Dear Mark: Common Stumbling Blocks

Dear Mark,

As a newbie to MDA I’m interested in doing the Primal Challenge for the year. I’m sold on the idea of PB and understand how it should work. The problem is I’ve had one failure after another when it comes to diets, and I’m a little gun-shy going in. The PB is definitely different than diets I’ve tried in the past. I just want to feel prepared this time for the stumbling blocks and know what to look out for. I’d love to hear your advice and tips!

I’ve been hearing from a lot of new folks since the New Year’s Primal Challenge. Thanks for your comments and questions. I’m thrilled you’ve all joined us!

Diet stumbling blocks… The eternal question for a lot of people, I know. But the lucky thing is this: the Primal Blueprint isn’t another diet. It’s a way of eating for life. Nonetheless, it is (or can be) a major transition for most people. As I’ve said in the past, eating PB-style totally goes against the grain (yeah, yeah – unavoidable pun) in our society. In a culture of bread, bakeries, chips, popcorn, pasta, rice and potatoes at every turn, it takes a real turnabout in thinking as well as eating. Initially, the concept of the PB may feel restrictive to someone who’s had a lifetime’s worth of sandwiches, pizza, fast food, etc. But if you can get past the ingrained (O.K. – last one, I promise) mindset, you’re good to go. It’s why it’s crucial (as we’ve said in the past) that you focus not on what you’re giving up but what you’re taking on – the change you’re welcoming into your diet and lifestyle. Once people stop carrying the torch for the habitual/comfort foods, they see that the PB actually opens up their diet to a world of possibilities (as well as energy, satiety, etc.) that the old foods could never match.

Some people might have an issue with cravings for a while. Again, it’s natural that it takes a while to get past the old way of doing things. We’ve talked about cravings before, and for the most part they’re psychological. If you come up against this stumbling block, ask yourself first whether you’ve been having a rough time lately (at work, in your personal life, etc.). So many of us, even if we aren’t really “emotional eaters,” still tend to half-consciously/subconsciously turn to (or think about) certain comfort foods when times get tough. When you recognize that it’s an emotional desire rather than a physical need, you can do something to get at the real issue instead of sabotaging your diet. If it isn’t emotionally-connected and you find yourself truly overrun by cravings, however, you might want to visit FitDay and do some calculations of your daily diet. A lot of people starting out on a low-carb diet don’t include enough fat right away. Oftentimes, it takes some tinkering.

I’d be remiss to not include something about the social scenario. For some people, their families’ eating habits can impact their efforts. For others, it’s more the evenings out with friends or the business travel that leaves them foraging for primal fare in the midst of fast food offerings.

The fact is, the social aspect has the power to work both for and against us. Sure, it helps to have everyone around eating and living with the same standards, but I don’t know how many readers can really say that’s the case for them. I would guess very few. The “bad” news: if you live with people who have very un-primal eating habits, you’ll have to be O.K. doing your own thing and maybe work on some kind of logistical arrangement that addresses your own participation in their habits (food prep for the kids, etc.). The good news is that you don’t have to be dependent on your partner, family or close set of friends for motivation itself. Shake things up a bit and branch out in the name of new change. Expand your support system. One of the things I love about the MDA community is the support and constant flow of new ideas. Everyone’s comments offer stories to identify with, perspective to learn from, and new angles to bring to your own PB practice. A goldmine, I say. (Thanks, guys.)

The ultimate point for going primal, as for every life-changing vision, is this. It’s not about the end result off in the distance. It’s the day-to-day effort of putting one foot in front of the other, making one primal choice at a time. (Check out the primal transition “6 Steps” post.) This kind of change is and will always be about daily commitment no matter how long you’ve been doing it. It’s not a static goal you can achieve, but that’s the beauty of the PB. You can’t “fail” at a lifestyle. A “diet” can seem like something you live up to or you don’t. But you build a life. You evolve through it. Some of it is great, and some of it isn’t pretty. But it’s yours – every day of it. Your primal lifestyle will be no less.

Beyond the psychological/social traps, there are indeed a few temporary physical effects to expect in the transition. Check out my take on the latest “study” suggesting that low-carb living compromises you cognitively. (Utter hogwash research.) That said, there is an inevitable transition time, as I also say. For most people there’s a little short-term memory haziness and for some a (usually very) modest physical fatigue as their bodies get off the constant carb merry-go-round. Any physical fatigue usually resolves itself within a few days but occasionally can take a couple weeks. Short-term memory fog lifts within a three-week window. Cutting carbs slowly over time (a few weeks) will definitely minimize this effect. Also, if you’re looking for quicker weight loss and want to eventually end in lower carb territory (50-100 grams), consider taking a few weeks to hold steady at moderate levels (100-150 grams) and then gradually step down from there. (It might help you avoid the one step forward, two steps backslide phenomenon that plagues a lot of dieters. Stability – slow and steady progress – can be the best approach sometimes. Good luck, and let me know how it goes!

Apples? What am I missing here? Advice, anecdotes, perspective to offer up? Thanks, as always, for the great questions and comments. Keep ‘em coming!

beautyfromashes Flickr Photo (CC)

Further Reading:

The Definitive Guide to the Primal Eating Plan

2008 30-Day Challenge Final Results

10 Ways to “Get Primal”

TAGS:  dear mark

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 more than three decades 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 flavorful and delicious kitchen staples crafted with premium ingredients like avocado oil. With over 70 condiments, sauces, oils, and dressings in their lineup, Primal Kitchen makes it easy to prep mouthwatering meals that fit into your lifestyle.

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