In the Pursuit of Health, Should You Aim for Progress or Perfection?

Two pathsA couple weeks ago I did a “Midweek Kick in the Pants” post directed at those who read Mark’s Daily Apple regularly but were still on the relative sidelines in terms of making the leap to Primal living. Most readers were grateful for the call to action. Many, in fact, shared they needed the push and took the post as the sign (or message) they were waiting for in order to take the PB full throttle. A few, however, expressed some disappointment, saying the approach felt unwelcoming toward those who were earnest readers but not full “converts.” Although I responded then, I’ve given the issue some thought since and wanted to delve into an important underlying concept I see here: is progress enough when it comes to Primal? And what about the impediments that keep us from committing to the a new way of living? Are they merely excuses, or is it more complicated than that?

Let me say first that anyone is welcome here. Whether you’re a full-on Primal convert or a vegan skeptic or anything in between, I want MDA to be a large umbrella community open to earnest discussion and respectful debate. I’m not out to exclude anyone. If a reader comes with good intentions of learning or mulling or even momentarily considering, I hope they’ll stay. The fact is, I appreciate the point reader Colleen made in response to the post: “I come here for inspiration and to continue to improve. I come here for information and inspiration and recipes and help with my health problems. … Moving towards is better than away. Every change you make is positive.” I couldn’t agree more, in fact.

I often say “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of good.” No one here does Primal perfectly (including yours truly). I think the very nature of the Primal Blueprint rejects perfectionism right out of the gate. It’s a guide rather than a dogma. It’s flexible, open, modular. The basic principles hold and make a meaningful foundation for health, but the choices and transition are entirely yours to make and own. It’s part of the idea behind the 80/20 Principle, the dimension of the Primal Blueprint that suggests living Primally isn’t about chasing perfection but exercising the basic principles (particularly the nutrition) 80% of the time and consciously enjoying a certain pliability in the remaining 20% of your day/week. It means if you’re doing the Primal thing the majority of the time, making reasonable choices that don’t fit the core of the PB in that other 20% won’t undo the good you’re doing. (Making every fifth meal an assortment of candy bars or a loaf of bread would be unreasonable, but I think that probably goes without saying.)

Still, I know for some folks the 80% can feel too hardcore. I wouldn’t get too hung up on the number. Look at what you’re eating, how it makes you feel, how well it gets you to where you want to be health and weight wise, and decide if it’s enough for you right now. Are you making progress? Do you feel good?

On the other hand (and this was my point a couple of weeks ago), do you know whether you could feel better still? Are you where you ultimately want to be? These are the reasons to make the leap – to heed the call to action, to respond to the kick in the pants, to jump in the deep end of the pool. That said, the process is a very personal one. We choose our own timing and path based on factors others can’t truly know or judge.

At issue here, I believe, is the question of impediments. Are the impediments we claim hold us back merely excuses? Are they mere attempts at self-justification? Is it just inertia at work, or do some factors really muddy the water? Are there legitimate reasons, genuine complications that hold up our progress or commitment to living a different, healthier existence?

Ultimately, the very question is for each one of us to decide for ourselves. (Yes, I will hand it back at every turn.) We’re each responsible for our personal health. We each have the power to change or not change at whatever pace in whatever way we feel works for us at any given time. The only truth we accept is the physiological consequence of that choice – slower weight loss, lingering inflammation, more gradual healing, etc. I don’t have any delusions about anyone answering to me or the Blueprint philosophy. You answer to your own body and the patterns that govern it. The PB simply makes those patterns more transparent.

We go through personal crises that make even the smallest efforts feel enormous. We navigate convoluted health problems that make going cold turkey difficult and maybe even inadvisable. We struggle with emotional issues around food or other aspects of life or self-concept that aren’t easily contained. As much as we might want to dive in, there might be more to the picture for some of us. In those cases, I hope readers get the support they need around what is holding back their health and well-being. If MDA and its adjoining resources (e.g. the books, the forum, the other services) can be of help, then by all means reach out.

Is progress enough when it comes to the PB? Any effort is a step, and today that’s enough to be in the game. It’s definitely enough to welcome you here. If you’re literally starting at zero but don’t want to stay there, you belong here. Again, a 50/50 approach won’t get you to what an 80/20 will, but you’re on the path and moving forward. Commit only to what you’re truly ready and willing to commit to, but then bring your full attention to it. Feel the benefits. Record them for the days you easily forget and find yourself tempted to slip back. Imagine what another round of change could bring. Envision what that next step would look like – and what support and ideas would be key to that. What recipes could get you there? What coaching or workout partnership would help? What choices could put your over the top – maybe even without as much effort as you think? Progress, when we let it, can become its own momentum as well as reward.

Thanks for reading today. Tell me what your thoughts are on making progress toward a healthier life. What did your trajectory look like? What were your impediments along the way, and when or how did they finally lift in the process? Have a good end to the week, everybody.

About the Author

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

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103 thoughts on “In the Pursuit of Health, Should You Aim for Progress or Perfection?”

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  1. What really sets Primal apart is it being a framework rather than hard and fast rules. Most of it’s practitioners are smart enough to realize that one size-fits-all or oversimplified sound bite lifestyles are worthless.

  2. Falling off the wagon isn’t failure, not getting back on is. Just keep truckin’

  3. There are honestly times where I just don’t want to be “perfect.” I strive to be near 80/20 and that’s good enough for me. But let’s face it, a little enjoyment isn’t going to kill me.

    1. If you need the 80/20 rule to get enjoyment you are doing primal all wrong. I am 100% strict for 2 years now, and have never enjoyed food and life so much.

  4. The 80/20 rule is a necessity, because it is within that 20% where a person can explore what gets them closer to perfect (maybe excelling is better). I don’t think looking at the 20% as cheating or bad is the right idea. I feel like the the 80% is what research and primal has proved to be true (as much as research can truly prove anything), while the 20% is the unknown. Until you dip into that 20% unknown, you won’t know if there is something out there that could truly make you excel health wise, something undiscovered that has “yet” to become primal or part of the 80%.

      1. I like that too. Also in the 20% you are going to find the stuff that is absolutely wrong for you, but may be ok for someone else.

  5. Reading this article sent me to the Kick in the Pants article I had not yet read. I LOVED and needed the Kick in the Pants! I think you were right on with that post. Some lurkers (like me) do need to stop sabotaging themselves. I do believe, for some people, they don’t jump in because they truly don’t believe they deserve it (health, happiness) or can achieve it. Thank you for both articles.

    1. Yes Denise, I think this is a big one. Not loving yourself and not believing you deserve health! That’s about the only reasons I can think of that people continue to put things in their “temple” that destroys it.

        1. This is the question that I am challenged by everyday. I am a health coach, helping people to implement changes in their lifestyles to optimize their health, and reach their goals, whatever they may be. I am always searching for ways to more effectively support and guide my clients to take the best care of themselves. Any advice from my fellow PBers?

  6. This is a good article, particularly around the holidays when trying for Primal perfection becomes difficult and stressful, if not downright impossible. 80-20 is an achievable goal, maybe even briefly relaxing it to 70-30 or 60-40 this time of the year. If you give yourself permission to do this you won’t need to beat yourself up over falling off the wagon. Keep in mind that perfection is both unattainable and overrated.

    1. planning ahead is the best thing. I’ve already told myself I get to enjoy the holiday foods if I can just stay primal the rest of the month. so far it’s working.

  7. Aim for progress and eventually you will reach the closest to perfection that you can personally achieve.

    I am a martial arts instructor and have been coasting for a few years now. Lately I have gotten the motivation to really start training in earnest again. Everyday I try to do a little more; eat a little better, do a few more exercises/stretches, study some new material. It’s invigorating!

    We have a saying in our school, “If you’re not growing, you’re dying.”

  8. If you have auto immune issues ,80% I found isn’t enough.sigh..I thought Paleo was restrictive enough!

    1. I’m with you. I had things under control and reintroduced a few non auto-immune but primal foods, but fell to 80/20 (or 70/30) for a couple months. Now I’m on the strict auto-immune protocol to try and get healthier again.

  9. Mark is way to nice in his overall approach, and rightfully so because he wants to retain as many readers and supporters as he can while gaining new ones without making anyone feel bad because we’re all not perfect, however I’m going to tell it like it is. The PB laws are straightforward and simple. As long as you follow them it’s no challenge at all to be at least 95/5 Primal, with those few instances being holiday dinners not at your house or that rare Italian restaurant visit (for those that can’t do a whole plate of mussels or a PUFA ladened salad).

    As per Mark’s post last week, I’m definitely an all in or nothing type of person and that’s how I view this Blueprint. If you want to do 80/20 to start off with that’s perfectly fine but after the first few months get your butt in gear and get PRIMAL already. I can’t understand making the conscious decision to start something and then waiver in an out for weeks, months or even years. Drop all the lame excuses and do it already.

    1. I guess people waiver because as you yourself said, you’re an “all in or nothing type person”. Not all folks are that type. Some people have a less hardcore approach to things. Not to mention, variety is the spice of life. Obviously if someone is having serious health issues, than locking things in is important. But for some who have been Primal for a while, the 80/20 isn’t so bad. I find it helps actually.

    2. I have found that my biggest excuse as a teen is the lack of availability of Primal foods. All this really means is that I just need to plan ahead more, and hunt/gather with a little more effort.

    3. This reminds me of the people who say, “I don’t feel sorry for fat people, they just need to eat less.”

      Some people have problems that you and I can’t understand, and for them, maybe, just maybe, 80/20 is a pretty good accomplishment. On the other hand, a lot of people –I include myself in this bunch– get a little lazy and relax a bit too much. So yeah, I need to drop the lame excuses!

    4. It’s not that the PB laws aren’t straightforward and simple. It’s just that, psychologically speaking, they’re not as easy to follow for some people as for others. You might be an all-or-nothing person, and as such, it might be easy for you to follow the PB. But you shouldn’t assume that everyone has the same disposition as you, is coming from the same place as you are. Something that’s easy for you to do might be really hard for someone else, and vice versa for other things. We don’t get to decide what comes easily for us. So I like the spirit of Mark’s post: do the best that you can relative to your own situation, reflect on how your decisions make you feel, and keep making progress.

    5. Dave I hear what you’re saying as I’m an All In kinda guy myself. But I work to help people transition to eating clean and properly exercising for a living, and see a TON of people who can’t make that instant switch that you and I can.

      Often times there’s emotional eating, mindset issues, and other factors that hold people back. It’s like giving someone the keys to the car and there just standing there unable to do what you find so simple.

      While that may seem odd to you (did to me at first), I realized I had other areas in my life that I suffered from similar types of paralysis.

      I think most people have there areas of paralysis whether it’s love, business, telling their spouse what they really think, or a job they feel trapped in.

      Most people have some type of shit in there life (maybe even you). For many people I’ve seen first hand it’s food.

      1. Excellent reply Luke! Not everyone can make the shift *emotionally* . Food, eating and nourishment is about a lot more then the micro and macronutrient component. Eating is the most intimate act we have with our environment. Food represents much more than enjoyment or getting healthy for many people.

        I have faith that the skiddish will dive in when they are ready to. And theor timing deserves respect.(They do come around as I have seen it time after time.)

        This site offers so much to those who are ready in some ways but not in others so let’s keep them in the fold until they are ready to fly.

        Funny that some of us need a kick in the pants and for others that same push is shaming. It’s not what is said but how it is interpreted. We all do well with different structure and support.
        I have actually had clients who thought I was not hard enough on them….just not my style ;).

    6. The big difference is in your point of view. You say: “The PB laws are straightforward and simple.” I say the basic concepts of PB are probably a good idea, and so I try to apply as many of them as possible without it becoming dogmatic drudgery. I don’t like to live my life by an inflexible set of “laws,” I like to try out new ideas, experiment, have fun, and not take things too seriously.

      Mark Sisson isn’t Moses, he’s just a fit and healthy guy who’s put a lot of effort into figuring out how to get there and stay there. And he’s kind enough to share those ideas with us, even if that’s how he makes his living. I’m healthier and happier now than I was 2 years ago thanks to Mark’s advice, but I’m pretty far from living my life according to his “laws.”

    7. I have a friend who competed at a national level in track and I asked her once if she could spot a cheater who used PEDs. She said the cheaters were the ones who didn’t have any peaks or valleys, just top performance all the time, even after injuries. Props to Dave and those like him who possess strong discipline (and not an implied used of PEDs) but realistically the 80-20 principle is a good one to shoot for because it’s more realistic and tends to alleviate the inevitable periods of falling off the wagon and subsequent self-doubt. Human nature, for most of us, is living 80-20, and for that matter, part of the joy is the journey.

  10. It is practice. Just like yoga, budokon, or kettlebell snatches. You are never perfect; every day you practice to get better.

  11. This article was so much more inclusive, welcoming and helpful than the kick in the pants article last week. After reading that one, I was thinking of taking a break from visiting MDA. I’m tired of feeling like my body is a battleground and that I’m constantly fighting failure. Now I’m glad I stopped by today. Thanks for recognizing that some of us have “issues” around food and exercise and that there is “more to the picture” for some of us than for others. Everyone is on his or her own journey. Namasté.

    1. Hi Gydle,

      I’m glad you stuck around. That’s what so great about MDA, there really is something for everyone! One post may be exactly what someone needs that day and a different post will be for another. The best thing to do is always be gentle and honest with yourself and continue the journey in your own personal way.

      Namasté! 🙂

  12. The Kick up the Pants article really spoke to my daughter who has been battling with truly placing herself first (valuing herself) and getting on with sorting her dietary lifestyle out. Since it was published she’s tried to get onto the wagon again, and fallen off, but she’s kept trying and as of today she’s 5 days in and through the worst of the cravings (she has a serious sugar/chocolate addiction – she has discovered).

    For her, sticking strictly to the plan is what has enabled her to get through the cravings/break the cycle. I think for many who have a crack-like relationship with sugar (and I include the grain-derivatives here as well as the obvious chocolates and candy sources) there aren’t any half measures, at least to begin with. However, once through the ‘habit-breaking’ phase the 80-20 variations can help long term for some. BUT there are many of us that find that small drifts from full adherence can easily lead into the abyss.

    I love this community, and Mark’s writing, because it can speak to everyone; there is a space for all of us.

    1. By the sound of things, your daughter’s obviously having trouble with low carb flu. I’d suggest that she starts by replacing sugar with stevia. Once her systems adjusted to that, she can start tapering the grains off.

  13. Great post, Mark.

    The quest for better health should be a passion for anyone. It really took the loss of one of my parents to a far-to-early heart attack to truly get my attention.

    Honestly, I have found that the 80% of the 80/20 principle doesn’t seem to be enough for me. I think I need to be more around 95/5 or at least 90/10. Letting myself have the 20, seems to open up the gateway to all around frustration.

    1. So sorry about the loss of your parent. I bet wherever he/she is, they are grateful that you are endeavoring not to make the same health choices in your own life. Keep up the good work!

  14. I didn’t think the original article was too strong, but then I was already five days (I think) into primal, maybe I would have viewed it differently if not for that. I have however, done it before and fallen off the wagon, but I also have the benefit of not suffering as much as I hear that some people do when they try and go all out., so getting back on again didn’t hurt.

    Maybe I have newbie enthusiasm at the moment, but I count myself as very lucky to be in the right place to be able to say no every time I get offered biscuits or cake at work, and believe me this is several times per day. But mentally I am just in the right place where I know that stuff will literally kill me – sooner rather than later! I’ve just, in the last month, become full-time step mom to two boys whose mum died at 41 – due to chronic inflammation and immobility. Its a powerful motivator to get off the fence. This is making me a bit of an evangelist ….

    But, as Mark said “the process is a very personal one. We choose our own timing and path based on factors others can’t truly know or judge” … my only wish is that everyone makes a conscious decision, in full knowledge of the facts, each time they do something less than primal, and to continue to try to improve with every single decision.

    Please look after yourselves, put yourself first, because only you can.

    Wishing you improving health from this day forward.

  15. I really enjoyed this article. I started eating 75-80% primal/paleo back in May and have seen significant changes to my mood (less mood swings, more positive attitude towards myself and others), weight (I am currently down over 60lbs) and physical ability (I went from barely being able to run 1/4 mile to finishing my first 5k last weekend in under 30 minutes!).
    For me, I need to know its ok if I travel off the nutritional reservation a bit without it undoing all the work I have done. I have had times where I have wandered too far and fallen on my face, but I know the framework to get me moving in the right direction again.
    Focusing on progress not perfection is working for me!

  16. At this time of year my strategy is to be MORE strict most days, because there is just too much temptation on a daily basis to have to think about every decision. I find it easier to have a firm rule in mind overall. It’s less stressful than case-by-case, for me.

    However on a few, pre-determined, truly special days, I allow myself more indulgence than usual. Still no gluten, because I have CD, but some real treats in the form of grains, sweets, or alcohol.

    That’s what works for me, but everybody’s different!
    Healthy holidays, everyone!

  17. Mark, this post brought tears to my eyes. I love MDA, and come here most days for various bits of information on my quest for better health. Thanks for everything you do and your fervent commitment to all of us. You truly are an admirable person and a force for great change!

    Grok on!

  18. I think people define the 80/20 rule differently for themselves as well. For myself, I consider a grain fed steak to be part of a 20%, but others might not. I don’t indulge in “cheat” meals because I feel that without even attempting to stray that 20% fills up fast. For others this may be entirely too fanatical but for me it is perfect. The most important point I feel that is made in this post is that whatever you do commit to, you must pay attention to it and focus on the process.

    Everybody can and probably should approach reconstructing a lifestyle differently. Pay attention to __your body__ not what other people say about theirs. Learn to listen to yourself and trust yourself, but most importantly, learn how to stop lying to yourself.

  19. The kick in the pants article was exactly what I needed. My pattern has been I make some progress but then I revert back to my comfortable eating patterns when things get stressful or busy or I experience pushback from my family. But I know I have to do this. I suffer from an autoimmune disease that has overwhelmed me and prevented me from working. I feel so guilty that I can’t contribute financially to my family. I went from being a healthy, active person who used to race in sprint (really short) triathlons to some days having trouble getting out of bed or walking up a flight of stairs. The posts on MDA have given me hope that I can overcome, or at least improve, my condition naturally and I’m willing to try almost anything at this point.

    The plan now is to do my best to eat primal for my meals I eat by myself and to gradually increase the number of primal family dinners over time so that I don’t overwhelm my family. It’s going to be vitally important to win buy-in from my husband, who likes meat and potatoes/pasta at every dinner. My hope is that once my family sees positive changes in my weight an overall health that they’ll get on board.

    Thank you, Mark, for the inspiration and tools you give to people to help them live better lives.

  20. I love what Coleen said…I come here almost every day…it so uplifting.

    I do struggle to stay Primal…not because I don’t love the lifestyle, but because we are low income and just couldn’t throw out all the food we had before…so have had to work in Primal foods as we use up whats on hand.
    Have been researching grass fed beef and pork in our area and was surprised at the number of place to get healthy organic food. 61 places just in our county and 84 in the next county…this is a lifestyle that has been there for years but is expanding rapidly now.
    Thanks Mark.

    1. Having had to work in Primal foods as you use up what’s on hand, may well be dare I say it, a blessing in disguise, given the number people who suffer low carb flu, during the changeover. You’re able gradually wean your systems off carbs, instead of going cold turkey and changing over in one hit.

  21. Impediments or excuses? That really is the question, and Mark is right that only I can answer that for myself. Like everyone, I have a lot of them. Some are excuses, some are impediments, some are brick walls. Navigating digestive problems and food intolerances can be a huge impediment. TMI, but frequent diarrhea tends to disrupt even the best intentions. Sometimes going for a wog (walk/jog) is pre-empted by a sprint to the bathroom. Ensuing shakiness makes lying down for a few minutes a necessity, and makes a series of squats kind of dangerous. 🙂 But, yeah-sometimes it is pure laziness that stops me.

    Many people are here because they are battling some health problem. Some of us will never LGN due to yo yo weight gain/loss, age, pregnancies, HS, etc. But that’s OK. There is something here for everyone, and I love that there are so many different goals-ripped bods, weight loss, better med stats, reducing or eliminating autoimmune symptoms, staving off age related disorders, etc.

    I am 15 days into a primal/paleo/elimination/autoimmune/protocol diet. It’s frustrating to not see leaps in my energy and health, but it is improving. Sometimes even when you commit 100%, the results don’t follow right away. I try, I fail. I try, I succeed. I keep setting goals and figuring things out. I’m 51, and I recently completed my very first “race”, a 4 mile Turkey Trot. My time would probably make most of you laugh, but I finished and I beat my goal by 2.5 minutes. I am incredibly lucky to have a group of supportive and amazing friends who continually challenge each other. Hi Ann-Kristin!

    I guess my point is that progress is a forward motion, not a speed. Don’t judge. Baby steps or a sprint, this is a good place to be. Thanks Mark.


  22. For some people, the perfectionist approach leads to paralysis. All-or-nothing thinking leads to “Oh well, I screwed up, I’ll start again Monday and I’ll be PERFECT this time! (But first, let me finish this pizza.)”

    For me, trying to follow ANY sort of restrictive diet triggers disordered eating. I know this Primal way of eating makes me feel the best, but I’ve had trouble finding the balance, because when I get too obsessed with my food choices, it leads me back to my eating disorder. So I’m taking one thing at a time — first it was adding more protein and eating more vegetables. Then I got rid of dairy (except butter, which seems to sit okay with me.) Now I’m working on removing gluten. (That one might take awhile!) I’m taking supplements to help my gut health. I’m working on my emotional eating issues. That’s about all I can deal with right now.

    I envy those people who can just go 100% and never look back, but some of us just aren’t built that way, and I appreciate Mark’s encouraging demeanor and philosophy of doing what you can. The amount of information on this site can be overwhelming, and I think it’s important to reiterate that a step forward is better than just standing still.

  23. You know I played around with Primal this year up until September. What I was doing was normal to me and primal was hard because it was so different. In September during the challenge I committed to primal and overall have been doing well ever since. Over Thanksgiving, for 5 days, I blew it. I mean 0% primal. I thought it was going to be hard for me to go back primal and I would struggle. But I found out that now, primal is normal for me. It wasn’t hard at all. That totally surprised me! I learned a valuable lesson from those 5 days. There is a silver lining. :0)

    1. Don’t feel bad. Over the Thanksgiving weekend I had at least one crappy meal/day during a 4 day span, but I was planning on that happening. That’s inevitably what happens during the holidays. Just make a plan for Christmas/New Years.

  24. Ok….. I want to try the primal blueprint, but I am terrified of failing. I am one of those obnoxious perferctionists and most of the time I find myself thinking, “If I’m not going to do [task] perfectly or 100%, then what is the point of doing it at all?” I know one thing– I am perfectly miserable.

    How can I give up my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches? and what the heck is a starchy tuber??

    1. Go and watch Brene Brown’s two TED talks ‘vulnerability’ and ‘shame’, find them at and youtube, especially the second one ‘shame’ that’s a lot about not doing until perfect. Very powerful viewing that really speaks.

  25. Boy, did this post ever ring true for me. Just yesterday I was thinking that here I’ve been eating Primal-ish since the late 1990s, but in the past 8 years have seen no progress. In fact, all I’ve seen is back-sliding (not in terms of adherence to the low-carb WOE, but rather the lack of any meaningful results or weight loss). Part of it is health-related (in terms of menopause), but lately I’ve been thinking that’s an excuse, not a reason.

    A friend of mine at work became Primal this past year. Starting at 350, he’s now down to 280 and can dead-lift nearly 300 pounds! I asked him yesterday how he finds time to work out. He said, “It’s important to me, so I do it. Simple as that.”

    Well, duh! If it’s important to you, you make time for it in your life.

    I’m not working on regularly (other than therapeutic yoga twice a week) because I don’t have time.


    OK, so I do have time, I’m just not doing it. Even though we all know the basic tenets of low-carb/Primal/Paleo/whatever-you-want-to-call-it, we sometimes need help. Around 8 years ago (notice a pattern here?), I did a full 12-week Body for Life challenge. I felt great! In fact, it’s the last time I felt really great. Why did I stop? Who knows.

    So yesterday I’m thinking I have to do something, have to have some outside help. A plan. Something to look at each and every day and say, “Yes, I did that!”

    Yesterday I ordered your Primal Blueprint book, just to remind myself of why I’m doing this (as if the Eades, Taubes, Volek/Phinney, Atkins, etc. books weren’t enough), and I also ordered the 21-Day Total Body Transformation book.

    So thanks for this post. Even us veterans can use a kick in the pants from time to time! 🙂

    1. A trick from blogger Steve at every time you want to say, “I don’t have time for X, Y, or Z,” change it to say “X, Y, or Z is not a priority for me right now.”

      So, instead of “I don’t have time to work out,” it turns into “Working out is not a priority.” I use this a lot to change my mindset over certain things. Sometimes I can live with something not being a priority for the meantime; other times saying its not a priority doesn’t sit well with me and I MAKE it a priority. It’s made a huge difference for me in the past.

      1. Thanks for sharing that Stacy. It’s something I can also use from time to time. 🙂

  26. I find the weekends set me back. I’m great during the week, but on the weekends I just really feel like enjoying myself. The problem is that my forward progress is slow or, even, I slip backward. I’ve come to a realization that while I don’t drink, smoke, or do drugs, I am addicted to food. It took me a long time to understand this. Being aware helps, but I’m not sure what to do to completely overcome my cravings. I have a picture in my head of what I want to look like and feel like; it’s just how to get there. I do know that this lifestyle has helped me, but I want to go further and achieve something I have never been able to reach.

    1. If I were you, I would start small. Pick one meal over the weekend that will be primal, and keep doing that until it becomes a habit. Then pick another, and do the same thing. After sometime, you’ll have an entire Saturday (or Sunday) that is primal and that, my friend, is progress.

      Keep on keepin’ on! You will get there, and it won’t always be perfect or easy. But progress is progress. Best of luck!

  27. I’m about the long haul. I stay on the straight and narrow for the majority of the time but life happens on occasion. I want to be the best person I can be but you only get one life. Make it worth it!

  28. I wish I could go 80/20, but as someone above said, some of us can’t! I experience such pain when I go off Primal even with the most trivial “cheat”, and that need to be perfect regarding my diet freaks me out. I tend to self sabotage when I start trying to be perfect. It’s a total mind game for me… How do I not get freaked out when I really do have to be “perfect” with my diet?

    1. It’s a bummer for sure needing to be perfect with your diet. Fortunately, there are plenty of other ways to get your imperfection in. You could stay up all night posting on facebook. Blow off the gym, and resolve to take elevators and escalators at every opportunity. No stairs for you!

      Take heart. There’s so many things to be lousy at. I’m sure you can find something that works for you.

      1. Can’t figure out if this is supposed to be rude and hurtful or funny, so I’m going with funny and enjoying a nice little chuckle at my expense 😉

        1. Oh gosh. No, I didn’t mean it to be rude at all. Sorry if it sounds that way. Mostly I think I wanted to be funny, but it’s also sort of what I really think.

          I really do think there’s value in not being perfect, in finding an area of life to celebrate our imperfectedness. Anyway….I might be wrong but that’s what I really do think.

          Not meant to make you feel bad at all. Sorry if it did.

  29. When I first found MDA, thanks to a friend, I lurked a bit and honestly felt like an imposter! I had given up wheat, corn and soy a year before, no easy feat, but they made me sick and I’d been on acid suppressing meds for 40 years before I learned I was very gluten intolerant. Off all the meds now for some time, but can’t afford the health consequences of poor food choices.

    So I found MDA and because I thought I was so far from being primal, I felt as though I didn’t belong. But I figured I could keep lurking and learning, and I’m glad I did! The more I read, the more I learned and my diet wasn’t that far from primal so it wasn’t too bad making all the changes I needed to. Now I can’t imagine eating any other way. Not even tempted. It took probably a year for the sugar cravings to really disappear but it’s rare now.

    My area to work on now is portion control. I saw Mark in his video last week eat one little spoonful of coconut oil for dessert and that was eye opening for me! I’ve been eating waaay too much! I get into trouble not from eating non-primal foods, but from eating primal ones, just too much of them.

    Mark, would love to see articles on portion control, maybe with pictures or actual serving sizes, or a list of what you and Carrie eat in one day. My weight is in normal range but I still have too much belly fat and eating 3 or 4 spoons of coconut oil or nut butter is probably not helping (and maybe dark chocolate several times a week is too often!)

    We’ve all got some tweaking to do in one area or another – food choices, exercise or lack of it, rest, etc. I love the positive community I’ve found here and I don’t feel like a lurking imposter anymore!

    Thanks, Mark!

    1. Portion control is also an issue for me. Laurie, I felt the exact same way when I watched Mark’s video and saw him not finish his whole bowl of salad and have that tiny spoon of coconut butter. I love to eat, and just as you said “I get into trouble not from eating non-primal foods, but from eating primal ones, just too much of them”. I never leave any food on my plate, definitely a member of the clean-plate-club here, lol.

      I love your idea of some articles on portion control with pictures and exact measurements and stuff. How about it Mark?

  30. I’ve always been a fan of slow, easy-does-it change, but find that doesn’t work so well for me with this diet stuff. Lots of times I’ve said OK today I won’t have any chips and call that progress. Tomorrow I won’t have chips OR soda. And so on. Trouble is I never really get results that way, and results, ultimately, are what motivates me.

    Primal works wonders on my blood pressure. And no I don’t have to be 100%. I do have to ditch grains and sugar though. Otherwise it doesn’t work, and if it doesn’t work why do it?

    1. Following the 80/20, or even 90/10, guideline, you could have grains one day a week–as long as you can tolerate them.

  31. Trying to keep emotion out of my post but I thank the stars in the sky for allowing me to find a lifestyle that is so easy to follow. Mark, your posts are informative and inspiring to me and keep me moving forward. I weighed 193 in August, had GERD, and felt awful until someone said something about “Paleo”. After Googling brought me to MDA I started my journey and am now 177 lbs. and feel great! The MDA community is truly one of the kindest groups I have ever gotten to know via posts. Even the skeptics, who keep me on my toes, but ultimately your vision and MDA are my saving grace in living a vibrant and healthy life. Grok on!

  32. I just picked up a few of Mark’s books. After giving WAPF a try and some suggestions in the Fourfold Path to Healing, my digestion got worse–no more bloating (yay), but not much motion in the bathroom (boo). I’ve been a bit chicken to start another way of eating, but I like the Primal idea of movement and Mark’s earlier posts talk a lot about stress as well and that’s what began all of my digestive troubles two years ago.
    Perhaps the 21 day challenge is on the horizon . . . right after some soaked oats, barley, and spelt tomorrow morning 😉

  33. I liked the Kick-in-the-Pants article; it was motivating without being shaming. Really, it asked the old question: How’s that working for you? I think most of us in lurk mode can easily answer that it’s not working for us all that well, or we wouldn’t be here, looking for some answers that could change our health.

    I liked this article, too. It’s a great reminder that MDA offers something different from most diet-and-exercise sites: it offers a POSITIVE life change, not more self-loathing and no-pain-no-gain nonsense.

    I’m trying for that first 80%, myself. But being able to come here everyday helps me remember what I’m trying to do for myself and ultimately, for my family. I’m very grateful to the team here for that.

  34. This approach is going to be the theme of my success story when I lose a little more fat – very soon. I started out 3 years ago skeptical and stubborn (in the forum as ‘hedonist’) – “I’m not giving up white rice. Why should I fast when there is lots of delicious food to eat. Etc. Anyway, the Primal I AM doing has helped a lot.”

    In fact, I HAD made lots of progress in every area of my health. But the fat stopped coming off and I wasn’t as healthy as I wanted to be, so I tried IF. The fat came pouring off.

    A couple months ago, I started having lots of senioritis. Then I had something like a stroke (although the neurologist says it was not a stroke and didn’t seem like a mini-stroke either.) The good news is that I came out of it better than ever, which I attribute to Primal. But it scared me into becoming stricter, e.g. really having a Big Assed salad daily.

    If someone had told me I HAD to do strict Paleo three years ago, I never would have started at all. And telling me “Start and pretty soon you will think white rice is tasteless, disgusting slop” would have had the same result except that my reply couldn’t be printed here. By the way, I still love white rice and eat it once in a while.

    P.S. I am looking for a forum name to replace “Hedonist.”

  35. I prefer perfection for myself, however, I know I’m not getting that so this is a nice gift for those of us that fight the urge to get mad at ourselves when we are not 100%. Those occasional dishes of ice cream (and I mean tiny dishes) are not going to kill me overnight. Ahahahahaha.
    I’m a “kind and gentle” method person, those “no pain – no gain” people have me walking in the other direction….. Pain? Yeah, no thanks, there’s enough pain in my world without causing it myself.
    I know that my 20% needs to be with things that are not going to give me more grief than joy, so I don’t eat the grains except the occasional sushi rice. That way there’s no pain there either.
    Balance is nice when you understand and know how to get it.

  36. I loved this post. I think it’s so important to reiterate that everyone’s health journey is personal, and that while the primal blueprint is a great blueprint, it’s important to make our own adjustments. In a post Mark once said to never follow someone’s advice blindly or trust that everything that works for them will work for you (I think it something about not getting too caught up on gurus). I love this approach, that we should seek guidance and others’ opinions but at the end of the day our own personal progress won’t be the same as others’ progress. That being said, complacency is no one’s friend so I also appreciate the part about asking ourselves if we could truly feel better, be better, do better. Great post!

    1. I love “complacency is no one’s friend,” Effie. That’s one of the reasons I love this forum. I love reading the success stories and all the comments posted afterward. I pick up bits and pieces of good information and have learned so much.

      Thank you Mark for all you do on our behalf as well. 🙂

  37. “Requiring perfection invites paralysis.” I have to remind myself of that when I view going 80%/20% as not quite Primal. I’m a daily reader (love the success stories) and have been following the PB guidelines for a couple of months now. I do like “Progress instead of perfection.”

    After the first couple of weeks the 20% started getting out of hand so I made it a point to just not eat out (except for special occasions), cook at home, and stick to 100% as much as I can. I found that much of my eating while out and about was just a habit – most of the time I wasn’t even hungry. Going to the mall does not require also going to the food court!

    For the Perfectionists among us – there’s always Yoda’s “Do or Do Not; There is No try!”

    1. Perfectionism is the enemy. I cannot get coworkers to try anything.

      If you order a deluxe quarter-pounder with cheese from McDonalds with no bun, no mayo and mustard, that is GREAT, not merely good. You have kept basically all the flavor of the sandwich, but trashed 50% of the carbs and nearly 100% of the bad carbs from it, not to mention 1/3 of the calories. This modified sandwich is not strictly inline with PB (actually, it’s not even close), but it’s one hell of a lot closer. I order this all the time. You don’t need to 100% adhere to PB to see results.

      1. Thank you, Jack, That sounds so good! I’ve been ordering bacon-cheeseburgers like that from restaurants since going PB but didn’t think they’d do that for me at MacD’s. Good to know. 🙂

    2. Yay, Yoda! There’s perfectionist-paralysis but there is also a lot of analysis-paralysis – folks wanting to gather data, gather data, and looking for “enough” data before giving it a try. I’m that way to an extent but then I jump in head first.

  38. Everything in nature goes in cycles. It would be best to go one month paleo then one month original diet, then back to paleo in for two months, and keep cycling up to longer and longer periods of paleo diet. Or do periods of whatever length like one day paleo, one day off, two days next time, ect. It’s like training for an athletic event: you can’t run a marathon in one go at first try.
    Each time you come back to the paleo diet, you are that much more prepared, and you know what to expect, and where your pitfalls are. You use the time in between paleo attempts to review your latest effort: did you like this? is it working for you? what went wrong? how can you improve? what didn’t you like? and what could make you happy the next time?, ect. Then just relax into a “normal” and comfortable diet for a while until you feel ready for the next round. No worries.
    This is about self awareness and it’s better to be self aware than self punishing.
    In nature, everything is a cycle, and you always get a second chance.

  39. Oh to have the luxury of being able to be only 80% strict paleo. With autoimmune disease I can mostly stay stable being 98% paleo (AI version + very stable blood sugars) but if I want to improve I have to be 100% for months on end.

    I have just come out of a time when I was really feeling the restrictions heavily, though this week I’m not feeling as resentful. I love the feeling of waking up in the morning after a good nights sleep (I used to wake up 3 – 10 or more times) and feel good in my body. I love having energy (no more thyroid problems). I love feeling slimmer though I still have another 10 kilos to lose. 60 years of depression has lifted. I have a list of symptoms as long as my arm that I no longer have. When I don’t feel resentful at the restrictions I feel great.

    It would be nice though to be able to eat what others eat at Christmas, to have an alcoholic drink I enjoy, some garlic bread, but no. I value my health so much even Christmas day will have to be 95% paleo.

    1. After reading this particular comment I just had to chime into the discussion! I have been reading MDA for just over a month, and have spent countless hours going *deep* into the archives: I discovered that I have, by necessity, moved into this way of eating for over a year now. Like you I have no choice but to be extremely strict dietwise – any cheating, even if minor, requires my paying a price that I’d rather not; those who can allow some flexibility in their eating habits are extremely fortunate to have that choice.

      The list of foods, herbs and spices, etc, that I can safely eat is much shorter than that of those I am allergic / sensitive to, and I cannot risk eating anything that anyone else has prepared. Many times I feel so overwhelmed and resentful, but, then again, I’d rather experience a period of frustation at feeling restricted than to deal with pain, disorientation, analphylactic reactions or an inability to walk properly for almost two months (cumin did that last one to me this past summer). I have had to deal with some cruel and snide remarks about my way of eating and the lifestyle that works best for me, but they don’t live in my body! There are other aspects of primal living that I have been taking a more methodical approach to implementing, but I can’t give myself a pass when it comes to what I eat or drink.

  40. my family’s cooking and food habits is my impediment. try as I might to convince them to not eat bread/pasta/junk, sometimes the best thing to remember is choose your battles wisely. eating one non primal meal a week is not the end of the world.

  41. I’m not sure how I stumbled on this website or Mark’s book, but I got the Primal Blueprint and devoured it. It all made sense to me and it meshed well with information in other books I have, like Dr Oz’s books. I went whole-hog primal cold-turkey. This was not easy. I had low-carb flu on and off for the better part of 3 months and intermittent digestive issues as well.
    It has taken a full 3 months for my body to adjust, but I’m finally feeling consistently good. One BIG trick was taking B-Complex. This has completely solved my energy issues. I’m also paying more attention to my gut after each meal so see what feels good and what does not.
    I think some folks might not jump into primal simply because they do not believe it to be true. As has been stated regularly, it DOES fly against conventional wisdom. I personally have checked against other sources to see if this is real or just made up. I am continually impressed on how much I’ve heard the same concepts from other sources. Mark truly does seem to be up on the latest research. I have some weight to lose and had energy issues before trying Primal, and believed enough to try it. I’ve lost 12 lbs in 3 months and am finally feeling better. Starting to get near the boundless energy advertised. Others may be less convinced.
    My point is simply that one roadblock is probably skepticism for some folks. I would not blame them. But further research does support the concepts in the book. I know it has worked for me so far and I look forward to comfortably losing another 5 – 10 lbs in the next 5 – 10 weeks or so…

  42. The simple truth is this: No matter how avid one becomes or hard one tries there will come a time to fall off the primal wagon if even for one indiscretion.

    It’s not unlike “sin” (for those of you who know what I am talking about. Even with heavenly help, eventually you’re going to backslide- slip up- swallow the non-primal morsel.

    But as some have suggested — you get back on the Grok march and keep going– knowing that on balance, you have not fallen to the point of no return.

    Happy Holidays (Merry Christmas y’all.


  43. Maybe the rest of you are sub-optimal low achievers, but I strive to be purfekt in everything I do.

  44. Ha! So ‘that’ kick in the pants article might be the only one I didn’t read through since I started reading MDA. I didn’t have to, I read the first paragraph and I knew he was talking to me. I knew I wanted to go full primal but it was just so easy to keep going with my usual diet, because my usual diet isn’t a train smash and I am in good health, better health than 90% of the people I know. But no more excuses, I am convinced of the benefits of primal living and I want to experience it in its fullness. I have been eating strict primal since Monday (yeah, I know it’s not a long time, but my journey has started) and I would not have been able to do it without tracking my meals, something I have tried to do before in notebook format and failed. I know log it on and I LOVE all the nutritional info.

    Weekends have always been my Achilles heel, pizza friday night, sweets all through the weekend, bread and pasta when we visit friends etc. So i’m posting to let you all know that I am going for my first full primal weekend and I will make it! Here’s to awesome health even over weekends!!

  45. I will admit that I have not ‘bought in’ to the paleo diet yet. However, I am always looking for ways to be healthier. When I first started reading here about 6 months ago I though it was just to ‘hard core’ or strict for my liking. However, there were always articles that have drawn me back in. This is one of them. A new lifestyle or way of eating and exercising can be intimidating. A lot of the stuff found here is for the advanced, but I have found over time I can take what I need to progress further in my own health. Keep doing good work!

  46. I´m a 73,1 : 26,9 type of a Primal guy. How I know? Well…

    “Eat Plants and Animals” … I reach 84% here (but i didn´t weigh my food, so it could differ a little bit.
    “Avoid poisonous things” … I can manage on average 67% (how much does one “mars” count?).
    “Move frequently at a slow pace” … well, that makes 95% (I´m so glad, it isn´t “move frequently at top speed).
    “Lift heavy things” … 88% (maybe, because not all things I lift are really heavy)
    “Sprint once in a while” … 15 % (I still hate it – please don´t tell anyone!)
    “Get adequate sleep” … 82% (I do love my bed!)
    “Play” … 72% (would YOU like to raise that percentage together with me?)
    “Get adequate sunlight” … 39% (winter in the middle of Europe, you know)
    “Avoid stupid mistakes” … heroical 99% (the missing 1% might be this posting … nobody is perfect)
    “Use your brain” 90% (in the moment nearly 100% due to all this mental arithmetic).

    That makes an 73,1 average (you don´t have to recalculate it – I´ve done it twice).

    Rubbish??? Completely right!!! So forget all this 80:20, 90:10, 95:5 nonsense and just try to do your best! Every damn day. One day you will succeed, the other you might have a little fall-back. But who cares?

    And now I will fall down for twenty push-ups immediately. To improve my average up to 73,2% 🙂

  47. I’m not even close to living fully primal, but the reason I read MDA and recommend the Primal Blueprint is the focus on health, well-being, and thinking big picture rather than advocating a strict “perfect” diet/lifestyle that no one can adhere to while remaining sane and happy. Improvement is always good, but it cannot be viewed in isolation; Completely cutting out something “unhealthy” might lead to negative effects such as not being able to enjoy the taste of something you like, avoiding certain social situations, feeling deprived, etc. One needs to take a holistic view of lifestyle improvement.

  48. I was one the 80/20% followers. I would fall off the wagon from time to time, but get right back on. One of the statements I read some where on the board resonated with me “One cheat a month leads to one cheat a week leads to one cheat a day leads to cheating all the time”. That held true for me. I thought I was doing good; I felt better than I ever had in my life.

    And then I went to a doctor just because I hadn’t been in over a decade. This Monday the doctor showed me my blood work and told me I am a diabetic. I told him the irony was that I had seriously cleaned up my diet, lost 20 pounds, and was eating better than I ever had in my life. I had been doing Primal for over 8 months. He said I had likely been diabetic all along and that changing had done me a load of good, but now I needed to go further.

    Talk about a wake up call. Going from the casual 80/20% to having to stick my fingers every morning is a hell of a motivation. 80/20% is a thing of the past, perfection is now the only possibility.

    If you are in poor health, don’t let that 20% be the excuse that leads you to slide. Take it from me, it isn’t worth it.

  49. I read MDA without fail every day – I’ve fallen on and off the wagon many times but even with all the knowledge and all the books, I never quite grokked the complete message Mark was saying – I kept focusing only on the food part. I’d get the 21 day primal blueprint book and study the food planning part and ignore the rest. It hasn’t been until recently that my brain finally ‘got’ the rest of it – i.e. play, socialize, etc. His statement in a recent post ‘take radical care of yourself’ was finally what helped me understand the importance of all of the primal recommendations. That statement ‘take radical care of yourself’ almost makes me want to cry – does that ring true with anyone else? I think I’ve never allowed myself the time or energy to do so. I’m getting back on the wagon again after almost a year off due to a stressful job situation, 23 pounds heavier and now with high blood pressure for the first time in my life (am only 45). But am going to approach it in kind of a ‘spa’ attitude – doing things that feel good AND are good for me – a ‘taking care of myself’ rather than a diet mentality. My biggest battle will be wine, as it does a great job at helping with the job stress.

    1. I too focused mainly on the food part, but I’m realizing how important it is to implement the ‘rest’ of it. Sometimes you have to be in the right frame of mind for something specific sink in – that’s why I keep reading MDA. The posts from a year ago (that I know I have read) take on a take on a whole new light when I re-read them since my knowledge has increased. For me, getting enough sleep makes a big difference along with daily movement. It’s hard to get enough of both many days! Good luck with the hypertension…I battle this also. I’m trying meditation for stress reduction. Like many others have said, it’s a journey, just keep trying to find out what works best for you. Eventually the pieces will fall into place.

  50. I loved this post but also the previous one. However, I am astonished to discover that what I thought was “normal” might be just me: since going Paleo, I have 100% lost interest in cake, holiday food, etc. The other day I walked past a bakery window and got some enjoyment from looking at a beautiful display of exceptionally pretty cupcakes, but I honestly had NO DESIRE to eat one.

    I assumed that going paleo changed your entire bodily “feel” and desire for foods that didn’t help your body. I have not been tempted one single time to eat, say, pasta, or a bagel, or anything I used to “love” (in my case, “be addicted to!”).

    Before reading some of these posts I really had no idea it was an ongoing struggle for people. That must be simply awful. I know for an absolute fact that I am not doing anything “better” than anyone else so my case must be purely physiological (that is, I cannot take any credit for it), but it is what it is, and I am really, really, grateful.

  51. I am also in a program of recovery for alcoholism, and one of our cliche’s is ‘Progress Not Perfection’ when it comes to our spiritual development…..I think this same principle can be applied to many aspects of our lives, including this one! Just keep moving forward, try not to stay in one place for too long, and try not to ever go backwards!

  52. Big concepts in a short article ….

    Perfection is subjective, and many of us probably tend to be too hard on ourselves, which will hinder our gains.

    PBs, max reps, and similar fitness goals are great for benchmarking but after years and years of working out as a constant in my life, I know that more than half of the pleasure comes in the process of working out. If you think you need to blast through plateaus and beat your PBs every workout, that’s just not sustainable fitness! Workout because you want to not because you feel you have to!!

  53. Primal is working for me: about 90/10 in terms of calories (I still consume oat bran and wheat bran in addition to chia, hemp, and flax for extra fiber due to my chronic diverticulitis) as well as the very occasional sandwich. About 50/50 in terms of exercise: lots of daily walking but not much heavy lifting. Down about 15 lbs in 3 months (top weight 280 goal 180 now 210). Cholesterol is way up (209 now vs 128 on ovo/lacto vegetarian with red yeast rice) due to all the butter, meat and eggs though and am receiving the standard advice from my docs: take aspirin, low fat, lots of whole grains, no red meat, regular exercise, and so on. Bottom line is I am not willing to turn my food or my life over to anybody’s theories, not Primal, not Atkins, not USDA, not the VA Doctors, not Pritikin, not Overeaters Anonymous, not the Church or Sangha. I make up my own mind. That way, I don’t get resentful.

  54. Great! Thank you so much for this post as I totally agree and have had immense success with making progress on the PB little by little. By just changing one little thing at a time I have been able to become almost completely primal in just a couple months. But it didn’t happen cold turkey and I had setbacks and continue to have them!