Dear Mark: The Semmelweis Reflex

Sometimes the path of Primal transformation includes a series of upendings. It’s in part a process of uprooting daily habits that don’t serve your well-being. Maybe it’s a re-envisioning of your identity from an unhealthy, tired, or otherwise plagued person to that of a strong, fit, confident individual. More than likely, it’s about overturning oft-taught if not long held conventional thinking about healthy living. When we embark on our Primal path, we likely anticipate at least some of these changes, but what about the conflict prompted by other people’s grappling with the Primal Blueprint as we reflect it? What is it about our Primal process that upsets other people’s apple carts and provokes sometimes exaggerated resistance? See what reader Evan has to say.

Dear Mark,

I’ve been following the PB for a year and a half now and am proud to consider myself a diehard. I’m stronger, fitter, leaner, and for the first time in years feel energized throughout the day. My problem is this: I have a brother who’s an MD and seems to take my bucking of conventional wisdom personally. Whether it’s dogging my diet or my workout, he’s never got a shortage of offhand comments every time we get together with the family. I stopped arguing with him a few months ago because it just seemed useless and I frankly don’t want to make tensions worse for my family. Care to show up at one of these dinners to take on my brother’s resentments? Barring that, do you have any advice for getting him off my back? Thanks and Grok on!

In early 19th century Vienna, one of the world’s largest and most well-known clinics in the world was among the worst institutions plagued by a widespread and puzzling “childbed fever” epidemic. The aggressive disease at one point killed 1 in 6 delivering mothers in his clinic. Pregnant women came in perfectly healthy but following childbirth were dead within a few days or less. For decades, the pandemic panicked women and eluded hospital staff, who responded to the continuing scourge by increasing ventilation and treating patients with practices like blood letting, leeching and mercury tonics (the discovery of germs not having been made yet).

Finally, an obstetrician and assistant administrator of the hospital, Ignac Semmelweis, made a startling connection. The proverbial light bulb went off when a colleague at the clinic died with the same fever symptoms after cutting himself while performing an autopsy. Semmelweis theorized that the professor’s cut was invaded by harmful “particles” from the corpse and eventually died from their effects. He then made the connection that medical students participated in autopsies the same days they helped deliver babies in the clinic. From there, he examined the rates of the adjoining midwife clinic, where the staff didn’t conduct postmortem examinations. The mortality rate in the midwife clinic was only a third of the mortality rate in the medical student wing. Upon investigating his theory with the implementation of new sanitation requirements, the mortality rate in the medical student clinic fell to that of the other clinic in only a month’s time. Clearly, hand washing and sanitization with a chlorine solution was the key to preventing the spread of disease. The discovery instilled a sense of relief but also the shocking revelation that doctors themselves had unwittingly caused so many patients’ deaths.

However, what happened afterward was the most surprising. A head administrator, Johann Klein, took Semmelweis’s discovery personally and renounced his findings. Klein believed Semmelweis’s argument was an attack on him, since he had instituted medical students’ participation in autopsies and had changed vaginal examination guidelines for obstetric patients. Semmelweis, a man whose efforts and scientific scrutiny had in essence discovered germ theory in its rudimentary parts and saved thousands of women’s lives, was discredited and pushed out of the clinic. His career continued for a time in Pest, Hungary, but never fully rebounded.

Semmelweis, for his part, had done relatively little to publicize his discovery. Although he and his students sent letters to well known obstetricians throughout much of Europe, he didn’t publish his findings until years later and only then attached to scathing personal criticisms of particular physicians and administrators. Victim to developing psychosis in his later years, Semmelweis was eventually institutionalized through his wife’s efforts and died from physical trauma after being beaten to death in the asylum.

It’s a dramatic story, to be sure, but an instructive one I think. This man had statistical evidence, scientifically sound support on his side, but the politics of the situation stalled progress. The threat of questioning authority and compromising professional reputations was finally too much to swallow. Semmelweis’s findings not only diminished the stature of the hospital administration, it brought down to earth the position – and astuteness – of physicians themselves. History has frequently revealed a sacrificial pattern when one person’s discovery takes on accepted wisdom. In short, it’s a game of kill the messenger.

In this reader’s case, I imagine it’s a similar phenomenon. Clearly, his brother has invested countless hours, thousands of dollars and invaluable credibility in his conventional medical education. He’s personally invested in the standard mindset of the medical establishment. Whether it’s a conscious realization or not, his professional integrity and authority are being questioned by his brother’s example – by his success, by his willingness to discern and embrace a health philosophy that diverges from conventional teaching.

My advice to Evan and all of us who meet with this kind of resistance is this: have patience and don’t take the bait. We don’t have to take the tension as personally as the other person does. Understand that our success upends their thinking, their lifelong efforts and maybe their sense of professional or personal expertise.

That said, let’s not make the same mistake as Semmelweis did in being overly modest in publicizing our genuine health discovery. There’s a difference in arguing to protect one’s own turf or pride and illuminating and sharing practices that can mean better health and well-being for people we know and love. Let your success and vitality speak for themselves, but by all means share your secret.

How do all of you share the love, so to speak? Tell your stories and offer your advice for Evan and others in the same boat. As always, thanks for the great questions and comments and keep ‘em coming!

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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96 thoughts on “Dear Mark: The Semmelweis Reflex”

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  1. I think we all likely run into this type of “resistance” to the Primal Blueprint. I am relatively new (3 months in) and have only recently pushed myself into it with full abandon. My wife enjoys it as well and my kids are very keen and interested.

    A number of our friends think it’s nuts not to eat bread with everything and since my wife is first generation Italian…you can see where her family thinks we belong.

    We don’t engage in bickering about it or trying to overexplain our position. I just submit our lifestyle as our choice for healthier living. They can choose to accept it or not.

    1. As, I think Albert Einstein said, “If you are one step ahead of the crowd you are considered a genius. If you are two steps ahead you are considered a crackpot.”

      I gave up a long time ago trying to change other people’s minds…I have enough trouble with my own.

      Besides…I find the crackpots more fun to hang out with… 🙂

  2. Excellent question and response. Much was the same for Galileo, one of my favorite historical figures. Whether it’s the scientific community or religion, there are powers that have vested interests in things staying the same. It might be a financial interest or simply reputation and pride.

    I hope those of us on PB can be open minded as well. I already see some PB Fans tending toward PB Fanatics in here. It’s a choice and lifestyle that works for us, and we hope in the end it is beneficial and healthy. I hope we are right. I am enjoying it so far.

    1. I’ve noticed that as well… I have to keep myself in check from time to time and resist being arrogant when in the company of others who may invest less into taking care of themselves.

      One thing I really liked that Mark said in one of his interviews is that the primal blueprint is about achieving the maximum utility of life. Some people may get less “units” of enjoyment for every “unit” they invest into health and fitness than we do. So be it…to each his/her own.

      1. right on John. at this point PB is a grand experiment that seems to have great potential, but to assume that it is the only way or the exact right way to achieve “maximum utility of life” is arrogant at this point. Peter’s comment, on the other hand, was more like: i have to try not to be arrogant to other lesser beings, because i know i am exactly correct & have a right to be arrogant, but i am holding it in check because i am a nice guy.

    2. I prefer to _err on the side of persuasively argumentative_. If someone wants to do something (like eat really badly and not exercise) then fine that’s their choice and it’s their right to make that choice. However when their choice affects other people then I think tollerance can get thrown further and further out the window the more it affects other people.

      Am I really wrong to say that the invention of cheap sources of calories for example those in the form of grains which in a significant part led to the ability for humans to grossly over populate this planet and then invent plastics to carry around those cheap sources of calories which went on to poison the water for the rest of us when disposed, creating huge waste dumps, and killing nature, not least destroying large parts of natural and beautiful habitat, am I really suposed to be tollerant of this and say “well that’s their choice” or do I stand up like good old Gordon Ramsey and make people realise the idiotic nature of it.

      I think tollerance of people’s choices for either the sake of political correctness or for fear of confrontation is really silly. I’m not extreme in this view, merely erring on this side. If someone has a much better argument than me then I’m more than willing to be open, research it and change my views accordingly. Until then I’m happy with my Gordon Ramsey personality trait.

  3. I am in a similar situation myself. I currently live with my parents and one of my sisters. I have been studying nutrition and overall health diligently over the past 6 months on my own. This website is possibly the top source of information.

    I offer advice to my family all the time, but they seem to shut it down many times. And, there is my sister who does not like to eat meat because you have to kill an animal… I had a little discussion with her about eggs today and she said it was similar to abortion… I left it at that and had no more comments.

    But, if arguments amongst your family members don’t turn into fights then I personally believe that offering advice, or discussing how well you feel by living Primal, should continue. Even though my mother and I argue often, we end up just letting it go and it is actually having a strong effect on the groceries she has purchased. More whole foods, more meat – quality too, larger variety of veggies, etc. Keep at it and someday they will love you more than ever.

    Just don’t offer advice if you aren’t sure about it yourself!

    1. Just explain eggs in the way my astute kindergartener (who has chickens) did to another student today:

      Student 1: You eat the baby chickens in the eggs?
      Student 2: No, see there is no rooster. Without the rooster, the hen can’t get married and the eggs don’t have babies in them. The eggs need a daddy rooster to become a chicken.
      Student 1: oh!

    2. Haha! This made me laugh! I was talking about nutrition to one of the Monks at my Buddhist Temple (he is a vegetarian).

      He said “I don’t eat other living creatures because I don’t want them to eat me.”

      I just had to nod and smile and leave it at that 🙂

      1. I DO eat other creatures and I DO want them to eat me… eventually. You’d think a Buddhist would get the circle of life.

    3. I feel for your sister though. I was vegetarian for many years while I was growing up and I don’t feel like it was an unhealthy diet. Realistically I think my body handles most foods just fine. I feel better when I eat more home cooked food and less straight up junk (soda and candies, etc) but I felt just fine (and grew up tall and strong and healthy too) on a vegetarian diet.

      And why was I a vegi? My parents read enough stuff that they decided to go vegi and I decided to go along for the ride. They left it up to us kids to decide.

      Why did I give up being vegi? Cause it was easier! I was working at the time as a vet tech for a mobile vet in the middle of beef ranching country. Well on the days it wasn’t fast food for lunch it might just be a huge plate of beef goulash served up by one of the ranchers wives. Hard to pass that up and just eat jello pudding instead… So I gave it up for convenience.

      Now I’m trying Paleo/Primal. I have lost weight (although I started up at the gym about the same time I started trying paleo/primal food. And in fact when I ate like crap for the entire month of October I still lost a couple pounds.) but I can’t say anything else has changed. I still get tired (can you say ‘not good at going to bed on time!’), get pimples on my period, etc. BUT. I am enjoying the experience of trying different things, reading about nutrition and playing with it all.

      And I love that it forces me to cook (which I actually enjoy but am frequently to lazy to do!) and to eat more veggies. I have been notorious for BUYING lots of good produce and then just letting it spoil in the fridge because I never got around to using it. Doh!

      So to each their own path. When we find things that work for us or information that makes sense then I think we should share that information. But there are to many ways out there to know what the ‘one true way’ is. And that might not even exist.
      But that happens less now.

  4. Well said John E! It should be more about what is the right choice for you and a lot less about what anyone else says or does.

    If someone is interested in the PB, I am more than happy to spread what I have learned and point them to MDA! Otherwise I just smile and nod a lot 🙂

  5. Excellent post Mark (as always)! I see this very often working in the mental health field, where it is a relatively new concept to give people with chronic mental illness choices about their own lives- which is what we are doing more and more of in our facility.

    That said, i would just add one thing to your post. Don’t blind yourself to opinions that differ greatly from your (or Mark’s) own. Listen to them (even an annoying brother with a medical degree), or you could be just as guilty as the administrator of the hospital. If your brother knows of a study that you haven’t considered, it would be foolish to ignore it because it is inconvenient to do so. It is all of our responsibilities to make decisions based on as much information as we can get- and not limiting the information we know is going to allign with our own opinions (another “reflex” that has been repeatedly demonstrated in studies). One of the things I most respect about Mark is his ability to reexamine his own views regularly as was shown recently in his P90X article, and it would be a shame if any of the readers failed to do the same.

  6. What a great read! Whenever I get ‘guff’ about being primal, or as my classmates refer to as ‘eating weird’, ill just paste this link and email them. It sure would be a better response then challanging them to a pushup/situp contest…that tends to re-enforce their ‘weird’ conclusion. lol

  7. As I’m not a scientist, it’s difficult for me to relay the specific scientific details behind a primal diet. So, what I do for friends, family, and strangers that ask me about my lifestyle, I share the benefits that I’ve experienced by goin’ primal.

    I posted a little list, the “A to Z” Benefits of a Paleo Diet at my blog this morning, and those changes in my body and mind are what I share with others. I think that seeing is believing for most folks, and when they see that I’ve lost weight, gained clear skin, and have more obvious energy than I had in the past, it says more than I could ever say in a debate.

  8. I remember seeing a Family Guy episode where the baby and the dog traveled to different dimensions of our same world during the same era. One dimension was far more advance technologically than our own. The difference, it never had any religion.

    I’m not taking a swipe at religion. But I’m am taking a swipe at dogma. Dogmatic beliefs can blind us from the obvious.

    1. Right on Alan. I saw that Family Guy episode too. Funny stuff, but with a point.

  9. It’s extremely amusing to me that any MD, presumably having had a firm grounding in the biological sciences at many points throughout his/her education, would have a problem with the basic rationale behind Paleo/Primal/Eat-Species-Appropriate-Food as a foundation for good nutrition. Anyway, the best way to win an argument like this (if you feel the need) is to simply look and feel better and have lots of fun with your life. Never fall into some other person’s negativity trap or you’ll just end up with two angry bitter people instead of one. If he gives you a snarky comment, give him a smile, a wink and thumbs up and say “good one bro”.

  10. When my results in going Primal are more pronounced, I will let them speak for me. I have found that giving uninvited advice makes for tension that I don’t need.

    In the interim, I eat and play as I wish and allow others to do the same. When people ask me about frying my eggs in butter, I share the Primal philosophy. But, unlike the aforementioned Galileo Galilei or the mythical Prometheus, I don’t need to be a martyr to people who don’t really want the gift in the first place.

  11. “How people treat you is their karma; how you react is yours.”

    Nice letter Evan. I get it ALL the time.
    Read the above quote 😉

    GROK on


  12. Were I the originator of the question, I would gather as much legitimate medical research as I could that supports the Primal theory. The brother is likely reacting to you thinking you’re smarter than a large collection of other MDs (at least that’s probably his perception). He’s not going to change his mind based on information that does not come from an MD, so I would give him the information and let him come to his own conclusions.

  13. In the end I think it will just take time. In 20 years when today’s early adopters are still physically young and robust and their grain eating peers are 20 years older and burned out it will be hard to dispute. People like Mark and Art De Vany are what really convinced me, what more proof do you need than a 72 year old with the capabilities of an extremely fit young man?

  14. Mark – all you needed at the end of that post was a Paul Harvey pause followed by, “and now you know the rest of the story…”

    My sister fits this bill. I shared with her the Primal Blueprint and she acted as though the weight loss plan she is on was devised by her and she appeared defensive. I simply backed down, wished her well – and we can always compare outcomes in a year or so. I hazard a guess I’ll still be Primal and she’ll be on to something else, but we’ll see.

  15. I find it easier to talk about my primal lifestlye to men rather than women. More men like to lift weights, eventhough they tend to overeat carbs and look pudgy. In my experience, most women are mute and defensive about lifting more, running less (treadmill, stairmaster aka cardio trauma), eating more protein and cutting carbs. 99% of women I talk to think they are born slow twitch and their training style makes them more slow twitch. If only people realized that the reason you have two ears and one mouth is so you can listen twice as much as you talk.

    1. It’s hard not to feel slightly insulted by your comment. It’s not so much that women are this way. It’s more that they are held stronger by the voodoo powers of CW because they feel much more pressure to be of a certain physical build and weight. Maybe you should just make sure that when you’re around these women that you talk about how sexy a well built primal girl can be. 😉

      1. I was sharing my experience I have had while talking to women about being more primal, wasn’t meant as an insult. I have tried your recommended startegy of telling them ‘how sexy a primal girl can be’. But for some reason, it never sinks in. They are still afarid of being too big from lifting and think they need carbs for energy. I have aslo been told “aerobics just work for me” by gals who are not even close to athletic. Sad but true.

    2. Well, women ARE more likely to be slow twitch than men. It probably confers an evolutionary advantage just like having higher stores of body fat. It is well known in the endurance community that a woman may outlast a man of comparable ability, and this is likely due to improved fat burning. I think the primal message would be much better received by a wider audience if it did not emphasize weight lifting and anaerobic exercise so much. I am sure that both are important (though I started out as a sprinter). Most of the serious endurance athletes I know of who are women also lift weights because they understand that type II fibers make an important contribution too. I think also the average woman is more worried that her muscle definition will turn off men. Maybe if men were more interested in physique than T and A…

      1. Cynthia, to quote you: “I think the primal message would be much better received by a wider audience if it did not emphasize weight lifting and anaerobic exercise so much”. I don’t think being primal should be about converting people over somehow, like some political party agenda. Lifting and anerobic training is a crucial part of being primal. I’m not sure what you mean by physique Vs T&A. I think in most cultures women with curves (think Kim Kardashian) are considered more attractive than the Cameron Diaz type. Popular American culture seems to prefer the sick Kate Moss look. In fact, women with extremely low body fat tend to have more reproductive problems.

      2. Just because women tend to have more slow twitch fibres does not mean they should emphasize that in their training. They can still benefit more by maximizing the size of the fast twitch fibres that will keep them stonger, leaner and younger. When I see marathoners on TV, I usually need to look closer to find out if it’s a man or a woman. The men have no muscle mass, the women don’t look feminine at all.

  16. I believe the best possible way to get our point across is easier then most people think. At first when I told people about the Primal Blueprint they looked at me with bewilderment. I started to think about creating an easier way for me to explain this.

    What works for me is I explain the model in the form of preventive medicine. Conventional wisdom in the medical field is one of treating something thats already there. People typically don’t go to the doc to say hello. They have a cold, broken arm, sinus issues, disease, etc. I view the PB as a more natural way to deal with these things before they take place. When i describe it this way, even to docs, they understand and acknowledge that while different it’s still valid.

  17. Just had a conversation with someone trying to sell me on weight watchers. I just smiled, nodded (especially on the low fat comment) and said “very interesting, here’s a site I go to for information. Check it out, you might be pleasantly surprised.” and walked away.

    Guess where I sent them? LOL! Pinky finger to lower lip

  18. My experience is to lead by example.

    Although I really undertand the feeling of wanting to tell everybody about it, I’ve noticed that some people probably think: yeah right… So I have changed the way I try to convince: I take my shirt off ;-D

    No really, I’m surprised how many people have asked me: you must workout a lot, you look so fit.

    Even my family members, who know about the primal changes from the last two years, were sceptical in the beginning, but have been asking a lot about it lately. It must be visisble…

    Thanks Marc

    1. I’ve spent all day pondering how I can get the message over to a wider audience and bingo today’s post pops up. Following another ‘chance’ meeting at my gym, (and another two converts 🙂 and a third I’m not sure about – yet!), I’ve realised what works is, ‘oh and my brother is 35lbs lighter and 5 inches less around his waist … in three and a half months’ suddenly you find they are reaching for a pen to jot down that website and book reference they just ignored.

  19. Our family has been forced to get comfortable being the “joke” when it comes to healthy lifestyle choices. I suppose we’ve asked for it … for four years we preached vegetarianism to them … oops!

    We joke along with them now, and when we sense it coming can often ridicule ourselves before they even get a chance! Life is too short to take yourself too seriously.

    Its not too hard being at the brunt end of the joke when we’re the only ones in the family happy with how we look naked … ! 🙂

    Here’s a soft-sell: We pitch our choices to others as “experiments”. If we aren’t meeting our goals, obviously we’ll ditch the experiment. Thankfully, the principles of PB have given us some fantastic verifiable results to back up our experiment.

    1. I’ve had success with that pitch as well–I find it’s the most efficient way to explain it to a friend who is wondering why I don’t want chips to munch on at a party!

  20. Thanks Mark for this great post.
    This subject is definitely very delicate, I know I’ve had countless discussion with family and friends that don’t always turn out very well.
    I guess it’s a matter of time, like any other habit or widely accepted “theory”, it’s hard for people to let go of what they’re accustomed to. Even when facts sometimes point in a complete opposite direction.

  21. Jeffery, I hear ya.
    I used to be a cardio junkie and made the mistake of preaching low-fat to everyone. Now I’ve completely switched gears and my family just scoff at my next experiement. Ive learned the importance of not taking things so seriously and reacting defensively. I’m thankful that I’ve found this great community, and when my family members are ready, they’ll accept it too.

    When they make fun of my vibrams, I say, ‘Just wait, you’ll see. They’ll be the next Nikes.’

  22. I find that people are not all that defensive if I simply say, “I eat meat and vegetables almost exclusively”.

    If they want more, then of course I get into the “grass fed, organic, pastured, occasional tubers/nuts, coconut oil” etc, etc.

    In terms of fitness I find it simple to say that brief, intense workouts stimulate growth and development while (conversely) long, hard workouts cause unnecessary stress (and degeneration).

    Eat healthy meats and vegetables, sprint, hike, do push-ups, pull-ups and squats. Most folks do not object to this phrasing.

    1. Yes, this is the same approach I take. It doesn’t seem to alarm anybody when I say that I eat only meat and veggies. This takes the focus off NOT eating whole grains. I also say that I run less but harder and throw in a few days of weight lifting. Everyone I say this to seems to nod along. I get a few comments here and there about my bacon consumption, but I always say, hey, it’s better than a bunch of donuts or pop tarts. Again, people seem to agree with this idea.

  23. I don’t offer any advice or information unless asked – I just let the results speak for themselves. After 3.5 years of ‘primal’ no one can argue with the results.

    If they ask though – and they do – they get the full primal education, until I see their eyes start to glaze over. Then I ask if they would like me to send them a little more information by email (I have something prepared with info and links that they can review at their convenience).

    My 75 year old mother was originally convinced that I had gone a little nuts. Now she’s gone primal too and calls me her ‘inspiration’. And she’s lost 80 lbs and is lifting!

  24. This is so true! People who have made a career as “experts” in health and fitness are threatened to their very souls by the Primal Blueprint.

    I mean, just imagine! A person being healthy and happy without recourse to doctors and fitness programs? What if this heresy were to spread! Just think of the tragedy: we’d have to find some other way to spend 1/7th of the GDP.

    My own doctor friend is outright hostile to the principle of zero carbs. He says that I will destroy my kidneys and liver with all that protein. (I have since learned better.) And I made my friends’ personal trainer visibly nervous last time I walked into my local gym and blitzed the pullup and dip stations. “Timothy’s on the caveman diet!” they explained. The personal trainer was not interested.

    I used to be annoyed when people would post on MDA or elsewhere contradicting the science, saying that grains are A-OK or saturated fat will kill you dead. Sometimes I even took the bait and argued with these people.

    But now I just laugh! After two months on the Blueprint, my whole body is a blaring, muscular repudiation of conventional wisdom. I don’t need to argue the theories anymore because I’m living the proof.

    Let people have their crazy notions. The truth can take care of itself. I’m happy just to have my health.

  25. Great post Mark. I run into this problem all the time. The physicians in my family are not yet totally convinced, but patience is the key.

    1. I went to visit my parents this past weekend. They have been completely resistant to the no-grain idea and for the most part thought I was being fanatical with the PB lifestyle. But after they watched me eat a delicious breakfast of bacon, eggs, and blueberries (after their meager bowls of cereal), they decided to give PB a try. I never had to volunteer advice – they would see me in action and then ask a ton of questions, like “so do you notice a difference in how you feel since you’ve started eating this way?”

      I realize that not everyone is so easily convinced…but I’m super excited about this since my mom is a Nurse PhD and my dad is an NP, and they usually resort to medical fixes rather than prevention.

  26. My dad is an MD and I face the exact same thing. I’m the “quack” of the family, they roll their eyes, etc. Meanwhile my dad avoids all saturated fats, takes cholesterol-lowering meds, and eats fake sour cream and margarines. I’ve given up, definitely don’t try to preach or even explain myself. I almost had him converted when I gave him “Good Calories, Bad Calories”. He read it, and even part way through totally changed his way of eating! I was very happy, but then he called a researcher he knows that’s cited a lot in the book. That doctor said he didn’t support the Taubes argument (his research was being used to support it), and apparently explained how it is flawed. My dad went right back to his low fat, fake food and hasn’t seemed to look back. I was so close!

    1. Hi jojo,
      i finished reading Gary Taubes’ book a month ago. I couldn’t find anything to disagree with, all Taubes’ arguments seem very reasonable and basically just common sense. I was wondering though, what is the name of the researcher your dad called? – the one whose work is mentioned in the book but who doesn’t support the theory it puts forward. I’d be interested to find out more about him and have a look at his research. Although It would take a very persuasive argument to change my mind on the subject, I’d like to read around it as much as possible and from more than one point of view.

  27. I’ve learned over the years that doctors are just humans too. They might have read a few different books than me, but I’ve probably read some they haven’t. When it comes to my body…I’m the expert. I use my doctor as a wonderful resource, but what she says isn’t gospel truth. Same goes for my kids and they’re doctors. My first lesson in this was when the doctor gave us these horrible smelling multivitamin drops for our first son, saying that they’d stain so be sure to give them to him naked but that he needed them to get vitamin D. What? Thankfully, when I asked the lactation consultant who said “Or you could take him outside. I’m not telling you to go against the doctor’s advice…just giving you options.”

    1. “When it comes to my body…I’m the expert.”

      I can’t agree more. It took my doctors a frustrating 8 months to diagnose my cancer. I was experiencing a seemingly harmless symptom, but I knew it wasn’t normal for me. I had no idea that it would be cancer, but I hated when the doctor would say “It’s your new normal” and tell me to deal with it. I’m glad I was persistent!

  28. Yeah, I’m sure most “physicians” are great at what they do. But tell me this, 15,000 years ago did Grok have to call up his HMO? Did Grok have to worry about the FDA telling him what drugs he could and could not take? Whenever I get into an argument with a mouthy “physician” I challenge him then and there to push-ups and sprints, and I haven’t been wrong yet.

  29. Robb Wolf said something great that stuck with me in regards to a similar problem as this. He talked about how some people belong to the “Flat Earth Society” (Google it, it’s right there at the top of the list). He use the analogy that those type of people believe that the earth is still flat and that we never traveled to the moon, etc.. No matter how much scientific evidence you put in front of them and proof that the earth is round they will stick to their convictions that it’s still flat and you are foolish to think otherwise. That being said, I stopped trying to convince Flat Earth Society thinkers that Paleo and Metcon exercises are the way to go because you can never win. Therefore, I have stopped talking to them about Primal/Paleo eating and instead, I’m SHOWING them the way. The proof is in the pudding and I’ve become a walking billboard for how the eating habit works. Some of those Flat Earth Society members are are now starting to see that it works. 🙂

    1. Hi Christina: I hate to be a stickler, but the proof is not “in the pudding”. In fact, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. I know it’s a little longer to say, but it’s also more correcter. (Here, I would insert an emoticon but I have sworn them off!)

      1. You’ll lose this one Jack…everyone says the proof is in the pudding…just like everyone says “it’s his forte (for-tay) to refer to strength, but is should be pronounced “fort.” (piano forte is, however, pronounced “fortay”)

        Just please don’t say “irregardless” or “in regards to,” else I might feel a little piqued too. 🙂

        1. Oh no, Marie, I won’t lose this one. I’m in it for the long haul. I’ve been fighting this “proof in the pudding” nonsense for nigh on 15 years…and I haven’t stopped yet! I also pronounce forte correctly, but for some reason that one doesn’t bother me. So, Christina, feel free to say “forte” wrong…you’ll not raise my ire. But beware any pudding references!!

        2. “According to Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, the phrase dates back to at least 1615 when Miguel de Cervantes published Don Quixote. In this comic novel, the phrase is stated as, “The proof of the pudding is the eating.”

  30. This is a very complex question, but this post does well to begin to answer it. None of us are qualified to answer it as the questioner himself is, as only he knows the nature of his relationship with his brother.

    My theory is that, given the presented information, the brother may not be used to entertaining theories that are in contradiction to his worldview. I know that when I myself wasn’t used to debate my emotions would get intensely negative, my heart rate would go up, and I would have a difficult time thinking, but given prolonged practice I have desensitized myself to examining the nature of my ideas in comparison to others, and so do not suffer from these nervous effects anymore, except perhaps in in-person debate. Practice and throw yourself out there.

    However, we’re talking about a person separate from oneself. My suggestion is to, if rational argument has proven unfruitful with the brother, try and make an explicit agreement with him to not discuss dietary matters. If he persists, and the questioner seems to imply that the brother is doing so rudely, I would make explicit to him that the relationship is being strained and harmed. If he continues to persist, then one should reassess the nature of the relationship and identify whether or not it is of value to continue it, as we do not have innate duties to our families and so should not exempt them from moral judgment. If it adds no value to our life to associate with a person, if associating with a person actually adds *dis*value to our life, then we should not associate with that person since we only have so much time to live.

    All these assessments and decisions can only be taken on and judged by the questioner.

  31. This is always a touchy subject. Although I’m not primal (yet), I have been eating healthily for the past decade or so. Most people don’t understand that, and I’m fine with that. I’m not evangelistic at all. If people ask, I offer my opinion, but short of that, I don’t comment on other peoples’ diets and I expect them to not comment on mine.

    All I care about is that my fiance likes to eat as healthily as I do, so we have a great time cooking and eating together. That’s the most important part for me, especially moving forward in this journey called life.

  32. I bit of an older story about good health advice being ignored. The book of Leviticus in the Bible was written around 1490 B.C. In Leviticus 15:13 it say to wash in RUNNING WATER! It wasn’t until the late 1800’s that Physicians actually followed that practice. Look at all the lives they cost prior to that. It only took them 3000 YEARS!! to head the advice of someone that connected dirty hands and spreading disease. Lets hope it doesn’t take that long for that advice of primal eating to sink in!!

    I run across the same thing you people do here. I have a degree in Exercise science with a minor in nutrition and I am working on a nursing degree. They still act like I don’t know what I’m talking about. They shrug it off like I’m crazy?? I could help change there lives if they would just listen!! They don’t have 3000 years!

    1. Actually the bible says nothing about using a chlorine solution to kill the bacteria. So your little story about a knowledge in the bible is a fraud.

      1. wow, that was unnecessarily snarky. Running water would have helped…but my guess is you were just upset by a biblical reference.

        1. Most water in the time period was simply unsafe to drink. Beer and wine were common because they were safe to drink. Yeah it was snarky but saying you have a degree in science then quoting Leviticus saying it could have saved lives. It just seemed retarded to me.

  33. what’s strange is that some of the people in my life that i thought would be the most receptive seem almost…resentful. and others are so open-minded and interested, people i thought would be totally stuck in their ways. i have an idea that it might be related to people’s ability to step outside a box. some people need more security than others; new thinking truly upsets them. then combine that with how closely tied food is to their culture and family. to some bread is….comfort, tradition, family, good healthy food. to others, bread is something to make a sandwich with. so maybe it depends on how deep the tie is, emotionally. or maybe people who lack the willpower find it easier to ignore what’s in front of them. it’s amazing what people can justify and believe. i like the karma comment, i think i’ll adopt that. and though i’d like to see those closest to me live longer and better (and maybe lose some weight)…I Can’t Change It. i can’t. so hey, that’s more ribs and farm eggs for me.

  34. Love this story Mark.
    I am currently just trying to lead by example. My husband is interested and happy to try the PB lifestyle but the rest of my family just thinks that it is another one of those fad diets.

  35. I’ve had the same issue with my own family. These days i keep my mouth shut because i know that one day the results will speak for themselves. Seeing is believing and i see signs that they are very slowly coming around. it does take patience though.

  36. Hey Mark, great article!

    I have fallen so hard for this site (and similar sites like WAPF, etc.) that I have decided to change my field of study from Law to Medicine. I’ve decided to become a Naturopathic Doctor (N.D.) so that I can heal people with food. I bet you can guess what kind of diet I will be prescribing for most people, eh?

    Grok on!

    1. Right on, Steve! I am really excited for you. Going into primal medicine is one way to make a big, big difference for a lot of people.

      My school days are behind me, but reading comments like yours makes me more optimistic for the future! I hope you will share with us at MDA any unique knowledge you may discover.

      1. Timothy,

        Thank you for the kind words sir. I plan on doing as much research into low-carb dieting and it’s effects on health as possible. I will even try to conduct “experiments” in a clinical setting. Imagine that, in a few years, Mark could be quoting an actual, full-fledged PRIMAL health study (with me as the author)! That would be brilliant. However, I’ve got a ways to go yet, as I need to finish up this BA before I can apply to med school…. Better get started!


  37. I have lost over 140 pounds and kept it off for 5 years now. I was on massive amounts of Insulin to control blood sugars along with many other drugs to control symptoms of a killer disease called Diabetes. I now use no meds no Insulin…

    When people ask me what I eat, I tell them I eat a high fat diet. They look at me like I have three heads and 6 eyeballs. I even had a pharmacist tell me I was a liar, that I could never get off Insulin when using massive doses like i was using. But he has not received any money from me for his drugs in a long time. I also have said bye bye to my Diabetes doctor, because I don’t need him anymore.

    I know that if I ever went back to eating a low fat/high carb diet, I would be seeing them both in a few short weeks…I think that they have to be mad at me for effecting their income levels. I do spread the message to others and have helped several people get off their Diabetic meds too…I may have a contract put out on my life if I keep this up! Type II Diabetics don’t have to be a slave to meds and Insulin. Spread the word, before it’s too late, but wear a bulletproof vest. LOL

    1. I know somebody above said “No one goes to the doctor to just say hello…” but maybe you should do just that! If only you could drop by and say hello and show him how well you’re doing and that you don’t need him any more. 🙂

  38. Hmmm I don’t get it. If my brother/sister/friend/anyone would bombard me more than once with negative comments, I just say a firm and calm STFU. It helps that I don’t talk like that usually. Had to do it sometimes. The common reaction is silence. And yes I still have a large circle of friends and family. This seems to be more a problem of defining borders that of the actual lifestyle.

    Set your boundaries. People love to voice their opinions on everything (me included) so if it weren’t that particular lifestyle, it’ll be something else.

  39. I believe that we don’t need to get in a discution with other family members or friends. We are mature and as a human being we have the choice to choose.

    Why do people like or don’t like Dalai Lama? Because he is cleaver or because he is “peace”. Does he confront or argue with people about his believes?

    Why do people believe and listened in theorys and not in hypothesis?

    Are you committed with the term “Phenomenologic”? Well the term put emphasis on here and now. It is important to understand each individual’s experiences here and now than to understand how they perceive things in the past. It could be our mother, friend, brothers and sisters who believes what they have learn the right way and it is difficult for them to change their believes in other perspectives.

    For example you have culture problems. For example take the latinamericans or russians. They eat everything because of economical issues “money”. So pasta, bread and cornflakes in the morning are good food for them. It makes the stomage happy. It will be sutpid to not do that. If you change that now taking away all that kind of food that they have being eating for years of course you will get answers like”my uncle eats everything and he was healthy” or “Nonsens you can eat everything because then you exercise and everything is gone”.
    Food is food and you eat with your pocket, right? But at the end what is really more expencive the sickness, the pharmacology or the food you choose for a better health?
    As Mark (2010)says in this blog “Let your success and vitality speak for themselves, but by all means share your secret”.

    Sorry for my english.

  40. I don´t argue with people. My family is full with MD`s and they all are experts. If someone asks I give some answers but only hesitantly. I can´t stand people advising me how to eat. They are also blind for any kind of health improvements I made. Actually they expect some collapse in my health in order to emphasize how right they were. Well, I´m a small/thin woman and it looks too bizarre for most people if I eat my good sized steaks and dipping it in butter.

  41. Evan: My advice would be read, read, read. The more research and and learn about topics that buck conventional wisdom, the better off you’ll be. You have to be better prepared for conversations because others have CW to ‘back them up’. Most of us here @ MDS know that fats, saturated fats, and cholesterol DO NOT cause heart disease. It’s the processed, refined foods that spike glucose, insulin and damge our intricate systems that lead to heart disease, obesity, diabetes and the like. Grains? They’re are getting recommended everyday as proper nutrition. Gimme a break! And we wonder why obese, diabetic patients are not getting better OR getting worse? Just do a word search of grains on MDA.

  42. Keep in mind, after a few months of good constant blood sugar its hard to remember what the blood sugar roller coaster is like. As I reflect its really sad how much my mood/attitude would swing depending on my card intake. I would find my self arguing just to argue. Maybe that explains the resistance you are seeing.

    “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”

    Mahatma Gandhi

    The good news is you have almost completed your victory. The better you look and feel the harder it will be for anyone to disagree with you.

    With that said I still have a mean streak and would probably call the md a carb’a’whore and ask him to explain triglycerides’s. Ask him if they are good for you then challenge him to blood test. That way by his own standard you are healthier than the almighty.

  43. All these people are smart and right to be skeptical about Primal eating, why shouldn’t they be… it does go against all CW and does sound like a fad diet. (I’m sure Vegans feel the same way when they are trying to convince you…that you are defensive and just won’t step outside the box.)

    St. Francis said “preach the gospel always and everywhere…use words if you have to.” (paraphrase) Same thing here: results will speak for themselves, then communicating the “why” for those results can come later.

  44. I’ve been steady on this Primal lifestyle for a little over a month now and have seen DRAMATIC results. My family and coworkers and friends and such have all noticed and complimented me on the weight loss and muscle gain. However, when they hear that I’m not eating bread, rice, processed sugars and the like, they tell me I’m crazy, and that they don’t know why I’d put myself through all of that. I guess they’ll never know till they experience it for themselves.

    I think that this type of reaction is more a self-preservation technique for the lifestyle they choose to live, rather than interest in my own well-being. All we can do is continue to live strong and healthy lives and lead by example. Maybe the rest will catch on one of these days!

  45. About a year ago my DH had lost 40 lbs on a similar diet to PB. His cardiologist was surprised to see the weight loss but said, “I don’t want to know how you did it. Don’t tell me.”

    This same guy refused to order a fasting insulin test because he didn’t “do” diabetes(!) What an idiot! A rich idiot of course, fully committed to not discovering anything that would threaten his income.

    My 2c worth: let the MD brother rant. He’ll get tired of it eventually. And you’ll have the best revenge: good health.

  46. My 2c worth: All you can do is say “hey, this worked for me and I have seen awesome results.” if they choose to listen great, if not, you did your part. I am only 2 weeks into going Primal and I love it!!!!!!

  47. I actually went Primal without telling my wife and that was a big mistake. I apparently didnt take her point of view into consideration before drastically changing our lifestyles. Fast forward a few months and we are both living mostly primally. I eat completely primally but do a mix of Crossfit/crossfit football and max effort black box. Needless to say the results have been fantastic.

    My point of view as far as dealing with skeptics is focus on the immune response. Forget the fat loss and muscle building qualities which we all love, the fact is there are plenty of unhealthy ways to get ripped. There is however no way to consistently avoid getting sick unless all systems are running efficiently. Ive been living in NYC now for 5 years and living primally for the past year or so. It is sure a big coincidence that I got sick at least twice a year for the first 4 years and havent had anything more than a little sniffle for the past year. That in conjunction with consistent energy levels, effortless and consistent sleep, and being more powerful are usually enough to convince everyone thats not a member of the “Flat earth society” that living primally works.

  48. I’d also like to say that I completely agree AppalacianMatt’s above comment about how living primally is preventive medicine where as living conventionally simply treats what is already screwed up.

  49. As a medical doctor, I think the only thing I should worry about is using the scientific method to learn as much as I can to try to give the best to my patient – when he asks me.

    I don’t give opinions to anybody who don’t ask them to me, and I let people decide what they do – including helping me decide which drugs and treatments they will do.

    Usually my patients are interested in the fact that I prescript drugs, yes, but also exercising, social events, friendship, good nutrition, all that.

    Griping to the things I learned in the university isn’t going to do anybody any good – some of them aren’t even taught there, anymore.

  50. I run into “well,PB doesn’t REVERSE heart disease” Like Ornish/Fuhrman-
    and honestly, I don’t know how to rebut that…To my knowledge,there haven’t been studies showing Paleo/PB can reverse CV disease… have there?

    1. According to Dr. Atkins, who was a cardiologist, his clinic has (as of his 1999 book) demonstrated REVERSAL of heart disease SYMPTOMS “in over 85% of overweight coronary patients who have diligently followed our program consisting of the lipolytic diet, nutritional supplements, and chelation therapy.” He went on to say, “…my heart patients (on a high-fat, low carbohydrate diet) almost always show a dramatic improvement, as manifested by their ability to exercise longer and more vigorously without symptoms and to discontinue medications that were previously necessary.”

  51. Interesting! The community college I attend decided to serve nothing but vegetarian food in the cafeteria today. I heard it was a fiasco.

  52. I’ve been on the primal diet/plan for a whole 3 days now, and am having a good time with it. I happened to run into my personal trainer at the Fedex store this morning, and told him what I was up to. I could see the skepticism in his eyes, and the first thing out of his mouth when I told him the diet was basically meat and veg was “well, make sure you’re eating really lean meat so you don’t raise your cholesterol!”. I smiled and said “well, actually you’re supposed to eat fatty meat, and no carbs”. He kind of shook his head disparagingly and said “oh, don’t talk to me about that. REAL science says otherwise”…to which I said, “well, “real” science contradicts itself all the time. My naturopathic doctor, who is in effect, a scientist, is a HUGE proponent of the paleo/primal diet”. An uncomfortable silence ensued. I said “well, let me send you some links and let me know what you think”. I’ll be curious to see if he responds!

  53. ..or the gent could, if his Bro is really being an arse/bully about this trot out the fat tailed power-law (unknown) quip from Richard Burton..purchaser of large diamonds, actor and famed Welsh boozer ” Dr’s are like actors, one gets a few good ones and the rest are rubbish”

  54. Just a small addendum to the story of Ignac Semmelweis: despite being in fact an ehtnic Hungarian, his theory on disinfection to avoid “childbed fever” was rejected by Hungarians in Pest (which later joined with Buda to become Budapest) either. His death was quite ugly too (revealed by autopsy to be blood poisoning, via a gangrenous wound, inflicted during the beatings he got when he was “admitted” to the asylum). Despite of his revolutionary findings, hardly any Austrian or Hungarian newspapers gave news of his death and the official obituary of the Hungarian Association of Physicians and Natural Scientists did not even mention his death (despite having rules ordering to deliver a commemorative address in honor of all of their members that have deceased the year before).
    Ironically the most prestigious medical school of Hungary is named after him: the Semmelweis University (of Medicine) in Budapest.

  55. Psychologists have a term to explain this kind of resistance to change. It is called “Cognitive Dissonance.” It is a defense mechanism that causes us to defend ideas we are heavily invested in in spite of evidence to the contrary. Most of us a guilty of it in some aspect of or lives.