Dear Mark: 21-Day Challenge Rapid Fire Edition

21dayprogram_1000x1000 for blogFor one of the 21-Day Challenge contests last week, you guys asked dozens of questions. Today, I’m answering a bunch of them in rapid fire style including how to get kids to eat more meat and veggies, how to get adults to eat greens, whether keto can coexist with high-carb, if it’s better to eat seasonally and many, many more. Don’t expect long, drawn-out answers. I’m answering quickly and succinctly. If you have any further questions after hearing the answers, toss ’em in the comment section. There will always be more Dear Marks down the line.

Let’s get to it:

I struggle to get my kids (4yo twins) to eat meat or vegetables. The only meet I can guarantee my son will eat is bacon and pepperoni. My daughter will eat a piece of chicken occasionally. They eat fruit out the wazoo, and breakfast is always grain heavy (after 4 years primal I’m still alone in my quest for optimum health), but I can sneak in a berry “pancake” (100% egg) once or twice a week. I worry that they aren’t getting enough protein though.

My question is whether I should stress about it. I fell like the battle is not worth the reward at this time; eventually they might just follow my lead, but until then, should I be more diligent in getting them aligned primally?


Nope, it’s not worth it. In my experience, the battles will only make them battle-hardened veterans committed to rejecting the food you foist upon them.

Smoothies are your friend. Handful of greens, a raw yolk or two, some kefir or yogurt, a little fresh juice, some frozen berries, maybe even a frozen green banana (for resistant starch)? That’s a nutritious breakfast that most kids would love.

If you’re doing oatmeal in the mornings, whisk a few eggs and stir them in toward the end.

I see nothing wrong with eating good quality bacon every morning. If you buy from a local producer at a farmer’s market whose bacon is less homogenous, you can generally find cuts with more lean muscle and less fat (or vice versa) to increase the protein.

I wouldn’t eat pepperoni every day, but good stuff a couple times a week? Sure. Maybe use the bacon or pepperoni to make other dishes more appetizing. Chop it up and stick it in an egg scramble.

Whatever you do, don’t give in. If they don’t want to eat the steak, green beans, and whipped butternut squash you made for dinner, they don’t eat. They don’t get a bowl of grapes “just to get some calories.” Don’t drop everything to whip up a separate batch of bacon. Kids won’t starve themselves.


I have been primal a while now but I was having problems shedding subcutaneous (hope I spelled that right) body fat. Recently I have switched to a very ketogenic approach restricting my daily carb intake to 30 grams or less (mostly less) a day. Question: Since I am doing this, what is your feeling on carb backloading or reloading-would it help at all. Thanks for your time buddy!

High carb intakes can work alongside ketogenic dieting, provided you time it correctly.

Here’s how I’d try it:

Low-carb/keto on rest days. Focus on protein and fat when you’re not working out.

Higher carb, with your carbs coming post-workout, on training days.

Many programs follow this basic structure. Leangains, carb backloading, cyclical keto all involve eating very low carb for most of the time and eating high carb adjacent to training sessions when insulin sensitivity is high and muscle glycogen stores are starving. This allows you to restore muscle glycogen (and not insignificantly enjoy carb-rich food from a hedonistic standpoint) without impacting ketosis much.

Whatever option you choose, you’ll need to deplete glycogen if you want to include carbs in a ketogenic diet. As long as you have a glycogen debt, any carbs you eat will go toward restoring those glycogen stores and won’t interfere with ketone production. Since you’re talking carb backloading, I’m guessing you train regularly (carb backloading is big in the strength training community). This is good. Hard training is necessary for keto and carbs to co-exist.

How often do you switch things up vs maintaining a routine? Even within this 21-day challenge, I find myself making sure I keep to a fairly regular schedule to make sure I eat healthy and get a good amount of sleep.

But I’m worried about monotony setting in where I’m less “responsive” when there are disruptions to the schedule – late night event I want to attend, etc.

The people who go out every night and wake up at noon may seem like they’re better off, like they’re handling the sleep insults better than you, but they’re really just forcing their circadian rhythms to hew to an unnatural cycle. It’ll catch up to them, even if they’re inured to the negative effects right now.

Folks who sleep better more regularly will actually bounce back from sleep insults. Every day you get to bed at a good time and wake up refreshed, you’re paying off your sleep debt. Those nights out with your pals, the dinners that stretch past 1 AM, the comedy shows, the live music, the Netflix binges are less harmful, provided they remain special occasions, against a backdrop of solid, regular sleep.


I’ve found that going low-carb tends to spike my LDL-C from around a norm of 70 up to 120 (with a corresponding LDL-P of 1,300). The LDL-P number is concerning, but I am loathe to give up low-carb Primal. Should I be concerned?



I always urge people to experiment with different macronutrient ratios if they feel something’s amiss.

So hey, use this 21-Day Challenge to try a moderate carb Primal approach. More roots, tubers, fruit. Less fat. Keep protein as constant as you can (although that’s hard, as fat generally comes attached to protein).

Whatever you do, it’s crucial to see how subjective perceptions align with objective measurements. Your LDL may “improve,” but your energy levels decrease, you start gaining body fat, and you perform poorly in the gym. Or the opposite may happen.

How do you feel right now? Are you loathe to give up low-carb Primal because it makes you feel great or because you’re wedded to it ideologically? The distinction matters.

Note that I’m not leading you either way. I myself prefer and perform best on low-carb Primal, and for most people that seems to hold true, but it’s not for everyone. Find out for yourself and be honest about what you discover.

Is it better to eat locally/seasonally or focus on getting a variety of foods? For instance, is it preferred to eat roots and tubers for the winter in the northeast rather and save leafy greens and other veggies for the spring when they are in season? Any thoughts on this would be terrific!

There are good arguments for both.

Local/seasonal eating has the potential to be:

More nutritious. When food is local, you get it shortly after harvest. When food is trucked in from the other side of the country, you’re getting it well after harvest.

Easier. Fewer options mean you make fewer decisions about what to eat.

Cheaper: Not always, though.

Focusing on variety gives you:

Wider range of nutrients. You get to pick and choose what to eat, taking the best from every region.

More choices. Some people love and thrive with choices.

You probably know my answer: take the best of both. Buy local produce whenever possible, eat frozen blueberries shipped in from Canada because they’re so good and good for you. Don’t follow the rules (they don’t actually exist), blend and break them.

So long as the overall volume and intensity level of physical effort wouldn’t put one into chronic cardio/ black hole zone, and appropriate rest is accounted for, should daily “play” be acocunted for in any specific way during the challenge?

Personally, I’m asking if it’s ok to continue with the wrestling practice schedule I had before the challenge started, in which I had been tapering effort and participation to recovery based on both intuition and HRV scores?

Keep wrestling. Physical play trumps formal workouts, at least for me. Having fun while getting a great workout is basically hitting the fitness (and life) jackpot.

And since you’re tracking your recovery using proven biomarkers and intuition? You’re way ahead of the game. Absolutely keep wrestling.

Can you please share some tips on sneaking greens into my diet? I’m willing to eat them for health’s sake, but so many greens taste very bitter to me.

There are tons of ways. A few of my favorites:

Smoothies: See the smoothie recipe I mentioned up above.

Meatballs: Mix steamed, chopped, or pureéd greens into balls of animal flesh with spices. Cook, eat, ingest green stuff without really realizing or tasting it.

Bone broth: Toward the end of making broth, throw in some greens. Even if you toss the greens, many of the nutrients will have leached into the broth.

Salad: Find a dressing you absolutely love, so much that you’d eat cardboard shavings if they were smothered in it. This one’s pretty decent. If you’re doing a hardy green like kale, give it a good dressing massage a half hour before you plan to eat. This gives the greens more time to soften and become more palatable.

Hi Mark,

I have a 8 month old, a new job, am in graduate school, and am trying to complete the 21 day challenge. As a personal addition to the challenge, I am trying to incorporate a 24-hour fast one or two days a week (dinner to dinner). I’ve had success fasting before, but stress is at an all time high these days. I’m wondering if I’m doing more harm than good by stressing my body a bit further by not feeding it, or if, by relying on my energy stores between my waist and my belly button (aka my love handles), I am actually taking some of the stress off my body. In short, does fasting help or hurt when dealing with periods of very high stress?



I lean toward not fasting in this situation.

However, some people deal with stress naturally by not eating. Others crave food. If you’re the type who inadvertently stops eating when you’re stressed out, fasting may work well for you. If you’re the opposite type, or you don’t really know, I’d suggest not fasting and focusing on other aspects of the challenge.

What are some easy ways to get calcium without dairy? Dairy triggers serious skin issues such as acne for me. I try to eat lots of almonds, greens, and broccoli, but I find myself full before hitting the recommended amounts of calcium. On normal days, I hit about 70% of the DV. Second question: is it possible my body is telling me that I have enough?

Canned, bone-in sardines are fantastic for calcium (and omega-3s, and protein, and ocean minerals, and lots more). I like Wild Planet best.

– If I go to bed early enough for 8 hours, I ALWAYS wake up around 3 or 4 hours later. I generally use the bathroom at this time and in a weird way, I look forward to this as a sign that I did go to bed early enough. But still, waking up early when I try to sleep is odd, right?

– I wake up after 7 hours of sleep anyways. And this time when I wake up, it’s difficult to fall back asleep because my body just feels awake at this time.

So, given my case, would 8 hours be the number to shoot for or should I just go for 7 since it seems I get 7 hours regardless?

1. This can be perfectly normal. There’s some evidence that natural human sleep is biphasic, two 3-4 hours blocks separated by an hour or so of quiet contemplation, quiet (or not) sex, reading, meditation, or whatever else people did before smartphones. So no, you’re not odd.

2. If you feel awake, you’re awake. You’re probably one of the lucky ones that only needs a good 7 hours to feel rested and complete. Embrace it.

Thanks for reading, everyone. Any followup comments or questions go right down below. Grok on!

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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22 thoughts on “Dear Mark: 21-Day Challenge Rapid Fire Edition”

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  1. Another suggestion for eating greens: Saute some bacon, remove bacon and leave drippings. Add chopped, washed greens (and start with something that isn’t as strong, like purple kale instead of green, or swiss chard). Stir fry greens for a bit until they begin to wilt, Add some broth and let greens steam in the broth. When greens are soft, season. Add cooked bacon (chopped) back in before serving. If you like sweet things, add some raisins that have been softened/plumped in a little broth. If you like salty, add some dry roasted pine nuts. Or add both!

    If you don’t like this, then there’s no hope for you 😉

  2. While eating (or trying) Primal, has anyone dealt with low blood sugar issues? Thanks for any help you can give …

    1. I have. Low cortisol. Dizzy when you get up. Probably because of a lack of high GI carbs, but you really need to break that cycle. Try upping your fat intake for a while and getting a little bit more gentle exercise and keep strenuous exercise lower for a while (that includes stress).

  3. For the person who has problems with greens:

    My preschooler loves kale or swiss chard that has been sautéed in butter with garlic, lemon juice, and salt. He picks out his own greens in the grocery store. This is the same kid that does NOT like salad and generally doesn’t like greens prepared in other ways. Might be worth a shot to see if it pleases your palate.

      1. I also mix greens into my scrabbled eggs or omelette every morning. It’s usually baby spinach. It’s a great way to add a handful of greens right off the bat, and I don’t notice the taste as much as eating it raw.

        1. Exactly what I do! I also think it tastes better that way, maybe because it’s cooked.

  4. Thanks for the reply Mark! I’ve forgotten about smoothies a while back when I didn’t need them as much do to my work schedule. I’ll give those a try again. I also like the eggs in oatmeal idea!

  5. Seconded on the sardines. My favorite are the Wild Planet brand in olive oil with lemon. They’re the perfect work lunch, and sine they’re canned, you can keep a bunch in a desk drawer for emergency rations.
    Plus, the seven year-old boy who inhabits the inner reaches of my brain loves to gross out the girls by showing them the little minnows I’m eating.

  6. Cooking veggies in bacon is the only way I can get my kids to eat them. I usually roast a tray of veggies (green beans, broccoli, cauliflower,) and throw 2 strips of bacon on top. Roast at 400 for 15/20 mins. I also add salt, and garlic powder. My kids love it. I always chop up the bacon and throw it over veggies. My son will also eat kale sautéed in kerrygold and salt. My daughter won’t, but my son loves it.

  7. On the subject of kids and their distaste for veggies and meats…during childhood we are predisposed to prefer sweeter tasting foods. It’s genetic and protective, as many poisonous compounds have a bitter taste. Definitely use the smoothie suggestion to sneak greens into their diets. You can also use avocado to make “ice cream” desserts and sneak it into those morning smoothies for added good fats. I’d also suggest making almond/date balls as a way to get a bit more nutrition into their little bodies. Keep offering foods and eventually they’ll warm up to most of them. Mark is on the money when he says kids won’t starve themselves.

  8. Is it possible to build up a sleep “surplus” with taking catnaps? Like if I know I’ll be staying up past my bedtime, can I make up for it on the front end?

  9. How can you tell when muscle glycogen stores are low or empty? I eat most of my carbs after my workouts, but can’t tell if its to little or to much. Workouts consists of calisthenics on rings and deadlifts, lunges, squats and core exercises. So not too much Hiit training, also a lot of walking. Thanks Mark and Bee’s:-)

  10. Breakfast for Kids:

    Scrambled eggs in KerryGold Butter, a pinch of pepper, turmeric, and bacon bits to hide the turmeric! AND/OR
    Avocado with Lawrey’s seasoning salt, (and you can always add bacon bits to the dip in the middle of the avocado…AND/OR
    a few blueberries and/or raspberries and/or tangerine slices.

    If you can get them to eat 1/2 a brazil nut, great. I have been not as successful with this, but fyi in 30 seconds you can slice one thin and put it on buttered toast, under some jam (not primal but works). Or you can hide it in the bacon bits in the avocado…

    I do this and sometimes they don’t eat lunch, which is fine with me because their lunches are not purely primal.

  11. Breakfast for kids:
    – hash browns or tator tots with sausage, egg, or bacon & fruit
    – almond meal “oatmeal” (almond flour, egg, water/coconut milk, banana. cook.)
    – real oatmeal with egg white ( add the yolk back in after cooking), coconut oil or butter, dried fruit, cinnamon
    – energy bites (tons of recipes online)
    – grain-free oven pancake or Dutch baby (Google it)

  12. On primal kids:
    I tried several years ago to force a more primal diet on my two girls- ages 13 and 9. And they would’nt have it: cried, refused to eat, talked about how mean I was, begged dad to buy them muffins,…after a month I dropped it (have to pick your battles). But, oddly enough, when I stopped talking about it- they started making better choices. These days they’ll make themselves a salad as a snack! I do buy bread, but usually it just sits in the pantry.

  13. Wow, so much great info here! I do well getting enough greens in my diet, but love the idea of sneaking into meatballs. And as far as letting kale
    soak up the dressing, I find baby kale works great. I run a knife through it a few times first. Much more tender for those who aren’t big kale fans. And LOVE wild planet sardines. They are my secret skin weapon! I did a whole blog post on being a sardine virgin! I think everyone should try them.

    1. I don’t think I’ve ever had sardines, and I’m not sure how to eat them. Do people just eat them straight out of the can? Doesn’t look or sound too appetizing.

      1. Add them to salad, the whole can. I buy the sardines packed in olive oil. Mash in with the rest of the salad fixings and It’s delicious. Enjoy!

        1. I mash them with a bit of finely chopped celery to hide the texture of the bones, I also take the spines out because they and the cord thing gross me out a bit too much, but I leave the tiny ribs, they crumble really easily anyway.

          And I’ve found that some melted butter or full-fat cream cheese mashed in tones down the fishy flavour, so does a tiny squeeze of lemon, and salt to taste unless you have a reason to restrict salt. Taste is a personal thing though so I’m not sure it would work for everyone.

  14. Anyone else have stomach burning after going primal? It’s almost identical to the pain I got after eating eggs that led me to believe I developed a sensitivity to them and cut them out of my diet. It hasn’t happened everyday, but I eat almost the same thing every day. From my observations it seems the only things that don’t upset my stomach are meat and broccoli. Is it possible my bad gut bugs are dying off and that’s causing the pain? I don’t know if that’s how it works, but I had a lot of kimchi this morning, so I was thinking that could be it. Any experiences or suggestions would be appreciated. Thanks.

  15. Whisking eggs into oatmeal is a game changer!! My kids happily eat oatmeal in the mornings, and ever since I read this I’ve been adding an egg. They haven’t noticed. My son (12) eats his whole bowl. My daughter (8) only ever eats a few bites of anything, but at least now they’re more nutritious than before.