My stars, you people have opinions! 41 comments and counting on my “Primal Problems” post and every single one of them well thought out, passionate and informative. And that’s not even counting the incredible number of you who e-mailed me about this. It’s taken me all day to read and process them all in my mind, much less reply. So Thursday’s report on TinkerBell Goes to the Y (you’re gonna love it!) got pushed to Friday so I can address all my primal thoughts.
First of all I want to say thank you with all my heart to every single one of you who took the time to type out a response to me. Your support and information has been overwhelming – but in a good way – and I feel incredibly blessed to have such great readers.
Now. To clear up a few misconceptions:
1. I’m not trying to denigrate the Paleo diet in any way. It obviously works, and works well, for many people. The folks, both posters and commenters, over at Mark’s Daily Apple have long provided me with a wonderful amount of healthy recipes, interesting studies, and well-researched points of view. Nothing I say here is intended to take away from that.
2. I was coming into the Primal Challenge as a long-term vegetarian (and previously a vegan). BUT I didn’t eat a lot of grains. I’ve never been a huge grain person. I also avoid processed “vegetarian” food like the plague. I don’t do soy burgers or chick’n or any of the like. I guess you could say I was a primal vegetarian? (If they existed?) I’d have my bowl of oatmeal in the morning and occasionally some quinoa or couscous but by and large my carb intake came from fruits, vegetables and lots and lots of legumes (I’m superfun at parties;)). Before starting Primal I averaged between 100-200 grams of carbs a day. So for the primal experiment I decided to have 100 be my upper limit and try to stay as low as I could. That’s, I think, where I went wrong. Well that and trying to do it while I was PMS’ing.
3. Many of you asked what my purpose in doing this experiment is. You all know I love a great experiment but really, and I’m a bit ashamed to admit this, it was because I really wanted to lose those 10 vanity pounds. The ones I gained back during the over training debacle. I wanted to fit in my jeans again. This is not the healthiest mindset so it is no wonder that my eating disorder thoughts made a come back. The bottom line is that I am healthy as I am now and I need to give up that ridiculous goal. Thanks to all of you who called me out on that.
Mark Sisson’s Response
Mark (of the famous abs and MDA) responded in a very kind e-mail to my binge problem. He made some excellent points so I thought I would just share his whole e-mail:
First off I want to say that I am sorry to hear that you and a couple of your readers are having a difficult time making the transition. And I want to thank you for presenting your personal experience with the Primal Health Challenge. It perfectly highlights the fact that everyone’s transition into the Primal Blueprint lifestyle will be unique. It also gives me an opportunity to analyze how the Primal Blueprint has been presented to my readers. If I haven’t been clear about certain aspects of the PB I want to do so now and in all future posts.
First I’d like to get some of the minor points out of the way. And I say minor because, in the context of such an extreme binge, nitpicking about some of these details feels unimportant and petty. Nevertheless I think they should be addressed to avoid confusion.
You mention that you still miss dark chocolate. Dark chocolate along with cheese, wine, fat and some dairy are all Sensible Vices, and sensible vices are wholly a part of the Primal Blueprint. Being 100% Primal still means being able to indulge in these from time to time without guilt. We have always tried to make clear that making minor compromises to your diet can be a very healthy part of living Primal. And on top of that many of the so called vices aren’t vices at all.
This brings me to fruit. We’ve always said that fruit should be eaten in moderation. If you are craving some sugar or simply just want to eat a plum. By all means eat a plum and enjoy every last bit of it! But as long as you are going to try to follow the guidelines of a particular health philosophy there will inevitably be, by definition, some boundaries. The Primal Blueprint suggests a particular amount of carbohydrates from one day to the next (from roughly 100g to 150g/day). With this range in mind it probably makes sense, at least when you are first starting the PB, to consider the amount of sugar in fruits. Eating a few bananas each day alone would get you close to that recommendation. But, as myself and many PBers can attest, once you settle into these eating patterns you don’t have to worry or concern yourself with these fine details. It all comes out in the wash as they say.
You say, “And the depressing post-script to all this is MDA informing me that even one “bad carb day” will set you back to the very beginning, as far as switching to fat-burning for fuel and achieving ketosis. Just lovely.”
Again we want to be clear. Indeed, if your goal is to lose weight and to do it quickly we suggest getting under 100 grams a day to achieve ketosis. We don’t suggest being in a constant state of ketosis (unless you need to lose large amounts of weight/fat), hence our generally higher carb recommendations. But it is simply a matter of fact that if you eat a large amount of carbs, taking you out of ketosis, you will be side-lining your original intentions. Let me also point out that I did a post called The Context of Calories just a few days ago that postulated that it isn’t so much what you eat on a day-to-day basis as it is what your macro-nutrient intake is on a week-to-week or month-to-month basis. Hopefully this is a positive post script to your carb binge.
Additionally, and I apologize if my Worker Bees and I didn’t make this clear, the Primal Health Challenge was really intended for those that have been following MDA for some time, had made many major lifestyle changes already, but weren’t 100% Primal. We did a follow up post to make it clear that easing into it, giving it time to work, backing off in the event you hit an exceptional rough patch and other similar tips were all important parts of making the transition. I understand that for someone that hasn’t eaten meat for years (“I only ate red meat once and wanted to throw up for hours afterward…”), was eating a good deal of grains, and has had a history of eating disorders, to go 100% Primal would be a serious change in dietary habits – one that probably shouldn’t be done cold turkey.
If making this transition is too difficult and is causing you to revert back into unhealthy eating patterns by all means stop now. This is NOT what the PB is all about. It isn’t about forcing people to do things they don’t want. It isn’t even about restricting people’s diets. In fact, we see it from a different point of view entirely. Yes, there are some foods to try to avoid completely if possible, but the Primal Blueprint diet is full of delicious fat, clean meats, and a cornucopia of fresh, endless vegetables and even a fair amount of fruit. We see the PB as opening up a world of natural food possibilities to its participants. Possibilities that in their past diet of pale, nutrient devoid bread, pasta, grains sweets and processed junk food they hadn’t realized were an option. If at any point you feel deprived on the PB program, any number of snacks, including indulgences, sensible vices and fruit are there for eating – again without guilt. I suspect that many people, still fearing fat, deprive themselves of important fat or protein calories that could make the difference in energy levels day-to-day. This is certainly not intended to be a starvation diet.
Let me start off my final, and most important point, with a quote from you:
“But maybe it’s not me that’s broken, maybe it’s the diet. Or maybe it IS me. I don’t know.”
I like to think it is neither. That it is the system that is broken instead. A system that has trained millions of Americans to eat in a completely unnatural way. A system that has gotten so far away from eating like our ancestors that most people don’t even know what what that looks like anymore. A system that has trained its subject to burn and rely on sugar as its primary fuel source. A system that results in poor body image, advocates crash and fad dieting and encourages unhealthy eating patterns. It is a system that many have spent years, lifetimes even, a part of and to break free from it is no easy task. I don’t want to claim that you are the prime example of this in anyway. With that said, every American to some degree has been influenced. I like to think the Primal Blueprint brings a message of hope in the midst of this defunct system. That it uses our primal past to guide us into making informed and healthy life decisions in the future. I’ll be the first to admit that the Primal Blueprint is a radical concept to some. It is a radical departure from the status quo, from the USDA Food Pyramid, from Conventional Health Wisdom et al. But being so radical in nature means that the transition – the pulling yourself out of this system – can be extremely difficult for some. There is an additional message of hope I’d also like to offer up. It is the message of hope that many others that have been partaking in this challenge as well as friends, family, and colleagues of mine that have been living the Primal Blueprint lifestyle for years can attest to. That for some the transition is easy. For some there were some hurdles. For some it was nearly impossible. But that for those that stuck with it there is a healthy life on the other side.
Now for some practical advice:
1. If you have too difficult a time eating meat don’t do it. Can you do fish? How about eggs, protein powder?
2. Understand that Sensible Vices are part of the program and that informed and decisive compromises are welcome. The Primal Blueprint is more than just a diet. It involves stress management as well. There needs to be a balance here. If certain aspects of the diet are causing you undue levels of stress then this needs to be addressed.
3. And I say this as kindly as possible, maybe the 100% Primal Health Challenge is too much for you right now. It seems to me that you may be, along with your two readers who have written you, the type that needs more time easing into the PB. Back off if it, and if you see the PB message and health philosophy as compelling and wish to continue to give it a try makes smaller changes. Up your carb intake. Keep eating your oatmeal and other foods that you enjoy at the beginning. And then one by one over a matter of weeks if not months add food items that fit the PB and begin eliminating those that don’t. This may be a much more realistic plan for you.
4. I’d be interested to see what your daily diet is like. If you would like I’d be happy to take a look at your macro and micro nutrient intake and give my advice. Maybe there were some easy fixes or misunderstandings. As I have my clients do, go to FitDay.com, keep a daily diet journal to get a break down of your eating habits and send me over the results.
I wish you the best in whatever decision you make. As I said at the beginning of the challenge, the Worker Bees and I are here for support so please stay in touch. We care about your well-being and want only the best for you.
See? One of the nicest people on the Internet.
Anyhow, after processing all of this, I’ve decided to take a break from the Primal Diet. Which isn’t to say I’m going to go whole-hog American Diet and eat white bread and mac-n-cheese for every meal. I am a very clean eater. I’m just not going to stress about my macronutrient ratios for the next few days. I have an appointment with my therapist on Friday (you can’t be this kind of crazy without a good therapist!) and after discussing it with her, I’ll decide what would be healthiest for me to do after that point. Right now I’m thinking I will probably not be returning to the Primal Blueprint as written but will go back to eating as I was previous but with the addition of fish, seafood and maybe the occasional free-range chicken;)
Thanks again for everyone’s concern and support. Reading all your comments and e-mails just made my whole day:)