8 Primal Food Challenges You Can Take

inline_food_ChallengeHumans are competitive animals. We like a challenge because it compels us to rise to the occasion, prove ourselves, get better at something, or become a bigger version of ourselves. For people, challenges are like hormetic stressors—they often cause suffering and require hard, unpleasant work but provoke a beneficial response that makes us stronger than we were before the challenge.

How does that apply to the challenges I’ve laid out in today’s post, which are all about food, diets, and cooking? Each one unlocks a tangible benefit (eating more vegetables helps you obtain more nutrients, stopping the meal before you’re too full lowers energy intake), but there are also less obvious benefits to meeting a challenge.

Let’s get right to it:

Stop when you’re 80% full.

In Japan, they say “hara hachi bu,” which translates to “eat until 80% full.” It’s the inverse of Louis CK’s philosophy of “eat until you hate yourself.” Don’t eat food just because it’s on your plate. Don’t cram in every last morsel. Ask for a to-go box, bust out the tupperware containers, push the plate away.

If you can figure out how to make this a regular habit, you may find that adhering to a healthy eating plan even easier. One study found that habitual “80% fullers” tended to eat fewer grains and more servings of vegetables.

Eat 10 servings of vegetables each day for two weeks.

The number just keeps climbing. First it was “3 a day,” and that didn’t do much. Then it was “5 a day,” and the results disappointed. Now they’re saying that 10 servings of vegetables each day is where the magic really happens. Is it true?

There is a study just out showing that people who ate 10 servings or more of vegetables each day had lower risks of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and early mortality. There’s definitely some “healthy user bias” going on here, but I suspect at least a touch of causality too. Maybe more convincing is the recent study where giving healthy 18- to 25-year-olds extra servings of fruits and vegetables across a two-week period led to improved psychological well-being.

Cook a whole mammal.

You’ve cooked whole chickens. Maybe you’ve cooked a whole fish. (No? Go do that, too.) It’s time for the next step: cooking a whole mammal.

Get your hands on a small pig, lamb, goat, or, if you’re really adventurous, cow. I’ll even accept rabbit. Cook it whole. Roast it on a spit or a Patagonian cross over a wood fire. Cook it in the ground.

My only stipulation is that you keep it intact. Don’t dissemble the animal so it fits in your oven. That’s cheating.

Cooking an entire mammal marries two Primal inputs we no longer get enough of: the starting of and caring for a large fire over the course of five to six hours, and the transformation of large animal into food.

It’s an incredibly powerful experience.

Go vegan once a week.

What? Sisson, you’ve gone too far this time….

Hear me out. I’m not urging you to do this to save the world, cut down on emissions, save your life, save a cow’s life, strike fear into the CAFO industry, or anything particularly high-minded. I just think it’s an interesting thing to try. And for a great many of you, it will be an entirely new, entirely foreign. Pure novelty.

What would this even look like?

Well, grains and sugar and vegetable oils are still out. I foresee a lot of coconut, avocado, leafy greens, nuts, and seeds. Add in your favorite veggies for taste. Maybe this is a good time to experiment with legumes. Well-prepared, creative vegan food can be among the best tasting—truly.

Go keto for two weeks.

Ketogenic dieting isn’t for everyone. It may not even be for the majority. But you won’t know unless you try. So ditch the sweet potatoes, the bowl of berries you enjoy after dinner, the white rice on cheat days, the honey in your coffee. It’s only two weeks. See how you feel. Hard-charging athletes have more leeway with the carb intake, as they’re burning through loads of glycogen and creating glycogen debt.

Coming off a Primal eating plan, you’re not starting from scratch. Your fat-burning machinery should be well-oiled and humming along, so full-blown ketosis won’t be a huge leap. Chances are, you’ll slip right in without missing a beat. 

Master five recipes.

Get really good at making five things. These would probably be my five. Yours will vary.

Roast chicken. A roast chicken with carrots, shallots, onions, and garlic cloves in the roasting pan? With gravy made from the drippings? Nothing better.

Steak. Learn how to sear a good steak.

A soup of some kind. The key to most great soups is a great broth, so you’d better learn to make that too.

A stew/pot roast/chili. Something meaty and fall-apart tender with rich flavors and hearty sauce/broth that you can slip veggies into without anyone caring.

Something “ethnic,” for lack of a better word. Check out the post I did a few months ago and master one of those if you’re coming up blank.

Keep random veggies around—bags of kale, asparagus, broccoli, spinach, beets—that you can quickly steam or sauté alongside any of these dishes, and you’ve got yourself a solid dinner.

Eat a Big Ass Salad every day.

The Big Ass Salad is my nutritional anchor. It’s my insurance for the day. If I eat poorly for my other meals, I don’t feel too bad because I know I’ll be eating—or will have eaten—an enormous bowl of leafy greens, nuts, seeds, avocado, meat, cheese, healthy dressing, and whatever else I want to include.

Get yourself a huge mixing bowl, either stainless or glass. Plan your BAS every week in advance. Have greens on hand (currently digging a blend of baby kale, spinach, and butter lettuce), plus chopped veggies, protein, seeds, nuts, cheese, hard boiled eggs, avocado, and dressing. Almost everything but the avocado can be prepared days in advance. The easier it is to build a salad, the more likely you are to eat one.

Ferment something.

Everyone talks about the importance of probiotics and fermented food, but few want to shell out $15 for a pint of kraut or pickles from the farmer’s market. It’s easy to make your own. Way easier than you think.

I recommend sauerkraut (basic recipe at the link). It’s easy to make, requires just two ingredients (cabbage and salt), and you can embellish it with all manner of extra ingredients. Try this mix: purple and green cabbage, diced garlic, sliced beets, shaved ginger, grated carrot, salt.

Kefir is another option, but you’ll need kefir grains to make your own. Craigslist is your friend. Pickles or kimchi work, too.

You now have your assignments. Choose at least one, but ideally several, and go try them. If it all works out, you’ll find yourself several months down the line with a slew of awesome new food habits.

Thanks for reading, everyone. Which food challenge are you going to take on? Others you’d offer up to the group?


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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