The 21-Day Challenge  is simple in theory, but not always easy, especially if you are brand new to the Primal Blueprint  and trying to change decades of bad habits and unhealthy lifestyle behaviors. With the first week of the Challenge behind us, a couple days ago I asked you to share any questions  you may have, and I promised I’d give you my thoughts. In today’s Dear Mark , I’ve tried to answer most of the submissions in a rapid fire format. If your question isn’t answered below, stay tuned. I’ll try to get to it in a future Dear Mark article. Also, be sure to check the comment section of Saturday’s post. There are tons of great answers from readers that are worth a look.
Let’s get to it!
Any tips on how to quit drinking diet soda? I’m an addict.
What’s your favorite Primal appetizer/finger food to share at sporting events or gatherings?
I’ve got a few favorites:
- Smoked bacon oysters 
- Balsamic-glazed drumsticks 
- Grilled artichokes with creamy mint sauce 
- Primal Thai lettuce wraps 
Those should cover your bases. For more ideas, check our Appetizers  section!
I have a two-month-old baby whom I’m breastfeeding. I’m thus tied to a sofa for much of my waking time. How can I find time and energy for a workout and/or sprints?
As a more general question, how can we best adapt the challenge for pregnant and nursing mothers?
Don’t worry about the workouts or the sprints . At two months, your kid needs you, maybe more than he/she ever will. You need to conserve your energy (which in your words is definitely finite). Overdoing things on the exercise front might also send troubling messages to your body – that things on the outside world have gotten dire and stressful and dangerous, and that perhaps breastfeeding isn’t top priority at the moment. Instead, send the message that everything is good, food is plentiful, and free time is abundant by chilling out. Then, the milk should continue to flow.
To pregnant and nursing mothers interested in taking the Challenge I suggest making it about sleep and stress and slow moving , rather than losing weight and lifting heavier things.
I have been trying to eat Primal for the past 4 months, my main goal is to lose weight. Do I need to still create a caloric deficit or is watching my total carb count all that really matters?
In the experience of thousands of readers, the caloric deficit (which, yes, is technically required for weight loss) naturally happens when you reduce your carbs and increase fat and protein while avoiding grains , sugar , and vegetable oils . The carb reduction is a big part of that, but it’s not everything. Everything matters. You mentioned “trying to eat Primal,” and I suggest doing it for real. Remember what Yoda says: “Do, or do not, there is no try.”
Also, note the distinction between fat loss and weight loss. You can lose fat and still maintain (or even in rare instances gain) your body weight, and that’s a good thing because it signifies lean mass addition – and that doesn’t require caloric deficit.
Do you have any comments, suggestions, experience with others that struggle with sugar and have come out the other side victorious?
Avoiding concentrated, refined sources of sugar, like white sugar as well as juice, soda, candy, baked goods, and all the rest seems to be extremely important in the early going. But almost as important is not fearing whole food sources of sugar, like berries or a bowl of cherries. Those aren’t the same as refined sugar, even though they contain sugar, and while they shouldn’t be eaten with reckless abandon, they should not be regarded as mere “bags of sugar.” Eating them can be a source of sanity. Concentrated sources of “real food sugar,” like honey , syrup, or molasses, are a grey area. Though they’re “better,” I’d definitely watch out for them and perhaps even avoid them altogether.
What are some good “mocktails” to have while watching football and/or tailgating?
Here’s what you need:
- A selection of high quality, preferably fresh-squeezed fruit juices.
- A good sparkling mineral water. Gerolsteiner is my favorite.
- A bevy of spices and herbs. Cinnamon , turmeric , mint, cayenne, and thyme are vital, but any of your favorites will do. Fresh is best.
- A collection of bitters. I keep Angostura bitters around all the time.
Go wild. Let people mix and match their favorites. Plus, if they want to make them adult beverages, they can always add their own without disrupting the flavor too much.
I’m in the market for a good pair of primal footwear but I really hate the 5 finger look. Anything you’d recommend? Looking for something I could wear everyday, anywhere. From the gym, to the grocery store: That sort of thing.
Mark – this is my 3 go at completing a 21 day challenge. I have been on and off again primal for about a year but never seem to gain consistency past two weeks. This challenge I have asked my wife to join me. She is struggling and blames it on the fact that we have 5 kids that “won’t eat this stuff” as she puts it. What are your recommendations for completing the 21 day challenge in with 6 people eating a SAD?
Get the kids involved. Let them help prepare food, take them shopping (and let them have a say!), show them how to handle knives, boil water, add spices, that sort of thing. Here, I wrote a post  detailing how to get the whole family involved with healthy eating and food preparation that you might find useful.
So I know other “experts” say you should eat breakfast, What are you thoughts on breakfast if the person is not hungry? It there a time frame you should get food into your body after you wake up?
For the most part, eat WHEN – When Hunger Ensues Naturally. I mean, that’s what hunger is intended for: telling you when you should eat. If you can effectively tap into your own body fat, that may be mid-morning or mid-afternoon. However, it is possible to eat too little food and removing an entire block of potential eating time – breakfast – would exacerbate that. Watch out for symptoms  like:
- Low libido
- Cold sensitivity
- General malaise/listlessness
- Poor gym performance
- Slower healing
- Belly fat
If those appear, you probably need more food, and eating breakfast is a good way to ensure you’re getting enough.
Do essentials oils have a part in primal nutrition and health?
Food grade essential oils can be used in cooking . Just use caution, because they’re extremely powerful.
They also smell quite nicely, may have therapeutic potential, and some can drive off annoying/dangerous insects. There are also other beneficial effects attributed to certain oils:
- Rose essential oil inhalation reduces cortisol .
- “Green odor” inhalation, the fumes given off by plantlife, reduces stress  in rats. This could partially explain the stress-reducing effects of forest bathing  in humans.
- Sweet orange oil fumes reduce anxiety in humans .
- Inhalation of citrus bergamia (Bergamot orange) essential oil relaxes human subjects  by shifting them toward parasympathetic nervous system activity.
- Smelling lavender and rosemary lowers cortisol  in human subjects.
Not bad, eh?
After hurting my knee while squatting, I became interested in body weight training and the potential dangers of barbell training. Chiefly, joint and tendon/ligament damage. How do you feel about this? And if barbell training is not worth the risk, what heavy things should we lift?
Risk/reward. Barbell training elicits the greatest training effect, and it can even strengthen connective tissue, but you need to do it right to be safe. The “danger” is what makes it so useful. Balancing a heavy load on your shoulders makes you strong and athletic because it can go wrong.
It’s a tough one. I’ve mostly given up heavy barbell work, particularly bench press and squat, for dumbbell presses and pushups (sometimes with a weighted vest) and leg presses and hack squats. I enjoyed working out with barbells, but I just don’t need them to reach my goals anymore: maintaining enough strength, connective tissue health, and bone density to support my play and health.
In the near future, I’m going to be driving across the country – 11 hours in a car for 4 days. Do you have any food tips for such a long road trip?
I’ve got better than that: a whole post  devoted to the subject.
I’ve just started trying the paleo diet but I’m having a hard time finding food. I’m a college student with no kitchen and our cafeteria foods are nearly all grain or grain based. I have a microwave and a fridge keeps things cool but not cold enough to be at proper fridge temperature. What are some good foods that aren’t too expensive and don’t require refrigeration?
I wrote a post  that sort of deals with this, but I also have more suggestions:
- Sardines, tuna, salmon, oysters, clams and other canned seafood
- Nuts and nut butters
- Fruits and vegetables
- Coconut milk
- Trail mix 
- Jerky  or pemmican 
- BPA-free Primal foods 
Hope it helps!
I am raising the question of how to follow the Primal Blueprint while remaining Primal openness to cultural gastronomic experiences and not falling victim to contrivance regarding what you put in your mouth.
I’m a full supporter of sampling the local non-Primal cuisine, provided it’s high quality and you really want to try it. What that means: eating the pizza margherita from the little hole in the wall in Rome recommended by your cab driver. What that doesn’t mean: going to McDonald’s for the Royale with Cheese when in Paris just because Pulp Fiction is your favorite movie. Just don’t spend your entire trip venturing off plan and expect to feel normal.
My question is about getting adequate sunlight. I work nights and I’m in New England. I know you say to commit to 15 mins per day, but if it is chilly and less skin is exposed, should I try to get more time in the sun?
My question is about Vitamin D and sunlight exposure. I live in England and the while we had a nice summer here (by English standards) the weather has turned cold fast and the lack of sunlight is now evident! I have started supplementing with Now Foods Vitamin D3, should I be doing anything else?
Vitamin D3 is great, but don’t neglect going outside. While you may not make much vitamin D from English autumn sun (or lack thereof), it is important to get outside and get some natural light exposure, especially in the earlier half of the day. Our circadian rhythms in particular are hewed to when and how we exposure ourselves to light. Even muted, cloud-filtered sunlight can align your clock and improve sleep.
I am pretty skinny already with very low body fat so my goal is not to lose weight but to get healthier. I like my fatty coffee in the morning without any protein or carbs very much but I oftentimes feel a bit cold and cranky the whole morning. Could this kind of IF be a problem for people with very low body fat (does it slow down the metabolism or anything?)? Any suggestions?
Yeah, I wouldn’t recommend fasting (with or without coffee) if you’re feeling cold and cranky. Try having food with your coffee, maybe a plate of eggs with some berries or other fruit, and see if that makes a difference.
Any suggestions besides melatonin and Valerian root for trouble falling and staying asleep?
Sure, I got a few quick suggestions :
- Get natural/bright light during the morning/afternoon and limit light (especially artificial light) after dark.
- Wear blue-blocking goggles.
- When you eat carbs, eat most of them with dinner.
- Drink some bone broth or gelatin an hour before bed.
- Try guided meditation at bedtime.
- Read fiction in bed.
Hey Mark thanks for all the help, so far I’ve been primal for about 1 year and when trying to a do a very high fat lower carb “session” of eating I run into problems digesting fat, is there anyway to fix this or should I continue on with a more moderate fat primal diet?
First, check out this post on going Primal without a gallbladder . The gallbladder is extremely important for optimal fat digestion, and not having one (or having a poorly-functioning gallbladder) can impair your ability to eat a high-fat diet. Consider using more short-chain fatty acids (from coconut oil and pastured dairy), which require less work to digest. Ox bile and digestive bitters taken before meals can also improve your digestion.
I have heard that working out when sick can extend the illness, is there any truth to that statement? Thanks for your time.
If your symptoms are above your neck – stuffy nose, headache, sore throat – you can usually keep working out. Just keep it lighter than usual.
If your symptoms are below your neck – exhaustion, sensitive skin, fever, aches and pains – you should not work out. There’s always a next time.
I answered a free ad in the paper from someone trying to get rid of apples from her tree, and now I have approximately a million gallons of “pie” apples. I LOVE eating them baked with cinnamon and nuts, but how many is too many?
I echo the reader comments that you should make cider. Make it hard, even. Since moving away from beer (although I sneak one here and there), I’m really enjoying ciders more and more. It doesn’t hurt that cider quality is experiencing a renaissance due to the popularity of gluten-free. I say join that renaissance!
And yeah, think of this as a treat. Whenever strawberry season rolls around (and I mean true strawberry season, not the watery flavorless show berries people try to pass off throughout the year) I really go to town and buy flats of the things every week from the farmer’s markets. It’s okay to gorge every now and then, especially on a seasonal item that also happens to be real food.
We have had a great response from our children with becoming a Primal house, they have no complaints over the food or lack thereof of the traditional junk. I am just curious as to how you have kept your children primal when out with friends or even those SAD family members?
Sounds like you’ve got a nice brood on your hands. If they’re perfectly content with the healthy Primal food in your house, don’t sweat the rare instances they have to eat out in the wild. You’re growing a pair of healthy, well-adjusted eaters that should do very well in life!
Mark – Sprinting drives my carb cravings through the roof once I’m finished. My “sprints” last from 5 seconds to 3 minutes but neither shorter nor longer makes it easier to resist carbs. What should I do?
That sounds like an instance where the carb cravings are justified and physiologically warranted. Sprints longer than a few seconds by their nature deplete glycogen stores. Your body is simply informing you of this. The bulk of the carbs eaten post-sprint will be stored as muscle glycogen – nothing to worry about.
I actually find it quite easy to be 100% primal while on the challenge because I know that non-primal foods are off-limits for me. However, when the challenge isn’t on, I have a hard time maintaining the healthy 80/20 balance: it tends to quickly go to 60/40, 50/50, and worse. Any tips for how to maintain the healthy lifestyle promoted by the challenge after it’s over?
Stick to the parameters of the challenge. If 100% Primal is easy, maybe you need to continue that. 80/20 isn’t a requirement; it’s just a helpful tool for people who can utilize it without going overboard and actually need it to function and stay sane. Also, I’ve written a post about what to do when 20 inches toward 40 .
What if I can’t stop snacking? I eat primal snacks but I still always want more, especially when I am trying to avoid doing a task.
Eat larger, more solid meals. Get a good chunk of protein and fat at each to promote satiety.
Any suggestions for primal breakfast ideas for a stay at home mom that doesn’t necessarily like breakfast? Thanks!!!
As you indicated in the full version of your comment, since your wife likes sweet yogurt, get a big tub of pastured full-fat yogurt and keep a selection of frozen fruit, berries, and nuts on hand. I really dig two combos in particular with yogurt: strawberries with walnuts and blueberries with macadamia nuts. Heck, even a drizzle of honey or maple syrup wouldn’t be the end of the world, especially since she’s nursing and needs the calories.
Keep hard boiled eggs on hand so she can pop a couple in her mouth to round out the yogurt for extra fat, protein, and micronutrients (like choline, very important for growing baby brains!).
What are some the best tips you can give on breaking plateaus?
I’ve got a few ideas:
- Incorporate sprints. If you’re wary of straight-on sprints, trying hill sprints or cycling sprints.
- Try a carb refeed . You may need the occasional leptin boost that a carb refeed provides to jumpstart weight loss.
- Look at other areas beside food/exercise. How’s your sleep? Your stress? Are you walking enough steps per day?
What is your take on a hemp as a source of protein? I’ve heard plenty of cases made as to its health benefits but I just wanted to get some of your input as well. Is hemp primal?
I’ve covered hemp before . Yes, it’s a good occasional alternative but shouldn’t replace animal protein.
Do you think it is necessary to supplement with copper and zinc if not eating liver? I have tried a few times but not really digging the liver.
Not necessarily. Other sources of the two minerals abound. For copper, you could eat oysters, dark chocolate, cashews, pumpkin seeds, kale, beef heart, and potatoes. For zinc, you could eat oysters (and most shellfish), beef, lamb, and other red meats. Pretty much any red meat – not just the liver – will be rich in zinc.
Also, have you tried sneaking liver into other foods ? Liver’s good for more than just the copper.
I’ve always had a hard time figuring out if I’m eating enough fat. Of course I cook my meats in it, eggs, and sautéed veggies. But, other than avocados, what else can I eat? I know there are seeds and nuts, but aren’t those full of PUFAs? Aren’t we supposed to eat those in moderation?
Remember that meats and eggs both inherently come packed with plenty of fat – and it’s the good, animalistic kind of fat ! Throw in some fatty fish a few times per week, veggies sautéed in fat, a handful of nuts scattered here and there, an avocado on your salad, cream in your coffee (if you do dairy), a coconut based dish one day, some olive oil  in your salad? You’ll get plenty.
It sounds like you’re doing well, to be honest.
Since fruits are an occasional food, which ones offer the most bang for their buck(nutritionally speaking) and which ones should we avoid?
I hesitate to recommend outright avoidance of any individual fruit, but I can definitely recommend you focus on certain ones :
- Berries (all of ’em)
- Stone fruits
- Bananas (especially post-workout)
- Pineapple (when in Hawaii and you can get the white ones)
Dear Mark, I have scoliosis since I was a child and I have always had problems with my posture (ie.not standing straight enough, back aches…). Is there any kind of exercise that I can do to improve my posture and lessen the pain?
I highly recommend Esther Gokhale’s book, 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back , which she wrote after spending decades extensively studying the postural habits of pain-free non-industrial populations. She also gives classes .
For a quick rundown of my thoughts on Esther’s methods, check out a post I did on posture .
Is there a secret to eating more veggies? What sort of dishes or skills am I missing in the kitchen that would allow me to up my veggie intake?
Why yes, there are a few time-tested methods for increasing vegetable consumption .
As for skills, it’s not so much a technique as it as a willingness to try to new things. Branch out; pick a cuisine and then make a Primal dish from that cuisine.
I precooked a bunch of plain meats in my sous vide but now need some way to make them tasty. What’s a good way to flavor meats that are already cooked?
Reductions work great! Start with a bit of real bone broth, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, orange juice, or some combination of them and reduce it over low-medium heat until it starts to thicken and syrupify (that’s a word, yep). Add salt, spices, and/or herbs. Once it gets real syrupy, turn off the heat and add a little cold butter. Swirl that around to thicken the sauce you’ve just created.
I’ve also got a good book for that .
My BP concerns me, but my qu is: do you see this often in people that live the primal lifestyle?
I don’t see this very often, no. How much potassium are you getting? Most of the latest evidence shows that potassium intake is vital for blood pressure regulation. You getting your veggies?
Have any suggestions on how would I go about reaching 6% body fat? I am for sure 10% or below, am an avid walker, sprint and lift occasionally, and watch carb-intake. Just can’t quite seem to get there, but I want it so bad!
You’re gonna have to get really strict with calorie intake. You’ll also have to sprint and lift more than occasionally. And even then, it might not work.
I don’t recommend it, personally, as it can have disastrous effects on your endocrine system and quality of life (including tanking your testosterone), but that’s what it’s probably going to take.
Why was it easier to drop fat and lose cravings when living in Europe than it is here in the US?
The food is of generally higher quality in Europe than the US. Here, to find quality, you have to seek it out. Most European nations, having been around for longer, have richer food traditions than Americans.
If I eat cheese, should I choose grass-fed, but not raw or raw, but not grass-fed? Thank you!!
Grass-fed is more important than raw. Grass-feeding leads to an improved nutrient profile (more vitamins, better fatty acids).
I’ve followed it religiously with meat and stuff. I just can’t do it meat makes me feel heavy protein does I’ve done HCL, ACV, enzymes etc. Just doesn’t feel right. Carbohydrates not grains! do make me feel better where can I get protein:? Do some people need different macros less protein. Im so lost.
Don’t eat tons of meat if it doesn’t make you feel right. Stick with eggs, dairy (if tolerated), and lighter fare like fish and shellfish for your protein needs. Primal needn’t be “all meat, all the time.” Later on, you can try meat again and find it may affect you differently. As for the carbs, if you’re underweight and they make you feel better, eat them! Just stick to Primal carb sources like sweet potatoes, potatoes, wild rice, squash, and fruit.
Assuming I can add some strength training, will continuing to train for and run half marathons be detrimental to a primal lifestyle?
It might on a physical level, but doing something you truly love improves your quality of life on a deeper, more meaningful level. That’s completely Primal, in my opinion. Keep an eye on overtraining symptoms , of course, and be ready to change things up if they go south .
Just don’t even think about graduating to full marathons!
Love the 21-day challenge, however I may be consuming a few too many starchy vegetables (i.e. yams/sweet potatoes). What are your guidelines for these in the paleo diet? I don’t need to loose and weight but still want to make sure i am on the right track.
As long as you’re at your goal weight and aren’t gaining any unwanted fat, your level of starchy vegetable intake is likely fine.
Hi Mark, My question is when is it time to toss out the old vibram five fingers and replace with a new pair. Dollar for dollar these shoes are extremely well made and can take an incredible pounding.
When you should probably replace your Vibrams:
- The smell just won’t go away no matter how vigorously and thoroughly you wash them.
- Your toes are poking through the sleeves.
Otherwise, ride it out.
Problem is I don’t really like many vegetables so what are some good ways for me to get carbs and good fiber. I eat spaghetti squash, sweet potato, tomato sauce(spaghetti sauce) and that is about it.
Those are fine choices. I suggest you “hide” other vegetables in your spaghetti sauce, particularly leafy greens. Kale, chard, spinach, beet greens can all disappear quite easily into a vat of spaghetti sauce. For added fiber, eat a few pieces of fruit a day, like underripe bananas, apples, and berries.
I have a cabin weekend during the 21 day challenge. I know I can just bring separate food than everyone else, so I’m not eating hotdogs and chips all weekend, but it’s not that easy. Any suggestions on how to handle the situation or what to do so I am not completely separated from the group for meals?
Offer to cook a big feast for one or more meals. Have everyone pitch in for groceries, enlist a few kitchen assistants, then blow their pants off with an amazing Primal meal. That’s far better than people sitting around eating prepackaged junk food, and it’s a fun way to socialize and introduce people to good Primal eating. A few bottles of wine should assist here, too.
Where can you buy sliced meat without any sugars in the Netherlands? I’ve defaulted to choosing the best-out-of-not-so-great-options but that’s not a good thing.
My other question (perhaps a tad sarcastic):
When will people catch on that no, you really don’t eat bread? (Or the cake, or the sugar-laden-anything). 🙂
Well, I don’t know where in the Netherlands you live, and I hate to come across like the guy who thinks Amsterdam and the Netherlands are synonyms, but this meat shop  in Amsterdam seems to have good charcuterie.
As for the other question, never. They will never catch on. 😉
How do you cope with sudden stressors, whether large or small (i.e. death in the family, sprained ankle, etc.) that may pop up during your challenge? Or what advice would you give to someone in a position like this?
Do your best to maintain a healthy Primal lifestyle with good nutrient-dense food, regular activity, quality sleep, and – this is the most important of all if it’s a big stressor – a strong circle of social support. Support with adaptogenic or anti-stress herbs  can also really help here.
That said, if someone close to you passes away, the last thing I’d do is stress over my eating habits. If it comes easy, awesome. If it’s a struggle that’s impeding your ability to cope, don’t worry about it.
I’m on a very tight budget for the time being (back in school full time for a semester so had to cut down on the work hours) and live in a small town where “organic” and “grass-fed” are EXTREMELY hard to find. How do I make the best food choices possible in the environment I’m currently in?
Conventionally-raised ruminants (beef, lamb, bison) are better choices than conventionally-raised poultry and pork due to the minimal impact grain-feeding has on the fatty acid content; poultry and pork reflect their diet in their fat.
You can also consider ordering online. Check the Primal Resource  section for trusted vendors.
What suggestions do you, or anyone, have for treating surgery scars? I am waiting impatiently for my dura-bond to come off so I can start treating my incision wound on my neck. I have coconut oil, lavender oil and a cocoa-butter/lavender oil blend but is there anything else I should try? I have always had success with neosporin but would like to avoid it for a more natural remedy.
You know, if neosporin works, I’d just go ahead and use that. There’s nothing inherently wrong with using them . “Natural” more often coincides with “better,” but that doesn’t always make “unnatural” necessarily “bad.”
The oil blends you describe are good, too. I’d also make sure to eat plenty of gelatin to give your body the skin-building supplies it needs to heal wounds. Eat oxtails and shanks and feet, make rich bone stocks , use powdered gelatin  to make Primal treats  or melt into warm liquid, or buy collagen  that you can simply add to cold liquid. Collagen compresses have also shown promise  in healing wounds; ask your surgeon or wound care specialist about that.
Even standing desks don’t strike me as a solution if the posture is already trained into a poor position. I see a lot of hunched over shoulders while people walk around. Does squatting while hanging around, playing with the kids, etc, help or hinder?
Squatting is the “third world chair.” It’s how we are meant to rest, relax, socialize, work, and wait. And, if you grew up in a culture where squatting was the norm, you’ll likely retain an effortless full squat for the rest of your mobile years. That will maintain your overall joint mobility, because a full squat is a passive stretch. In a proper full squat, your glutes are active, your calves are stretched (not tight), and your torso is relatively upright (which keeps your hip flexors from tightening up). You do that every day of your life for minutes or hours at a time and you’re going to be in good shape.
Of course, most of us reading didn’t grow up squatting on a regular basis. We may have started out doing it as toddlers, but eventually chairs and classrooms and televisions got their hands on us. Thus, if we can get comfortable in the full resting squat with good technique, I think it will be therapeutic for a number of ailments, posture and low back pain included. On occasions where I’ve tweaked my back, sitting in a full squat is often the only thing that alleviates the pain.
Whew, that’s it for today. Thanks for reading (and asking)! Be sure to leave your comments below and Grok on!