9 Ways to Restart Your Primal Lifestyle

It happens to the best of us. You start sneaking a few more bites of bread when out to dinner and trying your buddy’s delicious-looking pizza. Your workouts trickle to once a week, sometimes none. You walk less, couch more. And then one day, you realize you’ve gone off the wagon. You’ve gained belly fat. You’re getting winded going up the stairs. Your once-pleasurable hikes have become grueling affairs that you dread and end up avoiding. Your fridge is full of takeout boxes and you realize you haven’t cooked in two weeks. You need to restart your Primal lifestyle, and fast.

How do you do it?

Turns out there are more than a few ways that you probably haven’t considered. Let’s explore them:

Fast for 16-24 hours.

Many religious and traditional cultural practices view the extended fast as a “cleansing” ritual. Not in the “drink this lemon juice and cayenne pepper mix, shoot single-origin coffee up your butt, and poop out a black tarry mass of toxins” sense. Rather, in the sense of starting over, renewing one’s vows, and clearing one’s head. That’s how a fast works for me, and I’ll usually do an extended one when I’m traveling and can’t find anything good to eat.

It doesn’t hurt that fasting switches you over to fat-burning beast mode. There’s nothing like the euphoria we get from consuming our own endogenous animal fats to make us realize that going Primal is a good idea.

All that aside, it just feels good to not eat when you’ve been eating terrible food. You don’t have to think. You don’t have to cook. You just don’t eat. Men, go longer. Women, go a bit shorter.

Go on a big long walk out in nature.

This works for several reasons:

  • You’re going back to the source, to the homeland—nature. You’re literally starting over. Spending time in nature is known to reduce stress (which can lead to the bad decisions disrupting your Primal lifestyle) and improve sleep (which we need to make sound decisions, especially regarding food).
  • You’re engaging in the most natural human pastime of all—walking. Walking is a low-stress, simple way to get back into physical activity. Almost everyone can walk, so no excuses.
  • It’s a truncated version of the walkabout or the vision quest. These are time- and tradition-tested methods for enabling huge life transitions. You might not be living out in the Australian bush for six or more months, nor are you climbing a mountain, fighting a coyote, and taking peyote, but you can still arrive at some powerful realizations and make real changes.

Just watch out for the wild potato seeds, will ya?


Popularized by Joe Rogan, flotation tanks are exploding in popularity. Outlets like the Atlantic, Slate, and Nautilus have published pieces on the experience. What’s the deal with them?

In a float tank, sensory stimuli are minimized, if not eliminated. The water is the same temperature as your body, so you don’t really notice it. There’s nearly a half ton of epsom salts dissolved into it, making the water syrupy and dense enough to completely support your weight and eliminate the sensation of gravity. Once the top closes, you hear and see nothing. What happens when that occurs and how can it help you restart a healthy lifestyle?

You turn inward, because that’s the only place to go. The mental chatter ceases. You find yourself working through the internal issues interrupting your lifestyle, drilling down to the core impediments to healthy living. If nothing else, floating can be a shortcut for stubborn meditators whose mental chatter impedes their progress. A session in the tank forces you to quiet the chatter by eliminating everything else. There’s no escaping it in the tank, so you must deal with it.

Do a really tough workout.

We all have the workout we love-hate because, while it sucks more than anything, it also pays huge dividends for our fitness, our fat loss, and our overall performance. A big breakthrough workout also hits the reset button. For some, it might be heavy deadlifts. Hoisting an overwhelmingly dead weight off the ground from a standstill is tough. Other possibilities include 20 rep squats, weighted sled pushes (or car pushes), your favorite CrossFit WOD, and other Herculean efforts of that nature.

For me, it’s the Versaclimber. I wrote an entire post devoted to it. Rest assured, this thing will destroy you. If it wasn’t the Versaclimber, which admittedly isn’t all that accessible for most people reading this, I’d choose the hill sprint. These days, I mostly run shorter hills for quicker recovery and less overall stress, but if you go up against a lengthy (50-100 meter) hill, you’re in for a world of hurt. That’s not a bad thing, mind you. It’s also not exactly a good thing.

Imagine you’re a total Primal newbie.

Role-play yourself five (or whenever it was) years ago. Act as if you’re just learning about this Primal stuff, as if you just found out that fat might not make you fat and cutting excess carbs could be a simple way to lose fat fast. Devour the old blog posts laying out the basics. Pull out your copy of The Primal Blueprint and read it cover to cover. Or commit to a 21-day transformation. Just try to think of yourself as a newbie all over again.

If you do it right, you should rekindle those early feelings of excitement at discovering a lifestyle that just works. You’ll also learn new tidbits you missed the first time. You’ll gain new insights. You might even feel like shouting about it to everyone you meet. Most importantly, you’ll be raring to get things back on track.

Purge your pantry (again).

The pantry purge is a how most people kick off their Primal lifestyle at the beginning, and it feels good. You’re tossing tortellini, punting pasta, getting rid of garbanzo beans, expelling elbow macaroni, capsizing cartons of couscous into the garbage. You’re really doing it. There’s no going back now.

This time is a little different. You won’t be tossing pasta and flour and corn oil because, chances are, you don’t have that stuff anymore. The first purge typically takes care of flagrantly non-Primal foods. The Primal restart purge focuses instead on the quasi-Primal foods that slip through and, when relied upon as staples, throw you off your game.

Been making one too many gluten-free pancakes with GF flour (that don’t even really taste great, let’s be honest)? Toss the flour.

The Costco size bag of organic raw sugar that’s moderately brown and thus super good for you? You don’t really need it.

Get rid of the junk that’s been throwing you off.

Go outside, first thing in the morning, and step barefoot onto the cold, damp grass.

This is a weird one, I know. When I’m overcome by stress, if deadlines are creeping up and I haven’t been to the gym in awhile and dinner last night consisted of a handful of almonds, a spoon of coconut butter, some random frozen berries buried in the bottom of my freezer and a glass of Primal Fuel in other words, when I’m half-assing my way through life—I wake up at first light, creep outside to the wet grass, and stand on it with bare feet. I don’t care who you are or where you’re from, but wet grass first thing in the morning is always a little cold and shocking. Even in Malibu.

Do I know why this works? No. Could be earthing. Could be cold exposure. Could be placebo. I don’t have any PubMed references for you. But it really does help for those quick restarts after those small slip-ups.

Put your money on the line.

Leverage the power of negative reinforcement to force you back into the fold. A number of online tools, apps, and websites exist that allow you to put up money, make a commitment, and forfeit that money if you fail to fulfill the commitment. I covered 12 of them several years back. Most of the tools focus on concrete commitments like “lose twenty pounds,”  but they’re malleable. You can commit to anything. What matters is that you commit and put up money.

Fail to get back on the Primal wagon, forfeit hard-earned money. It’s amazing the urgency we display when money’s on the line.

Join a gym.

New CF box open up near you? Go check it out and, if the coaching staff impresses you and you enjoy the free intro class, plunk down the first month’s dues. Once you’ve dropped $100 on a month’s membership, you’re going to go. And you’re going to train hard and feel the need to eat clean and you’ll be around all these other people committed to living healthy lives. It’s pretty much the perfect place to restart a Primal lifestyle.

CrossFit was just a suggestion. This is also a great opportunity to try something totally new. Always wanted to try krav maga or jiu jitsu, or even yoga? Now’s your chance.

How about you folks? How have you bounced back from a lag in your Primal lifestyle?

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.

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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62 thoughts on “9 Ways to Restart Your Primal Lifestyle”

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  1. “drink this lemon juice and cayenne pepper mix, shoot single-origin coffee up your butt, and poop out a black tarry mass of toxins”

    That was the best thing I have read in a long time!

    Side Note: Barefoot in morning dew is quite the shock to system first thing in the morning, and I agree it’s a good thing. Once you stand in one spot and your feet warm your spot on the ground it very comforting…. until you have to walk back in! 🙂

  2. I recently had the “I feel off the wagon” moment and found your food journaling suggestion from a few days ago very helpful. Even though I’m still working on being fully primal, just making myself aware of my choices and how I’m feeling has been great. Love this blog – keeps me going at work!

  3. I needed this. I’ve fallen off the wagon and gained 15 lbs that are not coming off as easily as the weight did when I first went primal. I’m going to incorporate all of these suggestions. Thank you!

  4. You knew this is where I am right now, didn’t you? I SO NEEDED THIS!!

  5. I just came into the office today, grabbed a piece of candy, and saw this article.

    How did I get so off track…

  6. The right thing for me to see, at just the right moment….Been feeling things sliding for a while now, and will use this to get back on the right path. Great timing!

  7. Wow! Gained belly fat, extra 10 pounds aren’t coming off as quickly as before. I thought it was just me and therefore there was nothing I could do about it. Helps to know its not just me. Time to do a re-set. Thanks!

  8. When I have been a bit off-track I do 3 things – skip a meal (fast); sauna for 20 minutes for a full body sweat followed by a 1/2 mile swim – ease in workout; then eat a solid primal meal to break the fast – typically grilled meat and green vegetables. Put a couple of those back-to-back and you’re in the groove.

    And I actually plan some off-track time. I recently went on vacation for five days and only walked as my exercise and ate a large pizza guilt free along with a piece of key lime pie to name a few dalliances. Then I came back and put myself back in the primal life style. Having the defined time off made it easier to switch back onto the primal track.

    1. I can relate to this. After 4 years of pretty strict Primal, I’m heading out on a 9 state, 5 week road trip, and am stopping at several Diners, Drive-ins and Dives along the way from Guy Fieri’s food show. I’m gonna enjoy every bite, but I’ll probably be fasting more and keeping up with my two bodyweight sessions and one sprint session a week. When bread is involved, I’ll be getting tomatoes or something else in it’s place.

  9. For those of us who don’t have access to the friendly neighborhood floatation tank, I got this product for my birthday–it’s a head cap that keeps your face above water, and leg wrap-arounds that keep you up, and you can fall asleep in the water–so relaxing and so ridiculously fun! Here’s the link:

  10. Damn…you got me. How did you know? A move this summer and a kitchen remodel threw us for a huge loop. Too much bloating take out crap. Argghh how did we let ourselves jump so far off the band wagon. Thanks for this post. Back at it here!!

  11. *Stunned into silence*
    This is exactly where I am at. I have been wondering for a few weeks or months where I have gone wrong. I have fallen off the wagon in a big way. No gluten but lots of dairy and ‘primal’ treats. I feel sluggish and can not concentrate and I recall that amazing feeling when I first went primal in 2011 – I want that feeling back!

    1. Feeling exactly the same way. Too many primal treats and nuts!! Looking forward to refocusing and feeling amazing again

  12. Fast, 24 hours, then start a new. That’s what works for me along with writing down what I’m eating for a while. On day 29 of my personal reset, 8lbs down.

  13. Thanks Mark! This was the kick in the ass I needed to get back on track. Been choosing the wrong foods while living with a lot of stress. Not a good combination. Those gluten free crackers I have been eating have not helped either. We cancelled our gym memberships and bought a Total Gym which sits in the closet. I don’t play well with other people so the gym thing I don’t miss, it is the workouts I do. We were dog sitting for our son for 5 months and walked him 3 times a day. He went home about a month ago and our walking stopped. I look and feel bloated, clothes don’t fit and I feel awful. The pantry will be purged today and I will be on track!

  14. Great post! Seems tailored to my needs at the moment. Fell of the wagon big time…Just a word of caution: going crazy in the dealifts (or any other heavy lift), if you’ve been a couch potato for while, is a recipe for disaster. Been there…

  15. I concur with all your comments. Fallen off the wagon in a big way! I am doing well this week and determined now for my health. I am a person who likes to help others, but I have realised I don’t helping myself. I am making ‘me’ my project now and treating myself as if I want to help a friend.

    Thanks to Mark for the inspiration I’m going to adopt these strategies too X

  16. I found the Vimify Bee the Wellness program after doing the 21-day Primal Challenge in January. They do a 21-day challenge every month, and it’s not very expensive. The social support is awesome, and the coaches, Adam and Vanessa Lambert are very present and helpful! It’s made this year be my most Primal ever, and I’m stronger and healthier than I can remember being.

  17. Your alliteration in the Purge Your Pantry section did not go unnoticed. Its great that all of your invaluable information is packaged with a clever writing style!

  18. I recently hopped back on the Primal wagon by keeping a photo food journal on meallogger.com. The photo log has proven to be especially helpful for me. I tend to make better food choices knowing I’m going to post a picture of everything I eat.

    If anyone wants to join me over there I’m posting as “Peace Karen” on several of the public groups. I’d love to start up a Primal group over there if anyone is interested. Just reply to this comment and let me know. (There are a few existing groups there labeled as Paleo or low-carb but nothing specifically MDA / Primal.)


    1. Karen I am going to check that out. I find food tracking helpful but hate to do it. So I rarely do. Maybe a photo journal will help. Love the idea of doing so with a like minded primal group. May give me some good suggestions.

      1. (I posted the following reply which is still awaiting moderation. It may not show up. Turns out the link I posted in the reply is dead. Here’s the reply again, without the dead link.)

        Great. I just started a public group called “Primal Blueprint.” Feel free to join in.

        I’ll also post this in the MDA Nutrition forum.

        Just create a free account at meallogger .com (I have no affiliation). Go to “Connect” and search for group name “Primal Blueprint.” Click “Request Membership” and I’ll get you added ASAP.


        1. Karen,

          I’ve requested membership in the group you’ve started and would appreciate you adding me.

          Thanks! Cindy

  19. Hi Mark,

    Any suggestions about drinking water I live in the Pacific Northwest, Vancouver specifically the water is of pretty good quality here but I want to avoid fluoride and chlorine can you recommend a good filter. I was also curious about Kangen water but the units seem quite pricey. Any suggestions would be awesome, keep up the great work Sir.


    1. Get a Brita filter can. They work nicely. And also, if you’re worried about the fuolride and chlorine, just add a bit of vitamin C powder in your water – it will cancel that sh!t out. It makes them poisons inert. Google it.

  20. Well I’m happy to say I don’t think this applies to me, I know how good those long country walks make me feel and barefooting outside as much as I can, and I need no reminders to do them. I’m pretty good at not letting things creep up on me, my GF flour is for very occasional treats as is my weekly slice of sourdough, and it’s stayed that way.

  21. Hey Mark you installed hidden cameras in my house and my fridge didn’t you…haha. Opening paragraph was scarily spot-on!

  22. I had fallen so far off the wagon I was nowhere near the road! So 15 days ago I decided to embark on another Whole30. I feel it really sets me up to transition into primal seamlessly but gives me that SHOCK I need to really get back into it and the 30 day commitment holds me accountable.

  23. Thank you! I needed this! I got off track with injuries and gained 10 pounds. I am doing a reset!!

  24. Great post, as we all stumble at time w/ the diet ( and exercise); I’ m going to challenge with a ‘finisher’ of 70 kettle bell swings after my workout tomorrow. ( not in a row) but I’ve been stuck at 50 for so long.. So this is my push! Thanks! Jim

  25. “getting rid of garbanzo beans”

    Please explain why getting rid of garbanzo beans is good?? I make hummus from it and I thought it was great for you…

    1. I’m not sure why Mark chose to pick on garbanzo beans. I thought we passed this stage… it seems the paleo narrative still needs some updating. As far as I’m concerned beans are very paleo and the best source of fermentable fiber available!

        1. Maybe! I really do believe Mark should review his stance on beans. Even Paul Jaminet from perfecthealthdiet is slowly accepting beans. There’s really no better source of fiber available!

  26. I can hardly believe how many other commenters are saying that this came at just the right time because they’ve fallen off the wagon–same here. I’m fighting hard to get my motivation back after being primal for 4 years. I’m not pigging out like crazy or anything, but I just want to be able to have a piece of toast and/or a spoonful of potatoes with my meal lately. To be completely honest, I’m toying with the idea of adding some bread back indefinitely because the thought of never having it again is a bit depressing for some reason. I will take up some of the suggestions you’ve presented, however, and I’m sure it will help–thanks for the posting and the encouragement.

  27. pms kills my family of 5 boys and a husband….. when i am primal i am a great PMS’er but this summer carbs have been slipping in and the whole family is about ready to send me packing, I KNOW exactly what is going on, I have let in some sneaky carbs, got bloated, became irrational, stopped hiking, and doing my cold water therapy….. quit lifting heavy things… ahhhh I NEEDED this post. Thank you for perfect timing. I am also turning 40 in 90 days. fasting starts NOW.. walking in the dew tomorrow morning 🙂

  28. As all of the many posts above, this could not have come at better timing. I have woken up every day for the past three months wanting to “get back on it.” The next several days are going to be tough as I get rid of all the non-Primal toxins. Thank you again!!!

  29. Spot on for me! 4 years into this new lifestyle, and a vacation to the west coast where pizza happened, and a fantastic little coffee shop near Mt. Rainier served freshly baked snickerdoodle cookies…uh-oh. I knew I needed a re-set! I dreaded coming home and stepping on the scale, but lucky me, the batteries died while I was pizza-ing out there, so I don’t know the exact damage. I realized this: I may be a still-heavy fifty year old woman, but when I eat well and go barefoot and take my walks, I feel good. Good habits tend to slip sometimes, for example, I used to exercise each and every day in cute work out clothes. I FELT like an athlete. I FELT like I could take on the world, be successful, get into shape. I need to get those work out clothes on again, get that feeling back…so here’s to a new start, a fresh start, and to success!

  30. Thanks for the kick in the butt Mark,starting 24+ hrs fast right now!

  31. One more guilty face here. A friend came to visit and we were rear-ended, so it’s been a combination of eating-with-friends and eating-to-deal with stress for me. I’m also very hesitant to get back to exercise because my back is all knackered now.

    Time to pay attention.

  32. After losing my Dad about a month ago, I fell off the wagon hard! After eating Primal for just over a year and experiencing relief from Fibromyalgia pain, I’m now paying the price big time! My body is so stiff and aching it’s painful to walk or make a fist. I’m sure that some of my pain is also from the stress of my Dad’s death.
    I’m still grieving and have always been a “comfort food” eater. Does anyone have any Primal comfort food recipes that I can substitute for the junk I’ve been eating?
    Any food tips and/or pain relief tips would be greatly appreciated.

    1. If pizza is a comfort food for you, thinly slice up some zucchini, put a dollop of paleo-friendly pizza sauce (or tomato paste) on it, then broil for a few minutes to cook the zucchini and brown it a little. Then take back out, add cheese and pepperoni, then broil until cheese is bubbly. Really tastes like pizza without the heavy, bloaty feeling you get with regular pizza. Plus, it takes like 10 minutes total, and poof you have dinner.

    2. Neely Quinn has great information on emotional eating,paleo, and some good healthy paleo comfort foods to try.

  33. Oh I so needed this and it is perfect timing. Re-starting my primal journey on Monday. Why wait … I need to do some cooking!!

  34. I am just a little skeptical about fasting. I mean when we fast and we’re not getting any food, our stress levels goes up and our body goes into emergency mode. And when it happened it starts depositing more fats than losing one. and destroys our weight loss goals and healthy lifestyle.

  35. I enjoy a nice 16-24 hour fast about once a week. I have found that I feel more clear-headed and calmer when I do that. I’ll usually break it with some almonds and prosciutto, followed by grilled protein and green veggies. I’m lucky that I haven’t had a ‘fall off the wagon’ episode, but I definitely can empathize with those of you who are dealing with it. Just remember that every day is a new chance to make a better choice. Those individual good choices compound, and increase your motivation to continue on that path. Cheers!

  36. I am really enjoying the enthusiasm of the MerryMaker Sisters and am merrily making their savory (I don’t use the u – though being from Down Under they do in the savoury) pumpkin and sundried tomato muffins right now to accompany dinner. I think reaching out to all sources makes it even easier to feel – and secondarily – look awesome.

  37. A good 20-24 hr fast does the trick for me. Good suggestion.
    Adding a light “endurance” workout during the fast helps too (swim, bike, or run). HR stays low and fat burning is maximized.

  38. OK, so when I read the Primal Blueprint I was a bit skeptical not so much about the overall approach, but that you could change how your genetics are programmed. Pretty heady stuff so I did some more research. Marks book is an excellent primer, and so my next one was Grain Brain by Neurologist David Perlmutter. Wow, he confirmed what Mark had written. He provides reference and links to studies to demonstrate the link of gluten to brain disorders. Even more proof of gluten being the neuro evil, India has the lowest incidence of Alzheimer’s. So…well if this anti-inflammatory is reducing brain disease, it must be because this spice is reducing inflammation in the brain. There is the link.
    I like Marks idea about not being perfect and trying to get 80% of your lifestyle in order. Perfect as I’m at about 90% + now!


  39. Alas, it all started with one innocent little bowl of Cheerios. I went from Primal all-star to no carb left behind.

  40. Mark, I simply can’t envision you for a moment ‘half-assing your way through life”, even for a moment. I think you’ve written that just to make the rest of us feel more comfortable!

    We stay Primal with all of our home ingredients. When we eat out, we do the best we can. And if we’re invited to a friend’s for dinner, we accept what we’re offered, and we do so graciously. But we love exploring Paleo baked treats and biscuits. And, being in Italy, a cafè corretto just hits the right spot. What we notice is that what starts as a slow trickle gradually becomes a flow, and those natural sweeteners find a place in our daily routines. So we pull back, set a date, and re-set ourselves with a 30 day commitment to no deviations of any kind. Feels good, also on the psychological level, as it reminds us that we are able.

  41. Thank you! I was about 95% primal for the first 2 years, then chronic stress multiplied by about 20 happened… And didn’t stop 🙁 In those 2 good years, I lost about 25kg (55lbs) and now in 15 months have gained 12kg again (30lbs). The only comforting is that I know that it is lots of bloating in the weight gain and that I know how and why it happened.
    Anyway, I have tried many of the restart tips above before but usually they only work for a few days/a week/whatever time frame that doesn’t help me reset. I’m thinking about fasting, but as a female with persisting hormone issues that may not be the best idea.
    So now I’m just going to replace my sugar and gluten loaded foods with ‘primal’ alternatives in the hope that this will at least transition me towards a restart.

    Any more suggestions on how to restart would be very much appreciated!