Dear Mark: Conditioning Bare Feet for Rough Surfaces, and Residual Weight Gain After a Miscarriage

BarefootFor today’s edition of Dear Mark, I answer two good questions from readers. First up, I discuss the conditioning of bare feet for the purposes of walking across a multitude of surfaces. Believe it or not, much of the conditioning happens upstairs – in the brain. Then I give a little advice to a woman who’s having trouble losing stubborn weight after a miscarriage. She’s doing everything right without getting anywhere; could that actually be the problem?

Let’s go:

I recently started really conditioning the bottoms of my feet. I am interested in the lower leg-strength benefits, as well as ‘blister-proofing’ my feet for better performance in sporting events.

My question is, how long until it stops hurting to walk across surfaces such as gravel? Also, any tips for conditioning the bottom of the arch? The pads are toughening up nicely, but the arch lags far behind (I do not have high arches).



A few tips:

Avoid excessive callouses. Experienced barefooters talk about turning the bottom of the feet into supple leather, not hardened callous. You want to feel the ground to facilitate the boost in proprioceptive awareness between mind, body, and environment offered by barefooting.

Step straight down. Don’t slide your foot along the surface. Don’t drag your feet. Don’t stub your toe. Place your foot down. Any rough, abrasive surfaces or protruding sharp objects you encounter will be a lot less bothersome if you’re coming straight down on them, rather than dragging your soles across.

Step lightly. Ideally, you’ll be taking shorter, lighter steps when barefoot. This reduces the weight of your footfall, which has two benefits. You’re not coming down so hard, so it’s less painful when you step on gravel. You’re also not committing so much to your step when you take a short one, allowing you to respond to an inhospitable surface more quickly and remove your foot from the situation.

Change your perception of “pain.” Pain hurts, yes. That’s the point of it – to keep us out of harm’s way. But I think the key to barefooting over any surface is the remodeling of how we perceive pain. And the pain of walking over rocks or gravel with bare feet is just the shock of a sheltered foot suddenly thrust into a new situation. The “pain” doesn’t ever really go away. You don’t stop feeling the gravel bits. You do, however, start thinking of the pain as information. Data for a fuller picture of the environment. After that, it stops hurting so much.

Hope it helps! Keep at it!

Dear Mark,

I am hoping that you can help me! Four years ago, Primal Blueprint changed my life. I have been living primally ever since I finished your book. I initially lost about 25 pounds and I have kept the weight off. Over the past two years, I have gradually lost weight, maybe about 10 pounds or so. I have experienced plateaus before but have pushed through them and continued to effortlessly lose weight.

I got married a few months ago and the ladies at the alterations place were getting a little irritated with me because every time I came in for a fitting, they had to keep sizing down my dress!

I also recently experienced an early miscarriage, the doctor said it was due to a chromosomal irregularity so my body rejected the pregnancy. I had packed on 10 pounds up until the miscarriage. Now I am finding it next to impossible to lose the weight. Because I was experiencing such difficulties, I have really been vigilant regarding my carb intake. I have eliminated dairy completely (no more full fat raw cheese snacks for me!). I also eliminated fruits and just allow myself to have some berries for a snack or dessert occasionally. I’m exercising more than I have in the past: walking two miles in the mornings, biking four miles in the evening and lifting heavy things three times a week. So I don’t understand why the weight isn’t melting away as it has done so easily and consistently before. I’ve really just been eating high quality grassfed meat, wild caught local fish, pastured eggs, pastured bacon that my husband and I have cured ourselves, organic vegetables and organic berries.

I even went back to the doctor to have my hormone levels checked along with a complete blood panel and everything came back perfect!

If you can shed any light on this, I would really appreciate it!!

Thanks in advance, Mark!


In your case, I’m actually going to suggest that you ease up on everything. The diet, the carb and cheese elimination, the berry fears, the increased exercise, the micromanagement of your lifestyle, all that.

I know lots of women who have had a miscarriage, and almost without exception they’ve all experienced residual, nagging, stubborn weight gain in the months after. And growing more and more strict with the diet and exercise doesn’t really seem to work. In fact, it’s actually counterproductive (which, I think, is what you’re experiencing). The more you fine tune, the more stubborn the fat becomes. It may not be your food that’s the issue. Rather, it may be your mindset. You’ve gone through what can be a pretty traumatic experience, and you certainly don’t need any more stress in your life at this time.

Take full advantage of the 80/20 rule. Ease up on the diet. Stick to Primal fare, but eat the things that you’ve been consciously eliminating, like berries and even other fruit.

Eat that full-fat cheese. Besides, a recent study just confirmed that people with the highest blood levels of certain dairy-related phospholipids and fatty acids are the most insulin sensitive. That’s right: eating full-fat dairy likely increases your insulin sensitivity and carb tolerance.

Exercise: Stick with the walks, but don’t force yourself to do them. If you honestly feel like walking, then walk. If you’re lagging one morning and feel like snuggling up under a blanket with some tea, skip the walk and go with the blanket.

I’d ditch the bike rides, unless they are truly leisurely and meandering. No hard bike sprints, no uphill climbs where you’re gripping the handle bars til your knuckles run white and your jaw muscles clench.

Lift twice a week. And opt for heavier weights, lower reps. Less volume overall.

Try to replace two or three of your workouts with play bouts, or playouts (as Darryl Edwards would say). If you’re out of ideas, try some of these on for size.

Try all (or some of) this for a few weeks and see if things start moving in the right direction. Be sure to write back if you need anything else. Good luck! It’ll get better, I promise!

That’s it for today, folks. Thanks for reading and keep the questions coming!

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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53 thoughts on “Dear Mark: Conditioning Bare Feet for Rough Surfaces, and Residual Weight Gain After a Miscarriage”

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  1. For all barefooters, check the lengt of each leg before you start this adventure! Most people have different leg lengt and its very importand for your skeleton stability to keep in balance.

  2. If you’re having that much pain from walking on bare surfaces….there might be a time to say it’s okay to wear something over your feet. It’s 2013…we don’t need to live EXACTLY like a caveman.

    1. You’re soooo right. In fact, I’m going to have some Kraft Mac n cheese with Oscar Meyer hot dogs in it for dinner instead of cooking tonight….it’s 2013 after all.

      1. Right, and Native Americans should never have worn moccasins because those are SO BAD for your feet!

  3. Great advice today! I think that the suggestions you gave Maria could also work for others experiencing similar weight loss plateaus when over-management is the culprit.

  4. Buy a Revlon Ped Egg for the callouses on the feet. Nothing works better, I swear. I use them for my hands while doing pulling work and have never had a rip since.

  5. “callous”

    You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

    Try “callus”.

        1. I found two meanings: yes, “callous” is an adjective. “Callous”, as stated in a post below, is also a variant spelling to the noun “callus”. No need to be a word “see the eighth rhyming word in Merriam’s” about it.

    1. “Callous: noun 1.variant spelling of callus.”

      It never pays to be pedantic when there are reference sources — many of which are much more authoritative than Random Internet Guy — so easily available online.

  6. This post is really interesting. I always wonder how someone prepared themselves or trained, or whatever you call it, to get to the point that they can just go around anywhere barefoot, especially run or exercise barefoot. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Practice and persistence.
      I was a country kid, on a gravel road. I could deal with just about anything except one very specific kind of obnoxious thistle. And July pavement. But nobody should do that to themselves.
      Three years in the city, where I wasn’t even allowed out of my apartment without shoes on, and dammit I swear even the grass hurts. But I will not indulge my pampered tootsies. Darnit, You walk on the gravel road, you bastards! You used to run barefoot through six inches of snow! 😉

  7. So the reason for the post-miscarriage weight gain and difficulty with weight loss has to do with the stress of the whole thing?

    I’d imagine there must be a large hormonal component to it as well since the body is still winding down from the possible pregnancy. When pregnant, I think the body begins to go into ‘energy storage mode’ for the new baby… but it may take a while for the body to transition out of ‘energy storage mode’ despite the miscarriage.

    In any case, taking it easy during this transition seems like the best course of action.

    1. Hormones! They can be out of whack for a while.

      Sometimes it’s hard to actually do less exercise, because for many of us exercise is a way of re-asserting control over our lives, which is especially important for mental health after an experience like this, over which we have no control.

      I would say try not to focus on the weight and focus instead on becoming as healthy as possible. The weight will work itself out.

      1. Agree with both of the above posters about the body needing time to readjust hormonally and the exercise being OK.

    2. Thank you for the post – I think the second answer also pertains to hormonal changes due to stress (as someone above mentioned), which I have definitely experienced! I lost fifteen pounds with primal, but gained ten back – my doctors told me to take it easy, because I’d been through a lot of stress, but of course I added more stress by worrying about my weight gain and doing things to counter it. I started cutting out fruit and nuts, but then would binge on them if they were in the refrigerator, since I had whittled down my self-control by not allowing myself to eat them when I wanted and needed them normally. I’m still trying to take it easy on myself by eating, but I’ve definitely noticed that my energy has been better (despite severe lack of sleep recently) when I don’t severely restrict what foods I eat. This post was a really good reminder to just take care of myself instead of strategizing too much about what I should and should not do each day.

  8. Good info about transitioning to barefoot, Mark, but you’re focusing only on the skin sensitivity issues and missing a perhaps bigger part (and the first objective Adam mentioned he was interested in): strength, stamina, and toughness of the muscles and connective tissue in the feet and lower legs. This can be a very significant source of pain, cramping, and soreness for many wanna-be barefooters. A daily practice of plantar massage with a lacrosse ball during the adaptation period is a tremendous help if this is an issue.

    Another potential issue with being comfortable barefoot is exposure to cold. Not ‘pain’ per se but maybe just more “information about the environment” than you thought you wanted. Over time, I’ve noticed that though my feet might feel cold to the touch, they are not uncomfortable. The increased movement of the feet and toes, and thus increased circulation, does help mitigate this.

    The fastest way to adapt is of course to just commit to it, suck it up, and stop wearing shoes… as long as you can mitigate the side effects and not overrun your capacity to adapt. Sounds like so many other things, huh?

  9. careful bjjcaveman, the lady did not miscarry a “possible” pregnancy, it was a very real pregnancy and a very real loss. I agree that the body may need time to the adjust to the whole “there is no more baby in utero and I am not breastfeeding” thing.

  10. Adam asked about toughening the arches of his feet. I have a similar issue of relatively tender arches compared to my pads. I’ve been experimenting with climbing small-diameter trees barefoot, which tends to engage the arches of the feet and expose them to more contact, in this case, with the tree bark. I have a hard time doing it enough to have much impact, but it’s fun!

    1. You might also just be flatfooted. There’s not much for that but time, practice and patience, to strengthen your arches up where they should be. Speaking as a country kid, if you don’t trust the ground, your entire stride changes; you land on your toes and your weight doesn’t come on your front foot until you’re sure it’s safe (though where exactly it *is* until that point is malleable).

      1. I was referring to the toughness of the skin not the strength of the plantar fascia. When you walk and run barefoot on smooth surfaces, your arches don’t make contact, so that skin stays relatively tender. It’s not from being flatfooted. Then you walk or run on an uneven surface and some wood chip or rock pokes your arch and goes right through the skin. That said, I think the walking technique you’re describing is pretty applicable in certain situations as well, like when there are briars or other hazards.

  11. Love the hat tip to Darryl Edwards! I think that he has got playing for fitness down!

  12. People are often surprised at how supple my feet are given that I walk nearly all summer barefoot on all kinds of terrain. Start slowly with going barefoot in the spring and increase the time spent barefoot as the season progresses. Even though I can walk on gravel, it is a different kind of walking than if my feet were shod; I have to walk a little more gingerly and cautiously, which translates into a slower pace.

    I do have heel calluses which don’t bother me save for how they look. :-p

  13. For those of you who don’t want your heels to look like the picture, you might try a product called “Baby Foot” (its on amazon). I had rough dry flaky skin on my heels for years, and pumice stones, soaking, cream, etc didn’t help. I didn’t like the way my feet looked or felt, so a few weeks ago, I decided to try this product. I followed someone’s tip on amazon who said soak your feet in warm water everyday to promote the peeling. The box says it takes 5-7 days before you notice any peeling…and that’s exactly what happened to me. Nothing for 5 days, and I was thinking I had wasted my money, then on day 5, I was rubbing my wet feet with a towel after soaking and the peeling started. After a week of peeling I now have heels as smooth as a peach. I know this isn’t “primal” but I thought it sort of applied to today’s topic. 🙂

  14. Very nice information about cracked feet or heels. You can also have good success removing the dead skin by just soaking your feet in warm water with about 1/2 cup epsom salts, works very good.

    1. I rub a little coconut oil into my feet after a shower. Keeps them nice and smooth/soft.

  15. Dear Mark,

    Much like your lady writer, I also cannot lose weight. Miscarriage is surely a big shock on the body and it make take a year for the hormones to transition away from this state before she sees its effects.

    I have been think all my life. I now am 40 lbs overweight. unexplained rapid weight gain and I need your help.

    I also do 5 hours of cardio a week, 2 hours of weight training a week. I eat super clean. I don’t have a sweet tooth, don’t drink sodas, only water. I stopped eating carbs about 6 months ago.

    I have been to 2 dozen doctors, 6 personal trainers, 3 hyponotherapists, 3 nutritionists, 3 doctors who have prescribed bio identical hormones….everything checks out normal. they cant figure out whats wrong.

    6 years ago I had a double hernia that was caused from a popped suture during a previous surgery (ovarian cyst). no weight gain after cyst (which was super invasive). weight started to come on after the second surgery (which also was very invasive). ive gained 40 lbs in 6 years.

    any ideas??

    any ideas??

    1. You’re working too hard for the amount of carbs you’re eating. Drop the cardio, or put back on the carbs. Either will do, though dropping the cardio is probably better given the stress you’re under.
      Girls bodies aren’t like boys bodies. They can abuse themselves and never seem to feel it. We need more carbs more consistently than they do; VLC does horrors to our systems; unless you need it for something else like brain issues it’s totally not worth it. We react worse to stress than they do. We get stuck in feedback loops harder than they do. It’s not fair, but it’s part of what lets us live longer so I guess that’s something, right?

      1. I agree. 🙂 Either put back the carbs or drop the workload.

        Speculation 1: There’s been no “real” recovery since the 2nd surgery. Body is still in stress mode from it and 7 hours of intense exercise a week isn’t helping.

        Speculation 2: Body is going through “the change” and weight loss will be harder. Focus on feeling as good as you can and allow your body weight to be what it is.

        Speculation 3: You don’t really like the advise to relax a little as *somebody* must have suggested all of the above with army of experts you’ve seen. Advise that’s never taken has not been known to work really well. 😉

        1. Well, it’s wayyyy too much cardio. It’s cronic, and it has to stop.

        2. Pregnancy hormones are miraculous and stubborn. Be easy on yourself and give your body time to adjust back to pre-pregnancy hormone levels. There are so many complicated systems that contribute to pregnancy.
          Sorry about your angel baby. Be well.

    2. Has anyone mentioned (or tested for) adrenal fatigue and thyroid problems? And no, the TSH test is not anywhere NEAR sufficient (or accurate!) Please go read up on the website “Stop the Thyroid Madness” — this is a(nother) body part/system that needs you to be educated about because your doctor will just NOT KNOW enough to help you!

    3. Just a thought, could it be anything to do with altered digestion following the surgery? The stress of surgery on the body and any antibiotics given at the time can alter gut flora.

      I had appendix surgery a few years ago and not long after suddenly developed IBS, gluten intolerance, appetite changes etc. Eating grain free and taking probiotics improved things (if I now accidentally have gluten when eating out etc. it doesn’t bother me anymore).

      I guess my point is, could your issue be related to gut health? If so, perhaps probiotics and/or some live yogurt (if you allow dairy) could help.

  16. When running on rough surfaces…it also helps to bend the knees, while keeping torso/head straight and “sink” into the rough surface. One way I do this is to pretend that my feet are actually “sinking” into the ground as if it were very soft sand or mud. This has the effect of your feet sort of forming around the roughness of the ground…rather than pushing against the ground, which would cause more pain. Just relax and bend your knees, letting your body/feet “sink” into the rough surface.

  17. I find it best to condition the bottom of my feet by being consistent with it, and not letting too much time pass between barefoot excursions. In time, it’ll all pan out nicely and toughen up the way you need it most.

  18. This is so interesting. I never gave it thought about barefoot on rough terrain. Of course it makes sense to step straight down. I’m not sure I’m ready to make any kind of switch to the barefoot lifestyle quite yet but at least I know how to go about it. Thanks for posting such interesting information.

  19. Great advice on barefooting. My friends are always shocked when I walk over gravel with my bare feet and ask “Doesn’t that hurt?!” This post really nails it! My two big ones are change your perception of pain and tread lightly. If you stomp your foot down on rocks like a Clydesdale it is going to hurt… Be more aware of what you are going to step on and adjust accordingly.

    That is one of the reasons I love it. It makes me feel more present and aware of my surroundings

  20. For the heel cracking – wear some real shearling slippers/mocassins around a bit each day. It’s the lanolin in the fleece that help keep the skin nice – has to be real shearling or sheepskin. Works for me. There is even re-lanolizing wash for sheepskin if the softening power wears off.

  21. I had 3 miscarriages in a year, gaining 5 pounds with each one that I couldn’t get rid of. Even after having my 3 kids, I wasn’t able to drop that weight. I finally saw a holistic doctor that did saliva testing on my hormones and determined I had very low progesterone that didn’t show on blood tests. I’ve been on compounded progesterone for 6 years. I’ve dropped the weight and have more energy than ever. Try some of the other suggestions but you know your body. If you feel that something is still “off” don’t give up. You will find the solution.

    By the way that was the exact reason I was miscarrying. After treatment I went on to have 3 awesome kids. So don’t give up there either 🙂

    1. The progesterone treatment is important for some women. I had a miscarriage the first time I was pregnant. My second two pregnancies I was on progesterone through the first trimester and everything went very well.

      I wish the best for you.

  22. Mark (and Maria) I read your reply to Maria and started crying – what you said makes so much sense. I have had 5 miscarriages in the last 18 months (I have a chromosomal translocation, so only 1 in 3 of my eggs is viable and the others miscarry at around 9 weeks) and the weight that creeps on is just not shifting, no matter how strict I am.

    I am fortunate to have a gorgeous 3 year old son, so I know that I can have a healthy baby, Which eliminates one component of the stress, but I hadn’t actually considered that I perhaps hadn’t let myself heal and recover after each one. The amount of hormones that are swirling around those first few weeks is huge, but I spose I always treated it as though I hadn’t made it to 12 weeks, so it should be an automatic recovery.

    Maria, look after yourself, give yourself time, and let your body heal itself with good, real food and play. I’m going to reevaluate what I have been doing and stop being so angry with my body and let it do it’s job.

    Thank you both for the question and answer x

  23. When I was a kid at the beginning of summer the asphalt hurt, it burned our feet. The sidewalks were better. By the end of summer we could play frisbee on the hot asphalt and not even feel all those little rocks or get our feet burned. It’s a lot harder as an adult. You just have to go barefoot all the time when you’re at home and get used to it. My neighbor does that and he can walk around barefoot outside all the time. Me? Not so much. I’m a wuss.

  24. ‘Don’t stub your toe’… Easier said than done. I think my big toe has been bleeding/ scabbed over almost constantly for the three years since I started going barefoot.

    Good point about pain tolerance, I can run on gravel without really thinking about it, but I still get the feeling of joy when you step onto soft grass or into a pile of wet, sloppy mud!

    1. Like the old song “It’s a treat to beat your feet on the Mississippi mud”
      Somewhere inside goes ew but it feels good at the same time.

  25. Hi Mark!

    I would like to pass along a big “thank you” for including this in your post:

    “Exercise: Stick with the walks, but don’t force yourself to do them. If you honestly feel like walking, then walk. If you’re lagging one morning and feel like snuggling up under a blanket with some tea, skip the walk and go with the blanket.”

    Most of the time, we are way too hard on ourselves. It’s alright to skip a workout or indulge every now and then. These moments are the building blocks to our success.

  26. First of all big hugs, Maria, on your loss. Give yourself time to heal, physically and emotionally.

    I too needed progesterone therapy twice to carry both of my boys into this world. You may want to research the progesterone and discuss it with your OB/GYN.

    Best wishes to you.

  27. Just wanted to say I really appreciated Mark’s response to Maria. I thought was kind and helpful and encouraging. And just nice. Really, really nice. It’s no fun when you feel like you’re doing everything right and the weight doesn’t shift.

  28. “Pain” is perception of the threat or existence of damage. When I first started going barefoot everywhere, gravel set off alarm bells, and small rocks on pavement even more so. After some weeks, I realized that ALL of those painful incidents were false alarms. Shortly after that they ceased to be painful.

    An analogy I once read:
    When deaf people first get cochlear implants, even very quiet sounds are perceived as painful. This is not because they are actually threatening or damaging, but because they are novel stimuli. The brain does not know what the sensation intensity means, so it classifies the unknown as “threatening” (=”painful”) until further notice.