Dear Mark: Your Challenge Questions Answered

Too Many Questions. Pile of colorful paper notes with question marks. Closeup.Last week, you guys asked me a ton of questions as part of a contest. Today, I’m going to answer an initial batch. (If you don’t see yours, check back on Mondays to come when I’ll take up others.) First, can excess fat be stored as body fat? If so, how? Second, can this way of eating help with seasonal allergies? Third, what’s the proper pushup progression for someone who can’t do a full one? Fourth, when should I take my probiotics, vitamin D3, and fish oil? Fifth, is canned fish a viable way of obtaining omega-3s, or does the canning process damage the fats? Sixth, is there a trick to beating a weight loss plateau? Seventh, is there a way to make sardines palatable? And eighth, if you can’t walk one day, can you make it up the next?

Let’s go:

Hi Mark,
I’ve never found a great answer to what happens to excess fat that is eaten when one is an efficient fat burner. If insulin isn’t present to store it, does it get stored? By what pathway? Do we excrete it? I can guess that pathway.

Excess fat is stored as body fat thanks to acylation stimulating protein, or ASP. Like carbs stimulate insulin, dietary fat stimulates ASP, the “most potent stimulant of triglyceride synthesis.”

The trick is that when one is an efficient fat-burner on a low-carb, high-fat diet, it’s really, really hard to overeat enough fat to lead to major fat gain. Such a nutrient-dense metabolic milieu promotes satiety and reduces hunger, leading to the spontaneous and inadvertent reduction in calories. It’s this effect, coupled with the improvement in substrate utilization and retention of lean mass, that’s most responsible for the improved body composition and increased fat loss seen on these diets.

There’s always some insulin, by the way. And insulin doesn’t directly store fat. It switches the body into glucose-burning mode and hinders the release of stored body fat for burning.

Some excretion occurs, yes, but not much. We’re quite efficient at absorbing and utilizing dietary fats.

Hi Mark,
I was wondering if the 21 day challenge and primal eating would be able to help with seasonal allergies. The cedar tree pollen is killing the entire family this winter ?

It might. Check out these two posts on the subject I wrote.

Long story short, these tips may help you:

I struggle with push ups. Are there any other exercises that I can do other than push ups to build those muscles?

Totally. Start with wall pushes. Progress toward full floor pushups by gradually lessening the angle between you and the floor. So, from wall pushes you’d move to counter pushes to coffee table pushes to pushups on the lowest step on a staircase. When those get easy, you can probably graduate to a full pushup on the floor.

Whatever you do, always maintain the proper plank position.

Hello Mark, I am excited for this 21 day challenge, as I incorporate supplements into my diet, does the timing of when I take my soil, oil, and sun (Vit D) matter? Can I take them together in the morning, at lunch, are there different times they need to be taken?
Chris L

It doesn’t seem to matter too much.

Some people report sleep disturbances taking vitamin D late in the day (with vitamin D acting as a daytime signal for your circadian rhythm).

You might absorb probiotics better with food or 30 minutes before a meal, since they seem to survive the transit through our gut when taken this way (as opposed to after a meal). This makes perfect sense given how we’ve historically encountered probiotics: attached to the food in the form of dirt (soil based organisms) or intrinsic to the food (fermentation).

Take fish oil whenever you take the probiotics, as it’s food.

Hi Mark. Instead of Omega 3 capsules, I have taken to eating tinned mackerel in brine. However, what concerns me is whether the omega 3 fatty acids may have been oxidized by the cooking process used to cook the mackerel. Is that something to worry about?

Canning fish is a rather gentle process, and the end result provides bioavailable omega-3s.

The fish are cooked whole. Fatty acids are always more stable in whole food form.

The fish are pressure cooked inside the can. This minimizes expose to oxygen and light—two powerful oxidative forces.

Eating canned fish (salmon and albacore) and taking fish oil capsules both result in similar changes to tissue EPA and DHA—so the omega-3s are “making it through.”

Hey Mark,
I’ve been primal for the last year with the exception of December.
I’ve had great success with weight loss but I struggle getting my body fat percentage below 16%. Any tips? And I have been pretty consistent with my sprint training every week

What you try of the following depends on where you’re starting. That’s up to you to decide.

Try skipping a meal each day. By skipping either breakfast or dinner, you’re tacking an extra 4-8 hours of not-eating onto the 8 hours of not-eating already occurring when you sleep. That can boost fat burning and make it easier to reduce your calorie intake.

Try lowering carbs. Carbs tend to creep up. If you’re eating more carbs than you’re earning in the gym, you may be hanging around in an hyperinsulinemic state. This inhibits fat oxidation and makes it harder to burn fat—especially if you’re also eating higher fat at the same time.

Try increasing carbs. If you’re training really hard consistently, you may be earning carbs but not eating them. This can create a depressed metabolism and increase stress hormones, which can hamper fat loss. Pay your glycogen debt.

Try a carb refeed. You may not need to eat more carbs generally. Oftentimes a simple carb refeed consumed shortly before or after an intense workout does the trick.

Make sure you’re lifting heavy things. I find strength training to be one of the most overlooked promoters of fat loss.

Grab a copy of my weight loss troubleshooting eBook. It’s got some great tips.

Dear Mark,
Do you have any recipes that use sardines, preferably after processing them through a food processor? I want to eat sardines, they are healthy, affordable and think I would enjoy the taste, but cannot seem to actually put one in my mouth.


My favorite way to eat sardines (besides just out of the can or slapped onto a salad) is mixed with extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil, chopped preserved lemon (fresh lemon juice works too, but the funkiness of the preserved lemon is ideal), kosher salt, coarse pepper, and a few chickpeas (read up on legumes for my updated stance). If you don’t want the chickpeas, throw this onto some salad greens.

A guilty pleasure of mine also involves sardines: rice, sardines, ketchup. Trust me on that. It’s worth the rice to get sardines in your life.

Hey Mark! It may be nice in Southern California, but here in Northern California it’s an “atmospheric river”–not ideal for getting out and walking. My office is small, so no good indoor place to get some steps in. So, my question is–does walking a lot (~20,000+ steps) on other days “make up” for missing days like today when it’s pouring? Or is walking daily more important (even if it’s walking in circles inside your office/home)? Thanks!!

Yeah, totally. You can walk a bunch one day and none the next. Do whatever works. Life is fractal.

Some daily movement is ideal, of course. Options?

Do some light movement routines like the ones laid out in the rajio taiso post from a couple years back. Don’t count this as a “workout,” but do keep moving for a solid 15-20 minutes at a time. Easily done in a small room.

Pace the room. I’d get pretty miserable. I don’t know about you.

Go outside and walk in that storm! There’s nothing like disappearing into a rainstorm, hood up, walking in time to the percussion of the drops thundering down. I like going barefoot when I walk or hike through the rain, as bare feet are easy to wash, rain doesn’t ruin them, and the soles come with equipped with Darwinian anti-slip technology you won’t find elsewhere.

That’s it for today, folks. I’ll get to more questions in the future. For now, though, keep up the great work!

Primal Kitchen 7 Days, 7 Salads Challenge

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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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