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!


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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27 thoughts on “Dear Mark: Your Challenge Questions Answered”

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  1. I love sardines and eat them straight out of the can several times a week. For me, the trick is to buy the ones that are skinned and boneless, packed in olive oil. I know the bones are supposed to be good for you, and maybe the skin too, but I just don’t like them.

    1. Wild Planet brand sardines in extra virgin olive oil are great. They are scaled but do have the tiny bones in them, but are hardly noticeable IMHO. Approached them with a certain amount of trepidation the first time, didn’t know if I could actually eat them, but they turned out to be pretty good. The rest of my family cannot handle even looking at them LOL (my DIL actually screamed when I showed some to her), the wimps that they are.

      1. I don’t know why but I never thought to try another brand after my first try. Which is silly because I know even vegetables and eggs taste change according to where they come from. Anyway, I went to check sardines on my favourite health store and they are more expensive than the salmon I already eat. I was sure that sardines were less expensive but anyway, my question is, does sardines have any nutrients that salmon doesn’t have?

    2. I’m with Healthy Hombre on the Wild Planet Sardines. They are the only ones that taste good to me. I was extremely squeamish at first, now I think nothing of it. I order them from Thrive Market so I never run out. Not only are they amazing for you, it’s great to have some quality protein that is non perishable. And they make your skin glow!

      1. I can’t get Wild Planet sardines where I’m at but I highly recommend Ortiz (Spain) and Ramirez (Portugal) brands. My 1st choice however, are freshly caught Sardines that I fillet and marinate in coarse sea salt, olive oil, fresh lemon and chopped Cilantro. They are good to eat in an hour and should be consumed within a day or two, if they lasted that long; or, added to a large Romain salad or as Tapas bruschetta but I unfortunately I haven’t found a substitute to the bread . Another option is to make a quick sauce (similar to Shakshuka) with chopped tomatoes, garlic and fresh green chill pepper, add the sardines and Cooke them for 10 min.

        “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.” Good one Mark 🙂

  2. +1 for walking in the rain. I find it extremely refreshing! There is no bad weather, only the wrong clothes. Not sure who said that – but I feel like someone (other than myself) did.

    1. “There is no bad weather, only the wrong clothes.” Love that expression, but there are, of course, always exceptions. No way to dress for a tornado, for instance. Just dive into the root cellar wearing whatever.

      1. I would suggest red sparkly shoes and a blue gingham outfit- great for tornadoes!

  3. Sardines in a bowl mashed up really small, combined with diced onion, dijon mustard, Primal Kitchen Mayo, Lemon juice, salt, pepper, and garlic powder is way more than palatable.

    1. Agreed, it’s surprisingly delicious! I like to whir all of what paleofam321 mentioned up in a blender and serve with endive or lettuce leaves as a dip. poof instant lunch.

  4. Another +1 for the refreshing view point on walking in the rain/storm. It’s what we make it to be! 🙂

  5. My sister-in-law, who is Norwegian, told me several years ago that ‘…there’s no such thing as wrong weather, only wrong clothes….’ or something similar, was coined as an advertising slogan for a Norwegian outdoor clothing manufacturer, called something like Nelson, Neilson, I forget that actual name now.

    1. Might have been Helly Hansen that you’re thinking of. Founded in Norway in 1877 and still going strong.

  6. For the cedar allergy:

    Since cigars are maintained in cedar humidors, smoke at least one cigar a day. This works similar to eating honey for allergies, and cigars are primal. Fermented fine tobacco for probiotics, a serving of “smoked” plant food, and no additives.

    “A cigar a day keeps the allergies away.”

    Recommendations based on a robusto sized cigar.1/2 cigar for 12-18 years old, 1/4 cigar for 6-12 years old, smell the cigar for under 6.

      1. For toddlers it’s safe to just blow the smoke in their face. You wouldn’t want to have a toddler handling a lit cigar. That would be crazy!

    1. If you have a cedar allergy, it’s probably because your mother didn’t smoke enough cigars while you were in the womb.

      1. I thought it was because she didn’t eat enough wood. My mom didn’t eat any wood when she had me. And now I have year round allergies. So that’s proof right there!

  7. Sardines are great for a BA Caesar salad. Take a big ass salad bowl, juice half a lemon and a heaping table spoon of Primal Mayo and a few turns of black pepper and a few shakes of Worcestershire sauce. Whisk in the oil from the sardine can until only a few drops left. Tear up a whole head of farmers market romaine lettuce and coat the leaves. The greener the better. The dump the sardines on top and mix vigorously until they break up into little bits that stick to the leaves. Add parmesan cheese if you do dairy. YUM.

  8. MIght be missing the point on sardines. I think (because I have this myself) the OP wants a way to disguise the actual fish shape of sardines, as in ground in a blender or dissolved in a stew. I just can’t bring myself to actually put a fish shaped fish in my mouth.

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

    What about the stairs? If you have them that is. I feel like I would get less miserable or at least I would get more exercise done before I get miserable.

    Personally, what I do it I play a dance game on my Wii. I’m not the type to dance to any music so I guess if you are, you don’t need the Wii.

  10. I’ve been low carb about 3 weeks. I’m 68, height 5″8″, weight prior was 145 ish, been a runner/exerciser a long time. Trying low carb for health improvement reasons…get rid of sugar craving and improve endurance. My weight is 136 now. My max HR on a treadmill is around 170 so, following your advice I should keep my HR about 130. Prior to the diet change I could run at 12 minute pace for 5 miles at 128-130 BPM. Since the change running at 13:30 pace puts me up to 131. Is this normal and how do you explain it? Also, how do I prevent loosing more weight?

  11. Just read the post on Mark’s updated stance on legumes. Woohoo! I feel some shaami kebab coming on. Hands down the best use of lentils I’ve ever tasted. Bonus: a smallish amount once combined with meat and spices into patties.

  12. Hey mark, What kind of foods and diets are to be followed during and post IVF cycles? As I am about start my IVF treatment