Going Primal

Is the Paleo lifestyle for you?

We don’t have photographs of the cavemen, and only skeletal fossils remain. However, it’s highly unlikely that our earliest ancestors had flabby bodies like Fred Flintstone. A more realistic image is the lean, sinewy “Grok” figure who hunted for his food and spent much of his day foraging for water and firewood and protecting his family from the elements and predators.

Former Ironman athlete Mark Sisson, author of The Primal Blueprint, uses Grok as his logo and inspiration.

“Life in his era might be called short and brutish, but we think that’s not the full story,” he writes. “Strenuous and at times perilous, but not defined by the chronic stress to which we moderns often find ourselves chained . . . Grok’s life, for all its uncertainty and simplicity, also offered the basic human enjoyments of happiness, family, quiet, even beauty.”

Sisson’s “blueprint” is one of the more popular incarnations of the Paleo Diet, also known as the Caveman Diet, Stone Age Diet, and Hunter-Gatherer Diet. The “Paleo” is short for Paleolithic Era, the time period that anthropologists define as starting 2.5 million years ago and ending 10,000 years ago, when early humans sustained themselves on only wild plants and meat, before the development of agriculture.

The Primal Blueprint advocates forcing the body to burn fat over carbohydrates for energy. Food intake primarily consists of grass-fed meat, fish, poultry, eggs, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds – and an elimination of grains, sugar, potatoes, legumes and processed oils. The Paleo approach is particularly friendly to gluten-free diets, as it avoids not only wheat, but all kinds of grain.

“I’ve met very few people who eat a lot of grains yet who also claim to enjoy ideal weight, experience perfectly satisfactory and steady energy levels and never feel digestive distress,” Sisson writes. “At the very least, it is worth conducting a 30-day test to determine your (gluten) sensitivity – and get a glimpse of your potential upside – from eliminating grains from your diet.”

The author actually tries to avoid using the word “diet,” preferring to call his plan an “eating strategy.” Asserting that traditional cardio fitness workouts are overkill and create an increased appetite for carbs, he suggests replacing them with short intense workouts like sprints and weight-lifting.

“I’m not saying I have the right way to achieving optimal health. I have a way that’s worked for hundreds of thousands of people,” Sisson said in a recent phone interview from his California home. “There are no absolutes. Just choices.”

Once you are willing to give up the idea of cake, cookies, candy and other sugared treats as a regular part of your life, the “Blueprint” author insists there is “very little sacrifice.”

“There’s no calorie counting or portion control. Once you are mindful of eliminating certain types of foods and replacing them with quality foods, your appetite self-regulates and you don’t find yourself ravenous every few hours,” he says. “You don’t find yourself eating ’til you’re full, but eating ’til you are no longer hungry for the next bite.”

He says “going primal” does not turn you into a killjoy when going out to eat with your friends.

“This is not an all or nothing proposal. You can take me to any restaurant in Los Angeles and I can get the waiter to bring me a meal that satisfies me. All food exists on a spectrum from best to worst. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” he says.

Sisson, 57, dispenses primal tips to his 325,000 newsletter subscribers and 89,000 Facebook fans of Mark’s Daily Apple. A former marathoner who once ran a personal best of 2:18, he confesses he once had a heavy-duty ice cream habit – finishing up to a half-gallon in a single sitting.

“If my friends order a dessert for the table, I’ll share a few bites. It doesn’t mean that they take away your Paleo card if you go off the wagon for a minute,” he says. “But once you get good about cleaning up your diet, your body will feel it once you go off it.  You have to ask yourself: Is four hours of misery worth three minutes of pleasure?”

“I’ve seen some amazing lifestyle changes even when people begin in their 50s trying to reverse a half-century of bad choices. The body is always rebuilding itself and regenerating itself. It’s never too late to make changes,” Sisson says.


SOURCE: Personal correspondence: Mark Sisson