Meet Mark

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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May 07 2008

Washboard Abs on a High-Fat Diet, No Ab Workouts and No Cardio?

By Mark Sisson
99 Comments

Mark SissonApologies in advance for the self-serving nature of this post, but I felt that it was time to answer more specifically many of your questions about my own program and to use myself as an example of how the Primal Blueprint works if you integrate all the elements.

As many of you know, I am coming off a three month rehab from knee surgery. I’m about 95% healed now and can even do my “Indigenous Peoples Stretch” (a full unloaded squat) – a sure sign that all is well. Throughout this time, I have maintained my usual diet and have done whatever upper-body lifting I could manage that didn’t also require substantial leg involvement (pushups, pull-ups, dips, cable-work, etc). Despite my (or should I say “because of my”) high-fat diet and doing pretty much zero cardio over the past four months (including a fair amount of down time before the knee surgery) my weight, my lean mass and my body fat have all remained steady.

I went on FitDay.com a few days ago (great site to reveal the truth about what you eat) and entered what was a typical full day of eating for me. The results were pretty much as I expected: 2,458 calories, 58% of which was from fat; 165 grams of protein (1 gram per pound of body weight) and 114 grams of carbs. Now some might say that eating less than 2500 calories is too low for a moderately active man, but there are two points to make here. First, I am never really hungry. On this Primal Blueprint eating style, I eat when I want to and stop when I no longer feel hungry. Pretty simple. If I skip meals, I don’t get light-headed or famished. I don’t ever feel like I need more calories or that I am missing out on anything or “sacrificing” some guilty pleasure. I get plenty of protein to spare muscle and add to protein turnover. I get plenty of fat for fuel – sometimes 65% of daily calories. Second – and this goes to the heart of the Primal concept – when you eat fewer carbs, your body readily accesses dietary and stored fat for fuel. Even at 8% body fat, I still have 46,000 calories of stored fat, at least 25,000 of which is available to use as fuel at any time. Theoretically, you could walk 250 miles on that. It’s a beautiful thing when you direct gene expression to “want” to burn fat instead of always storing it. You certainly don’t need cardio to produce the full effect (you can if you want, within guidelines). As we often say here “80% of your results come from how you eat.” Conversely, eating more carbs drives up insulin, drives carbs towards fat storage, decreases fat-burning by prompting fat cells to hold on to stored fat and makes you hungrier for more carbs. I could burn some or most of all that off again by doing tons of cardio, but that only makes me hungrier for more carbs and perpetuates the cycle. It’s like digging a hole to put the ladder in to wash the basement windows.

The other point I want to make is that I don’t do abs. By that I mean I don’t specifically do an ab routine or ab classes as any part of my workouts. On the other hand, I pretty much work my abs all day long without specifically focusing on them. And that’s an important distinction. Grok probably had a wicked set of abs. He had to. Abs are the center of the human movement universe. They are part of today’s “core”, the fulcrum, the key in Chi. But you don’t necessarily need to do endless crunches, sit-ups, roman chairs, leg raises or other isolation moves to strengthen them. Sure, you can if you want, but I think the best way to work your abs is involve them in almost every other movement you do. Every time you do it. When you do pushups, you should tighten your abs hard, likewise when you do pull-ups, squats, lunges, curls – you name it. And working your abs doesn’t stop in the gym. When you sit at your desk, you should take that opportunity to tighten your abs (and by abs, we mean the whole complex: rectis and transverse abdominus, internal and external obliques, and pyrimidalis).

Tighten that belly as if you are going to be punched in the gut while blowing out the candles on your birthday cake. Hold it for 10, 20 or more seconds a few times every hour. Now do it while slightly tilted to one side. Now the other. For even better results and a stronger core, you would simultaneously contract your buttock muscles like you are trying to hold in the bean dinner you had at Barry’s last night. Do these short exercise bursts while you are driving to pick up the kids or when stuck in traffic. Hell, I do some of my best ab work bent over doing sprint work on the stationary bike. It’s really all about squeezing, tightening and trying to shorten the distance between your sternum and you pubic bone. This is all considered isometric work, but the abs respond extremely well to it. Eat right and those well-worked abs will show!

High-fat diet, no cardio, no ab workouts. Talk about thumbing your nose at Conventional Wisdom!

Further Reading:

What is the Primal Blueprint?

My Knee is Killing Me… No, Really.

My Daily Salad

Are There Any Good Carbs?

What I Eat in a Day

My Weekly Workout Routine

My Sprint Routine Video

Chronic Cardio

Subscribe to Mark’s Daily Apple feeds

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99 thoughts on “Washboard Abs on a High-Fat Diet, No Ab Workouts and No Cardio?”

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  1. Great post Mark! I too avoid most all strict ab work. I do throw in some L-sits and situps on the Glute-Ham Developer in my warmup (though GHD Situps are truly a hip flexor exercise), but not a specific exercise session. Between real lifts like deadlifts, all types of squats (front, back, overhead), pullups, sprinting, and maintaining proper posture, the abs get plenty of work. Amazingly, I too have defined abs on my high-fat diet. It’s a wonder we aren’t both dead.

    Cheers
    Scott Kustes
    Modern Forager

  2. WOW! Great Pic. Mark,you’re a picture of health and of total fitness! You also look like you’re in your 20’s. You’re the perfect example to us all to eat healthy and to exercise,it pays off!!!

    I did want to add that i tighten my abs when i ride my bicycle, which i’ve been doing alot of lately, that’s a fun way for me.

    What a beautiful view of your back yard, lovely scenery!

  3. Great post Mark, and I don’t think it’s self serving at all. You’re showing the effectiveness of the paleo lifestyle, and providing a good example that will get people interested or motivated!

    I’m curious about your carb intake. Is that 117g including fiber, and if so, how much? What are the main sourceS? Veggies, fruit, or both? It’s hard to get beyond 40g eating JUST veggies, so I’m assuming there is some fruit, wine, and possibly dark chocolate in that mix…

  4. You are living proof of the Primal Blueprint. I’ve been strictly following your advice for about 6 months now. I started out at 215 lbs (6 feet tall). I am now done to 197, but have put muscle on. I cut out the carbs (down to about 200 grams a day tops), and have been following your workout routine of weight-bearing, sprints, low level aerobic. I’m even doing the daily salad (most days at least) something I never though I’d say. I don’t have those serious abs yet, but I’m on my way. More energy, less fat, more muscle… what’s not to love? Seriously?

    I wonder what the Barry guy has to say? Ha!

  5. Keenan,

    On that day, I had a ton of vegetables. I wanted to show that if you eat like our ancestors (tons of veggies) you still can’t get much past 100 grams of carbs. As I recall, throughout the day I had 4 cups of mixed greens, 1 cup cherry tomotatoes, 1 medium red bell pepper, 2 cups of steamed brussel sprouts, artichoke hearts, mushrooms, 1/2 cup of blueberries, and a few other minor salad veggies. I did have a 2 x 5 rye-crisp-type cracker (with cheese and a glass of red wine) as added carbs, otherwise I would have been right at 100. I will do a post later on the exact breakdown and an analysis of how it was nearly impossible for our ancestors to exceed 100 grams carbs a day unless they came into a fruit grove. The other point here, is that all my fiber comes from the real foods listed above. I have recently become opposed to taking fiber supplements.

  6. Great post…as a picture is worth 1000 words. Amazing too that high fat diets are “muscle sparing” as they have nitrogen retention properties…so you can still gain muscle and lose fat on a higher % of fat diet. Funny how we all have enough fat to fuel energy for days….yet most people think they need a Gatorade after running for 15 minutes.

  7. You look great Mark. O.K., I don’t feel bad now. I as well haven’t been able to do any cardio in 4 months. I eat a high fat diet and haven’t gained weight.

  8. I can’t see the picture from behind the firewall at work, but I’m sure it’s eye-popping based on the one in my Mark vs. Art vs. Barry webpage. I still have a lot of bodyfat to get rid of before my abs will even begin to make an appearance, but thinking about getting there prompts a question. When I reach my target weight of around 185, that will represent a 55+ pound loss. I can already see what appears to be some loose skin hanging around my waist. Will the skin eventually retract to form fitting?

  9. Mark, you look fantastic. I can only hope to look that good at 54.

    My only other comment would be to ask you to refrain from insinuating that a low carb diet is needed to achieve a lean and muscular body. I mean, that’s what you’re implying: here’s my body and this is how I eat. Correct me if I’m mistaken.

    A quick search of Google turns up literally hundreds of photos of body builders and figure competitors who are far leaner than even you who are consuming over 500 grams of carbohydrates each and every day.

    I’m sure Dave will attack me by pointing to my (much) less than perfect physique which seems to me to be missing the point. I’ve only been training for a little under a year.

    As I’ve said before, low carb diets are great for some people but not everyone needs a low carb diet to be lean and muscular. I encourage people to find out what works for their particular body type. Lots of folks will learn that they feel great eating lots of complex carbs, and have no trouble keeping off the fat.

    I’ll also say again that a higher carb diet creates a more anabolic environment that is more conducive to muscle building. Dave, read that two or three times so you understand that I’m not saying you can’t build muscle on low carbs.

    The reason I keep posting on these sorts of threads is because of Mark’s one-size fits all mentality. He does low carb and so should you! Baloney! Some should, some shouldn’t. There’s nothing inherently superior to one or the other. It depends on the person.

    1. Well, a few things come to mind. First, I tend to agree that straight low carb dieting is not the most anabolic. For strong anabolic effects without gaining fat, or even while losing fat, I tend to think the Anabolic Diet/BodyOpus is the best. I’m also suspicious that the 80/20 rule might end up having the same effect, especially since most people are creatures of habit and would tend to cheat on a cyclic basis.

      Myself, I try not to rely on 80/20 too much, at least while I need to lose a lot of weight, but I do limit fruit on weekdays to a piece after a workout or if I feel I need it, and then eat a good amount of fruit on weekends, usually enough to break ketosis. That way, I’m eating foods I’m sure are healthy, but also getting the effects of the anabolic diet.

      But, at the same time, what’s so great about gaining muscle? To me, fitness is about relative strength – that is, strength relative to your bodyweight. I want to be able to jump over things, pull myself over things – things I’d be likely to need to do in the real world. I lose those abilities if I focus myself on bodybuilding-style work. That kind of thing also takes away the benefits of whole-body workouts: metcon, usable strength, mobility, ability to use your body together in a functional way, and so on.

      I’d say you’d be better off not referring to bodybuilding pictures as your example. First, you’re looking at competition pictures, and they keep that condition for only a couple weeks. How do they get there? Mostly with low-carb diets, then some sugar the day of the show for vascularity. Also, you know, bodybuilders tend to use drugs. Plus, we have little evidence as to how they actually eat or train, all we have is those expensive catalogs called bodybuilding magazines.

      Finally, I’m curious about this idea that it all depends on the person. How, exactly, do two people differ, to cause them to need to eat differently? If it’s mainly a psychological claim about what people can stand, fine, I’m with you. But are you making a physical claim – that different people have different biochemistry and thus nutrition acts differently for them?

  10. Mark,

    Great, thanks for the reply. Even eating fruit, nuts, wine, AND dark chocolate, i find it VERY difficult to get above 120g of total carb per day without switching to non-paleo foods. Once fiber is subtracted, my carb is almost always around 70-80g/day and I’m generally getting 2000-3000 calories per day (22yrold male student with a desk job).

    Fiber supplements really don’t seem to do much in the absence of healthy gut flora, fat, and water, especially once you’ve got about 20-30g already. My personal experience: they irritate my stomach and cause all sorts of trouble. I do take probiotics, though, because I’ve had my appendix removed and so I have nothing to regulate the healthy bacteria in my gut =\

  11. Hey look, I was right. Dave’s comparing my physique to Mark’s.

    That makes sense. Why don’t we compare Dave’s physique to Jay Cutler’s?

    What? That doesn’t make any sense? Oh, right.. Dave hasn’t been lifting weights and eating right for the past 15 years. Sorry, my mistake.

    Dave, when you are ready to make rational criticisms and draw reasonable comparisons, you let me know.

  12. Barry:

    You’re failing to take into account total health as well as effort vs output. Yes, you can eat a high-carb diet and be lean, but it will require HOURS of effort to burn off all of that glucose. Marathon runners are rarely fat, but they certainly aren’t healthy.

    You’re also forgetting that bodybuilders “cut up” prior to a competition, and they do this, generally, with a ketogenic diet or something very close to it.

    You must also consider that the ingestion and use of carbohydrate (ANY carbohydrate) by the body creates AGEs (Advanced Glycation Endproducts) that can be harmful to the body and create inflammation, glycation crosslinking, and all sorts of other problems. Yes, you can be lean, but you won’t be healthy.

    You mention an “anabolic” environment, presumably because insulin is an anabolic hormone and bodybuilders see this as necessary for growth. If your insulin sensitivity is good (as it will be on a low carb diet) your body will appropriately partition nutrients to muscles and create and anabolic environment while you eat. Time in the gym should be catabolic, and your goal should be to release insulin’s antagonist: growth hormone.

    The bodybuilding idea of maintaining ramped up insulin levels to “stay anabolic” is just wrong.

  13. My only other comment would be to ask you to refrain from insinuating that a low carb diet is needed to achieve a lean and muscular body. I mean, that’s what you’re implying: here’s my body and this is how I eat. Correct me if I’m mistaken.

    With hesitation, I jump in again. No, Barry. The point is that YOU came in here saying that you can’t have a full, muscular, developed physique (not your exact words but I don’t have time to look ’em up) without eating a lot of carbs. All this shows is that you CAN have a great physique on low carbs and get the other health benefits that come with eating the way Mark proposes. In this case, the muscle is a by-product of the process…not the ultimate goal. The goal is a long, healthy life and that is what this blog is all about.

  14. Sorry Dave, I NEVER said that or anything even close to that. Also, I submit to you that you can be healthy and still enjoy complex carbohydrates and even the occasional refined junk food treat.

    Keenan, you’re just flat out wrong. Do you know what an “ectomorph” is? Perhaps you’ve heard them called “hard gainers”.

    There are lots of people who can eat tons of carbs, even refined garbage, and not do ANY exercise, and they never get fat. These people struggle to put on even a little bit of muscle.

    Again, it’s different for everyone. Some people get fat, and fast, on a high carb diet. Others don’t.

    Finally, saying that the “bodybuilding idea” regarding insuling is wrong is obviously wrong, since body builders get MASSIVE by eating lots of carbohydrates.

    I’d suggest you go find Layne Norton on MuscularDevelopment.com and debate him. He’s a Ph.D. and a natural pro body builder and he too agrees that low carb is not optimal for building mass.

  15. Barry-

    Again with your bodybuilding talk. Just as Keenan and Dave are saying, even if it is true that a high-carb diet is the best environment for building unnatural (and difficult to maintain) amounts of muscle it isn’t the best environment for overall health. Just as Keenan pointed out, this health program is about seeing results without spending hours upon hours in the gym. It is a sustainable lifestyle designed for optimum health and longevity. Lean muscle mass, amongst other numerous health benefits, is a byproduct.

  16. I’d also like to get some more information on this supposed diet our “ancestors” ate.

    Now, I can buy the idea that they ate lots of fat and protein, but vegetables?

    I like vegetables as much as the next guy, but I seriously doubt that the same primitive people who were chasing animals down with spears were also busy growing spinach and broccoli. At best they were eating wild berries, and some wild tubers.

    I confess my ignorance in anthropology, however, so I would love to know where this idea that our ancestors were big vegetable eaters comes from.

    I’ve also done a little digging into this whole idea of primal eating, paleo diets, etc. and found that there’s quite a lot of criticism of this idea in academia amongst those who specialize in anthropology and dietary anthropology.

    Here’s a book that apparently takes a fairly dim view of the idea that there is even such a thing as a “paleolithic” diet.

    http://www.amazon.com/Human-Diet-Its-Origin-Evolution/dp/0897897366/ref=wl_it_dp?ie=UTF8&coliid=I1H9Z48BZOAR9V&colid=3RCTSSV1NT03K

    1. “Substantiating this theory, the editors’ ultimate objective, requires an extensive exploration of early hominid diets, which comprises the bulk of the book (and is a wonderful read), followed by a demonstration of the ill effects of divergence from this diet.”

      Wrong book perhaps?

  17. Simon, I am not saying that everyone should aspire to build massive amounts of muscle!

    I’m simply pointing out that you don’t have to eat a low carb diet to enjoy a great physique, nor do you have to spend “hours and hours” in the gym.

    Additionally, I’d like you to submit actual proof that eating a diet high in complex carbohydrates is bad for your health.

    Is eating a diet high in refined carbohydrates bad for your health? Without a doubt.

    Please, show me some science that proves, or even presents compelling evidence, that eating oatmeal, brown rice, poatoes – e.g. WHOLE FOOD carbohydrates, is going to harm a healthy (e.g. non-diabetic) person’s health.

    1. Hello Barry,

      I would recommend to you that you watch the following documentary:
      http://www.hulu.com/watch/196879/fat-head

      The original idea is a little off topic from this line of posts, but more towards the middle and end they start to get into the difference between low-carb and high carb. They even have some very interesting interviews with some scientists to show the difference.

  18. Barry,

    You must differentiate between muscle and mass. Yes, you can put on *mass* with a high-carb diet, and then when you want to clean it up to actually show off the muscle you gained, you’ll have to cut up and lose all the excess fat.

    You completely ignored what I mentioned about health consequences. Yes, keeping insulin levels high all day will keep you “anabolic”, but you’ll be insulin resistant eventually and start suffering disorders of carbohydrate metabolism. Yes, you can fuel your high insulin levels and mass-growth via high carbs and might not get fat, but you won’t be *healthy* and that is they key.

    Bodybuilders only look good when they are ripped, pumped, oiled, and prepped for a contest, if at all.

    Of course all the things you mention *work* for bodybuilding; if they didn’t work no one would do them. That does not inherently make them healthy, sustainable, or beneficial for anything except bodybuilding.

  19. Barry wrote:
    “Please, show me some science that proves, or even presents compelling evidence, that eating oatmeal, brown rice, poatoes – e.g. WHOLE FOOD carbohydrates, is going to harm a healthy (e.g. non-diabetic) person’s health.”

    You forgot already, but I mentioned AGEs: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Advanced_glycation_endproduct

    And a baked potato spikes your blood sugar faster than jelly beans.

    Sugar is sugar is sugar. The only difference between complex and simple carbs is the speed at which it is converted to glucose in your body and then eventually stored as glycogen. This process always requires insulin and will therefore always raise insulin levels and blunt sensitivity if ingestion is chronic.

  20. Sorry Dave, I NEVER said that or anything even close to that.

    You most certainly did. I can’t find the comments in the archived files but you said “a full, robust and muscular physique is achieved when glycogen stores are full, and glycogen stores are full when you are eating plenty of carbohydrates.” And that’s an exact quote because I copied it to my website. Again, my beef with you isn’t about what carb eaters CAN DO, it’s with your assertions about what low-carb eater’s CAN’T DO. There are some of Mark’s positions that are certainly open to debate, but this ain’t one of them. The pictures prove you can look great on low carbs. Lee Haney he ain’t–but I’d take it in a heart beat!!

  21. Mark,

    Is their a way for us to see your daily meal plan. I’m having a difficult time getting to 2500 cals per day.
    Thanks

  22. Tee-

    We plan on publishing Mark’s meal plan soon. Check back within the next couple weeks.

    Thanks for the wonderful comments to Tee and everyone else!

  23. Dave C and Keenan,
    There used to be this wonderful tv show I enjoyed many years ago. I remember one of the great lines;
    “Grasshopper…..
    Don’t engage….if you no fight….there is no fight to be fought”

    😉

    Marc

  24. “When I reach my target weight of around 185, that will represent a 55+ pound loss. I can already see what appears to be some loose skin hanging around my waist. Will the skin eventually retract to form fitting?”

    Dave,

    I think that answer will vary depending on a number of factors like age, diet, genetics, etc. Your skin will probably retract a bit, but it only works to a point and if you have stretch marks, you’re pretty much stuck with those.

    After my own 130lb or so weight loss, my skin has actually done a good deal of retracting. Some strength training has helped, and switching from unusually low-fat eating to consuming a lot more of the stuff has done wonders for my skin texture and resilience as well.

    Clothed, most people can’t tell that I’d ever carried around the extra weight, but there are areas where I’d lost comparatively a great deal more body fat than others — places where stretch marks have been a big problem now are areas where I visibly have excess skin.

    I’d imagine that in your case, since you’re not trying to drop as much mass as I did, that you probably won’t have the skin problems I’m having. Going by my own experience, the presence or absence of fat-related stretch marks will serve as a good indicator of where you might experience this.

    All the best to you, it sounds like you’re doing a great job. 🙂
    L

  25. Your 54 and your ripped!! You’re better than Jack Lalanie!

    I detest ab excercises, but alot of the work I do requires lifting, pulling, pushing and sometimes climbing and running. I’m sad to say my 20th b-day is next month and I have along way to go to be fit like you

  26. Mark, that is awesome!

    By the way, what was your fiber grams for the day? I’m sure it was quite high! Way to go. 🙂

  27. Mark,

    What are your reasons for being opposed to fiber supplements?

    I usually have a loaded teaspoon of milled flax and fenugreek seed in the morning and some days ill have psyllium husk too. I dunno if it really does anything – but it makes me feel like Im ‘cleanising’…

  28. Simon: Thanks for the link.

    L: I appreciate the response. I lost 55 pounds once before (back in ’75 when I first went to Thailand) and I didn’t have a problem then. I was just a little concern looking in the mirror last night, and all I could picture was Adam Sandler in “Click” 🙂

    Marc: As a 19 year veteran of Usenet, I’ve typed “Please don’t feed the trolls” numerous times. I know better but sometimes I just can’t help myself!!

  29. So I get this e-mail from Aaron saying, “Come and look at Mark’s abs.” Quel provocative! Don’t tell my husband I said that.

  30. Keenan, your assertion that eating a diet high in complex carbohydrates will result in insulin resistance is complete and total hogwash.

    Aside from the fact that the complexity of the carbohydrates will ensure that insulin does not have to be excreted in large amounts to remove glucose from the blood, the very fact that we are exercising improves insulin sensitivity.

    Dave, you’re right I did say what you quote me as saying, but that’s not what you said I said before. I did say, and I stand by the statement that you achieve a full, robust and muscular physique when your glycogen stores are full. Note that I did NOT say you cannot achieve a full, robust and muscular physique otherwise. I should have been more explicit because your muscles will appear FULLER when glycogen stores are full.

    Besides, Mark is apparently eating 114 grams of carbs which is enough to keep him from being totally depleted.

    You should see if you can find someone with round, full looking muscles who is in ketosis (which Mark is obviously not). I think you’ll have a hard time with that.

  31. Oh, and Dave I have never said anything about what low carb dieters CAN’T do. I’ve only been pointing out what those who eat a diet high in complex carbohydrates can do BETTER.

    As I’ve said before, not everyone’s priority is building muscle and that’s fine.

    FYI, my wife is currently doing a ketogenic diet so I certainly see the value in low carb eating.

  32. Keenan, a baked potato will only spike blood sugar if eaten ALONE.

    NOBODY eats a baked potato alone. They eat it with a steak, with butter, with sour cream.. you know, things that SLOW digestion and make the GI totally irrelevant.

    Thanks for the link on AGEs I will do some more reading up on the topic.

  33. Kennan, from the wiki page on AGE it says that it results from the consumption of fructose and galactose.

    Have you stopped eating fruit? As for galactose that’s primarily from milk.

    Sorry but that doesn’t really cover all the other complex carbs. At best it appears you have a good case for a diet devoid of fruit (which is stupid) and milk (I’m actually contemplating cutting dairy for other reasons).

    Anyway thanks for sharing!

  34. Have I entered some type of alternate reality, where people who aren’t in shape and know nothing about Paleolithic nutrition (Barry) are telling others they need to learn more about high-carb diets?

  35. Ok Barry, one last comment.

    I have two pictures of me and two stories. The first was taken in 2005 at age 20 after I finished a big bulking session. I had spent the previous 4 years working out like a bodybuilder. I ate little to no sugar, only “complex” carbs (brown rice, baked/sweet potatoes, wheat bread, etc) and followed typical bodybuilding low-fat high-carb diet. I worked out 4-5 times/week, did steady state cardio (swimming, usually), etc. This picture is here: http://www.keentopia.net/misc/pics/keenan2005.jpg
    Around this time, I started developing severe anxiety and panic attacks, both of which are disorders of serotonin regulation. Serotonin is largely affected by insulin and messed up serotonin often goes hand in hand with insulin resistance. You can barely tell from the picture that I had substantial musculature, because it is so covered by fat. I weighed about 175lbs and I could bench 240 and squat 300. Not bad, but not great either. A week after this picture was taken, I had appendicitis and then an appendectomy,followed by the mother of all panic attacks. For over a month, I was completely incapacitated and could only sleep for 1-2 hours each night. After months of trying to figure out what the hell was wrong with me, I stumbled upon the Paleo diet on Art DeVany’s website. I dropped the “complex carbs”, upped my fat consumption, worked out less, and did less cardio.

    After only 2 years of this, here’s a second picture taken a few months ago at age 22: http://www.keentopia.net/misc/pics/keenan2007.jpg . I weighed about 160 in the 2nd picture, and my lifts are the same as when I was 175, except that I have more power and control of them now. Panic attacks are non-existent because my insulin levels are low and regular, keeping my serotonin levels low and regular. There is much, much more to the paleo lifestyle and diet then “getting big”; it’s about physical and mental health, sustainability, and quality of life.

    That being said, I applaud your personal efforts and success at weight loss. From what is on your website, you have made great progress and you should be very proud of yourself! Your reading list isn’t that far off from mine either. Seriously, how awesome was Road to Serfdom?

    Mark, sorry to hog your comments!

  36. Your wife is a VERY LUCKY WOMAN, Mark! If you’ve got it, flaunt it. Hope the missus is secure enough not to be bothered by the ogling eyes of other women.

  37. Actually, Barry, some of us do enjoy the taste of a plain baked potato, without steak. I, at least, have reverted to vegetarianism and do not enjoy the greasiness of butter or sour cream. (Truth be told, I prefer the skin of the potato more than anything.) So be careful before you say “nobody.” I choose not to eat the potato because I know it is not particularly healthy. The more time I spend trying to incorporate some of Mark’s ideas–not perfect, but I try–the more I’m becoming convinced that the fewer carbohydrates I eat the better, and those I do eat had better be coming from vegetables.

    And I, too, would be interested in knowing why the change of heart on fiber supplements.

  38. Hey Mark,

    Have you noticed a decline in mental energy or focus since not doing “cardio”?

    I have read several reports that indicate that aerobic exercise is best for mental performance. Any thoughts?

  39. Barry, the largest amount of weight I ever gained in my life, and in the shortest amount of time, was gained while I was eating a vegetarian/vegan (I tried both), whole-grain-based diet. Now, I was coming out of my second pregnancy (this weight gain occurred in the first six months after my daughter was born) and I probably already had issues with insulin sensitivity and so on, but I was also exclusively breastfeeding an infant on demand and “everybody knows” you lose weight doing that, just like “everybody knows” you lose weight on a low-fat, complex-carb, vegetarian or vegan diet.

    I have two Native American ancestors that I know of, either great-grandmother or great-great grandmother, one on each side of my family. On Mom’s side, type 2 diabetes runs *strongly.*

    Did you ever do experiments in science class with starches? It doesn’t matter how “complex” the carbohydrate is–you put starch in your mouth and it’s going to turn immediately into sugar. If it’s a sugar you can break down, it will go into your bloodstream. Sugar is *poison.* If it’s not immediately taken into cells, it will destroy your organs. This is why diabetics who can’t control their blood sugar wind up blind, on dialysis and losing limbs.

    ALL CARBOHYDRATES ARE SUGARS. The only thing making fiber harmless is that you can’t break it down, so it must pass through your GI tract and out of your body. And I love the way nutritionists and people like you have changed the definition of “complex carbohydrate” over the years. It used to mean “starch,” and now everybody’s decided it means “fiber.” Well of *course* you don’t get an insulin spike from eating fiber–you can’t break it down and introduce it into your bloodstream. But unless you only eat fiber, anything you eat that is a carb food is going to require insulin involvement–ANYTHING, even brown rice.

    I’m borderline diabetic now because I believed for years that whole grains were good for you and wouldn’t make you fat. I would give anything to have those years back again so I could eat paleo from the word “go” and not be in the health mess I’m in now. Quit telling people things about their health that simply aren’t true. Hasn’t enough damage been done already?

  40. Dana,

    Thanks for your passionate and very accurate response to Barry. Better late than never to start paleo/primal eating. Gene expression works both ways and I’m sure you can “recreate” yourself over time.

    Unfortunately, after much debate at MDA, we had to politely suggest that Barry might enjoy other sites a little more than ours…We wish him the best on his body-building quest, but (we here) have better things to do than mix it up with someone who seems unable to enter into a debate without hurling insults.

  41. Hey, I’ve been lurking here for a few months, and decided to create an account today. Just figured I’d drop in and say hi 🙂

  42. Hello, darvenginzks! Welcome to Mark’s Daily Apple. We are glad to have you and look forward to your comments. Keep in touch!

  43. “…the best way to work your abs is involve them in almost every other movement you do…” Definitely an interesting an unique approach. If this works as well as you say you should probably market the concept.

    Regards

  44. Hi Mark!
    As always, love all your info. Question: What about Biblcal eating which still applys today? God provided guidelines for today’s ‘poisons’ in our foods, right?
    What about KETOSIS? I haven’t heard Doug or anyone address this subject. I understand a few different things about it. 1- it’s ok, you are burning fat, etc. 2- It’s not ok, after the ‘ketosis phase’ is over, the body regains the weight. What say you?
    Blessings, Diane Daly
    ps-I have a friend that goes by grok 4!

  45. Diane, as I recall Biblical eating includes a fair amount of grain. I guess that was appropriate if one was starving or lost in the desert for 40 years, but we now know that grains are NOT good. Sorry, but that’s the best example I can think of.

    As for ketosis, it is good and it is natural. Everyone is producing some energy via ketones all the time…it’s just not much until you cut the carbs and switch over to fats. But it is certainly not dangerous for anyone who is heathly to begin with.

  46. Hi Mark

    Congratulations on this great website and your achievements. Without going into all the details of my own fat loss / healthy eating plan your site challenges alot of the research I have done over the last 12 months.

    My point is that to “challenge” is good, we learn new information and hopefully build more solid facts. The only thing which has put me off your site is your decision basically to tell “Barry” to get lost because he had a different opinion to you guys and shared the *same passion* for those opinions.

    I read his posts and the replies, he was direct at times and perhaps could have worded things abit better in places but he wasnt rude, just challenging your ideas.

    That’s how we learn! I for one have learnt alot so far from your comments and those who would dare to oppose you.

    Great work btw and I cant believe how ripped you look for your age – an inspiration!

  47. Thanks, Antony. Barry was actually welcomed back a few months ago with no hard feelings. I haven’t heard from him since and I see he hasn’t posted a while on his site. If you see him, tell him to check in.

  48. Mark,

    So if you, at a lean 165 pounds, eat ~2500 cals per day, I have to wonder how that scales to someone like me – 6′ 1″, 245 lbs, carrying around 12% BF. I weight train 3 days per week (free weights, deadlifts, pullups, bench press, squats, etc) and high intensity intervals 2 – 3 times per week, and play competitive volleyball 1 – 2 nights per week.

    I’ve traditionaly followed, at the advice of a sports nutritionist, a 45/45/10 (protein/carbs/fats) program with plenty of brown rice, oatmeal, veggies, and lean proteins, etc. I’ve done ok on all this, but it’s not been completely effective.

    I gotta believe there’s something to your way of thinking!

    Thanks,
    Aaron

  49. Aaron,

    Interesting case. At your height and weight, the BMI index has you as obese (don’t worry, if I were to put on 10 pounds of muscle, I would be overweight according to that). But at 12% BF, you have 215 pounds of lean mass. That’s a LOT of muscle to carry around on a 6’1″ frame. It’s metabolically expensive to keep that on. Requires a lot of calories and a lot of lifting…and probably a lot of carbs to fuel them. So it all gets down to what you want to accomplish. In the Primal Blueprint, we aim at eventually arriving at your ideal body composition, one that allows you to perform well at a variety of athletic feats and to look good as well. It’s as much about power-to-weight ratio as it is to pure muscle mass. With that in mind, we design an eating program that makes certain you get enough protein to preverve lean mass (1 gram per pound body weight per day in your case), then we look at the MINIMUM amount of carbs we can get by on realistically to train at the level you have chosen, and finally, we fill in the remaining calorie requirements with fat.

    This is far different from what you have been doing, but in miy estimation, is far more effective for performance, health, energy and longevity. I’d be interested to see your results over a few months.

  50. Nothing seems to be easier than seeing someone whom you can help but not helping.
    I suggest we start giving it a try. Give love to the ones that need it.
    God will appreciate it.

  51. You ought to be congratulated on possessing the wisdom to apply isometric contractions and a high-fat, high-protein diet towards slimming down to washboard abs.

    I take inspiration from you and nowadays have cut the carbs drastically!

  52. I love isometric workouts.I spend all day trying to get patients to do isometrics to sort out back ache.Well done on promoting true ‘core’ exercise by keeping it simple.

  53. Abs get involved in almost every other movement anyways. Another way to fire your abs is to take whatever exercise you do sitting down (curls, should press, raises etc) and do them standing up.

    That’ll get your abs going.

  54. However, sugar avoidance (i.e., Atkins diet) is not the solution. In a 2005 study by Beisswenger, patients were put on the Atkins diet, and it was found that the rate of AGE formation was actually doubled. (The patients were proven to be following the diet and appropriately “in ketosis” by the presence of ketones in their urine.) It seems that ketosis doubles the presence of methylglyoxal (see 3 above) in the body, which react with Amadori products, forming twice the AGE products that would normally be present. It is further notable that methylglyoxal is 40000 times more reactive than blood sugar itself, so it seems that avoiding sugar in hopes of decreasing AGE formation is incredibly counterproductive. It thereby seems to be the best advice to eat a well-balanced diet, with sugars in moderation, but certainly not restricted as in the Atkins diet.

  55. I’ve understood that it’s 1 gram of protein per KILOGRAM of body weight. Are you sure it’s per pound of body weight?

  56. You are definitely an inspiration. Nutrition is the key to everything, especially great abs. I have seen guys in the gym do hundreds of sit ups and have nowhere near the results you have. Keep up the good work!

  57. I dont think u have put yourself in the shoes of someone who hasn’t done chronic cardio most their lives, or somebody with a body composition that gains fat easily. I used to be alot chubbier but in the past 4 years ive been intensly weight training and changed my diet to high protein, moderate carbs and low fat (That has worked).. I used to eat high fat and low carbs and i did not have abs of steel!!!!! Because you have increased your metabolism through cardio your whole life you can do this, but it is NOT for everyone. If i went and started eating 58% fat i would gain a huge gut in a week. What to speak of coronary heart disease and other diseases!

  58. This explains it perfectly. I have been telling my friends to go on this kind of diet for quite some time now. They go on it, lose a lot of weight and then they get off it.

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  71. mrk, lookin’ good!
    i’ve been engaging my abs conciously in daily acivities and by bed i fell my abs are way more tore up than they ever were back when i was doing crunches with my nifty inversion boots i can only assume it’s got something to do with constant work ammounting to more than one workout a day ever could… keep ’em comin’

  72. Hmmm, i love this site, im 18 years and i started at low carb and my intake was 50 and less every day, i think you have a different way of measureing carbs in america, but here in norway fiber and carbs are seperated, hence my intake daily is around 50 carbs, little to zero sugar and alot of fat and proteins, and i do workout 4 days a week, so now im gonna start going primal, all organic, less nuts, cus i eat to much nuts each day, even do i maintain my 2:1:1 ratio, but what amount of carbs ( including fiber ) do you recommend each day ?

  73. Does foods like cheese, double cream or yogurt halts getting a 6-pack?

  74. Hey Mark,

    Great post!! I am loving the information you provide, hard to believe its all free sometimes!

    Anyway, obviously from what you are saying, we should use our abs during everything we do including all of our workouts. But, I was wondering if their are any negative effects from that? We don’t do the same workout every day, but is it okay to work your Abs every day? I am coming from a P90X point of view of where Tony Horton has said you shouldn’t work your Abs every day… So just trying to get the best info out there. Trying very hard to get rid of that fat around the stomach so very interested to hear a response!

    Best Regards,
    Andrew

  75. This is a message to Barry.

    Ditto Keenan: “sugar is sugar is sugar”. All carbohydrates eventually convert into the same thing. Whether you use that stored glucose or not is up to you; if you eat too much and are not mindful of using it, it will be stored as fat. In the meantime, it will create a very acidic and disease-forming environment in your body, as well as promote inflammation and a host of other problems we are only just scratching the surface of. In our modern society, with all the high-stress, the last thing we need is internal, nutritional-stress to compound the negative effects of stress that we already succumb to.

    Whole grains are in fact worse than refined carbohydrates. They have a host of nasty little toxins that block nutrient absorption, lower our immune system, and also the extra fiber that comes along with them is rough, and just aggravates our digestive tract and possibly increases our colon/intestinal cancer risk factors.

    Yeah, sure. A lot of folk can look healthy, can even live long lives whilst eating a lot of grains. But have they gotten diseases, had terrible health at one point, how fit are they, what are they able to do, are they mentally fit? There are probably a lot of other things happening that we don’t understand. Just because people look alright on the outside doesn’t mean there aren’t illnesses beginning on the inside. I know of a ton of Albanian farmers, for example, who live to be 85, 95, even 105. There are a lot of them. The biggest things that affect their longevity, despite eating all that bread and rice and beans? Farming (heavy physical exercise, all the time), fresh mountain air, fresh-from-the-ground vegetables and fruits with potent antioxidants and enzymes, as well as a host of fermented foods and raw dairy. They also have strong social communities and although I am Atheist, they have strong spiritual communities as well which is proven to improve mental fitness. All corners of what makes a person healthy are looked after. The only thing these rural farmers do that one might suggest they don’t? Eat a lot of carboyhdrates.

    … But were they ripped in their 20’s from doing all this labour? No. How about in their 50’s, like Mark is? Nope. I see it in the generations and in old photos. No one is in that great of shape, everyone has a bit of a belly even if they are skinny. Even the ones who make it to old age get all kinds of illnesses, and people often die of heart attacks. Very rarely is there someone who is ripped and lean, even though they probably could be by cutting out the carbohydrates and the Rakija..

    Now, they all lose their teeth from early on in life (I’ve never seen so many children with grillz as when I visited Albania…) because of the high carbohydrate content of their diet… but who needs teeth, right Barry? Whether or not they brush them is besides the point, because hunter-gatherer societies that omit carbohydrates have near-perfect teeth, no caries, etc. That perhaps is another thing to talk about, at another time…

    My point is, for people living a modern lifestyle, who lack a very lucky set of genetics such as these rural farmers, who do not work out as often as they should or live the most active lifestyle, who deal with light pollution, and noise pollution, who don’t sleep enough, who are writing old posts on a corner of MDA at 2:22 am, who live in cities with bad air and high stress and lack of community… that perhaps they need to eat according to the primal blueprint so as to promote optimal gene expression.

    I know this reply is a little past due.. I was just reading all these comments now. But there you have it.

  76. good post Mark. So much confusion nowadays about how to get 6 pack abs and how to trim belly fat. I read a lot of crap, but I like what you say here.
    Cheers –
    Rio

  77. Mark,

    This is a great site & I’ve been following the Primal Blueprint myself, & also got my Mom (in India!) along after she read through some of the starters info.

    I’ve sent her the Book as well! Thank you so much for trying to help us 🙂

    Regards,
    Vishnu

  78. In your picture it looks as if your preparing to get punched in the stomach while blowing out your bday candles.

  79. Just out of curiosity, what would the high fat foods be? I’m well aware of some of high fat food but am curious of Marks or any other readers choices and amounts.

  80. I don’t like to talk ‘calories’ per se, but I think that’s fantastic that you need less calories simply b/c you’re body is using energy correctly instead of needing all from food. I doubt you’d be feeling fine if your same calorie intake was all carb heavy, that’s for sure. It’s the satiety factor too…one just feel more full with proper fat and protein…and carbs that actually provide energy and fuel as opposed to just ‘sitting’ there doing nothing.