How to Deal with Common Primal Stumbling Blocks

A 30-day Primal Blueprint Challenge wouldn’t be complete without you facing some actual challenges. Yesterday, because we’re all in this together, I asked you to share your struggles with everyone in the comment board. We all face hurdles everyday, but it’s not often that we get to discuss them with other like-minded individuals, let alone get advice on how to surmount them. Today, I’ll give my two cents. I’ve read through all your comments and collated them to arrive at a couple dozen to briefly discuss. In the future, this post will serve as a resource for solutions to challenges commonly encountered in the Primal lifestyle, an FAQ of sorts. If I’ve missed any major ones, let me know and I’ll see about including them.


“I’m fearing the fat.”

What is it that you fear, exactly? Do you worry that saturated fat is going to induce a heart attack? Cause it won’t. Or maybe you’re worried eating animal fat will turn into fat on your body. Reasonable concern, but it won’t do that, either, assuming you don’t eat way more food than you need. And eating too much rarely happens when you’re focusing on fat, because fat is highly satiating. Fat, you see, is the perfect fuel source for the human body, and once you’ve gotten past the low-carb flu, fat burning mode feels really, really right. To get to know fatty acids more intimately, check out my definitive guide on the subject.

I’m all for fearing trans-fat and processed seed and vegetable oils, but good fats from meat, dairy, olive, coconut, palm, fish, and actual nuts? There’s no reason to fear those.

“I’m having trouble getting enough protein.”

It’s doesn’t have to be that difficult. First, consult this excellent resource containing the protein content of common foods. Then, make sure to include one of the protein sources at every meal. Just eat some meat, a couple eggs, some fish, and call it a day.

“I’m scared of getting too much protein.”

Healthy people can handle plenty of protein. It’s true that some patients with impaired kidney function need to rein in their intake, but protein doesn’t precipitate the problem. In fact, there is far more evidence that animal protein is health-protective.

“I’m fighting a major sweet tooth.”

Ah, the sweet tooth. A common nemesis, judging from the responses in the comment section. I’m sorry to say it, but you’ll just have to bear it out. Stick with the plan, and in time the cravings will vanish and you’ll notice astonishing, subtle sweetness is common foods. I would advise against going nuts with fruit or artificial sweeteners (although if you’re going to use one, go for stevia, which has ulterior health benefits) to satisfy a sugar craving, as they’ll just feed into it and fruit will become like candy (psychologically). Just hold out, let the cravings pass, and then you’ll be able to enjoy fruit and even a bit of honey without going crazy for it.

“I can’t give up grains.”

Sure you can. Like all difficult but necessary things in life, there’s a ten-step process for that.

“Staying Primal on the road.”

You’ve simply got to be prepared. If you’re on the road on a regular basis, and it’s not just a fluke, one-time road trip or vacation, you have to start planning. Fill a cooler with hardboiled eggs, jerky, fruit, veggies, and other snacks. Cook a big batch of steak the day before and pack it in ice; cold steak is delicious. Canned tuna, sardines, salmon, and oysters are fine choices, too. In other words, read my guide to staying Primal on the road.

“I’m running out of ideas for recipes that last the whole week.”

There’s a seemingly endless stream of quality Primal recipes going up around the net (just Google “primal recipes” or “paleo recipes”), but this page and the comments here should get you started for now. And don’t forget about the two cookbooks I’ve put out to address this exact problem: The Primal Blueprint Cookbook and Primal Blueprint Quick & Easy Meals. For weeklong batches of food, stews, soups, roasts, and curries are the ticket. The crockpot is your friend. Keep some homemade broth on hand, plus plenty of fresh herbs. The best part is that the cheaper cuts of meat are best for stewing.


“I don’t know where to start.”

I’ve got just the thing: Primal Blueprint Fitness. It’s an extremely solid fitness plan for beginners looking for simple workouts, but it’s also good for more experienced folks who just want to stay in shape without spending a lot of time in the gym. You don’t even need any equipment, besides maybe a pullup bar (though any horizontal structure that can support your weight works). With PBF, you’ll learn how to lift heavy things, move frequently at a slow pace, and run really fast every once in awhile.

“I don’t know anything about…”


Maybe you just don’t like running? Sprinting doesn’t have to be sprinting on a track. It’s just about moving yourself through space (or using a stationary machine to simulate moving yourself through space) at breakneck speed. You want to go all out, whether it’s on a bike, crawling on all fours, running stairs, or swimming laps. Leave nothing on the table. Here are a few more tips.

“Lifting weights.”

Strength training is an essential human activity, and it can be physically difficult, but it shouldn’t be scary. If you need assistance with performing the actual lifts, check out my guides to the five essential movements: the squat, the pullup, the pushup, the overhead press, and the plank.

“Moving frequently at a slow pace.”

Learn how to walk again. Here’s why you should. If you’re going to do so barefoot, learn how to do that, too.

“I’m struggling with my workouts. Like, I’m not completing them and I’m getting weaker.”

Sounds like you’re overtraining. First, establish that you truly are overtraining. Read this post and get back to me. If you are overtraining, read this post to learn a ton of ways to solve the problem. Eat more food, eat better food, reduce volume/load/intensity, get more and better sleep… those are but a few.

“I can’t find time to exercise.”

Focus on making your workouts shorter and even more intense than before. Think Tabata intervals at four minutes a pop. Take ten minutes out of the day and go sprint up a hill six or seven times. Do pullups every time you pass the bar (or ledge, or whatever you can use to do pullups). And while you may not have time to go for hikes or long walks, as long as you’re moving (through the grocery store, while chasing toddlers, through campus toward your next class, etc), that counts.

“I struggle to play.”

I find that people who can’t seem to play have one of two problems (sometimes, but rarely, both). They either can’t come up with any good ways to play or they can’t get out of their heads long enough to just let loose and get silly. For the former, I have a few suggestions. You can dance, you can play Ultimate Frisbee, you can play Grok tag, you can join a sports league, you can even wrestle with your significant other. You just need some ideas. But as for the guy who can’t bring himself to play, I suggest boning up on how absolutely essential play is to the human animal. We need it to form social connections, to learn how to interact with the world and its inhabitants. And most importantly? It’s simply fun. So do that cartwheel, throw that frisbee, and let yourself laugh. It’s going to be okay. I promise.


“I get sleep, but I’m still tired.”

Sounds like you need better sleep. Luckily, I’ve got seventeen ways to get better sleep. I won’t go into detail here, but let’s just say it involves candlelit dinners of beef heart, sweet potato, and chicken liver.

“I struggle with shift work.”

Shift work stinks, but it pays the bills, so you gotta do it. And yes, sleep matters, and a happy circadian rhythm is good for your health, but neither put food on the table. But, by embracing your situation, eating strictly, training smartly, supplementing wisely, and tricking your body into thinking that everything is normal, you can definitely make it work.

“I can’t deal with stress.”

Nobody wants cortisol coursing through their body on a perpetual basis. If you truly can’t avoid stress (and I can’t, nor can most of humanity), then you have to mitigate it. To lessen its load. To reduce its impact on your life. Here are 15 ways to mitigate, avoid, and manage the stressors in your life. There are some lifestyle changes, some supplementation, and some dietary modifications, but they’re all effective.

“I burn too easily.”

Don’t slather on the sunblock. Instead, bolster your internal, endogenous resistance to UV rays by employing any number of dietary and supplementary strategies. In other words, eat more cooked tomatoes, drink tea, eat more animal fat, eat fish, and take some vitamin D – to name just a few.

“I struggle with my doctor’s recommendation that I avoid all sun.”

Look, it doesn’t take a lot. I’m not saying you should lay out for two hours every day and develop a deep, dark leathery tanned hide. I’m simply suggesting that you get 15-20 minutes of unfiltered sunlight on as much of your exposed skin as possible. Vitamin D synthesis in the skin happens pretty quickly, and for a fair-skinned person 15-20 minutes of full sun are enough to produce 10-20k IUs. Barring that, of course, you could just supplement with vitamin D, but I prefer to get it from the sun.


“My partner doesn’t support my lifestyle.”

We can all deal with people who don’t understand the Primal life, but as for living with someone who’s blatantly hostile to it? That’s tough. Luckily, I wrote an article explaining how to deal with an unsupportive partner. It boils down to being comfortable in your own (Primal) skin, letting your results be the best argument, securing a little section in the kitchen for your foods, and finding a supportive community elsewhere (like here on MDA – see The Forum).

“Family dinners are impossible.”

If you think regular family dinners are tough, Thanksgiving is even worse. Whether you choose to politely turn down the off-limit items, try to convert people to your way of eating, sneak in Primal replacements for neolithic foods, or give in and call it an “80/20 day,” do so with confidence and without guilt. This is your family, and you love (most of) them, but it’s also your life, your health, and your body – and you love that stuff too.

“I can’t explain the PB to friends without sounding crazy.”

No problem. Just give them this PDF. And casually lift the bottom of your shirt to wipe your face as you do it, revealing rippling abdominals that serve as silent testimony to the program’s effectiveness.

“I feel weird eating with others when bad food is around. I can’t handle the strange looks I get.”

Don’t give in to the mob mentality. Either stick to your guns with confidence or give in to the compromise without guilt.

“I hate bringing my own food to parties. I look weird and it isolates me from the others.”

If you’re at a party, rather than nurse your raw lamb liver carpaccio in a corner, bring something to share with everyone else. I suggest something covered in bacon. Bacon-covered dates, bacon-covered dark chocolate (or the other way around), bacon-covered balls of bacon bits. Everyone loves bacon.

“I struggle finding things to eat when out with my friends.”

Sounds like you need the Primal Blueprint guide to dining out. There’s always something you can eat. It may not be perfect, but you can definitely mitigate the harm.

I almost didn’t write this post, because judging from yesterday’s comments, you folks pretty much know what you need to do to get past these hurdles. You have great ideas, oftentimes totally different from what I’ve written about, and I love that. This is all a great big mutual learning experience, after all. So – that’s my attempt at condensing hundreds of struggles into a single, readable post. I’m sure I missed a few worthy ones, so let me know about it in the comment section. Grok on!

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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