Dear Mark: New Year’s Resolution Edition

ResolutionsFor 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!

Let’s go:

Dear Mark,

Should I go cold turkey or take baby steps in my New Year’s resolution?


There are advantages to either, and it mostly comes down to what you’re actually resolving to do.

If you’re trying to lose weight, you might be better off going cold turkey. Most of the evidence suggests that large initial reductions in weight lead to the best long-term weight loss maintenance. That said, increased adherence to a diet may explain some of the research supporting the cold turkey approach. It’s probable that those who lose the most initial weight are more likely to stick to the diet because they’re buoyed by the early success. That initial burst of weight loss can really boost enthusiasm and serve as motivation for when weight loss inevitably slows.

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.

For more directed assistance, consider the 21-Day Transformation Program or our Personal Coaching programming. Most people don’t need to go that far, but those who do need more guidance have great success with these programs.

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!

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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46 thoughts on “Dear Mark: New Year’s Resolution Edition”

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  1. Hey I just aatchooed
    Mucous like gravy
    And it’s all over
    So bless me maybe

  2. For what it’s worth to those considering jumping in–I read PB and “went Primal” cold turkey in Feb 2012. After about 3 weeks of adjustment (didn’t really feel like a “flu”), could see I was getting leaner, muscle tone was improving, and weight was coming off steadily. The really good surprises were the better, more even energy, not feeling like a slave to my appetite, and my chronic back pain disappeared. Plus I really enjoyed cooking myself all this great food. Obviously I stuck with it, have lost about 20lb of fat and gained muscle, and at 49y.o. finally have a body I really enjoy, energy to keep up with my kids, and a positive outlook on the next 40-50 years. Sleep is way better and I’m still working on managing stress, but it’s always a work in progress. Thank you Mark and the ancestral health community.

  3. I’m ready for the new year and a fresh start. Cold turkey for me. I also find that I do best if I set up an electronic reminder of my resolution and goals. I set it send me a reminder once a week for the next year.

    I won’t be able to use the excuse that I forgot…

  4. Well my new years resolutions went out the door the first day back at work…. They had candy, they are the dark side!!!!!

    Anyway, I managed to stay with chocolate only but still…..
    I just need to get back in to a rhythm and than the food will get easier as well…

  5. Hey, I only make one New Year’s resolution every year: don’t make any New Year’s resolutions! Haven’t broken it in the last decade or so! 🙂

    1. LOL 10 years ago, I resolved to not making any more resolutions! 🙂

      For me, that led the way to more success. I’ll never be 100% anything for very long, but now I can do for weeks or months or years! Backsliding no longer matters because there’s no “resolution” that’s been irrevocably broken.

      Part of the reason I’ve been [mostly] Primal for over 2 years is the 80/20 rule. So F L E X I B L E!!

  6. It will never be said on this site, but PB– as good as it is- is still a deprivation diet in the context of today’s society. So be very careful when eliminating cultural foods and emotional favorites that you aren’t setting yourself up for an uncontrollable binge-fest down the road. Not everyone seems as susceptible to this, but I was, and I paid the price. Radically changing your lifestyle can work great for some people, but for some the stress of being deprived can ultimately be overwhelming. Take advantage of the 80/20 rule and cheats, and go easy on yourself. If you feel a binge coming on, try easing off for a while and perhaps seek out counseling to see if you can discover any emotional triggers that might be sabotaging your efforts.

    1. Agreed. I found when I added more primal carbs back in….sweet pots, fruit, dark choc etc…..I felt much more satisfied and less likely to binge

    2. +1 except for “It will never be said on this site.”

      Mark has stressed the importance of “clan” and family over pure primal. And, as you say, 80/20 is there for a reason.

      In our family, it is traditional to have blackeyed peas on New Years, and I do (traditionally soaked.) Also “hog jowls” and greens, which are primal. (“Hog jowls” = we had good, filler free pork sausages from Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op.) I also had gluten-free cornbread. I would not usually have gluten-free substitutes but the cornbread was made lovingly by my friend. Also, we had some rice (organic, local white rice.)

    3. Also, I found that if I gave in to cravings, without guilt, they lessened. Each time I simply went back to eating primally when it was over, without recriminations or vows never to do it again etc. I made sure I was satisfied with primal foods by eating those I loved, as much as I wanted, whenever I wanted (still do), and treated the odd slip as part of my 20 percent. The trick is to realise you are truly free to choose what to eat, no deprivation involved. If I want to binge on choc and donuts, I can, anytime I want. I just genuinely don’t want to anymore :-). But if I did, I would, to nip it in the bud before I felt deprived again. It takes time, but go with it, you will get there eventually.

      1. It is different for everyone. Some do better with leniency, some get totally derailed by “cheats”. You have to experiment and figure out what works for you. The best miracle about primal for me is that food loses much of it’s power over me. I can go for hours without even thinking about it, and if you have food issues, you know what a big deal that is.

  7. Love the daily resolution approach. It doesn’t have to be a new year to have resolve. And I completely embrace the ‘lifestyle change over diet’ instruction.

  8. I was really pleasantly surprised by how my body accepted not having grains or sugar. I can honestly say that from day one I have never craved them. Now dairy is a completely different matter. I just love cheese, cream and Greek yogurt but they don’t seem to love me back. From time to time I try to stop eating them but so far I have never managed to stay off of them for long. I must be addicted.

    1. In saying the above, about not having cravings for grain and sugar I have to say that if I do have just one grainy sweet thing I want more as one is never enough.

  9. I have never regretted going Primal. It just makes so much sense and feels so right.

    1. I’d even say it’s the best thing I’ve ever done in my life.

  10. There is no such thing as a NY revolution. Wake up everyday and face the day like it’s your first yet also last day on this extraordinary blue planet. Love, laugh, learn, read, help, educate.

  11. Talk about the “low-carb flu” – I had excruciating headaches for the first couple days of the year due to a radical decrease in carbs/sugars. Thankfully, they only lasted about 3 days and I’m feeling better now. I can already tell that I’m sleeping better, and waking up with more energy. The morning lethargy is gone! Amazing what eliminating anything sugary and starchy can do for you. Best wishes to everyone as they continue tackling this new year.

    1. I’m having almost the opposite reaction! I indulged in some sweets around Christmas & they caused headaches– it was a good reminder of why I’m avoiding them!

      I decided to go fairly low-carb to start the year, to make sure I kick back into fat-burning, but find when I go under 75 g or so, I feel fine during the day but have trouble sleeping. I decided 5days of that is enough & will be eating more carbs today!

      I guess that’s why they say YMMV! 🙂

  12. I know I’m several days past the posting of “Oysters Casino”, but we made this Sunday afternoon and they were incredible! There’s also a lot of options for switching up ingredients. Bibity, bobity, bacon.

  13. W/R/T transitioning to Paleo – I was able to do it all at once, and after just about 2 years, I’d say that I’m 90% compliant – it’s hard to eat out and avoid soybean oil, and I’ll allow a bit of soy sauce and very rarely a bit of rice.

    My wife, on the other hand, is having a hard time transitioning. She makes progress and then falls back – mostly via her at-work lunches. She also insists that she can’t go cold turkey, but admitted that she gets rush and crash the last time she ate a lot of sugar.

    I try to be supportive and non-judgemental – she’ll get there someday, and she has lost 20 lbs just by eating my cooking.

  14. This year, I am approaching the resolutions thing a little differently than in the past. I have decided that the most important things in my life are, more of less in order of importance but also interchangeable, 1) Health, 2) Family, 3) Experiencing beauty. What do those things mean to me? To be as healthy physically and mentally as I possibly can through diet, exercise and mediation; to love and support and feed my family as well as I am able; and to pay attention to all the beautiful experiences I can – music, art, books, and my natural surroundings (I am lucky and grateful to live in SW Washington and work in Portland, Oregon, and this landscape is a continual source of beauty in and of itself). I really like the gratitude process that Mark does, too. I want to incorporate that in there somewhere.

    Happy New Year, everyone!

  15. I actually found the primal diet very hard the first time around when I tried it a year and a half ago. Ever since then it was on and off because I always felt so hungry all the time. This new years I decided to go basically primal but added calorie counting on myfitnesspal to avoid eating too much or binge-eating at night. What I discovered was when eating mostly protein, it is really hard to achieve even 1800 calories in a day, even with some healthy fats. So moral of the story, It might be helpful to calorie count or protein count just to make sure you are getting enough to feel satisfied throughout the day. Now that I actually achieve the required protein for my body, I’m quite satisfied all day every day. I eat a protein shake in the morning (stevia sweetened only, 60g), a snack of hard boiled eggs (24g), primal lunch (15-30g), another snack (5-15g), and then a primal dinner (20-40g). If I’m still lacking after dinner (which I usually am) then I make ANOTHER protein shake to get me the rest of the way to my 160-190g of protein goal. I think people don’t realize it takes lots of food to hit the protein goals especially while doing the heavy lifting and sprinting. Just my 2 cents, maybe I”m the only braindead person that didn’t think through portions when diving in. 🙂

    1. Agree with this. When I attempted a whole 30 last year I had to stop as I was sooooo tired and lacking in energy and thinking about food all the time. I have since realised that although I was following the guidelines and eating until full at every meal, I just wasn’t getting enough calories. Now I eat plenty of sweet potatoes, a bit of rice and snack on fruit whenever I feel the need, plus dark choc when I feel Like it :-). I feel much more satisfied and no longer have the urge to binge.

      I also agree with mike w – you really need to make the most of the 80/20 approach so you don’t feel deprived of anything and end up binging. Nowadays I eat what I want, when I want, it’s just that over time my tastes have changed so that what I fancy is mostly primal. I enjoy non primal treats whenever I reeeaaaallly fancy them….I just don’t tend to fancy them that much anymore.

    2. true–not just protein, but overall calories for me too. I tracked for a while and realized I was consistently undereating by 500-1,000 cal a day, and not nearly enough protein. Once I fixed that the energy came back and I didn’t feel like eating all the dried apricots and dark chocolate left in the house at night…

    3. I’ve recently started lifting heavy, and am now trying to cut some fat in time for summer, and have noticed the same thing: Eating lots of protein makes it really hard to eat enough calories. I thought I was doing well until I started plugging all my food into FitDay and found that what I estimated was around 2000 calories a day was closer to 1300!

      Now I’ve added a protein shake, a little peanut butter, and some more fruit.

  16. I started by reducing carbs in general to 80 or less as I felt like this was a good starting point. Before when I tried reducing carbs extremely low it did make me a little sick and its hard to function at work. By allowing the 80 grams of carbs, I was usually only eating some crackers or one slice of bread a day as my grain because the rest was spent on fruit or higher carb veggies. When that became fairly easy I started going more Paleo and skipping the grains too. So if taking baby steps is easier, I would say go for it. The one caveat I would say is have a plan and structure for those baby steps or pretty soon you are cheating on everything.

  17. Anyone who is making a transition to Primal Living should first read the book “The Slight Edge” by Jeff Olson.

    It’s a philosophy (a version of the japanese ‘Kaizen’) that will guarantee success in anything you want to achieve.

  18. And if your focus is losing weight, it gets tougher when you’ve gone down a lot. I’m currently stuck at 225, which doesn’t bother my much as I started at 340+! So, I can wait. 🙂

  19. Happy New Year Mark, and MDA Community. Mark, first off, I wanted to say thank you for all you do. Second, I was almost surprised to see a post for people to discuss New Year’s Resolutions because, in my own opinion, it is almost as much of a “fad” as “fad diets.” Still, some people benefit from it and choose to make better choices at this time and do stick with them, so if the occasion is what lights the fire, power to those people! Finally, I’d like to agree with your approach of being resolute in your choices daily. This is particularly good for someone like me (it is likely I have some form of ADD). Choosing everyday to stick to your chosen path is more powerful (for me) than picking an occasion, making the resolution, and then not verbalizing it repeatedly.

  20. The key to my success (40kg weight loss) was baby steps, rather than cold turkey. Maybe because I didn’t have any high expectations or a track record of success, the small wins along the way built my confidence and encouraged me to pursue it further.
    Baby steps were easier for me to implement into my life – focusing on one change at a time. Ok, it took a long time to lose my excess weight but I’ve kept it off for 5+ years now and I’m still experimenting and tweaking with little baby steps. I also didn’t start with paleo/primal.
    Man, I’ve got to write my own success story one of these days.

  21. I found that timing is as important as resolution – I’ve always known that in the winter I’ve had major, MAJOR chocolate addiction limited only by budgeting only to allow myself one 400g bar a day of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk, or a 4-pack of Twix… Also I’ve always loved winter comfort food. I thought: “why make it hard for myself by starting in January” so waited until July, when the heat meant I always went right off chocolate, and salads were a real pleasure. I now haven’t had chocolate in 18 months – just never went back to it after the summer break and never give it a thought. I was lucky in that I’ve never been a huge fan of bread, (used to have 2 slices of white toasted with honey for breakfast only) and always hated cereal. Had a major slide this Christmas though with the Christmas pudding & Christmas cake! But no real harm done, as they are no longer available and won’t be until next Christmas!
    I’ve gone from about 140lb to 125 (I’m 5foot3 and 47) and comfortably manage 8.5 hour shifts on my feet at work on 2 meals a day – a breakfast of 2 slices of ham with 3 scrambled eggs and then a stir fry or stew type evening meal. I honestly don’t feel hungry during the day, and sleep well most nights, certainly better than I ever did with the choc habit! I feel really lucky to have found the Primal lifestyle, and am particularly grateful to Mark for the huge amount of research, advice and encouragement he gives out here.
    All the best xx

  22. I have lurked here for quite some time and just want to say thanks to both Mark and the community for making this site such an inspiring place. I am now 3 days into a primal lifestyle (no grains of any sort, a max of 75 carbs a day from veggies and fruit and a small amount of full fat cheese or butter, sleeping at least 8 hours, and more walking), and have also not had a cigarette in those 3 days! I have tried to quit before, but have noticed this time that I haven’t had many cravings at all…perhaps the grain heavy diet I had before was increasing my smoking cravings? Or maybe it’s just that I am truly ready for a change. My wife and I are doing this together and both have at least 100 pounds to lose- it’s a lot, but every day is another step. By being focused and truly present in each day, we will achieve our goals! 🙂

    1. Three days in! I remember when I was in my first week! So exciting. I really hope you both find a healthy path. Keep open with each other, support each other’s slips, cheer each other’s wins! Remember that it’s not a contest! You’ll both end up the winners, even if there are little setbacks. Good Luck!

  23. Hi Mark,
    I understand that we should limit our exposure to light at night while sleeping and it’s best to sleep in a pitch black room. However…I wake up feeling trapped if it’s too dark and seriously freak out. So I usually leave my curtains open to let outside moonlight and streetlight come in. Am I doomed to bad quality sleep?


    1. What about something like a dim yellow nightlight, smoldering campfire style?

  24. I have the same New Year’s resolution every year – to try something new, something outside of my comfort zone. Next week I’m going to my first fencing class!

    1. That’s an awesome resolution 🙂 Might have to steal it!
      Another resolution I’m a fan of (and stole from LifeHacker) is to build on a strength, rather than working on a weakness.
      So this year I’m building gradually on my strengths of resilience and mental fortitude by giving up one thing each month for the year. This month – coffee. Not as hard as I expected, but I’m drinking a looooot of tea at the moment 🙂

  25. I went cold turkey I quit cigs and went full grok on primal its been a week I feel great no more bloating muscle pain been doing a lot if walking in the freezing cold since I’m from new york and i love it I eat a big ass breakfast in the morning it really keeps me full throughout the day & most certainly helps with my cravings I have been really low carb to and feel awesome I sleep like a baby now everynight I know I still got a long journey but a happy journey full of health & happiness in my life

  26. Great post as always Mark! One thing I would like to add is that when people get on a “diet” they expect to have some form of a miracle weight loss to occur. I always say that it took time to become overweight and it will take time to lose weight. I knew that when I started the Primal Blueprint it would take time to see changes and it it did. My weekly reward was to get on the scale and weigh myself to see how I was doing. When I hit plateaus, I didn’t freak out; I just kept going with it. I can honestly say that I never thought I could get my weight down to my college weight of 176 lbs from 193, but I did with your help. My ultimate goal is to get my percent body fat down and my lean muscle mass up. Because? You guessed it, I never thought I could have six pack abs! Thanks Mark!

  27. A vote for cold turkey here. When you look back at your scary plunge into the deep end, you’ll realize it was really baby steps that you took to reach your cold turkey goal.