Reprogramming Your Genes Starts with Reprogramming Your Mind

Reboot, renew, repair, revitalize? What goals went into your decision to join the Primal Challenge this month? (If you’re on the fence, what vision or particular aspirations pull you toward giving it a shot?) What are you looking to change? How do you hope to feel? What would you like to achieve?

Whether you’re ramping up an already Primal style or beginning to “baby-step” it (more on that tomorrow), rest assured that you’re undertaking powerful stuff. As we’ve mentioned in the past, the Primal Blueprint isn’t about quick, temporary fixes or surface level makeovers. (Although you will find yourself feeling slimmer and looking good…) By its very nature, the PB’s reach extends far beyond the number on a bathroom scale, the arch of a flexed muscle, or the fleeting drama of a bikini reveal. For our part, we have bigger things in mind.

Over the last few years we’ve brought you posts on the latest research in epigenetics, the recent scientific realm that explores the environmental activation and inactivation of our genetic switches. (It’s also the central thread of The Primal Blueprint.) The point here, as we’ve mentioned many a time, is this: your genetic profile is not simply a static, stagnant code that determines your health trajectory in life. It’s a much more complex a picture than that. Think dynamic process rather than set script. Think active intersection of lifestyle choices with genetic factors instead of rigid, predetermined course. The research into epigenetics teaches us this; we are not passive recipients of physiological fates. We’re active players who can create the path to our own wellness. The Primal Blueprint in this regard ultimately restores and retools your systems by reprogramming your genes themselves. As you think about the role of the PB in your life and particularly in this month’s Primal Challenge, know this. Wherever you are in your health journey, where you’ll be tomorrow, next month or next year is all about what you choose for yourself today. Your progress will be written in your genes themselves.

The Primal Challenge fittingly is all about supporting transition for that deep level of change and success – taking that next key step, doing the next good thing for your health: rethinking food and fitness, exploring new dimensions of wellness in addition to refining your day to day routine. Everybody’s challenge will be unique to where they are in achieving health and wellbeing. For all of us, however, the challenge implies an intellectual expedition and personal journey of sorts. It’s about more than revising our planner pages and switching our daily menus. Sure, this month we’ll be offering up plenty of recipes, workout plans and other Primal lifestyle tips. Laying out a plethora of options can take the guesswork out of the implementation process. But our intention isn’t to make the PB seem like a rote prescriptive plan. Taking on the PB lifestyle means making it your own, learning to see it in contrast to the larger status quo as well as your own (previous) standard operating procedure. Time and experience help you peel away the layers of mis- and disinformation, revealing a new center – a new lens – for your thinking about health, a core of common, albeit unconventional, sense. (Look for more on the Primal lens throughout the Challenge month.)

Living Primally – making sound, unconventional choices in the name of your own health and well-being – involves undoing the years of brainwashing that bad science, big pharma, big agra, advertising execs and even grandma have passed down. There’s a lot to unravel, undo, let go of. It’s about sweeping away the distracting, confusing clutter of modern conventional wisdom – the messages driven by profit, spin, and urban myth rather than biological reality. It’s about getting back to Primal basics, the very actions and choices that offer true health and unmatched vitality. In creating a new Primal lifestyle, we maximize our physiological potential and reprogram our genetic mechanisms themselves. When we revise our thinking and adopt a Primal lens in our lives, we have the power to change our health and physiological future. Reprogramming our mind leads to the ability to reprogram our genes – and restore our health.

But there’s another nuance here. We know our attitudes influence our ability to stay on a healthful course. Our thinking in that way influences our ultimate success (or lack thereof). Yet, it appears there’s even more to the story. Our minds themselves, researchers are finding, have the potential to directly influence our health. In other words, our thoughts play into our physiology. The concept has been key to many Eastern philosophies and wellness practices for centuries, and now it’s a new arena in Western medical research. The mind-body connection. For decades, researchers have acknowledged (and through studies confirmed) the reality of a placebo effect, for example. The placebo effect has been measured as an actual physiological as well as psychological response to an inactive treatment. But it’s not all about sugar pills or bogus interventions. In recent years the power of meditation, as another example, has been shown to slow HIV progression, enlarge areas of the brain, and enhance heart functionality (PDF) in those with cardiovascular disease.

Are we suggesting that you can simply “will” your way to health without doing the real work of taking care of yourself (e.g. eating healthy, exercising regularly)? Absolutely not. This website, after all, is all about the daily work (and play) that sets the Primal Blueprint in motion. Attitude, however, can feed that momentum in very concrete ways. Our emotional experiences and reactions strongly influence our hormonal response. The best diet and exercise efforts can ameliorate but ultimately can’t undo the harsh impact of chronic stress and negative energy. Stress management techniques and positive thinking can transmit their own powerful signals to the body, right down perhaps to the DNA. The point here isn’t to live the perfect Zen existence. Instead of the absence of stress, a more reasonable goal can be fostering a deeper grounding for yourself in the midst of life’s circumstances. Practicing centering techniques can offer a strategy and mental space you can return to throughout your day. A healthy life isn’t always about what you can do away with but how you can learn to live healthily with what’s around you.

In a larger sense, you can ask yourself how your thinking has or hasn’t been aligned with your physical efforts in the past. Has your attitude helped or hindered you? What’s been blocking your progress? Are your mind and body truly aiming their energy in the same direction? In addition to adopting the concrete elements of the Primal lifestyle, we challenge you to take on the psychological side of the coin. Engage your mind this month and direct its power and focus to provide the right conditions for change. For our part, we’ll bring you more on this theme in the next few weeks, and we’ll of course be interested in hearing your feedback throughout the Challenge month.

Comments, questions, ideas for this month’s offerings? Send us your thoughts, and hope you’re enjoying this first Challenge week!

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30 thoughts on “Reprogramming Your Genes Starts with Reprogramming Your Mind”

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  1. “We’re active players who can create the path to our own wellness.” I love that line! I’m going to print it out in big letters and put copies up all over my house–thanks! It completely contradicts the powerless feeling I’ve had in the past.

  2. Anyone can change their eating and go Primal if they put their mind to it, that’s the key! A positive attitude will always cause success.
    When someone really wants change and concentrates on setting goals, their mindset carries them through and then success comes their way!
    It’s a process, but it works!

  3. I’ve really been working on eliminating worry from my life. Even though times are much tougher than usual, I feel that I’ve been worrying about stuff a lot less. This could be in partlt do to the fact that I’ve quit trying to keep up with the Jones. I’m placing less importance on physical possessions and more on my health.

    My goal is to continue my quest for more and better sleep each night. This is not only good for the mind, but also for repairing the body from lifting heavy things 🙂

    1. I’m working on changing my negativity and this was a great tip. Thanks!

  4. On positive thinking…

    I’ve suffered from migraines since I was 5yrs old. Most due to stress, anxiety, etc. Back in 2005 I had one that lasted about 8 months…no joke. I went through meds, tests, bio feedback sessions, etc. Nothing helped. Then I discovered a documentary called, “What the Bleep Do We Know.” It changed my life. The first hour is about quantum physics and the second is more about the powers of the mind.

    I realized that I had the power within myself to end the cycle of my migraines and I did….at least the ones brought on by stress.

    I highly recommend it to anyone interested in quantum physics and the way our world really “works” or if you are interested in what you are truly capable of. It is fascinating!

  5. I don’t like to think of myself as joining any primal challenge. I think of it is joining the primal lifestyle (which I did quite a while ago). The latter sounds more permanent.

    My mom has diabetes, controllable by diet. However not controlling it for year (before she knew she had it) has cause several problems. I do not want those problems, so I’ve been looking for a good way prevent it before there is a problem.

  6. Mark..I would just echo your recommendation for folks to also read the Biology of Belief to further expand your insight into epigenetics…

  7. Mark, I hope you will emphasize that “reprogramming one’s genes” is just a metaphor.

    Of course our genes are set at birth and our DNA, or program, is copied into every cell of our bodies. You cannot modify or reprogram your genetic code. Once the machine is built, that’s it.

    The most we can do is change the input to the machine (modify its environment) in order to make it run better, which is the whole idea of the primal lifestyle.

    I really hope you back away from this “reprogram your genes” phrase, as for me it completely destroys your credibility in understanding biology, and detracts from an otherwise superb work.

    1. I’m sure it was meant in the context of epigenomes, interacting with the environment as you stated, in turn affecting our gene expression….so you are not really “reprogramming” them as you stated

    2. Gary, I assure you I understand biology. The idea that we can “reprogram” our genes is the underlying principle of the Primal Blueprint. Yes, DNA in our genes is fixed and can’t be changed. Yes, the set we inherit is the same set that appears in each of our cells. But genes are not autonomous or self-determining as you seem to imply here. They are actually more like the hardware – like little switches that direct protein-building – which only turn on or off based on signals they receive from their immediate environment, much of which we can control through diet, exercise, surroundings, thought, etc. In other words, these switches are programmed by specific signals to turn on or off. Your computer can perform many different and varied tasks based on the instructions from the software (or the change in programming – reprogramming), but the result depends on the specific programming. Likewise, your genes can turn out many different combinations of proteins (or not) based on the instructions (programming) they receive from an environment over which you and I have far more control than most people ever thought possible. Try to think of genes as the hardware, behavior (diet, exercise, sleep, sun) as the software and your actual body as the output.

      1. Hi Mark,

        I respectfully disagree with your take on genetics, your assurances notwithstanding. Genes are stretches of DNA. They constitute the program that builds the cells, and ultimately the body, and this program is similar to computer ROM (read-only memory).

        No diet, and certainly no thinking, is going to rewrite anyone’s DNA. That program gets modified through sexual reproduction and the occasional mutation — and changing your DNA on the fly, e.g. with radiation or chemical tinkering is just asking for trouble!

        You say genes are like “little switches that direct protein building”, but this is only during growth. Once the body is built, it’s game over for the genes. The final product which is the body is now hopefully equipped to struggle long enough in the natural world to pass along those genes.

        An environment, both internal and external, that is harmonious with the genetic plan inside us, will go a long way towards keeping the body healthy, as I am sure we both agree. And that is something within our power to control.



        1. More and more research is showing that genes do indeed get switched on and off depending on environment and possibly the mind. It is this that Mark is talking about. Setting up the environmental food and exercise that turns the right switches on and the wrong ones off. That DNA is set for life and stays static is old school genetics. Our gene expression is far more complex than that. The genes themselves are what they are but whether they get expressed and turned on or off is far more complex. In this way it is indeed “reprogramming one’s genes.”

          What we need to do is figure out how to turn on the switches we want on and turn off the switches that harm us.

          And we need to actually pay attention to real science and not ideology as so many in the medical/nutrition fields have done. Kudos to Mark for creating a life/food/exercise “program” that fits the actual test results and makes sense for the animal we evolved into.

  8. Great Post. Unfortunately meditation and the power of the mind have been negatively associated with the “new age” movement here in the west. That has kept scientific research very limited and the general public from having an open attitude about it. Granted there are FAR more charlatans than legitimate practitioners and it’s good to avoid being swindled – it’s just sad that I wasn’t taught things like this in grade school:

  9. Great post. I highly agree. The mind is a VERY powerful tool that can work against you or for you. Might as well have it on our side, right? 😀

    Remember to take a nice big breath.

  10. Mark,

    Read years ago about Bill Phillips who started the Body For Life movement and the Transformation craze. At the time he was CEO of EAS supplements and published Muscle Media magazine. In an editorial in one issue I remember him saying that he owed his daily successes to the positive people around him. He said in his work environment he refused to be around or work with negative people. So, he surrounded himself with a like-minded goal oriented group. I think its good advice to not only put ourselves in an environment that breed success, but to also turn inward and expect the same from our own thought process and changing it when it turns negative. Good Stuff, Mark!! Many thanks!

  11. Heck if I can change anyone can change their lifestyle i used to weigh over 400 pounds dropped down to 180 and gained 12 pounds so far of muscle weight. It is possible.

  12. This month, I decided to make a full committment to Primal. I’ve been going half-assed for the past year and while I did see some minor improvements, there hasn’t been any weight loss and my health is still suffering. I’ve had this lingering infection since about mid-March and it’s been leaving me stuffed up with headaches, sinus pain, coughing and post-nasal drip. I’m less fatigued than I was when I was still a carbohydrate addicted, but the fatigue is still there.

    I’m just so sick and tired of being sick and tired. August felt like the right time to get serious about being primal. The farmers markets are overflowing with food, my own backyard garden has more than I can eat, and it’s light late, I feel like doing more. Why not get started? I’m hoping to feel better by the end of the month, so far, I feel pretty awful. Exhausted, tired, like I’ve slept five hours when I know I slept nine.

    I’d love to lose some weight by eating Primal, but at this point, I’d consider that a pipe dream. I just want to stop getting sick all the time. (It’s common for me to get 10-15 colds a year. So far, on a half-assed Primal diet of last year, I managed to get by with only 8.)

  13. During the 30 days what is the best way to lose belly fat? Any ideal how much?

  14. Mark,

    Great article. It really touched home because I’ve seen a friend heal his back through mental techniques and I find this truly astounding. I blogged about it at but for a quick summary he had 2 mri scans 2 months apart. One showed holes in his vertebrae the other showed they’d healed. The explanation, I don’t know, but the fact is this should have taken 2 years and he still should’ve had a limp.

    Fascinating. Good work.

  15. i wanted to know your thoughts on how much fat i should be consuming. i follow the protein and carb guidelines found on this website and love how i feel, however i am extremely active with crossfit and crossfit endurance and wanted to know if there is a daily guideline for fat intake. 6’1 189lbs.

  16. Whether it’s a semantic difference or pure science, the arguement about re-programming your genetics misses the point. The reality of a hard-line “you can’t change your genetics” as per GK supports the attitude that you can’t change what you are. It’s the perfect excuse for fat, lazy people to wallow in self pity and refuse to adopt a healthy lifestyle and take responsibility for their own health.And of course a positive approach to life ALWAYS helps and a negative attitude NEVER helps. It ain’t hard to figure out.

    And to Mark, just finished your book. While not a total primal convert,I’m adopting many of your concepts. As a 53 year old weekend amatuer bicycle racer (6′ 166lbs 9% ) I’m in shape. But I’m leaning more and more towards the primal style of exercise. One or two viscious work-outs per week wth 3 or 4 “guilt producingly slow” work-outs. I’ve drastically slashed the carb intake (which took me from 170 to 166)and believe your concepts are dead on. Keep up the good work.

  17. Matt Ridley’s Books, “The Agile Gene” and “Genome” delve into many, many examples of how genes get switched on and off throughout our lives, not just during growth. Whether we call this “reprogramming” the genes or not–whether that’s an effective methaphor–doesn’t much matter. I think it’s like Ed said, the important point is that people use their genes as a big excuse. Doctors often encourage it (eg: yes, everyone in your family has high choloesterol–just take these statins!). Well, I guess if 80 percent or more of the population is overweight and not physically fit, it’s pretty easy to find some relatives that fit in those categories and blame your genes. What Mark’s really trying to do is empower people and cut through all their excuses. It’s a tough row to hoe, for people will work so hard to hold on to rationalize poor lifestyle choices and cling to living (eating and exercising) the way they always have. I’ve been there, I know. I was so sure I could not exercise or be fit or overcome my physical maladies. Then, a few things started turning around and it causes a break in the dam, just a little leak at first. I started to feel like I COULD effect some change regarding the physical limitations and health issues I was facing. Bit by bit, the floodgates opened…and all of this was after age 40, by the way. So often I think, what if I hadn’t moved to town and started swimming laps? Probably I’d have had the hip replacement the docs were promising would be necessary, and I’d still be overweight, sleeping poorly, unhealthy, plagued with colds and sinus infections all winter and in pain. It would have been so easy to quit and to stay mired in that negative feedback loop of, “there’s nothing I can do about this; I have to live with it, all the doctors said so.” I rode a really cool mountain bike trail the other day, one that I never would have known was there if a guy I bumped into hadn’t told me about it. I’d been by that trail so many times but the way it just snuck off into the bushes at a spot where I am moving downhill quickly, I just never saw it. Wow, how many other cool trails am I zipping right past? I asked myself. There’s a metaphor for ya. Dig a little deeper, work hard to disprove your own, most deeply held beliefs and you might confirm them–or you might have to reshape them. It’s good, either way.

  18. Links for ‘slow HIV progression’ and ‘enlarge areas of the brain’ don’t seem to be working.

  19. hey U 🙂
    great site , great Work .. love the knowledge n study MARK 🙂
    keep it coming .. we need people like you .. Especially for students as me who r studing n venturing into the vast field of Health Nutrition .. Science 🙂
    Love it 🙂