For today’s Dear Mark, we’ve got a series of questions and answers related to the successful realization of your New Year’s resolutions. No matter what you’ve actually resolved to try to do, you’ll probably find something of interest in today’s post. First, I cover the eternal question everyone ponders when attempting a lifestyle overhaul: cold turkey or baby steps? Next, I give tips to someone who’s worried he’ll fail going Primal just like all the other times he’s tried to change his diet. Third, I cover how quickly a person might see results from going Primal, explaining the various determining factors as well as the best way to think about your results. And finally, I reveal my (lack of) New Year’s resolutions for everyone to dissect!
Should I go cold turkey or take baby steps in my New Year’s resolution?
Some, maybe most, resolutions will work best with a hybrid approach. Let’s take exercise. Say you want to start exercising. The actual initiation of regular exercise requires a cold turkey approach – you just “start doing it” and stick with it. Go all in. Commit. Safe exercise progression, on the other hand, requires a baby step approach. You don’t launch into 400 meter repeats after not sniffing a track for ten years, you start with brisk walks. You don’t put 300 pounds on your back after successfully completing an air squat, you start with the bar.
Personality matters, too. Are you the type to throw your entire being into a pursuit and stick with it? Go cold turkey. Are you the type to throw your entire being into a pursuit only to crash and burn? Try slow and steady.
Whatever you ultimately choose, the best way seems to be a wholesale lifestyle change rather than a piecemeal approach. That’s why the Primal Blueprint encompasses so many factors in addition to diet and exercise – because sleep, sun, community, nature, and all the rest affect your psychological and physiological progress.
I’ve tried many diets and failed over and over. How can I be sure that if I “go Primal” I won’t be right back to eating unhealthy food next month?
For one, you have to realize that the Primal Blueprint isn’t just a diet. It’s a lifestyle, a comprehensive overhaul of your sleep, exercise, and day-to-day habits as well as what you put in your mouth. Each aspect of the lifestyle supports every other aspect. The food supports the exercise supports the sleep. Plus, it’s designed to be congruent with your physiology, with your ancestral proclivities. It quite literally consists of eating and doing the things that the best evidence suggests our bodies are meant to eat and do. It’s not the final word – such a thing is probably impossible – but it gets closer than anything else I’ve seen. That makes it “easier” and “more natural feeling” than some harsh, restrictive diet that has you eating like a rabbit or meticulously counting calories and weighing food or otherwise trying to directly contradict your natural inclinations. Going Primal just feels normal and right, like you’re not fighting yourself – for most people who try it.
Changing only what you eat will work, but you’ll see bigger, better changes from the complete overhaul, which will in turn give you more incentive to keep going.
Still, it is a big change from what you’re probably used to doing, and you’ll be most likely to succeed if you have a plan. Start by reading (and understanding) How to Succeed with the Primal Blueprint, then browsing the Primal Blueprint 101 or our archives for clarification on specific topics. You can definitely put together everything on your own with these extensive resources, but the quickest, surest way to successfully plan your transformation is to have it laid out for you in a comprehensive single source: The Primal Blueprint 21-Day Total Body Transformation, which contains a detailed step by step plan of attack, meticulously laid out in plain English. If I could pick just one resource for a beginner resolving to go Primal for the first time, it would be that book.
In the previous question, I mentioned the importance of early wins in predicting long term adherence (and long term success). For that reason, you might try the cold turkey approach to get quick, early results that will bolster and maintain your resolve to stick with it.
How quickly can I expect to see results if I go Primal in 2014?
It depends on your starting point and what you mean by “results.”
If weight loss: “The more overweight you are, the more drastic your weight loss” is a good general rule. People with more to lose tend to lose weight faster at the start. The mostly lean will have a slower time losing what little excess weight they have.
If energy: You might hit a lull after a few days, particularly if you’re coming from a high-carb, low-fat diet, but that’s just your body acclimating to the new fuel substrates and becoming fat-adapted, the so-called “low-carb flu.” It hurts for a few days and you’ll probably lack energy as your body learns to burn fat. Once the lesson is over, however, you should have steady, even energy throughout the day. Most people reach that point after a week or two.
If exercise: “Gains” won’t come immediately. Exercise will seem really, really hard if you haven’t been doing it. But it gets better. It gets easier. And even when you’re just starting out and feel useless and weak and slow, and you wake up the next morning sore all over, you’ll feel amazing when you realize that your body is repairing itself to get stronger for the next time. The soreness won’t even last very long – only after the first few workouts, probably. After that, expect to feel renewed and energized following your training.
If sleep: Sleep seems to improve almost immediately, especially if you improve your sleep hygiene (limit blue light/electronics exposure at night, expose yourself to natural/bright light in the morning and throughout the day). Studies show that nighttime blue light has an immediate and acute impact on sleep quality, so limiting it will have a similarly acute but opposite effect.
You’ll get the best – and fastest- results if you embrace “going Primal” as a holistic enterprise. Take heed of all Ten Laws, not just the “avoid grains and eat more fat” stuff.
Keep in mind, though, that dwelling on the often vast gulf between your current state and your desired end point – 100 pounds lost, six pack abs evident in bad lighting, pharmaceutical cocktail discarded and prescriptions non-renewed – can be counterproductive, like the bored child on the family trip in the backseat of his parent’s car feeling like he’ll never reach Disneyland hundreds of miles away. Instead, chip away at your goal. Lose a pound here. Take in the belt a notch. Add five more pounds to the bar. Lower the insulin dosage a tiny bit. The complete wardrobe overhaul, the honed beach body, and the speechless doctor are a ways off. To get there, you need the small wins, the tiny successes, the incremental steps. Revel in those and you will arrive at your destination sooner than you think. Or maybe you won’t, but at least the trip won’t have seemed agonizingly long.
What are your NY resolutions for 2014?
I have but one standing resolution, which I renew each year: help people get healthy and happy. That’s boring, though. Everyone already knows about that one.
Honestly? For me, the big New Year’s resolution approach doesn’t actually work that well, given that the nature of my work throws me for loop after loop and basically precludes a linear path from Jan. 1 to December 31. I’ve tried it out and much prefer a “daily resolution” framework, where I wake up and have a “stuff I gotta do” list running through my head throughout the day. This allows me to respond to the demands as they come.
I also have a “routine” whereby each morning when I wake up I go through a gratitude process, going over how thankful I am for all the relationships, all the things I have, all the things I have accomplished. I acknowledge myself for all that and then ask myself this: “If I stopped today and just sat back, could I be content to rest on my laurels?” The answer is always, “Yes, but there’s still more work to be done.” I keep a long list of all the ideas and plans I could start on (or finish) and then ask myself, “am I excited enough about it all to take it to the next level today?” And every day (so far) the answer has been yes.
It’s really about re-choosing every day (rather than every year), knowing that if I say “no” everything would still be OK. But if I say “yes,” it could be even better.
That’s it for today, everyone. I hope your New Year’s resolutions are progressing well and that today’s Dear Mark provided some helpful guidance where applicable. Thanks for reading!
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.