I was a modern vegetarian runner, he was a paleolithic meat-loving functional exerciser – when we first met, we could not have been more different. Paleo/Primal style eating now has quite a few different flavors now but five years ago, it was new and with its exclusion of all grains, was also quite controversial. Whether it was from a genuine interest in the science behind this new philosophy or because I’ve always had a thing for men who want me to change everything I am to be with them, I decided to give it a try. As those of you who’ve been with me since the beginning know, I’ve done the 30-day Primal Blueprint challenge, as described by Mark Sisson, three times now. Twice I wrote about my experiences and it got a whole chapter in my first book. Short version: It did not go well for me. And yet Mark Sisson and his site Mark’s Daily Apply remain one of my favorite sources for intelligent, well-researched health and fitness information. Here’s why:
1. Don’t fear the dietary fat. When I first started my journey to lose the baby weight after my 2nd son was born, the country was still in the schizophrenic grip of the low-fat diet espoused by the American Heart Association colliding with the low-carb craze. I had no idea what the best way to eat was and had grown up priding myself on minimal fat intake. Reading Mark’s articles on the benefits of fat – saturated included! – were a huge paradigm shift for me. I started incorporating more fat into my diet and have seen physical and mental benefits because of it.
2. Whole foods rule. There was a time in my life that I thought a low-carb protein bar was the healthiest thing I could eat. Reading The Primal Blueprint (among other books and sites) helped me change my focus from tracking macronutrients to being more concerned about eating foods in their most natural form.
3. Chronic cardio is not the best way to exercise. This last point has been life-changing for me and I have Rachel Cosgrove and Mark Sisson to thank equally for this. Coming fresh off my double-cardio Experiment (it was exactly what it sounds like and ended with a stress fracture, a burgeoning eating disorder and a gain of 10 pounds), I came across Mark’s article “Case against cardio” based on his experiences as an elite triathlete. In it, he dismantles the conventional wisdom that the best way to get fit is to run, cycle, swim or do some other form of traditional “cardio”. He isn’t saying that we shouldn’t ever run again, but he is saying that continually pushing through long punishing workouts can be very detrimental to your health.
The Whole Grains Thing
Now, back to the whole “it didn’t end well for me” part. The Primal Blueprint asserts that humans have not evolved enough yet to eat grains and because of this eating grains causes all kinds of problems from systemic inflammation to allergies to bloating to chronic fatigue syndrome. The science from Sisson, Taubes, Wolfe, Eades and others is compelling (and trust me I have read it all. Twice.) and I won’t say they’re wrong on this. Unfortunately I also can’t say they are right. For me this is the who-killed-JFK of nutrition. For every Mark Sisson success story, there is a Bill Pearl (a vegan bodybuilder) rebuttal. I’ve gone back and forth on this so many times that I think I may just have to conclude that I’ll never know.
What I do know is that every time I have tried to remove all grains from my diet I have felt worse and not better. Whether that’s because of my mental issues (restricting makes me nutso) or because I’m addicted to carbs (taking out whole grains always leads to me bingeing on sugar) or perhaps that I’m half ruminant and more evolved than other humans, it doesn’t work for me. It may be a matter of finding the nuance – i.e. that genetically engineered wheat is bad but “ancient” grains are good – or it may just be time for me to let this one go. Honestly I eat very few processed grains – my servings are things like a handful of barley thrown in soup or cracked wheat berries on salad – and my body seems to like it. It’s kind of like when I quit being a vegetarian. I still eat a lot of vegetarian meals but now I don’t worry about craving the occasional piece of meat. Intuitive Eating works for me and I’m healthy and happy.
21-Day Primal Challenge
Grain issues aside, I have learned a ton of valuable things from Mark Sisson. In addition to the three big ones above, I’ve gotten a ton of recipes off his site (including how to cook offal), got workout ideas and even competed in a brain challenge but my favorite thing about his writing is how well-researched it is. Not many people take the time to delve into the science themselves and examine the data and the conclusions and I have learned in depth about everything from what blood pressure readings really are to understanding the glucose pathway. And I will add that he has been nothing but kind and patient with me in our e-mail exchanges.
So I was super excited to see he just launched his newest book The Primal Blueprint 21-Day Total Body Transformation. I haven’t read it yet but I’m sure it is up to his usual high standard and I can’t wait to check it out. This week only (10/18-10/24) Mark is offering a whole bunch of freebies to people who buy his book. If you are already Primal/Paleo or just curious, definitely check out his new book! And be sure to read his site – it’s a goldmine of information even if, like me, you’re not primal.
Do you have a nutrition or fitness question that you just can’t resolve no matter how much you read up about it? Have any of you tried primal or paleo style eating?
Disclosure: The above link is an Amazon affiliate link so I do get a small kickback (a few cents) if you buy Mark’s book through my site – this is not the reason I am promoting his book however.