Dear Mark: Constantly Falling Off the Primal Wagon, Frozen Produce, and A Few More Carbs

DonutFor today’s Dear Mark, I answer three questions from readers. First, I give some advice to a reader with a knack for doing a week or two strict Primal and then falling promptly off the wagon into a pile of donuts. How can she make it stick – or should she? Next, I extoll the merits of freezing your freshly homegrown produce rather than rely on under-ripe fruits and vegetables from half a world away. Finally, I discuss what to do when you feel your performance in the gym diminishing.

Let’s go:

Dear Mark,

I have been an avid reader of your blog for over a year now. I have read the PB and other books from members of the paleo/primal community. I have seen first hand how much better I feel after even just a short period of time eliminating grains, sugars, and processed foods from my diet. However, it seems as if I can get through a week or two of primal eating and then my conscious, intellectual mind shuts down and I find myself face down in a pile of donuts. What gives? Why can’t I seem to make this stick? Any help or advice you can provide is greatly appreciated.


I might get some flack for my response to this question. You may find what I say to be sacrilege, or heresy. Just remember that it’s neither of those things, because this isn’t a religion. There is no dogma, just a series of choices. With that said, let’s get on with it.

If this keeps happening, if you can’t seem to suppress the urges to eat some junk, you should consider adopting the 80/20 rule. You’re already following it, let’s face it. You just don’t know it. For the most part, you eating the donuts every couple weeks is an inevitability. It’s going to happen. It’s happened every time so far. Sitting down and telling yourself “Let’s try the 80/20 rule, huh?” will change how you emotionally respond to the binge. You’ll accept the situation, not struggle in vain against it. And although there are physiological consequences to binging on junk food, I’d wager that most of the damage comes from the fight, the refusal to accept an inevitable situation, and the guilt you’re heaping on yourself for losing that fight.

Here’s what a formal adoption of the 80/20 rule gets you:

Acceptance: You’re no longer fighting something you can’t hope to win. I can’t think of anything harder or more stressful than struggling against an immovable force. Sure, you eating that donut may not be inevitable on a cosmic scale, but it’s happened every single time before like clockwork.

Freedom from guilt: Guilt about eating junk food can actually impair your immune system. By making occasional junk food dalliances part of your regular schedule rather than a betrayal of your body, you remove the guilt.

Most of the benefits of going Primal: You’re eating Primal for the better part of two weeks, having a binge meal or binge day, and then getting back on the horse for another two weeks before it happens again. That meal, that day isn’t undoing all the good you’ve done. This is the basis for the 80/20 rule.

Consider the post I wrote last year about how reframing our perception of stress can alter the physiological effects it has on us. If by telling ourselves that the stress response is a means of preparing our body to face the stressor we render the stress innocuous and even helpful, accepting and occasionally indulging the urge for junk food will soften the blow eating it deals to our health. If you’re going to eat it, eat it. There’s no sense in beating yourself up over it. I mean, you’re already eating the food, which may or may not cause problems, but then you’re feeling bad about it and wallowing in guilt, which absolutely will cause problems.

Eventually, acceptance that you’re going to mess up once in awhile and the realization that it’s not the end of the world may even take care of the situation and stop your fixation on junk food altogether. Let me know how that works out.

Hi Mark,

From reading MDA and PB I understand you are originally from Maine. That being the case I think you may understand my quandary.

I live in Canada and once the fall hits growing season is over! Access to local fresh produce is non-existent. I have an abundant garden and would like to freeze much of the produce.

What is your feeling on frozen organic produce vs produce which as made the long trips from southern climates? Is there much difference?

Thank you for taking the time to read this and thank you for your books and blog, they have changed my life!

Kind regards,

Ontario, Canada

Frozen produce usually beats trucked-in produce.

  • Produce from afar is often picked in an unripe state to increase durability during travel. A ripe, taut tomato whose fragile skin barely contains the juices within will taste better than almost anything, but it won’t make a cross-country trip in the bed of a truck.
  • As soon as a piece of produce is picked, nutrients begin to degrade. Produce frozen at the peak of ripeness lasts for a year or more with very little nutrient degradation. Minerals and phytochemicals are almost completely preserved. Vitamins are a little more vulnerable, but not enough to make freezing useless.

So yes, freeze your produce, but do it the right way. Don’t just pull broccoli from the ground and toss it in the freezer. Even though that’s freezing the vegetable in its freshest state, technically, it will degrade in the freezer without adequate preparation. You have to turn off the enzymes that convert sugars into starches, use up nutrients, and ruin the flavor and texture of the produce. How? By blanching.

There are two ways to blanch: with boiling water or with steam.

Water blanching involves submerging the vegetables in boiling water for a set amount of time; check this chart of blanching times and instructions for various vegetables. Steam blanching involves steaming the vegetables for a slightly longer time than boiling; refer to the previous chart and multiply the boiling times by 1.5 to get the proper steaming times. After boiling or steaming, the vegetables are placed in ice water to stop the cooking process, dried completely (use paper towels to get every last drop of water; this will prevent icing), placed into freezer bags with excess air sucked out, and frozen.

And yeah – it takes some time to do it. It’s not as simple as just freezing everything outright. To make this bearable, I suggest you make a day of it. Have your harvest laid out in front of you, get a cutting board ready, and get a bag for your trimmings. Prepare your freezer bags. Get a few big pots of boiling water going (or steamers, if you’re going that route) so you can do several batches. Assemble kitchen timers. Invite a helper or two (this is the perfect opportunity for kids to learn their way around a kitchen). You’re probably well-stocked with patience, seeing as how you’re a gardener.

Freezing may not always preserve everything perfectly. For instance, the blanching process makes sulforaphane, the broccoli compound with anti-cancer effects and the ability to improve detoxification pathways in the body, less bioavailable. Blanching at the slightly cooler 76 degrees ºC instead of the normal 86 degrees ºC can counteract this reduced bioavailability. And folate is a little more susceptible to degradation compared to other nutrients, especially if you upset the natural form of the vegetable with excessive cutting, slicing, or shredding. But for the most part, frozen produce is fresher and healthier and better-tasting than under-ripe produce that’s spent a few days in transit only to sit in a store for another few days.

Another benefit to freezing your own produce instead of relying on outside stuff: the satisfaction of consuming your hand-grown, hand-picked bounty all year long. Food tastes better and provides greater satisfaction (if not nutritional satiety) when you grow it yourself.

There’s also a school of thought that claims freezing by itself is enough to deactivate enzymes and preserve nutrients. These are the non-blanchers, and I’ll admit that their premise is attractive. However, since frozen food producers invariably blanch their vegetables before freezing, I’d lean toward blanching as an important and perhaps even necessary step for truly delicious, nutritious produce.

Dear Mark,

I am currently training with weights 3-4 times per week…usually 3. On off days I do about 20-30 minutes of interval training. I am also using the 50-100 gram of carb approach. I have lost about 25 lbs in 6-8 weeks from 251 down to 226. The only problem I have had recently is that my weights on my lifts seem to be going down a bit. It may be due to stress as I have a new job to adapt to, but I wonder also if I need to increase carb intake around training. Do you have an opinion on this kind of scenario?

I am suspicious that it is a little of both and I am considering adding some carbs, 30 grams or so of fruit or sweet potatoe, before AND after as an experiment…



I’m inclined to agree with you, Jason. It sounds like you’re dealing with an increase in stress and intense activity that a small increase in carbs could mitigate.

Intervals consume a fair bit of glycogen, especially 20-30 minutes of them. And if you’re doing 20-30 minutes of intervals on your off days, they cease to be off days. Those are on days, my friend. There’s nothing wrong with that, if that’s what you want to do and accept the consequences. But you have to support your body with ample fuel. You have to replenish that glycogen you’re burning up; the 30 grams pre- and post-workout from fruit and sweet potato will probably do it.

Some would have you up the carbs to 300-400 a day, and I think that’s really overdoing it. We often overestimate just how many carbs we need to fuel our activity. You need some, particularly on a heavy schedule like your own, but a little bit really does go a long way. Fat adaptation, which lowers the use of glycogen during a workout (but doesn’t completely abolish it), helps your glycogen last even longer so you need fewer carbs to get the same effect. The beauty of doing high intensity intervals (or sprinting) is that your muscle’s ability to burn fat and carbohydrate are both enhanced, so there’s no problem consuming both.

That’s it for today, folks. Thanks for reading!

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 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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