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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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August 03 2015

Dear Mark: Fasting Issues, Pullup Neck Pain, and Red Palm Oil

By Mark Sisson
45 Comments

For today’s edition of Dear Mark, I’m answering three questions. The first one comes from Neda, who’s experiencing some issues that may be related to her fasting schedule. How should she modify her fasting? Or should she eliminate it altogether? The second question concerns a common issue: neck pain during pullups. Why does it happen and how can we avoid it? And finally, what’s the deal with red palm oil? I give my take on the controversial oil, drawing on randomized controlled trials and personal feelings about orangutans to arrive at my conclusion.

Let’s go:

I have recently tightened up my fasting. I eat an orange or a grapefruit around 1230 or 1ish in the afternoon. Then at 3 I drink coconut water with 2 scoops of whey, chia seeds, matcha powder and green powder and strangely enough I feel tired afterwards. I start to eat my salad and my remaining meal starting at 5 and ending at 9 most of the time.

Why do you think my energy drops with that drink? Is there something you would recommend?

I am a female by the way, thought you should know because I agree long fasting periods I do not think are great for women.

Thank you so much for all of your help,

Neda

As you say, women tend not to feel as well with long fasting periods. Fasting at all is more likely to be dicey, to be quite honest. I’ll mention a few possible paths to take.

Keep fasting, but eat more substantially than your current setup has you eating. At about 65 calories, neither orange or a grapefruit really count as “breaking your fast.” So you’re effectively fasting from 9 PM to 3 PM — 18 full hours. And even then, the meal with which you break your fast isn’t really a meal either. Coconut water, whey, chia seeds, matcha powder, green powder? There’s a bit of protein but almost no fat, and the last two ingredients have basically no calories at all. One could even say that you’re fasting from 9 PM to 5 PM — 20 full hours.

A 20 hour fast is a big undertaking for most people. It’s an even bigger undertaking for the average woman. You’re doing that every single day. Instead, break your fast for real — with a solid meal with food that fills you up. Add a few eggs, some sauteéd veggies, and maybe a sweet potato to your fruit. Just something substantial.

Keep fasting, but not so frequently. Instead of fasting like you are every single day, do it once a week at most. Only increase the frequency if your symptoms abate. And even if they abate, consider just sticking with the single fast per week.

Stop fasting. This may be a stretch, but a recent paper showed that in diabetics, fasting until noon increases the blood glucose response to food by inhibiting the normal insulin response. One common symptom of hyperglycemia is sleepiness. Now, diabetics aren’t a different species of human. Non-diabetics likely have similar responses to fasting, just more tempered. Given the length and relative intensity of your fasting, however, this might explain it.

And as always, make sure you fulfill the “prereqs” for effective and healthy fasting if you intend to keep at it:

1. Have a strong handle on your stress — and your response to stressors. If it’s crunchtime at work, intermittent fasting may be too much of an additional stressor to be effective.

2. Don’t overtrain. I’m not sure how much you’re exercising, but regular fasting seems to work best with lower volume exercise. Low rep strength training? Sure, great. Walking? Go for it. The occasional sprint? Right after you. But Daily CrossFit WODs? Probably not a good idea if you’re eating so little and so infrequently.

3. Don’t be pregnant.

4. Be careful if diabetic. Consider the paper mentioned above finding that diabetics who fasted until noon experienced an exaggerated blood glucose response to food via inhibition of normal insulin signaling.

Dear Mark,

After finding Mark’s Daily Apple a few years ago, and learning how great chin-ups and pull-ups are for health and strength training, I started doing them 3 times a week. I started with 3 sets of 3, with one minute of rest between each set, and worked up to 3 sets of 10.

This has been great for strengthening and defining my muscles, but after a few months, I always get to a point where it starts giving me pretty bad neck pain. Not during the exercise, but it’ll creep up slowly the next day, and it’s not severe — until I wake up up the next morning, when the pain is bad enough that just rolling over or sitting up in bed is really hard. It’s better once I’m up for the day, but it still hurts, and this lasts for 2 or 3 days before resolving on its own. And then I give up on the chin-ups/pull-ups for a few months to avoid the pain.

There must be something wrong with my form or technique or something, right? I do feel like my neck is tense while doing the chin-ups and pull-ups, but I don’t see how to avoid that. It’s exercise, the whole point is that it’s supposed to be hard, to stress the body, etc. So the last rep or 2 in each set is always tough, and I do feel tense. So what can I do? Have you heard of this before?

Thanks,

Anthony

I’ve had the same exact thing happen to me, Anthony. And every single time, going back through my pullup workouts reveals a consistent mistake: I let my technique suffer and my form degrade, and I lead with my chin. It happens to the best of us.

The chin reach is the most common pullup form degradation. I blame the way the pullup is commonly presented. “Chin over the bar!” It’s an innocent cue, but it can cause those who follow it to lead with their chins. Try that, right now, as you read these words.

Jut your chin up.

What just happened? Your neutral spine, starting at your tailbone and running up along your lumbar and thoracic spine to embed itself in your brain stem, broke. If you’re going to lift anything — barbell, heavy rock, your own bodyweight as you hang from a bar — you need to maintain a neutral spine. Heck, nearly every athletic movement whether it’s running, jumping, or swimming flows more smoothly and safely when the entire spine is in the neutral position. If we can’t always achieve it, we at least attempt to. Failing to do so compromises the safety of the movement.

That urge to get the chin over can be persistent. Heck, I still sometimes catch myself jutting that chin upward even though I know better and tell myself every pullup workout not to do it. And yes, I sometimes end up paying for it with a stiff neck. That’s why I’ve come up with a few workarounds to prevent this from happening.

  • Do neutral grip pullups (palms facing each other) with two parallel overhead bars. This also has the benefit of placing the shoulders into a more stable position.
  • Do ring pullups. Grab a set of rings and throw them over any overhead horizontal support. You can even take them to the gym if yours doesn’t have rings.
  • Use “chest to bar” as a cue. In my experience, thinking “chest to bar” actually promotes a more neutral spine and head position by taking the chin out of the equation. Plus, touching chest to bar makes for an even better training effect (greater range of motion).

Make sure your thoracic spine and shoulder regions are moving smoothly and healthfully, too.

Oh, and one last thing: film yourself doing pullups. It may not feel like you’re jutting the chin, but you won’t know for sure until you watch yourself.

Good luck!

Hi Mark…

I’ve heard mixed things about red palm oil & note that Thrive Market sells fair trade, sustainably grown red palm oil. What’s the verdict? I searched your site and nothing came up.

Thank you for all the info you post and for the tip on Thrive Market. Appreciate it!

Best wishes,

Cindy

Red palm oil? I’ve been a big fan for years. Red palm oil is closer to extra virgin olive oil than other “vegetable oils”; the extraction process is fairly gentle, as the palm fruit is fatty and requires only mechanical pressing to get the oil. Compared to any other fat, red palm oil is extremely nutrient dense — rich in beta-carotene, vitamin E, CoQ10, vitamin K1, and other antioxidants.

Compared to all other vegetable sources of vitamin A, red palm oil has the most bioavailablity — it converts to retinol at the greatest rate. And when you cook leafy greens in red palm oil, you absorb more of their beta-carotene.

A number of studies, mostly in animals, shows the protective potential of red palm oil.

Nutritionally, it checks out. But what about one of the biggest concerns people have with palm oil — the sustainability issue? Most refined palm oil (the kind used in processed food) hails from Indonesia, one of the few remaining homelands of the orangutan. The palm plantations are in direct conflict with the jungles the orangutan calls home. As usually happens, industry wins out and the orangutans lose (and die). So, yeah: it’s messed up stuff. Google Image search for orangutans and palm oil for truly tragic, unsettling imagery.

The orangutan has probably always been my favorite great ape. Ever since I read Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” I’ve had a mild obsession with the orangutan. The wiry power in those spindly arms, the massive flanges on the males’ faces (a marker of high testosterone), the way they can condense into compact orange hairy lazy balls that unfold into enormous ranging hominids, their languid repose in towering trees looking about as comfortable as a human on a couch.

So whenever I you do buy red palm oil, make sure it comes from orangutan-friendly plantations. Nutiva makes a good one that comes from Ecuadorian palms. Trader Joe’s just started carrying one. Another orangutan-friendly area to look out for is West Africa (Nigeria and Ghana make good red palm oil).

That’s about it for this week, everyone! Thanks for reading and be sure to write down below with any additional input or commentary!

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45 thoughts on “Dear Mark: Fasting Issues, Pullup Neck Pain, and Red Palm Oil”

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  1. I like to cook eggs in the skillet with a blend of red palm oil and coconut oil

    Place 1/4-1/2 tsp red palm oil and 1/4-1/2 tsp coconut oil in a skillet. Let it melt on about medium high heat. You want the skillet hot, but you don’t want the oil to overheat. Crack in two eggs. Turn the heat to medium, or medium-low. Cover the skillet and cook the eggs 2-3 minutes, or until done to your liking. This makes a sort of steamed, fried egg that doesn’t need to be flipped, and you don’t need to add water as some people do when frying their eggs.

    The blend of oils gives a nice taste and a good color.

    1. I guess I’ll have to check my local Trader Joe’s for some red palm oil. I’ve heard so many negative things about the flavor that I’ve never bothered to try it. Maybe it’s time I did, even though frying eggs in butter or bacon fat will probably always be my preference.

      1. If you are trying red palm oil for the first time, I recommend the Nutiva brand. The red palm oil at Trader Joe’s has a strong gasoline engine flavor. Nutiva red Palm oil has a strong, yet flavorful taste.

        1. To me it tastes a little like carrots. I use it on my salads with some ACV. Yum!

  2. Red palm oil is reall common here in Brazil. It’s called “dendê oil”, and it’s highly used by locals in Bahia. It used to be frowned uppon, and since I began researching red palm oil, I can tell that the main reason is due to “commom sense” that says that those oils are bad (and of course, we should use canola, ’cause that one is great!!).
    I began using it and honestly, I prefer dendê to ghee. I find it more tasty, it’s richer in terms of nutrients and here in Brazil it’s cheaper.

    Just to keep the subject: we got here a “ghee”, but it’s called “bottled butter”. It’s the very same process, but they store them in bottles (hence the name).

    Both are local, cheaper and eco-friendly.

  3. Regarding fasting: Fasting becomes very easy, with little or no doscomfort at all, if a person has adapted to burning fat. After following a ketogenic diet, fasting has become super easy.

  4. Not to subtract from the necessity of good form, but the best way to beat collateral neck pain, which I’ve had, is simply to strength train your neck.

  5. Grren powder, matcha powder, whey powder, chia seeds, and coconut water are paleo? Since when? Why not just eat food, preferably the good tasting kind? From pre-history until about five years ago, fasting was reserved for times without food and for religious denial. Now it’s been re-invented as something that you should do on an indefinite, daily basis for health? Seriously?

    1. I agree with the sentiment of yours I’m getting in your post. I’m always sensing that those of us who are already obsessive compulsive will take Mark and the other writers to an extreme. It’s like the Whole30-ers who are intent on doing Whole365s.

      Can we all just take a deep breath and relax a bit? It’s all too slingshotty or pendulum swinging for my taste.

      1. I don’t believe that “paleo” attracts people with eating disorders any more than vegan or other restrictive eating patterns. However, EDs encompass more than just body dysmorphia, they’re more generally about controlling intake whether restricting calories, fat or specific categories of food.

        I wish that the bloghost would be a little more sensitive to the fact that by setting himself up as a nutrition guru, he will be interacting with a number of people with potential EDs and that by steering them gently in the direction of appropriate help he would be providing a good service.

        1. Right. I did not mean to imply that Paleo/Primal attracted any more people with EDs than other forms of diet control. I use the words “diet control” intentionally.

    2. @ Stella B. – with the exception of whey powder, all of the substances you have listed are unequivocally paleo.

    3. Primal is slightly different to paleo. Mark seems to be quite balanced for a man in his position. There is worse out there.
      Different things work for different people and personal choice restriction that is overly obsessive can be detrimental to people’s health causes. Intermittent fasting is, as you say, a part of our background and may be useful to some people, so Mark talks about it.
      Listen to people and make your own decisions.

      1. And above all, listen to your body, not your ego, not the chatting monkey brain, but what your body is telling you. Mark has always recommended this.

        Feeling lower energy after something? That’s your body telling you to rethink regardless of what any nutritionist, diet guru or anyone else will tell you!

        As Mark mentions the stress aspect is super important. It makes a huge difference to how your body will process and handle fasting/eating/exercise. And it will vary from one week to another, one month to another, particular in females it seems.

        Stress comes all in all shapes and forms and each person’s tolerance varies not only from other beings but within the self.

        Be mindful is ultimately the best advice.

  6. My favorite great ape is the bonobo. On second thought Homer the sap.

  7. Regarding diabetics not being a different species of human…I remember reading an analysis of various metabolic patterns in diabese people and apparently there are many things related to insulin and various other related processed that are completely backwards in unhealthy people. So, the take-away I took away was that you can’t draw conclusions about what a healthy person should do based on studies done with unhealthy people.

  8. My comment to Neda would be, “YOU ARE STARVING YOURSELF.” Mark said much the same thing, although somewhat more tactfully.

    Fasting, regardless of the reason for doing so, can be beneficial for some people, but the tendency to go overboard isn’t good, particularly for a woman of childbearing age. It’s absolutely crucial to maintain an appropriate intake of healthful calories in order to have a healthy body. That means eating REAL food in sufficient quantities versus trying to subsist on things like whey, chia seeds, and coconut water.

    1. Well one must meat needs for protein, fat can be met mostly from storage, if you are overweight. The other two macronutrients carbohydrate and alcohol are not really necessary.

      My quip is a balanced diet would be 25% protein, 25% fat, 25% carbs and 25% alcohol. >;)(

  9. Neda’s smoothie may be jacking then bottoming her blood sugar – reactive hypoglycemia.

    Whey powder without enough fat, even very low carb whey powder, will do that to me. I’m sure adding the coconut water only makes the issue worse.

    My personal hobby horse is that everyone should have a blood glucose monitor. It’s tremendously useful for just such a situation.

    I find that a reading every 15 minutes starting just before eating and continuing for two or three hours after eating will give an excellent picture of your reaction to food. That may seem excessive, but it’s not something you would do every day and the monitors and strips are cheap.

  10. A biologist who lived long-term near orangutans observed them observing humans. Then they would copy. They untied and took out the rowboat for a spin, left it ashore downriver. They tried to start a small campfire (no luck). And after they observed humans weeding paths, they took up path maintenance and weeding.

  11. Thank you, Mark, for your direct, clear response to the fasting question.

    I typically don’t eat between dinner and noon or so the next day, and as someone who eats a high-fat, low-carb primal diet pretty much, well, always, this works wonderfully for me as an individual.

    But I sometimes work with people who insist, against my guidance, on under-eating, over-fasting AND over-training. And who are “breaking” their fast with the sorts of things similar to the asker of today’s question (rather than with real food and sufficient fat and protein). They of course feel depleted, foggy-headed and frustrated they can’t lose weight. They feel as though they’re fighting themselves–and they are! Really, really helpful when another voice out there explains this to readers in a direct, honest way.

  12. I will say that I do enjoy red palm oil but it is very staining to containers and seemed to leave an orange haze around the stove. I stick with coconut oil most of the time.

  13. About pull-ups: I’ve been doing only neutral grip (palms facing each other) for months (maybe years) now… It’s much easier on my shoulders. I haven’t noticed any neck pain from the movements either. When I do sets of pull-ups, I don’t do a ton – just enough to where it feels right (or burn-out on occasion). Neutral grip just feels right!

  14. Regarding fasting: Fasting/intermittent fasting has a lot of health benefits, even for women. During the fast the body burns fat and does some maintenance. It may be hard to fast if someone is a sugar burner. After switching to a ketogenic diet, I find it very easy to fast, because my body is used to burning fat. Is your food intake sufficient whenever you are not fasting?

  15. Regarding pullups: Try doing Scapular Hangs (googe it) to really strengthen, well, the scapular muscle set – they look easy, but make sure you keep the arms straight and in good form – they should be quite hard, even for a veteran if done in good form – easy if you cheat with bad form.

    As you do a pull up, ALWAYS keep your shoulders down and back (and never allow a “shrug” at any point in the move), and as Mark said, a neutral neck posture, looking straight forward.

    This same concept spills over into DIPS, you must keep your shoulders pulled down and back during the move, do not let them creep up into a “shrug” at any stage.- and prevent the elbows from “flaring out”, keep them pretty much in line with the parallel bars – if you “shrug” you will find this mechanically impossible, and you’ll wind up doing the ‘old “shrug at bottom with elbows flared out dip” – which is NOT a dip, this is a shoulder destroyer. If you cant keep the shoulders back, down, and elbows in, your out of your strength depth and just fooling yourself – revert to dip progressions and build a solid strength base first.

    Same with the chins – if you can’t keep the shoulders down and back, and neck neutral – you need to revert to easier progressions to build strength first – this is like “throwing up the weight” in weighlifting – pick a weight you can handle and build up with patience.

  16. I’m glad you have the same amount of compassion for Orangutans. You have no idea how much time I’ve spent watching documentaries on them and reading about the conservation efforts.

    Hope we can turn things around before it’s too late.

  17. The Orangutans are our primal cousins and we need to defend them by NOT buying ANYTHING at all from the countries involved.

    1. The poorer they become the more they will need to plant palm oil plantations.

      1. True – to some extent – but if the west showed no demand for palm tree oil, then they wouldn’t waste valuable time/resources to produce it. From this regard, I just won’t buy palm tree oil at all, even if it was the elixor of youth – there are other alternatives.

  18. Mark, having broke my neck on a parachute jump in 1984 and having alittle nerve damage for years I have managed correct my pullups and prevent any reoccurring problems by ; doing joint mobility to neck before and after pullups, never going in to exhaustion , keeping neck neutral, keeping face and neck relaxed while pulling and keeping appropriate tension below neck. Try and do them slow most of the time Thanks

  19. Definitely good to know about sustainable sources for anything that we purchase! Thanks for the tidbits on red palm oil availability!

  20. About the fasting and whey protein. I am slightly hypoglycemic, which is nearly completely controlled with the primal way of eating. However, whey protein will ALWAYS make me tired within 10 minutes of having it, regardless of what fat or what not that I add to it. I believe its the insulin response. Try a different protein 😉

  21. Marks comment: “In mice given a diet designed to cause heart attacks” – what diet was that – I’ll do the reverse !

  22. People should also know that palm oil sourced from Malaysia is sustainable. The country has put a lot of work into protecting their forests, and they are also a leaders in orangutan conservation. #mpoc

  23. As a woman who fasts regularly, I completely agree with the idea that you must “break-the-fast” with much much more substantial actual food, especially fat and protein. It looks like the food being used to “break-the-fast” is more carbohydrate than anything else, this is also leading to the crash (along with the fact that it’s not much food at all). If you are fasting properly, your body is working off of it’s own fat, once you give it too much quick burning carbohydrates, the body starts looking for more and if it’s not there, it crashes. If you “break-the-fast” with fat (and protein), you are continuing to use the same metabolic pathways as when you were fasting, so you are less likely to get the crash.

    As women we also need keep our hormonal cycles in mind, they can have a big impact and we should adjust our fasting cycle accordingly.

    It’s a great idea to vary how often you fast, some months I don’t fast at all, other months it’s multiple times a week. If you can tune into your body’s hunger cues and follow those instead of a determined schedule, you might find that you naturally fast some days and other days not. I think that we get too much in our heads about these things and take them to extremes. Just because a little is good, does not always mean more is better.

    The only point I take issue with is using a study on diabetics to apply to people who have normal metabolisms. No, diabetics are not a different species of human, but they do have a dysmetablism. We need to be very very very careful about taking studies that apply to certain groups and applying the results to everyone – if the variables change, the study is not fully applicable. This tendency is part of what got us into the nutritional quagmire we are in currently. It’s good to know the information, but we need to be more careful about how we use it.

  24. I just came across this post. Have not bought Palm oil so I don’t know how it’s labeled. Not all from Ecuador is great, some tropical forests have been clear cut for Palm oil. Of course we are clear cutting natural areas all the time for houses.

  25. Neck pain is a common issue when you increase your pull up volume. Focusing on form is key here, but many people overlook the importance of neck strength training.