods handy, just in case. Like canned chicken or tuna. The chicken may not be free-range and it may be a bit high in sodium, but it’s still better fast food.

    2. I’m in the same boat sometimes lunch-wise…so I just order a sandwich with as many veggies as I can, then eat everything but the bread.

  8. Primal Day 16: Down 2%BF (12 to 10%) shooting for single digits! lacking no energy (which was my biggest concern) during workouts! 🙂

  9. Thank you to Mark and everyone who participates in MDA. I have gained a great deal of information and support just by regularly checking in on the articles and discussions.
    Back in the middle of March, I eased into a more Primal way of life starting with diet. 10 lbs quickly disappeared, followed by a comfortable plateau. In the last few weeks, another 5 lbs went easily.
    I am also using SoG’s beginning workout, trying recipes, bought a frisbee, plan to get the Vibram 5 Finger, received my copy of the Primal Blueprint, etc.
    Every step of the way I have felt healthy and supported by this community, even as a lurker.
    Easing in has worked for me, but I think the Challenges give some people the extra push. Now that my toes are wet, I may well jump all the way in with the next challenge.
    Thank you all.
    Love, Light & Laughter… Inga

  10. Started following a primal lifestyle in March and have lost 25 pounds. I’ve stopped taking Prilosec for a stomach ulcer and acid reflux. I feel much better all around.

    I consider myself living a primal lifestlye and not just practicing. My next step is to become more active. My personal challenge for the month is to begin an maintain an exercise program for the month.

    I need to either put together or find a more structured primal exercise program. Hopefully, the book has that. Looking forward to the books arrival.

    1. Awesome man! Diet first.

      I recently started the 5×5 approach based on what’s available at stronglifts.com (totally free, this isn’t an ad) and I’m liking it so far.

      Compound exercises, steadily increasing weight, simple once you get the form down, etc. Only thing is you need specific equipment at home or at a gym.

      Check it out and see if you like it!

  11. I just started my ‘primal lifestyle’ five weeks ago. I have been amazed at the change in my body and attitude. In five weeks I have:

    – lost 9.7 lbs
    – lost 4% body fat (it took me 3 months to lose that much from Jan-Apr this year) on a metobolic typing diet – so three times faster loss with PB!
    – lost several inches (went down a dress size)
    – feel more free an easy in my relationship with food. If I had to pick the most important accomplishment to date this would be it, hands down. I no longer feel like cravings run my life nor do I obsess over food (other than combing recipe books to find yummy suppers 😉 ). I feel like a heavy burden is being lifted . . .what a joy.
    – I am starting to focus on the other aspects of my life.

    Last month my goals were 12 crossfit workouts, 3 short runs, 3 sprint days, and 1000 minutes active living (walking, biking, etc) and I met the first three and was short 200 mins on the last.

    This month my fitness goals are the same, but my new goal is to get to bed before 11 each night and to work on the emotional eating urges (now that they are manageable enough to really work on).

    Thank you, thank you, thank you MDA!

    1. “feel more free an easy in my relationship with food”

      This is one of the first things I noticed once I “broke through”. It’s really hard to describe effectively to people, and I’ve tried! It’s like eating has fallen to the background. Not like I really enjoy it any less or that it’s not important, but it’s like sleep. Necessary and I like it, but I don’t feel like it’s controlling me. Hungry, cook, eat, move on. It’s lost it’s DEMAND.

      “I am starting to focus on the other aspects of my life”

      I can identify with this too. Getting proper everything (food, sleep, exercise), I feel more “available” to pursuing all those other things I want to get done.

      Good luck in the future!

  12. I only recently started reading this blog, but from advice I received elsewhere I’ve been following a primal diet since January of this year. My cholesterol numbers were not great, and my doctor wanted me to try to correct them using diet and exercise.

    So my stats: I’m 44, male, 5’11”.
    Before (December ’08)
    Weight: 206lbs
    Waist: 38″ with my belly hanging over
    Cholesterol: Total 239, Triglycerides 241, LDL 142, HDL 49

    This morning:
    Weight: 151lbs
    Waist: 32″ with some room
    Cholesterol (as of 3/18): Total 180, Triglycerides 76, LDL 99, HDL 66.

  13. Mark,
    It so happened that in late January I found both your site and the Theory to Practice blog. I was moved to follow the ideas and spirit of your message, if not strictly adopting every bit of it. I stopped eating grains, dairy, legumes and anything artificial (does seltzer count? ) and began to eat plenty of meat, vegetables, eggs, and olive oil. I was struggling with my weight and stress levels for quite some time and had grown to 356 pounds.
    Now, after all these months, and very few cheats, I am at 285 pounds. I feel better than I have in 15 years and I feel as though not only my body is healthy, but my brain as well.
    I truly am happy with the progress I have made, but now I am going to work on adopting more of the exercise component of the primal lifestyle. I don’t fear falling back into my old ways of eating, mostly because I feel so good, that there is more of a reward to this way of eating than any amount of ice cream or chocolate could offer.
    Thank you for all the work you do online, and for all the information you offer. I am sure that if I hadn’t come across the writings of Keith Norris and yourself I would still be over 350 pounds today.
    Also, if you find yourself in Williamstown, MA again and have the time, I’d love to buy you coffee or other beverage of your choice and shake your hand.
    Thank you,

  14. Mark – a big thank- you to you and your fantastic site.

    I started following the PB in January.

    Start Weight: 185 lbs
    Today: 158 lbs (-27 lbs)

    I’m 50 yrs of age and 5′-7″, so at 185 I was carrying more weight than was good for me (I’d been as heavy as 190 lbs at one point).

    My pant size has gone from a tight 34″ to loose 30″ waist. (There is a downside to the PB, though .. I keep having to buy new pants every month – as I keep thinking that my waist won’t slim down any further, but it does.)

    My percent body fat has gone from about 28% to about 13% (calculated by calipers) – and – now I think I can get down to 10%.

    For excercise, I walk/hike/sprint and do resistance training with P90X (cause I like the P90X workouts) about 2 or 3 times a week.

    In the first couple of months, the PB did feel a bit like a regimen I had to follow, but now it’s becoming pretty second nature.

    My wife is also following the Primal challenge and although she has always been fit and a healthy weight, she actually reduced her cardio workouts, adhered to a PB diet and has managed to dramatically reduce that last bit of cellulite that she has been fighting with for years.

    I have started a bit of IF in the last 2 months, which has helped break through a couple of plateaus that I hit along the way.

    When I turned 50, last year, I thought that having a bulging midsection, feeling tired and having joint aches every AM was just part of getting older – something I had to live with. Well – was I wrong! – the Primal Blueprint changed it all for me.

  15. This is week 12 of my Primal Blueprint lifestyle. I’d love to say I’ve dropped weight, feel better, have more muscle tone, etc. I’m still waiting for the magic to occur (but I felt perfectly fine as an active, healthy 46 yr old vegetarian prior to coming onboard). Despite all my personal challenges, I have nothing but primal love for this site & community. This is the only way of living that makes any sense. And the book is fantasitc- will be buying more!

  16. I started P90X in early January. After about 7 weeks, I started following the PB. I didn’t think I’d be able to give up my daily Coke, but somehow I did, and I really don’t miss it. I have since finished P90X and am 2/3 of the way through P90X+. I would say I’m 90 to 95% primal. I just can’t seem to lose the fat. I am, and have been for months, stuck at about 25% (depending on the method used). I’m getting a little discouraged. Any suggestions out there?

  17. Jenny – for me keeping my carbs under 80g per day was the trick. Somedays I get below 50g carb (although not for extended periods.) I’ve noticed that those period of ultra low carbs were the periods that I lost the most fat. I try also to keep my protein at about 1g/ lb of lean body mass and make up the difference in calories with fats.

    At least it seems to work for me.

  18. Thanks! My carbs are generally pretty low – under 75. I’m sure that I’m not eating as much meat as I should. I get most of my protein from nuts, eggs, and greek yogurt, with the occasional protein shake. I also thought I might be over-exercising. Anyone know how well P90X fits into the PB? I have 5 weeks left in the +, then I’m going to modify the program to make it more “primal.”

  19. AMAZING! I started in February.

    6’0″ 27 year old male, swimmer / surfer / triathlete / volleyball player

    Start weight: 197lbs, 16% bodyfat (I was in a winter ‘bulking’ period

    Current weight: 185lbs, fluctuate between 10-13% bodyfat depending on how well I’ve been behaving

    Unless I was eating 1.75g+ of protein per pound of bodyweight a day, I was losing a bit too much muscle. Tracking it helps so much. If I don’t eat enough, I whither away and don’t like it. Things took a MAJOR turn for the better when I started a 5×5 heavy lifting program. It’s much more primal and I love it (can’t do it forever, but this has been a great cycle).

    Cheats: My friends and I drink a lot. I normally do Crown and Diet, but you can’t not help having a few beers on the beach, and an occasional slice of pizza!

    I get TONS of compliments and nobody questions the ‘caveman’ anymore after seeing results in less than 2 months. It’s garnered a lot of interest in my group but I don’t push it.


  20. I started going Primal in January. Like most everything I do I didn’t ease into it but went full Gorilla, I’m probably 95% Primal. Dropped 25 lbs and 10%BF. I also train hard with Kettlebells & body weight exercises. MDA turned me on to beach sprints and going barefoot this past month. Going BF has really helped my foot health.
    I make my own pesto,salsa,jerky, & distill my water and love doing so! PB is not a diet but a life changing commitment to being the best you can be, naturally!
    My hat goes off to my fellow half-centurion Apples! We all know it’s supposed to be harder after 50 to get and/or stay fit. The PB gives us the tools, and really I’ve found it’s relatively easy to follow. There have been some amazing transformations going on here at MDA and it’s inspring for me to see us mature folks kickin arse!
    I am Grok, you are Grok, wouldn’t you like to be a Grok too! 😉

  21. Started easing into the Paleo way in January and it has really improved my life. I would say right now I am at 60% primal, but every day I work at getting farther along. Even at 60% I feel better than I have for quite some time. I doubt I’ll ever get to 100% but I know that every % increase is an increase in overall health and happiness. Good luck everyone with working/living the primal way. Grok on!

  22. I have been mostly primal since Jan. My main roadblocks are: dairy and no exercise.

    Ive lost about 8 lbs doing nothing but watching my diet. So… pretty much win-win for how lazy Ive been! I mean, I take the stairs at school… but thats about it. Also have recently cut the dairy in half.

    A am starting a workout plan as of June 19! Cant wait to see what happens.

  23. I’ve had many starts and stops with the primal way of life over the last few years. If I cheat a little, my food addictions just take over I end up eating too much ice cream and bread. But I find when I stick to it I have fewer cravings and feel more of a freedom from food. I even like feeling a little hungry and skip a meal here and there. I now eat more slowly.

    The primal type of exercise is very important. I got more serious 3 weeks ago, got a new trainer to help me with some enforcement, and I feel so much stronger and energetic. I like to hike, bike and kayak.

    I’m a type 2 diabetic and I brought my fasting blood sugar down from around 170 to 95 in 3 weeks! This lifestyle works way better than metformin for me. I want to lose about 100 pounds and feel like this is the year to do it. I don’t want to just lose weight, but I want to transform my body. And at 52 I want to reverse and prevent any further health problems such as plaque.

    Really appreciate all the great articles and support here.

  24. Hey Mark,

    Well this year has certainly been different. In March I got my first major major sports-related injury – I dislocated my left shoulder. Twice. Was being a retard the second time and tried to do GHD situps (from CrossFit) and when I brought my arm back up – pop!

    I’m still working on regaining shoulder health, but I guess I’ve been slacking off in the last few weeks because it’s been good for throwing (I throw hammer and shotput) for a while. So I suppose my summer resolution is to get the shoulder real healthy, and to get my strength back where it was before. I hope to be able to do at least 45lb OHSes and kip from a pullup bar without pain. I also hope to get my squat back up to 205, push jerk back up to 135, clean to 135, etc. I think I’ll be alright.

    In terms of Primal nutrition, I’ve been on and off. In terms of 80-20 it’s been more like 65-35. I’ll whittle it down some more, but it’s not a big deal. I’d like to focus on getting some good sleep some more.

    So that’s it. Thanks for everything Mark.

  25. While I am not totally primal in diet, I would say 70%. I started in Jan, and was fit, and healthy not really looking to lose weight. I have lost 15 lbs, and 3″ off my waistthat I didn’t know I had to lose. At the same time I have had constant gains in strength and performance in and out of the gym. Oh and my chest shoulder, and arm measurments have all gone up.

    Marks right when he says real men eat salad!

  26. I can tell a difference in my body already,I am feeling like a normal person.