Dear Mark: Reader Issues, Chocolate Toxins, Chipotle’s Revelations, plus Red Meat and Diabetes Redux

Lots of QuestionsI’m covering a smattering of issues in today’s edition of Dear Mark. First, I help a reader with some issues. It’s a somewhat typical story with any lifestyle change – the stall. Why might it be occurring? What can she do to figure things out? After that, I answer a quick two-parter about dark chocolate. Then, I discuss the recent revelation of GMO products at Chipotle, along with my reasoning for not worrying too much about it. Finally, I briefly cover the latest red-meat-will-give-you-diabetes study. “Briefly,” because not only does this study retread old epidemiological ground, it’s using the very same inaccurate data sets we’ve seen a dozen times before.

Let’s go.

I have been paleo for the past year and a half. Initially with great success, lost weight, saw improvement in skin, PMS, energy. I worked out 3 times a week at local CrossFit gig, slept 7-8 hrs a night, stress pretty low.

I was getting lean, but not as lean as I wanted to be, so I decided to cut out starchy veggies (sweet potatoes, squash).

But instead of leaning out further, my energy dipped, I gained 7 pounds out of nowhere, started experiencing sleep disturbance. My workouts suck, and recovery is very slow.

My TSH went from 0.6 to 1.76 in 6 months.

What gives? I thought I was being fat adopted at this point. I feel like I’m back to square one.

So does it turn out that we need carbs after all, or am I an exception?



A few thoughts here: This sounds like a few things. First, are you eating enough calories? If you just drop starchy veggies and make no other changes, that’s an overall drop in calories – dangerous, or at least counterproductive, when you’re doing something like CrossFit. It’s far better (and safer and more sustainable) to moderate a drop in calories; remember, exercise increases caloric needs.

Second, carbs. I’ve made no bones about the fact that CrossFit (metcons, lifts for time, full body explosive movements done in a truncated period) necessarily hits the glycolytic pathway. That is, it burns glycogen, and the best way to replenish glycogen is carbs. This is partly why I don’t recommend a lot of intense exercise all the time – it requires eating a lot of carbs all the time. But if you’re going to exercise like that, you will benefit from starchy carbs.

Third, the body will start to seek its ideal body composition when the macronutrient ratio is appropriate and calories are adequate. That means most people who are not metabolically damaged from years of insulin and leptin resistance, or compromised micronutrition (through gut compromises), etc., will lose body fat and retain muscle mass for a while. But at some point, the body, which has no idea what the cover of Victoria Secret catalog or SI Swimsuit Edition look like, says “this is a great weight. I’ve reduced fat, I have energy in balance, I don’t get sick much if ever, and I’ll probably live a long time at this weight.” So, many people get frustrated because they think they will arrive at 10% body fat linearly, but many plateau at a “healthy” (or “ideal”) 20+ %. Another problem is, men and women are different hormonally and at even more so at different ages. There’s lots going on in the experiment of one. A ton of variables.

So, if you are metconning a lot and depleting glycogen stores, that’s probably good for your insulin and leptin sensitivity issues, but might manifest itself in adrenal abuse (too much cortisol) if you go to the well (workout without glycogen) too much. This affects the H/P/A axis. I’d recommend experimenting with topping off glycogen (which takes as little as 150 grams of carbs at dinner the night before) and avoid taking up residence in the well.

As with all these experiments of one, consider all the variables in your experiment. Are you getting enough sleep? Are you working out too hard, too often? Not intensely enough for too long? Are you really fat-adapted yet? And so on. Then record the changes; when you eat, what you eat, how you felt the next day, intensity of the workout, any bloodwork changes, etc. The 90-day Journal was designed to take you through this whole process, so that might be helpful. The answer is usually there, you just need to identify the necessary changes to make.

Finally, this is always, first and foremost, about reclaiming health. LGN (looking good naked) is a nice side effect for a lot of people, but not everyone. Give yourself credit for the weight lost so far, for getting off the meds, for feeling better, for your skin clearing up or whatever great stuff you have done already. It may take a bit more work from here to get to whatever your “next level” is, but you CAN make progress with the right inputs.


I continue to enjoy your posts and books. Thank you! As a fan of chocolate, I had two questions on the post you did a while back:

The 5 Best Dark Chocolate Bars in the World

1. Much has been made about mycotoxins in foods, particularly chocolate. Do you have any experience or insights as to the brand that is least likely to have mycotoxins?

2. I understand that the Dutch Process (e.g. alkalizing) takes away  much of the benefits from cocoa. Keeping (1) in mind, any updates as to a bar that is not alkalized and is 85% (preferably 90% or higher) and organic?


1. I don’t have a whole lot of experience with mycotoxins. I do know that the guy who’s responsible for bringing the mycotoxin issue to the forefront of the community and claims to have an extreme sensitivity to mycotoxins in food, Dave Asprey, says that Lindt is the brand that’s most consistently free of mycotoxins. While that’s not exactly based on peer review research, the guy does seem to know the subjective effects of eating mycotoxins better than anyone else.

Europe seems to have the stiffest regulations on mycotoxins in food, allowing just 0.5-2 parts per billion in their chocolate products. If you’re really worried about this, you might try sticking to brands manufactured in Europe. That should give you the best shot at getting a safe piece of dark chocolate.

2. Green and Black’s 85% is non-alkalized and very good. For future reference, just check the ingredients list. Dutch process chocolate should contain something like “cocoa processed with alkali.”

Hi Mark, I know Chipotle is the Paleo “go-to” for fast food/on the road. Wondering if you were gonna comment on this?

Chipotle GMO information added to website: Addition earns mixed reviews


You know, I’ve never been a big fan of Chipotle, probably because I live near some of the greatest Mexican food joints in the United States (Southern California), and the bastardized versions found in Chipotle simply pale in comparison. But this GMO stuff doesn’t concern me too much.

Reason? All the GMO-containing foods are already problematic for other reasons. The biggest GMO offender is the soybean oil that’s found in just about everything on the menu. I don’t know about you, but when I see empty cartons of soybean oil outside the back of restaurants and shudder to myself, I shudder not because the soy used to make the oil was genetically modified. I shudder because soybean oil is one of the best (read: worst) sources of linoleic acid in the American diet, a fatty acid that already skews our collective omega-3:omega-6 ratios an unprecedented amount. That’s the real reason you should be wary of Chipotle. There’s also GMO corn in the tortillas – which serve to spoon soybean oil-cooked meat into your maw – and chips – which are fried in even more soybean oil.

Go ahead and eat Chipotle. You can certainly do a lot worse. Plus, you can be smart and pick around the problematic stuff to get a decent meal. The carnitas, for example, is free of soybean oil, though it does contain some rice bran and sunflower oil, which aren’t terribly better. Their guacamole is good slathered on the aforementioned carnitas.

I’d just be more worried about the seed oils for their fatty acid composition than for their GMO status.

Hi Mark,

I’ve been paleo/primal for the past year and half, converting from a fairly strict vegan diet. My partner is following a similar path and has added meat back into his diet during the last four months.

I just read an article on NPR’s the Salt about the high correlation between type 2 diabetes and red meat consumption. (The article seems to imply causation, but I could only see a correlation.)

Granted, we are not big hot dog eaters (what’s in those things anyway?), but bacon and steak are staples in our house! Red meat is an almost daily occurrence. Is this article just more “conventional wisdom” in the works? I’d love your thoughts.



Thank you for your question, Liz, but sweet fancy Moses am I bored to death of these types of correlational studies “linking” red meat to diabetes, death, cancer, and heart disease using food frequency questionnaires. I really am. I mean, let’s unpack this a little bit. A food frequency questionnaire is a survey that expects you to remember what you ate for the past (in this instance) four years, and how often you ate it. So, yeah, go ahead and do that for me. Right now, tell me how often you ate chicken, or leafy vegetables, or ice cream, over the last four years. Make sure it’s accurate, because I’ll be making some sweeping conclusions about the effect of certain foods on human health based on what you tell me. Also, the largest media outlets will be doing some serious fear-mongering based on what I conclude from what you tell me. And then, in turn, the people who read those media outlets will be making some big changes to their own diets based on what they write based on what you said to me. So, yeah: do a good job remembering what you ate every day for the past four years!

Let’s hope you’re a little more accurate than the actual people surveyed in some of these data sets, who notoriously underestimate the amount of animal products they eat and overestimate the amount of fruits, vegetables, and fish they eat.

See what I mean? That’s why I refuse to go line by line and discuss why this study doesn’t mean much in the long run. It’s been done before, here on these very pages, oftentimes responding to studies using the very same datasets as this most recent one! Check it out:

Does Eating Red Meat Increase Type 2 Diabetes Risk? – Here, I discussed an eerily similar study that was conducted by the same people, used the exact same data, and examined almost the exact same issue. Read through that post, because the arguments raised would be the same arguments I raise here.

I don’t blame you for worrying about this stuff, because they do a really good job of making it sound scary. But please don’t worry any more. Worry if you start getting symptoms of type 2 diabetes (it doesn’t just appear, after all). Worry if you start getting insulin resistant and if you start gaining abdominal fat. Worry if your fasting glucose begins rising. If you’ve been doing this for over a year, it’s probably because you’ve made some health improvements. Maybe you’re putting on lean mass. Maybe you’re performing better (in the gym, in bed, in your brain). Maybe you’ve lost fat. Maybe some nagging health issues have finally cleared up. Whatever it is, you’re eating this way for a reason: it’s working. Don’t worry if it’s working.

That’s it for today, folks. Thanks for reading this edition of Dear Mark. See you next time!

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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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