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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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October 08 2015

Why You Shouldn’t Be Afraid of Joining the Status Quo

By Mark Sisson
41 Comments

The other day it occurred to me that we’re coming up on 10 years with this blog. In 2006, I started publishing (what were then) wacky, newfangled ideas about how people should go barefoot (or wear Vibrams), eat more animal fat, slash carbs and eschew grains altogether, avoid (most) vegetable oils, stand up while they work, expose themselves to cold, get off the chronic cardio wagon and climb trees or sprint down their streets like 9-year-olds. Finally, there was the proverbial (and ironic) icing on the cake of suggesting people ask what would Grok do—that now illustrious posterman for all things evolutionary. Ten years ago many of these ideas were still viewed as strange or even flat out wrong.

To jump on the Primal bandwagon then meant weathering a certain share of negative feedback—the jabs from coworkers or friends while dining out, the looks from passersby when working out at the park. So, for years, it was a regular theme on MDA to take up these “social” concerns—to remind folks that they shouldn’t give any energy to others’ judgments, that they are blazing their own trails and that they’re part of a growing and supportive community here at MDA and the paleosphere at large. In other words, we’ve spent a good deal of time talking about not being afraid to be different.

The fact is, however, in these last ten years we’ve seen everything from an explosion of barefoot shoe lines to a popping up of CrossFit gyms all over the country, the growth of standing and treadmill workstations to the expansion of farmers’ markets and cow sharing, a slowly turning tide against fast food to Time Magazine exonerating butter on their cover. “Paleo” is even becoming a category on restaurant menus (and not just Primal ones).

Sure, this is all a far cry from the full Primal picture. While more people are eating butter, fewer are clamoring for lard or duck fat. More people might be picking up kettle bells or doing burpees, but not many are on board with the likes of MovNat or isometrics. Some might be cutting their carb intake, but few take the “extreme” path of avoiding all grains. And Squatty Potties have garnered some media attention, but it’s probably safe to say they won’t be coming to a public restroom near you anytime soon.

And yet, the “health movement” as a whole has slowly been shifting into new territory over the last decade, and some of it looks pretty familiar. While adherence to or belief in the full extent of the Primal Blueprint definitely remains the curious if not offbeat exception, more and more individual components of the model are becoming increasingly less unusual. Let’s face it: it’s a new world when your Uncle Bob has monkey shoes and your Aunt Sharon talks about gluten free options for Thanksgiving.

While we Primal types are ridiculously far from being any kind of majority, numbered are the days perhaps of the Primal/paleo pariah. For the second year in a row, in fact, paleo was the most Googled diet. And while U.S. News & World Report might wish the “caveman” diet would just go away, it doesn’t appear we’re going anywhere but apparently more mainstream.

And this might feel a little strange for those of us who have been doing it since the time people wondered if we had our heads screwed on straight. Five, ten, fifteen or twenty years is a long time to live with the knowledge that your choices are branded unconventional at best, dangerous and deluded at worst.

To some extent, most of us Primal old-timers probably had to cultivate a certain detachment from other people’s opinions—including those of our own families or perhaps even partners. If those around us were especially judgmental, maybe we eventually identified with a maverick identity. We got used to the eye rolls and well-intentioned (or not) warnings. Maybe with a mix of humor and defiance, we took a little (or a lot) of amusement from them, maybe even a certain renegade bravado even. Know any good Primal/ancestral jokes? That’s what I mean.

To be sure, we adopted these Primal-style behaviors and principles first for our health. They made good solid sense. They worked for us—often when nothing else ever had. But explaining ourselves got old. Over time, the cultural pushback maybe edged us toward identifying with the practices as a community more than if they had simply been run-of-the-mill choices. While our initial intentions were pragmatic, the responses we got pushed us toward a collective “niche” association. Those of us who never saw ourselves as rebellious subversives thumbing our noses at big CW probably at least asserted the role of free thinker.

So, what does it mean when our trailblazing isn’t so blazing anymore? When we’re telling the whole truth, how do we really feel about certain long-standing, dissident ideals mass marketed around us? Does it become less gratifying on some level when the way we paved is suddenly much more populated on certain turns of the path? We might not feel the same self-satisfaction wearing our FiveFingers at the gym, but can we find other elements to appreciate here? Are there maybe some advantages to being more in line with at least a growing subgroup of the status quo?

We can and should take this is a victory of sorts. The messages—or many of them—have reached people. More are experiencing the positive impacts of healthy Primal minded choices. More people are really starting to get it.

And for our part, we may have to hang up the hat of the rebel, but we still get to be the model. We get to identify with and even flout our extraordinary health, the rare vitality and the uncommon sense of equilibrium that comes from living a life in keeping with our fundamental blueprints. We get to demonstrate how it’s done and what’s to gain. We have the opportunity of encouraging others to embrace more of the Primal/ancestral vision for themselves.

We can hang our Primal hats on the positive effect our choices and community have made on more people’s lives. Many of us probably have never considered ourselves proselytizers or ambassadors for the Primal/ancestral movement. And yet your example has indirectly advocated for the choices others are now freer to make. You share by example the bigger story of what Primal living can do—not just in terms of literal physical health—but also for greater well-being, even a more expansive and satisfying good life.

And let’s face it, is it such a bad thing to have more selection and accessibility in certain Primal areas—Primal fare suppliers (including Thrive Market), more barefoot shoe choices, more workout tools, more cookbooks, more Primal-friendly fitness clubs, more health care providers?

And simultaneously, we can agree that there’s still plenty of work to do on this front. I decided a while ago I wasn’t going to be happy until I’d helped 10 million people get healthier. Perhaps I set the bar too low. Who knows where the end is.

Even within the Primal/paleo community, there’s uncharted territory to explore. Science delivers new developments every day. Research on the human microbiome is unfolding as we speak and promises to teach us so much about our risk for disease and our possibility of better health.

We’re learning so much about performing at elite levels in endurance events in healthier, more Primal ways. (Look for my book, Primal Endurance, due out in 2016!) The list goes on and on, my friends.

The ancestral health movement remains cutting edge, and more attention will mean more resources for its research and publications. I’m looking forward to being a part of all that’s coming. There’s much to learn, much to share and—oh, yes—still so many boundaries to push. I hope you’ll join me.

Thanks for reading, everyone. What’s been your experience with learning about the Primal/paleo/ancestral movement? What and when were your entry points? What are you most enthusiastic about seeing as ancestral health takes it to new levels? Share your thoughts, and have a great end to your week.

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41 thoughts on “Why You Shouldn’t Be Afraid of Joining the Status Quo”

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    1. Haha, good one. I’ve never really broadcast my move to a Paleo lifestyle. I have listened to a few overly vocal people badmouth red meat and eggs. I just let it go in one ear and out the other as being the nonsense that it is. As far as I’m concerned, what we eat is our own business so I don’t try to convert anyone. The results of adhering to a Paleo lifestyle speak for themselves, and the reverse is equally true.

      1. I grew that people shouldn’t be annoying about their choices, but I also believe it’s our civic duty to correct advice given to people when it is blatantly incorrect.

      2. Exactly. People weren’t interested in my dietary change until I lost 90lbs. Then they said “But you’re going to have a heart attack eating all of that fat, and cancer from the meat!!1!”. Then I showed them my blood work and that my LDL and serum cholesterol, along with my triglycerides had dropped like a rock.

        “Well, everyone’s different and you must be that ONE person that this works for!”

        Cognitive dissonance (the inability of conflicting ideas to exist in the mind), confirmation bias (the daily news article telling you that you’ll burst into flames if you even see red meat) and motivated reasoning (where the mind will actually perform math and fact analysis incorrectly to support current beliefs) are all strong forces in our brains.

  1. How funny that CW seems to move in cycles. Fifty years ago isometrics were popular. I learned isometrics as a kid. Now they are out of favor, and have been? News to me, but OK and I will welcome them back to popularity when it happens again 🙂

    Also fifty years ago (or so) a hamburger patty and scoop of cottage cheese with tomato slices was a recommended plate for weight loss! That fell out of favor with the popularization of whole grains/low fat diets.

    Well, now we have “blue zones” which recommends lots and lots of whole grains and legumes, along with fish, veggies and fruit (and meat/poultry only infrequently). Well, who is brave enough to join me in cherry-picking blue zone advice and eating the fish and veggies while leaving the grains? I will see if I can make it to 100 by staying primal 🙂

  2. Love this community and always appreciate your leadership Mark. I am very grateful for the Primal approach having seen so many benefits in my life and health. I was just thinking that I feel so good all of the time and my energy level is so high because of the blueprint – so I’m happy to share it all the time. Lift the bar Mark – I am bullish that you can influence far more than 10 Million with the help of a few friends! 🙂

    1. ‘Tis also the season for wild ducks. I just wish there’d be a cold snap to drive them south.

  3. The primal concepts have saved my life, and did so at a point when I still have more years ahead than behind. I feel more human, I feel more alive, I feel more grateful than ever. Thanks to you Mark, your team, and others in this community!!!

  4. I for one am thrilled to see these ideas becoming more mainstream. I think the health of the nation (the world?) will benefit tremendously, the more popular primal/paleo gets.

    The bigger challenge now is getting people (and the media) to really understand what paleo is, and – perhaps more importantly – what it isn’t.

    It *isn’t* an all-meat diet. It *isn’t* an Atkins-induction-style super-low-carb diet. It isn’t a license to gorge oneself on excessive quantities of steak and bacon at every meal, even though we (jokingly, I hope) like to think of it that way sometimes.

    When people talk about hunter-gatherers, they often think only of the “hunter” part, completely forgetting the “gatherer” side of things.

    Misconceptions about primal/paleo abound, even among some of its most ardent proponents. I think it’s important to get a clearer message out there, or risk being dismissed in the popular consciousness by straw-man arguments perceived as truth. Let this not become another “low-carb high-stupidity diet”, as Lewis Black once referred to the Atkins diet in one of his (admittedly hilarious) rants.

    1. One more important thing it isn’t: A “diet”.

      Most people think of a diet as something that you go on, temporarily, with the hope of reaching some weight loss goal. It’s restrictive, unpleasant, and requires constant willpower. It’s a punishment for overindulgence. But it’s also finite. In theory, once you reach that goal (has that ever actually happened?), you can ease the restrictions and go back to eating the way you did before.

      Primal/paleo is not a “diet”. It is a dramatic shift in your dietary staples – one that more properly aligns your food intake with your actual biology, such that it doesn’t require sustained willpower and constant hunger to adhere to. It doesn’t feel like punishment.

      Furthermore, diet is only one aspect. Equally important are all the other primal guidelines regarding movement, sleep, sun exposure, stress, play, etc.

      In short, the Primal Blueprint encourages us to:

      * Sleep more
      * Play more (Out in the sun!)
      * Exercise less than the mainstream says you’re supposed to.
      * Eat satiating food without counting calories or exercising an iron will.

      Who wouldn’t love all that?

    2. Good points. Too many people see Paleo as being all meat and nothing else. They don’t seem to realize that we also consume an abundance of fruit and vegetables. It isn’t an all-fat diet either, which is another misconception that gets a lot of criticism. Although most of us do eat a fair amount of fat, including fatty meat, I doubt that it ends up being a great deal more than what’s considered “normal” when you stop to think that we don’t eat much in the way of fat-laden sweets. Those fats go largely uncounted and overlooked by the anti-Paleo people. I think the main difference is that we get our fat from healthier sources.

  5. I’m ok giving up my maverick card on this one, just so long as I can keep it for my peaceful parenting and anarcho-libertarian philosophies. Or if you must take them all, let me wear my black rimmed glasses and talk about how I liked them before they were cool.

  6. Mark, I hope you’re happy(!) even if you won’t be satisfied until you’ve reached ten million people.

  7. Imagine what it would be like if everyone were eating well and exercising a bit. No more time and money wasted on analyzing the latest diet craze or workout craze. No more unnecessary pharmaceuticals and medical treatments. It boggles the mind to imagine everyone with status quo = healthy, where wellness is hardly even a topic to discuss.

  8. The majority has almost always been wrong, yet they feel compelled to criticize me when I’m the only one actually getting results. That reason is why I am unphased to the negative feedback with regards to this lifestyle; if anything it only encouraged me to keep doing what I’ve been doing.

    Earl Nightingale once said: whenever you want to achieve a goal yet have no idea how, the foolproof technique is to observe how the majority takes on the problem and do the exact opposite. It’s as if not fitting is the key to success!

  9. “Many of us probably have never considered ourselves proselytizers or ambassadors for the Primal/ancestral movement.”

    I actually lost a good friend by doing this. I couldn’t help it, too much coffee and too much gabbing about this topic to someone who was only mildly interested. He said if I mention the name Mark Sisson again, he’ll flip out.

  10. I like the idea that we can and must set a new standard for what we are prepared and is acceptable to put into our bodies.

  11. Squatty potties? No thanks, I nearly fell down one in Greece when I had to go, I was laughing so much. Best toots I ever used were at Dubai airport, exceptionally clean and warm flushing water ahhhhh!

  12. ” Squatty Potties have garnered some media attention, but it’s probably safe to say they won’t be coming to a public restroom near you anytime soon”

    Try France! I was at a restaurant in limoges and found the toilet was a “thunderbox” or hole in the floor. Very hard not to wee on your foot as a woman! That type of loo is still fairly common over there.

    1. A coworker of mine is from India and says the hole in the floor toilets are common there too.

    2. I HATE those holes in the floor that pass for toilets in Europe! Encountered one in Venice…thank God for strong thigh muscles. Had to buy a drink and pay a “table fee” just to be able to use said hole in the floor. What a scam!

      So what do elderly people do? There were no side bars to hang on to if it were needed. Ok, off my squatty potty …er, I mean soapbox….????

  13. I’ve been wearing Vibrams for so long most of my family/coworkers don’t even blink twice anymore. Although my youngest enjoys calling them ‘penguin feet’ 🙂 I now have 7 pairs in various styles. My feet have never been happier. Thank you Mark for all you do!

  14. Speaking of duck fat, Americas Test Kitchen has an amazing recipe for duck fat roasted potatoes!

    Lovely post, Mark.

  15. ‘Detachment from other people’s opinion’ I like that phrase, how I feel put into words! Primal,paleo,healthy,fit,strong and young no matter what age is awesome:-) Thanks Mark and crew!

  16. In a way its sort of annoying that all these celebrities are jumping on the “Paleo Diet” bandwagon and touting it as if they had invented it.

    I actually liked the days before this became “popular”.

    The other bad thing is the distorted interpretation of the paleo “diet” – I saw one celeb version where they recommended 8 minutes of cross fit style exercise a week is enough. Many people jump on any new diet as a “get out of exercise for free card”.

    Paleo or not, a core part of the success of the approach is a whole lifestyle approach, not just diet, and as far as I can tell, Mark is the original here with the Primal Blueprint concept.

    BTW: I notice that spell checker for this post is underscoring “Paleo” as a spelling mistake – you’d better get that one added to the google spellchecker – lol.

  17. It is obvious that once Primal/Paleo gets more and more mainstream media attention a lot of misinformation about it will spread. Once again it will be up to the people to educate themselves. At least the information is there to be found and much easier to access than ten years ago, when I still thought low fat was the way to go. In Austria I can definitely feel the tide is turning. People are generally very interested in my diet/lifestyle approach, even if they don’t change right away. But the seed is sown. My appearance and energy speak for themselves, which helps. The 10 Million people obstacle will definitely be way too low. Even my reluctant mountain running husband has adopted this lifestyle, after watching me live like this for three years even without me trying to get him on board – the best strategy ever. And I know I have influenced several other people to change their diets. This is a snow ball effect on a small level, but I’m sure primal will enter the mainstream sooner than later and the protagonists will have to deal with all the good and bad consequences that come along with that turn.

  18. Here in South Africa not many people have heard of the Primal Blueprint, especially where I am from. I have been Primal for almost a year now and in the beginning it was tough, now my friends and family have finally accepted that it is my new lifestyle and I hope to inspire more to try it out. Got myself a pair of Vibrams a couple of weeks ago and I am now ‘teaching’ myself how to run properly! I am really looking forward to the Primal way of living becoming mainstream again, as it was in Grok’s days.
    Ps. 10 million is only 0.15% of the earth’s population! Mark, you need to raise the bar!!!

  19. Actually I like that it’s getting more popular. I rather like saying to people “I know, right?” when we talk about good fat, coffee with butter and 100% cacao in it, eating food that grows and the animals that eat it……

    My husband (a practicing carb-aholic who likes to say he’s paleo just to make our son choke on his food) said that talk radio was talking about our lifestyle and how it’s got more scientific backing than the SAD. I know he believes in our life course but it’s all that depriving of the sugar/flour/fruit/comfort food that he’s afraid of going without. Needs some serious coping skills that do NOT involve shoveling that stuff into his mouth, but….. “you can lead a horse to water…….” sigh.

  20. Funny, none of those articles you linked in the opening are any older than 2012. It’s a bit of a misnomer to claim them as “10 year old” ideas.

  21. My husband walked barefoot through Washington D.C., and Seattle Washington, and don’t you think I didn’t hear the comments about how gross it was. It amused me that the ones who make faces or say things about bare feet are the ones wearing heels…ouch. Also, my husband gets teased at work for squatting in the chair when he travels and is away from his standing desk. We’re still weird among our friends for gathering greens from the yard and eating them in smoothies. I think we still have a ways to go before we are really mainstream….
    Della
    16blessingsmom.blogspot.com

      1. thanks wildgrok! i can’t wait for professor de vany’s new book on human longevity to come out!!

  22. I’m counting on Paleo becoming mainstream. I started my blog a few months ago – even though there are already so many Paleo-focused blogs – because I believe we are just at the beginning. It’s not just a fad diet or a trend: it’s the beginning of a health revolution, and we’ll being seeing the positive outcomes – from the local to the global level – over the next couple of decades. What are the pharmaceutical companies going to do when they start losing their market? We’ll know it’s mainstream when all of our doctors start recommending the Primal lifestyle instead of just stamping a prescription. Keep the ball rolling, and go get some lard!