Dial in Your Carb Count

Most folks who decide to give the Primal Blueprint 30-Day Challenge the old college try do so to correct an underlying health issue. Maybe their cardiologist’s recommended dietary plan hasn’t been improving their lipid numbers as promised, or perhaps they’re sick of fighting a losing battle with diabetes by submitting to a daily pharmaceutical cocktail that appears increasingly ineffective. Gentle (or not so gentle) prodding from coworkers and loved ones with incredible results is another common motivating factor. But, above all, most people get involved with this Primal stuff because they want to lose weight without stressing over calorie counts, fat grams, and endless hours on the treadmill. And in order to do that – in order to lean out effortlessly and maintain that leanness – it’s vitally important that you dial in your carb count.

Now, different people will be able to handle different amounts of carbohydrates differently. Highly active athletes will do a bit better with more carbs, since their energy demands will be higher than sedentary people. Diabetics will do better on fewer carbs, since they’re mostly unable to physiologically manage normal carbohydrate metabolism. But as for your basic, average, everyday man or woman who takes care of kids, goes to work every day, sits in traffic – you know, pretty much everyone with any type of daily responsibility – and finds his or her belly getting a bit larger and looser, honing in on the type and amount of dietary carbohydrates is vital. Those are the folks who need this info most: the average person with a bit of metabolic derangement, possibly even drifting toward diabetic status after years on the standard American (or any other industrialized nation) diet. They’re the most likely to be using the Internet to look for info on nutrition, the most likely to stumble upon Mark’s Daily Apple and the Primal challenge, and the most suitable audience for my PB Carbohydrate Curve.

What’s Wrong with Carbs Anyway?

Carbohydrates aren’t bad in and of themselves, but they have the distinct, unique ability to really ravage a metabolically disturbed individual’s body. If you’re overweight, as most people in the United States are, it’s very likely that your carbohydrate metabolism is dysfunctional. You’re probably insulin resistant and even moderate amounts of carbs will do a real number on you, causing a dangerous hormonal cascade: insulin is released to deal with the influx of glucose, but your cells are resistant to it; your blood sugar spikes and the pancreas secretes even more insulin; all that insulin prevents the release of fat from adipose tissue, so you’re not burning any body fat; eventually, since fat cells are resistant and muscle cells are resistant and probably replete, that glucose has nowhere to go but to the liver for conversion into glycogen; the liver fills up pretty quickly, though, after which additional glucose is converted into fatty acids and packaged into lipoproteins; those lipoproteins are then ushered into adipose tissue for conversion to triglyceride, or nice healthy chunks of body fat. You’re probably somewhat sedentary (many jobs, for example, involve eight hours of sitting each day), meaning your muscle glycogen (glucose-derived energy) stores generally stay full, and more carbs means more glucose which will have no where to go but into fat cells. You’re probably exposed to processed food on a daily basis, most of which is carb-and-sugar-based. So, we have a perfect metabolic storm: people eat too much sugar, grain, and vegetable oil, thus destroying their metabolisms and making any amount of carbohydrate a potential problem; they don’t move around enough, so they’re not burning any of the glucose for muscle energy; and everywhere they turn, cheap, simple, and refined carbs wink suggestively, confident that the time-strapped and stressed individual will succumb.

The Primal Blueprint Carbohydrate Curve

0-50 grams per day: Easy, effortless weight loss for any and everyone. Diabetics and the severely obese may find it useful to remain in this zone, while others might employ it now and then to jumpstart weight loss or break a plateau.

50-100 grams per day: Steady, gradual weight loss. This is the sweet spot, in my opinion. You can still enjoy a wide variety of foods and lose weight slowly but surely.

100-150 grams per day: If you just want to maintain, I recommend this level. Hardcore athletes may want to increase them a bit, but your average Primal exerciser and eater will maintain supreme leanness, health, and performance at 100-150 grams per day.

150-300 grams per day: Steady, insidious weight gain. It’ll creep up on you. Just look around next time you’re at a high school reunion – people gain weight at this level without even realizing it.

300+ grams per day: Unless you’re an extreme endurance athlete, 300+ grams of carbs per day will inevitably show on your waistline. Tragically, the average “healthy” American diet reaches this carb count pretty consistently.

Knowing where you stand doesn’t have to be difficult, though, and paying attention to a few simple ideas and tactics will keep you dialed in and aware of your place on the curve.


Though the Primal Blueprint is not about counting calories, macronutrient-counting tools can be utilized to keep track of carbohydrate intake. Eventually, as you get acclimated to the eating style and the way it makes your body feel, you’ll instinctively know what to eat without straying over. But for you beginners, opening a free FitDay account can make a huge difference. I have one myself, as do most of my readers – so head over to FitDay, create an account, and begin tracking your carbs. I recommend doing it for 2-3 days to get a sense of what your eating patterns are like now, and then again once you feel like you’ve made some significant changes.

Carb Creep

Your first few days on FitDay will be eye opening. Carbs are seemingly everywhere. You go out to eat and order a garden salad piled high with steak. Good choice, right? You figure you’re being the Primal exemplar – except that balsamic vinaigrette was made with high fructose corn syrup and comes loaded with 20g of sugar per serving. Okay, okay. You learned your lesson: ask for olive oil and vinegar instead. Next, you grab a fruit salad instead of a sandwich for lunch and pat yourself on the back for making the right choice. You get home and enter the whole shebang into FitDay and convulse in horror. Seems that watermelon and pineapple wasn’t so innocent after all. Next time, you’ll be sure to go light on the fruit.

Carbs creep up on you, especially when you’re eating out or relying on processed, packaged food. You’ve got to be vigilant, perhaps almost annoyingly so at first, but it pays off. You learn to cook your own food (control your own dietary destiny), make smart decisions when out (mustard instead of ketchup; oil and vinegar instead of dressing; cottage cheese or tomato slices instead of hash browns), and you develop an eye for hidden carb sources. Once it becomes second nature, it’ll get even easier, and you won’t think twice about carb creep.

Where do you fit on the Carb Curve? Where do you want to be in order to achieve the goals you’ve set? By using FitDay, staying aware of carb creep, understanding where you belong on the Curve, and developing your inner carb avoidance intuition, dialing in on your carb count will be one of the most rewarding aspects of the 30-Day Primal Challenge.

For further reading on insulin resistance, body fat accumulation, and how carbs figure into it, check out these popular previous posts:

How to Succeed with the Primal Blueprint

The Definitive Guide to the Primal Blueprint Eating Plan

The Context of Calories

The Definitive Guide to Insulin, Blood Sugar & Type 2 Diabetes (and you’ll understand it)

My FitDay Results

How have things gone for you so far on this 30-day challenge? Any difficulties? Early successes? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comment board!

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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103 thoughts on “Dial in Your Carb Count”

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  1. Great post for the noobs and regulars alike. It’s always nice to have a reminder of the basics.

  2. It amazes me, I eat whatever I want (thankfully I always crave for primal stuff) and I eat a pack of chocolate daily (% 30 cacao % 35 hazelnuts) and I still lose weight! What have I done to gain it in the first place?!

  3. I haven’t seen effortless weight loss yet, even though I have kept my carbs under 50 almost everyday since March. But it has stopped the steady climb in weight, so I am glad about that. I just started with the 5 essential moves last week, and I am cutting way back on dairy. Maybe then I’ll see some effortless weight loss!

    1. You will for sure see a difference! I was a big milk drinker, I never realized how much sugar there was in milk. Read the Primal Blueprint, take notes, I even would highlight things I could work on. If you implement everything on this website, and everything in the book, you can’t go wrong. Last week I was 232 lbs, today I weighed in at 228! It will come, just be patient and consistent. Good luck!

      1. Thanks so much Katie, and congrats on a great one week loss! Yeah, I still have a lot of reading to do…so much great information here. I know you are right, and I am going to stick with it!

    2. I have also had trouble losing any weight on this plan even with very low carbs. I have also cut out dairy. I’m beginning to think that women tend to eat more fruit, not because they have more of a sweet tooth than men, but because fruit is a mini-meal that you don’t typically add sauces and dressings to. It keeps the calories down but does up the carbs a bit. I don’t like fruit all that much, but I have been snacking on leftovers, meat, cheese, nuts, etc. In the coming days, instead of going for lower and lower carb in the face of zero “effortless” weight loss, I’m planning to up my fruit intake in an effort to control calories without having to record everything I eat. I think 2 pieces of fruit a day (replacing my usual nuts and meats snacks) will make the difference.

      1. You may want to try intermittent fasting too. That would eliminate the small insulin spikes from the snacks and let your body focus on fat burning. The added bonus is stopping the insulin spikes should stop your cravings until you actually need to eat. So long as you’re getting enough fat in your meals, it’s surprisingly easy.

        Just my results I know, and I can’t speak to weight loss yet (I haven’t weighed myself yet), but I’ve been under 50g of carbs a day for a week now (usually around 40g), and IF has been amazingly easy. I tend to get a little hungry right out of bed, but that usually goes away until about 30 minutes before my eating window begins.

        Doing this I have a hard time eating more than 2,000 calories a day. I’ve been simply shocked by what I’m seeing on FitDay.

        I have read that people who snack a lot have a hard time adjusting to IF (I was a 3 square meals guy, not a snacker), but if you can manage it it would stop the insulin spikes from your snacking and let your body focus on burning fat for energy.

        I just have to say, it’s only been a week but my eating is so under control and I feel so much better throughout the day I think it’s worth it even if I never loose a pound. I know I will though, FitDay estimates a 2,000 calorie daily deficit for me, and I haven’t been hungry at all.

  4. I lose weight and can maintain comfortably on this diet and I love it.

    After reading many posts on Lyle McDonald’s forums, it suggests that the only reason why low carb diets work is the appetite restriction that they cause. Calories in v calories out every time. “insulin does not matter”

    Is this true? is this the only component to why the plan works? Or is it that when I do eat over maintenace calories on the PB, they are more likely to go towards muscle than fat and this is why it has produced some (pretty amazing if i do say so my self) results?



    1. First off its near impossible to store body fat without insulin, because insulins role, at least one of its major ones, is to transport energy to the cells. Basically with high levels of insulin you are able to transport more energy to your fat cells. With low levels of insulin, you cannot store this energy as fat, so your body simply burns the energy off through whats called futile cycles. Here are a couple of good blogs by Dr Michael Eades that explain.



      Just for fun though, lets assume they are correct and insulin has nothing to do with it and calories do. What would happen?

      If I was to eat a low fat/ high carbohydrate diet like the one that is recommended, and tried to eat less calories, I would fail. High carb meals only leave you feeling tired, sluggish, and incredibly hungry a few hours after eating. Basically I would need a lot of will power and the willingness to be miserable and depressed to succeed at this diet.

      But when I eat a low carb/high fat diet, I stay satiated much longer. In fact, my general rule, as with most low carb followers, is , eat when you are hungry, as much as you want, and if you are not hungry, simply don’t eat. So eating this way, I wont get hungry for hours. After a good solid breakfast, usually I might not even get hungry until mid to late afternoon, and that meal will carry me through the night. I also tend to get full faster so I eat smaller portions.

      So yes, they are somewhat right, I am in fact eating less calories. But the difference is, I am not forcing myself to do so. I am simply doing so out of what feels right for my body. So, even though we know there is much more to it, even if its simply calorie restriction, the Primal/Paleo/Low-Carb diet is still superior and wins out every time

    2. David, insulin definitely does matter. Insulin resistance is a side-effect of high carb diets and contributes to a whole cascade of health problems, not just weight gain. Also, the amount of appropriate calories (for you) depends on, among other things, the source and your activity level.

      Of course, don’t just take my word for it; Mark has a great post about the context of calories that will probably be able to answer your questions.


      Hope this helps!

    3. As I understand it, your insulin receptors have a big effect on appetite, so in this case it’s a double-whammy — reducing your insulin resistance helps your appetite normalize, and also of course lower-carb food is digested more slowly which helps you feel full for longer.

      The net result from either effect is fewer calories eaten, so you’re likely to lose weight.

      1. Yeah, I believe actual weight loss is only a factor of total calories – the evidence for that is the fact that you can accurately estimate how many pounds of fat you’ll lose in a week by counting up your calorie deficit and dividing by 3500 – the number of calories in a pound of fat.

        However, like Jenny said, carbs spike your blood glucose, which spikes your insulin, which causes insulin resistance, which further spikes your insulin, which drops your blood glucose too low, which triggers appetite.

        The net result may be calories in – calories out, but keeping your calories in low is all about keeping your insulin low.

        I know it works for me, because a week ago I was averaging 3500 calories a day (at least, I’m probably underestimating desserts after meals) on a semi-health conscious SAD, but the day, the DAY I decided to try Paleo I couldn’t manage to eat more than 1800 calories, and I was stuffing my face with beef. I have averaged 2,000 calories and less than 50 carbs since, and I rarely get hunger pangs (usually right before my window to eat).

        It feels great.

  5. I’m amazed that in three weeks of actually watching my carbs just how much weight and bloat I’ve lost. 14 pounds so far. Just looking at pictures of me a month ago and seeing what I look like now is crazy. And other people notice it too.

    It was hard to get there too, because carbs are in EVERYTHING. And I was addicted to them. Sometimes I still have to grab a slice a pizza, but I try to keep that to a minimum. But I’m never starving, and I can eat so much that I like.

    My roommate doesn’t believe me that carbs are a problem. But then he’s a strict vegan so that’s not surprising. And the evidence is clear that the SAD is bad, bad for you. I feel better, and I sleep better. Heck, I have depression problems, and they are nowhere near as bad as before.

    I’m so glad I stumbled upon this site. Thanks Mark!

  6. A few years ago, my FBG was 120.
    Mind you I never was overweight.
    Diabetes does run in the family.
    The doctor wanted me on meds. I said no way.
    I said I’ll try some alternatives first.
    I saw what the doctors did for my Diabetic father and grandfather…. Nothing…Except assist them to deteriorate.
    They eventually died of Diabetic complications.
    Yes, I know my odds.
    Years ago I read about controlling one’s Genetic expression.
    I knew that I had to reduce my Carbs and get exercising, among other things.
    Here I am four years later and my FBG is about 85, A1C around 5.0
    A while ago I learned of the PB Lifestyle.
    I’m good for about a 90% adherence and
    I’ve never felt better.
    I’m also on Male BHRT.
    I take zero drugstore meds and a bunch of supplements.
    You try and talk to friends and family, but they don’t listen.
    It’s as if they feel sickness and medication are the norm.
    They’ve bought into “CW”.
    It’s almost beyond my belief that the Medical/Health System is so corrupted.
    But it’s pretty obvious.
    Anyway… thanks to all here, who help those willing to listen… even if it’s only 90%. lol

    1. Larry man I have the same exact story with my father, which is what brought me here too. Good luck with your primal journey man!

  7. Mark,

    A question about using FitDay:
    Why is it that after vehemently rejecting the RDA on carbs, fats, and proteins, we sheepishly accept them for vitamins and minerals? For example, does the research really support the CW on dietary calcium or are we just going along because it’s easy?

    1. I think there is strong evidence for the minerals and vitamins we need, the only real question about them in nutrition is where to get them.

      Meat and sunshine will get you the most important ones, but some will have to come from somewhere else. That’s what you’ve got that 50-150g of carb window for, depending on what you’re doing.

      If you’re not willing to get them there (by eating a few fruits and veggies) then you’ll need to supplement somehow, as you’ll eventually become deficient (with varying consequences for each deficiency).

      This is something I know raw foodists tend to have issues with as well, and it’s easy for paleo to fall into the same trap for different vitamins and minerals.

      1. Not exactly true. The more carbs you eat, the more vitamins and minerals you need to replace those lost by injesting carbs, like Vitamin C, iron and calcium. I avoid this by avoiding carbs. I have been Zero Carb, which I count as under the primal umbrella, for 18 months as of today, with no deficiencies. I have 15% bodyfat and actively lift weights, hike and walk.

      2. Because people still come here and read this, even though I’m really late on answering, it’s not true that you need carb foods for full nutrition. If you eat more than the muscle when you eat animal you get a lot more and a lot more *varied* nutrition. Even vitamin C. You don’t need as much C if you’re not gorging on carbs, and there are parts of the animal that contain it. Adrenal glands are one source–adrenals are vitamin C hogs. I think you have to eat them raw though, or at least not cook them in water.

        Liver’s got tons of B vitamins, is the best dietary source of choline and unlike any plant food you could possibly think of, contains real vitamin A.

        It’s all a matter of what you are willing to eat. Fruits and vegetables are substitutes for organ meats, and poor substitutes at that. You don’t even need the fiber, although soluble fiber can be of some utility in feeding your gut bacteria, especially if you come from a heavy-carb-eating cultural background.

        Two words for those worried about mineral consumption: Bone broth. 🙂

    2. I wonder about this, too. I’ve read some evidence on here (the blog and the forums) though that we don’t actually need those amounts.

  8. I agree with Claire; it is nice to be reminded of that basic, but key principal when it comes to Primal. It truly does work too. I swear, even though I have my days (or periods) where I’m considerably indulgent with Primal foods, provided my carb count is in line, there are no ill effects (never feel sick, gain weight, etc).

  9. Mark, where does hypoglycemia fit in with the role of low carbing. It all makes absolute sense from a perspective of high blood sugar and diabetes, but what exactly happens when the problem is the exact opposite, and how would a low carb diet, assuming it would, actually help it?

    1. This would be a tremendous topic to address, as I have always struggled with hypoglycemia. The higher fats in the PB have kept my blood sugar steadier from meal to meal than my former “carb crashes.”

    2. I’d love a post about this too. My own experience has been a total elimination, almost immediately, of my low blood sugar episodes via primal low carb eating, but would love to read some about the science behind it.

    3. Hypoglycemia occurs for the same reasons as hypERglycemia and high fasting insulin and poor blood sugar control. Get your carbs in line and your hypoglycemia usually corrects too. You might want to wait a while before you try intermittent fasting to make sure you really are doing better–your body will need time to adjust.

  10. Today was the first day I’ve actually craved carbs…oatmeal…just sounds amazing right now. I wasn’t tracking carbs, but started today. Was very eye opening. I’m going to shoot for 50 grams a day.

      1. Mark,

        This is in regards to your primal carb curve. I am a very fit person that has been genetically blessed (not to be cocky). I am currently 6’2 175lbs. and have gotten my B.F. checked randomly over the past 2 years from between 5-7%. As with any low carb diet i am running into the normal symptoms of doing so- most importantly fatigue, muscle weakness, and strength issues. I admit that my fat intake might not be at the correct levels and this could be one of the problems. My question to you is this- for someone who has studied nutrtion and exercise thoroughly at college (Rutgers University), what do you suggest for the primal human that wants to stay at such a low body fat (4-7%) and still be able to keep the symptoms of low carb diets away. I also admit that my daily exercise is above that of the normal primal blueprint fitness guide in respect to cardio and resistance training. I am not quite positive what my exact BRM or lean mass is exactly, but again i can say that it is quite low. I love the idea of the primal blueprint as well as your research and outlook on this lifestyle and want to continue living this way, but not at the expense of feeling these symptoms. Do you have any suggestions on these issues?

  11. I agree that counting your carbs can be a tough process… but it’s so worth it. You don’t realize what you put into your body until you quantify everything you consume, evaluate and then refine your efforts.

    I had used FitDay as well as Livestrong in the past, but I found that a free app on my Blackberry was the simplest way to keep counting wherever I go. I keep track at least a few times per week so that stay on top of things. It’s so easy to get back into a bad routine.

    I loved this post — and I agree that it’s a good refresher to all the new and experienced Grokers.

  12. When I was in weight losing mode I avoided the difficulty of counting carbs by eliminating them altogether, other than broccoli, cauliflower and brussel sprouts.

    I don’t care how much broccoli you eat, you aren’t going to eat enough to matter.

    1. Rob – Exactly.

      I was with my brother-in-law this weekend. Gout, just diagonosed with diabetes.

      He’s saying ‘I can have 2 slices of bread’ and ‘oatmeal for breakfast’. Granted – he’s eating MUCH better then before and has lost almost 60lbs, but it’s that goofy ‘if I eat this I have to not eat that’ thinking. Just don’t ever eat the bread. Don’t ever eat the oatmeal. Don’t ever eat the pasta. Don’t eat the sweets and food decision making gets a LOT easier.

    2. My 3 all time favourite veggies! I go through spells when I eat sprouts 3 times a day. I never entered anything in fitday…yet. Now I’m curious.
      but I’ll continue to gobble those 3, dripping in butter & bacon grease :p

  13. Mark, thank you again for a great post. I’ve read your book but this is still not 100% clear for me. Could you please explain the best way to count carbs using FitDay? I.e. to include fiber in the total carb count for the day, or now?

    If that’s the case, then even when eating only raw, non-starchy vegetables, (e.g. a cup of broccoli is almost 6g of fiber) the daily allowance for carbs (50 or 100g) will be used up very quickly. Does that mean we have to restrict non-starchy veggies also, or can we eat them till really full?

    Many thanks for any help with this.


  14. A great app for all you iPhone users is called “Lose It!”. Keeps daily record of your nutritional data including carbs. Also keeps a weekly avg. And it’s very easy to use. Great Post Mark.

    1. yep, Lose It is amazing. Completely changed the way I eat because you have it right there, whenever you eat.

  15. I lost weight rapidly when I first dialed back the carbs to 150g/day. Then I cut back further to about 75-100g/day, since 150g wasn’t keeping my glucose levels in check. And then I started to gain the weight back. Now I have to keep it pretty low. Yesterday I had 28g; today I’m up to 25g before dinner.

  16. Great post!
    I follow this site regualarily and am continually amazed with the content. A common word that comes up is “diabetes” and unlike most, I am a type 1 diabetic – big difference from type 2. To what extent are the references to diabetes the same for type 1 diabetics and can you offer advice on PB and type 1 diabetes? thanks.

    1. For more info. on low-carb and T1, Dr. Richard Bernstein is a good resource. He’s a T1 doctor who has developed his own low-carb plan that has kept him in excellent health and helped him reverse some earlier, serious complications.

      1. I agree – his book was a lifesaver for me even though I’m a type 2.

    2. Type 1 diabetics have the same limitations as type 2 diabetics when it comes to carb intake. Do not just intake tons and tons of carbs and expect to cover it with insulin. You will not always cover it with the correct amount. I have heard of type 1s who got fat this way.

      Most people who’ve studied about it long enough, in actual school or as lay scholars, have figured out that MAYBE you can cure type 2 with diet but you’ll never cure type 1. Granted. But type 1s minimize their symptoms and maximize their lifespan if they eat for their condition rather than try to medicate it away.

      The only real difference between type 1s and type 2s is type 1s have no insulin production. I’ve heard it said that the autoimmunity is the difference but that’s not true; a type 2 can turn into a type 1 just by frying their beta cells, and type 2s are often given to *other* types of autoimmunity.

  17. I don’t count carbs, calories, or anything else, but I’d guess my daily carb count to be under 100 since I’m meeting the Primal Challenge by avoiding grains and sugar and getting carbs only from fresh seasonal produce like kale, chard, summer squash, and the occasional plum-sized Asian pear.

  18. Some great questions here on hypoglycemia and carb counts including fiber. I’ll add them to my list of articles to write after the challenge has completed. Stay tuned!

    1. Hi Mark. Did you get around to writing an article or answering the question about whether or not to include fiber in when counting total carb intake? I’ve been searching around your site but I just keep finding other user answers and it’d be great to hear the definitive Mark Sisson answer. Thank you!

  19. I am on day 2 of the Primal Leap and I journalized my day 1 results in the FitDay calculator. I was amazed to see that I hit just over 250 grams of carbs in my pre-Primal diet. High protein and low fat, just as conventional wisdom prescribes. I work out extensively to fight what I thought was a predisposition to belly fat (I have 18% body fat). I now realize I was fighting conventional wisdom.

  20. I’ve gone very low carb (probably less than 100g) for two days in a row and it makes me feel light headed. I go through my day “foggy” and when I do eat some carbs I go from feeling good to feeling great and then back down to good. I don’t have a weight problem and my blood work is impeccable. Besides keeping my carbs to reasonable levels, I dont think 100% primal is for me. But you’ve opened a lot of doors for me Mark, thanks!

    1. I am going to preface this by saying I am no expert….When I started with a primal diet I had the same problems. When I stood up I would feel faint and I was very “ditzy”. I did really silly stuff like throw my dishes in the trash instead of the dishwasher and I would go into a store and forget why I was there. I decided to keep my carbs low (below 100g) but I added more fat. The symptoms are gone and I feel great. I hope you give that a try before giving up the lifestyle. Good luck!

      1. I have been primal/paleo since April, but hubby & I dialed back our carbs severely in August. I was light-headed and had a headache every day for about a week, but it passed. We even mixed in 16/8 hours of intermittent fasting with no problems. We cycle carbs (root veggies) every 3rd or 4th day, and I’ve lost about 7 pounds. I think you just have to make it over the hump while your body gets accustomed to less carbs. ~Karyn

  21. I think I’m about the only person in the world who wants to GAIN weight, not lose it, so its kind of demoralising constantly hearing about weight loss. I went on the paleodiet about 2 months ago to try and alleviate my chronic fatigue syndrome, and so far its working well, but I’ve lost 10kg since I’ve been on it. I’m 6’1 and 60kg, down from 85kgs when I was healthy and muscle bound. I still have some muscle, so I’m not skeletal looking yet, though I think I will be if I lose anymore weight.

    I can’t eat meat more than 3 times a week as it inhibits my digestion, grains are obviously out the window, as are eggs due to the lysine which has a bad effect on my digestion. But I think its cutting out grains that’s really taken all the weight off.

    I eat a lot of carbs from vegetables, I probably eat 300 grams of sweet potato a day. Is this too many carbs for me? Also I was wondering if rice based protein powder is any good for someone with a sensitive gut. Slightly off topic I know, but are the harmful lectins and phytates still present in rice protein powder or have they been taken out? Any other tips for keeping on weight?

    1. I didn’t need to lose weight either, and the answer for me was eating more fat.

      I had spent so many years on ultra low fat that I found it really hard to start with to add fat in … however, it doesn’t take long to enjoy melted butter on veggies, olive oil all over salad (well anything really!) and enjoy very dark chocolate, cream and really good cheese (if you are not dairy intolerant).

      This works – I keep my carbs below 100 g even though I am very active as an endurance athlete because controlling carb levels controls insulin controls fat metabolism and for me controls bipolar too. I also do weights twice a week and keep my protein levels up.

  22. @andrew-if you can tolerate it, up your dairy and also olive oil consumption. olive oil helps keep weight on.

    just visited fitday and my eyes almost fell onto my keyboard when it calculated that i had 117 grams of carbs today. WHAAAAAT? i did have a couple mindless moments and boy did they add up!

    better tomorrow!

    thanks for reminding me of fitday’s existence mark.

  23. I hope someone can help me understand this. I use the My Pyramid Tracker to count my carbs (I love seeing the blue frowny face next to my grain intake, too). Now, granted, I do eat fruit everyday. But if, for instance, I’m getting the “recommended” amount of fruit and vegetables, and just about tying the 130 grams of carbs it lists as my RDA, then where would be the room for those grains (and more dairy) they get mad at me for not eating?

    1. EXACTLY! That is how I first started to question the “wisdom” of CW. One day I decided it was high time to get healthy, so I tried to use the Food Pyramid to come up with a healthy meal plan. Couldn’t do it. I could never get enough servings of everything without going way over my supposed caloric requirements. And I was always, always woefully short on iron, B6 & B12 vitamins, D, E, magnesium, etc. and etc., and had too many sugars. It was then that I started to look at the nutritional profile of my foods, and I realized that, calorie for calorie, grains were actually comparatively nutritionally void. So I said, “the heck with the food pyramid,” and dialed them back. That was the beginning, before I stumbled onto MDA!

    2. You forget the base of the pyramid is grains, so you’re supposed to have 6-11 servings of grains in addition to those fruits and veggies according to the SAD.

      That’s 8-15 servings of carb-laden food (grain + fruit) a day – I don’t know how a devout food pyramid eater could eat less than 300g of carbs a day.

      There is a lot of recent evidence coming out lately that suggests grains, and wheat in particular, may be the #1 cause of heart disease, so frankly I’d stay as far away from grains as possible.

    3. P.S. My next door neighbor works for the USDA. He tells me the pyramid is more a result of politics than actual food science.

  24. Hello!

    I am now working to be primal! I am not overweight anymore.. but was as a child and then suffered from an eating disorder for a lot of my adult life… I work very hard now to eat healthy every day.. I do not eat any grains at all…and thought I was doing great… I do eat an apple a day and have been eating a peach with cottage cheese… Otherwise my other carbs are all from vegetables and I eat fish and poultry… When I went into the fitday today, it seems my fruit intake is causing too much sugar… Hmmm?? Any thoughts?

  25. I’ve fallen into a pattern of skipping my usual breakfast, having a big salad for lunch and some kind of protein and veggie combo for dinner. I’m not usually hungry and my carbs have averaged around 55g for the first week. I’d like to keep them lower, but that salad jumps them up a bit. Plus, there was some roasted pumpkin over the weekend that threw off my average. 🙂

  26. I just started a blog lookfeelperform.blogspot.com and would like to add a link to your site if that is appropriate. Thank you.

  27. Funny how this article comes around, when I just started to do a “carb budget”. It is not meant to be a strict system, but more to open my eyes to what I actually consume of poison from time to time. I do it on a weekly basis, also to take notes of what I have done for WOW and heavy lifting/sprinting (to little yet).

  28. I have been meaning to thank you for your “Primal Blueprint.” As a result of eating real food and cutting out the grains, sugars and vegetable oils, I am now leaner than I have ever been, without the orthorexic obsession over “blocks” and overtraining (if the last five pounds around the middle are stubbornly refusing to disappear, I’m just not training hard enough!). On my most recent visit home, my friends (many of whom are on statins) are aghast at what I eat, but my health teacher sister listened attentively and did not interrupt once.
    I have been forwarding this website to everyone who asks.
    Thanks again!

  29. Great post and reminder to me to watch those carbs, it is so easy to eat too many, as the shops are full of low cost high carb foods and treats. I’m from the UK but I imagine a simalar situation to the US.

    Moving forward I recognise the need to reduce my carb intake…. for inspiration I have the Primal Blueprint poster stuck to the inside of my larder and I hope to regulary update my Fitday account. Hoping to stay in the 50 -100 cards per day region.

  30. Now, I’m getting confused…..

    I’m very active (practicing various sports throughout the week, including soccer a competitive level).

    I was generally under the impression that about 55% of my calorie needs should be in the form of carbs. Given that I aim for about 2500Cal/day, this equates to roughly 330gr/day. Primarily complex carbs with minimal to no grains

    Is this just insane on my part?

    1. You definitely need more carbs if you are physically active and want to remain competitive, even Dr. Atkins agreed with that.

      You have to adopt a different approach based on your circumstances, someone who needs to lose 50 pounds and is sedentary will take a very different approach than a person like you.

      When I was in weight loss mode I limited myself to 20 to 30 grams a day of carbs, now that I am trying to get in peak physical condition and exercising 14-15 hours a week I eat around 150g a day.

      1. Many of us who are long -time fat adapted are athletes (not competitive, but work out very frequently) without eating any carbs. As long as you keep refeeding carbs, you are going to keep needing them psychologically. That is a choice someone can make, but you cannot say outright that those of us who are very active “need” carbs. It is simply not the case for me and many others.

    2. There is no such thing as a complex carb. Carbs are all strings of glucose. Simple carbs and complex carbs all turn to glucose. All carbs are either fiber or sugar. Minus the fiber and you are left with sugar. Bring your carbs down and increase your fat intake, start burning more ketones. Fat needs lots of oxygen to burn, glucose doesn’t. You can train your body to workout more efficiently using ketones and less glucose. Better for your muscle retention and overall health.

    3. I rode 7 – 8 hours per day for 9 days (1,013 miles total) from John O Groats to Lands End in June. I did it eating primally – I averaged less than 200 g of carbs each day.

      You simply don’t need the number of carbs CW tells you in order to be an active, competitive athlete.

  31. Carbs have been under 100g since the start of the challenge and I have noticed myself getting leaner. My problem was not enough fat in my diet, and now I’m not hungry again. I keep forgetting how much easier living the Primal way is…

  32. Thanks for the great post, Mark. I lost about 15 pounds in the last 4-5 months going 90 percent primal/paleo — and at between 150-200 carb grams/day. Never really considered myself fat, but Holy Cow!, when I think back on how many carbs I was eating pre-paleo (over 300/day, easy) it’s a wonder I wasn’t in worse shape.

  33. I like your differentiated view: Carbs aren’t bad per se, but it’s the proportion that counts. Thank you for posting this again!

    I’ve been having an eye on my carb intake during the last months, and usually I now aim for not more than 100 g carbs a day and feel good with it. I’ve somewhat damaged my metabolism and became very carb-sensitive by eating an unbalanced and carb-loaded diet during the years before, and now I feel it slowly restores.

  34. I started the primal challenge a little early and saw the scale tick down from 141-144 range to about 137 consuming 30 grams of carbs (from veggies) per day. I think I’m pretty close to my ideal weight but I’ve noticed two strange things.

    Despite seeing amazing muscle tone (hello beginnings of a 6 pack!) my body fat percentage as measured by my electric scale is way up. From 24% BF to over 28% BF. That makes no sense. I’m tighter, smaller, leaner and I lift heavy weights, so how can I have lost muscle?

    Also, last night I had a bit of a salty night (lots of sausage and bacon and then some olives). The scale was up 3 pounds this morning.

    Which makes me wonder, am I just losing water weight? I know Mark has commented before that water weight is still stuff we don’t need to be carrying around in our cells, but it makes me wonder if I couldn’t have lost those pounds through a low-salt diet just as easily as a primal diet.


    1. Don’t believe the scales mine still measure me at pre Primal levels and yet I’ve also had calipers used and they have shown an 8% drop in body fat (and I know what I’m looking at in the mirror) – unless you spend mega-bucks on electrostatics I reckon they are useless!

  35. Just a reminder to the vertically challenged middle age women out there – even with low carbs (<50), after the first few weeks you will likely still have to keep an eye on calories… OR stop eating before you are full…on a regular basis. Either one of those should do it for you to keep the weight loss going. I would recommend the stopping before you are full option, because you cannot do that without awareness, and awareness is a wonderful thing.

  36. I just wish people wouldn’t take this carb avoidance thing to ridiculous extremes. I still remember the person who was arguing with me that a meal of deep fried bacon wrapped steak was better than some fresh veggies.

    By all means, avoid sugars, most vegetable oils and most grains, but there’s a common sense point to everything.

    1. The only potential bad thing about the deep fried bacon wrapped steak is the bacon is a little high in salt. Otherwise it is a lot better than the fresh veggies. It provides the two vital macronutrients (protein and fat), neither of which you can live without, it’s loaded with essential vitamins and minerals like vitamin B and iron, among others.

      However, a salad, for example, has virtually no nutritional value at all. Go look up the vitamins and minerals – they are virtually non-existant.

      To compare the steak with the salad – 5 cups! of salad has 28% RDA of vitamin A, 13% vitamin C, and 17% manganese. The rest are negligible. 1 cup of steak, however, has 24% RDA of niacin, 22% B6, 27% phosphorus, 37% selenium, 20% iron, 17% riboflavin, 55% B12, and 53% zinc.

      Ignoring the conventional wisdom that saturated fats are bad for you (which has no scientific evidence to support it, btw), which of the two are healthier? The salad cannot even fuel you, because it has 8g of carbs and 2.5g of protein, how are you supposed to function off that?

      If you eliminate sugars, veggie oils, and grains, you MUST get energy from saturated fat, or you will starve. Period. If you can accept that, you’ll start to see vegetables are really only there to fill in gaps in your nutrition, they are not complete nutrition themselves, and should not be treated as the ultimate in healthy eating.

      1. Agree completely! I would eat a grainfed meat from a CAFO source over an organic vegetable for nutrition.

    2. I tried the common sense for many years and all it got me was terrible health, plus I looked like crap.

      Once I threw common sense out the window I lost a lot of weight, was able to do the things I enjoyed doing when I was young (sports), and look healthy again.

      There’s a lot to be said for looking and feeling young when you are in your late 40’s.

      You can stick to the common sense if it’s working for you, but if it isn’t, as is the case with many many people … try something different, you only get one life.

    1. Is it a study I can believe? No, it is not. Before I believe that eating differently then how we ate for thousands of years before are health started to decline, I will stay primal.

  37. I remember the first time I looked at the label on a spice I had in the cabinet, garlic w/parsley. I couldn’t believe the ingredients included sugar! It’s enough to make you scream! I believe the labeling laws also state if it’s less than 1gm, it doesn’t have to be listed? You get a lot of carbs you don’t realize if you, say, go through a pack of sugar free gum a day!

  38. Since I’m just starting out [sigh, again…] I’ve been staying under 100 as I ease into things. After 2 days, I can already tell a difference in how I look and how my clothes are fitting. I’m sure I had been eating well over 300 per day before.

  39. So after supper I am sitting at 146 grams of carbohydrates and it made up 22% of my day with fats taking 51% and protein taking 27%. 61 of those carbs came from vegetables, 26 from a pear, and according to Fitday.com I am still 1,000 calories shy of what my body burns in a day (I know, no counting but since you directed me to the site I am sharing what it says). I am 6’4″ and 255 pounds (225-230 is my goal).

    My question is, after all of this, is the 150 grams of carbs across the board or is that for the average sized person? Due to an injury I am not particularly active at the moment so I didn’t know if I could pull more carbs due to my size and still lose weight.

  40. I had a question about counting carbs – do you take into account the fiber grams? Should I be looking at my net carb intake or my gross carb intake?

    1. Fiber grams are indigestible, so the they do not count. Someone correct me if I am wrong.

  41. Love the graphics and how you’ve used concepts from business and infographics to convey an idea. Very cool.

  42. Unfortunately, for me insidious weight gain starts at about 25-30 grams a day. All of you who are saying you can do 50-100 grams just fine are making me jealous. 🙂 I find it easiest to try sticking with nothing but good-quality meat, good-quality low-starch veggies, and cooking in butter or coconut oil…even though I do fall off the wagon about once a week.

    The infographic is indeed a great learning tool. Any way to indicate that the numbers on the Y axis are approximations? Maybe blur the edges between the colors or something?

  43. Hi! I am new to the Primal diet and for the past three days I have only gotten carbs from vegetables and one or two fruits. I would like to lost 5-10 pounds of body fat. Can anyone please tell me how to count the carbs from vegetables to make sure I keep carb count below 100 or below 50 grams/day? Thank you.

    1. hi Cat, welcome.

      i think the best way to check is via fitday.com

      you can sign up for the free service and enter everything you eat for the total breakdown. i don’t use it religiously, just from time to time to check what i am doing for example what surprised me most was the carbs i was getting from fruit juice. i cut that out and now eat more whole fruit.

      1. Hi expatjim,

        Thanks so much for your reply and your suggestions. I really appreciate it as right now I need to figure out how to accurately count my carbs to make sure I stay under, I am still learning! Thanks again. 🙂

  44. When you suggest 50 g a day of carbs for accelerated fat loss, are you referring to net carbs (subtracting the fiber) or total carbs?

  45. Mark,

    What would you recommend as a good carb intake for someone who is trying to bulk?

    For example, I am 6’2″ and about 160 pounds. I am currently eating a diet of 2700-3000 calories per day, at a ratio of about 50-25-25 (protein-carb-fat). I keep my carbs under 150g. I burn roughly 2500 calories a week exercising (running, weight lifting, and boxing).

    I have been maintaining this for about 2 months now and I go down 2 pounds, up 2 pounds, down 3, up 1, back and forth, with never any real change.

    Do I just need to eat more calories overall? Or should I add more carbs back into my diet – and if the latter, how much?

  46. After hearing Mark on Joe Rogans podcast I’ve decided to give this a shot. I picked up The Primal Blueprint and I’m starting to get a good idea about what I need to do. One thing I was curious about is when I calculate my carb intake to make sure I’m in the 50-100 sweet spot do I include the carbs from dietary fiber or no?

  47. Very useful post. I’ve been eating in the “sweet spot” for a few weeks now. No noticeable weight loss yet but I am surprised by how great I feel!

    One quibble: the carb curve graph is a little confusing (or maybe just annoying) to those of us accustomed to x-y graphs because you have placed the independent variable on the y instead of x axis, implying a reverse causal relationship. Food for thought if you ever redesign it.

  48. Why does fit day not let me adjust calories for weight gain? Any time I put in a goal weight that is higher than my current weight it won’t accept my numbers.