Dear Mark: Personalizing the Primal Blueprint

Primal life is good. You’ve lost some weight, improved some health markers, enjoy steady even energy throughout the day, and you finally look forward to exercise (and movement in general) for the first time in a long while. You love the food, and the compliments you’ve started receiving since beginning to eat it, and you’re generally content, but something’s missing. It’s not that you aren’t satisfied; it’s that you’re curious about what else you can tweak to make your body work a little differently. You want to see what makes your body tick, and why, down to the very last detail. I get that.

Luckily for you, your experience and the resources in this community give you the necessary wherewithal to find out. Let’s go to the question that prompted this post, shall we?

Dear Mark,

I’m really digging your recent posts on self-experimentation. I’ve been conducting experiments on myself much in the way that you describe for a few years now. I’ve had great success with intermittent fasting, and have found just the right eating window and frequency of IFing that works for me. I’m going to give biphasic sleep a try to see how little sleep I can get away with without sacrificing ANY mental acuity, energy, etc.

I know you and the Primal Blueprint are all about getting the best results with as little pain, suffering and sacrifice as possible. I’m wondering what other kinds of tweaks I might try out to help me personalize my Primal way of life. I know some people do better with dairy than others, so I’ll probably be testing that out, too. Although I seem to do fine with dairy I’ve never really tried going without it, so I’m going to give it up for a period and do it systematically – recording results and so forth. What else should I experiment with? Thanks for your thoughts. Grok on! 


Glad to hear you’ve found success, particularly by conducting your own personal experiments. It’s pretty powerful stuff, huh?

Further tweaks? Sure, I got those. What follows are some of the things that fall within the Primal Blueprint way of life, but that are individual-specific and customizable. I’m not going to get too deep into how to put together an experiment for each thing, since I gave you guys the tools to do that with the self-experimentation posts, but this will give you a nice head start.


Dairy can be a confusing food for a person to assess. You give up (or add) dairy, and notice results. What’s the explanation? Was it the lactose? The casein? The pasteurization? The animal’s feed? Without getting into more detail, we’ll never know, because “dairy” is so general a term. All it indicates is “food that comes from the milk of mammals.” We probably need to dig deeper and get more specific.

Test the removal or addition of dairy in general to your diet. Goat, cow, butter, cream, milk – it’s all fair game. Try or remove it all and put together an experiment.

Grass-fed/pastured (it can be difficult to find exclusively grass-fed dairy, so pastured, wherein animals get access to pasture plus supplemental feed, is a potential concession) dairy versus conventional/grain-fed dairy. Does dairy from grass-fed animals make a difference to you?

Animal versus animal. Cow milk (or butter, or yogurt, or any other product) got you down? See if goat or sheep dairy elicits a different response.

Fermented versus unfermented. Many people find they do better on yogurt and kefir than milk and cream.

Butter versus ghee. Find out how sensitive you really are to the dairy proteins.

A1 beta casein versus A2 beta casein. Goat, sheep, and Jersey cow dairy contain A2 beta casein, while Holsteins and other conventional dairy cows have A1.

Dairy fat versus dairy protein versus dairy sugar. What’s bothering you – the fats, the proteins, or the lactose?


Because they’re calorically dense, delicious, low-carb, and fit nicely in your hand, nuts are a common weight loss stall food. Not everyone, however, has problems with nuts. Are you one of them?

Nuts versus no nuts. Simple stuff.

Low nuts versus no nuts. Maybe it’s not the nuts themselves that are the problem, but the vastness of your nut intake. Try comparing a low nut intake to a zero nut intake.

In-the-shell versus shelled. For those who have trouble with overconsumption of nuts, I’m a proponent of keeping them in the shell until you want to eat them. That way, you can’t just grab a handful of walnuts and pop ’em in your mouth; you have to work for your nuts, just like Grok.

High omega-6 versus low omega-6. Compare walnuts (high omega-6) to, say, macadamias (low omega-6), or pine nuts (high) to hazelnuts (low).

Soaked versus unsoaked. Does soaking nuts affect your ability to eat and enjoy them?


Fruit has sugar, and we generally recommend avoiding sugar. Then again, fruit’s a whole food that also has phytochemicals and minerals and soluble fiber and vitamins, and we generally recommend eating whole foods. What’s the deal?

Fruit versus no fruit. Again, easy.

Low fruit versus no fruit. Is fruit the problem, or too much fruit?

High-fructose fruit versus low-fructose fruit. Check the table (PDF) to see which is low and which is high.

Types of fruit. Stone fruits versus berries, for example.

Offal and Other Odd Bits

Many people do fine without adding the weird bits of the animal to their diets, but plenty of people find that the addition improves things. See where you stand.

Offal twice a week. Does eating an animal’s organ meat twice a week change anything?

Liver versus no liver. Are you missing out on nature’s multivitamin?

Offal versus muscle meat. What would happen if you switched out your muscle meat for organs?

Bone broth versus no bone broth. Should you be making bone broth on a regular basis?

Bone marrow versus other fats. Evidence suggests that bone marrow was one of the first animal foods we scavenged; what happens if you replace your butter with, say, bone marrow?

Other Food Tweaks

For everything that doesn’t quite merit its own section.

Nightshades versus no nightshades. Find out if you have a sensitivity to foods from the nightshade family, including tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, eggplants, cayenne, paprika, and pimentos.

FODMAPs versus no FODMAPs. Are you sensitive to fermentable, oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols?

80/20 versus 90/10 versus 100/0 (and so on). What happens as you descend the sliding scale into more and more cheats and sensible vices?

Alcohol versus no alcohol. Does it affect your weight, your energy, your digestion, your sex life?

Eating Habits

When you eat, where you eat, and how you eat can all have different effects. Some people do best with a hearty breakfast, some enjoy eating on the run, and some thrive on just one meal a day.

Breakfast versus no breakfast. Do you need to eat breakfast? Do your energy levels improve when you eat it?

Fasting. In light of the recent women and IF talking point, how about trying it out for yourself?

Sit down meal versus eating on the run. What would happen if you sat down to a real meal every day instead of eating on the run? Would it be more satisfying (with less food)?

Eating alone versus eating with companions. Is the food more satisfying when you eat it with friends and family?

Eating before bed. Does a meal before bed affect your sleep, and if so, does it affect it negatively or positively? Experiment with different timing (1 hour, 2 hours, 3 hours before bed).

Exercise and Sleep

Exercise isn’t as simple as “go move.” That can certainly work, and it’s where I’d start, but you can get a little more specific than that. Sleep is tougher, because, well, “go sleep” is pretty much what sleep is all about. Still, you can fine tune that, too.

Workout timing. Are morning workouts more productive? More sustainable? Is your strength better in the evening? Worse? Test it.

Workout fueling. Test whether eating before a workout helps your performance.

Workout composition. Are you lifting heavy things? No? Try a couple days a week. Are you walking enough? No? Walk half an hour every day. Change the makeup of your workouts to see how they affect your results.

Sleep duration. Test whether or not you need six, seven, eight, nine or ten hours of sleep a night.

Absolute darkness at night. How does blacking out all windows in your room affect your sleep? Do you sleep harder but wake up later?

Now, obviously, this is just fine tuning of a fairly well-oiled machine that’s already humming along, as the PB is tried and tested and proven. However, there’s always room for improvement – or at the very least, some lateral movement that while not necessarily improving things or making them worse, does give you a different perspective that can be valuable and instructive. Ultimately, we all must personalize the PB and make it our own. These are just a few ways for us to do that.

So, if you ever get the hankering for some more self experimentation, or if something isn’t working for you, come back to this post for inspiration and ideas. There was no way for me to cover all of the possible permutations of variables, but I trust you’ll figure it out on your own.

Let’s hear from you guys and get some dialogue going. If you’re planning on testing one or more of the variables listed in this post, or anything else, tell us how you plan on doing it in the comment section. Thanks for reading!

TAGS:  dear mark

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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