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Sunday November 6, 2011

Primal portions

A sportsman heals himself with a variation of the Paleo Diet.

THIRTY years ago, Mark Sisson was a competitive runner, running over 100 miles per week. He finished in the top five in the 1980 US national marathon championships and even qualified for a spot in that year’s Olympic trials.

You would think he would have been in the best shape of his life, right? In reality his health was poor. He was constantly sick or injured, and in his last year as a world-class athlete, he experienced eight upper respiratory tract infections.

“I was a top athlete, eating a diet high in complex carbohydrate and was falling apart,” Sisson says in an e-mail interview.

Mark Sisson’s Primal Blueprint regime, which he says is ‘kinder’ than the Paleo Diet, also incorporates lifestyle elements.

After Sisson retired from competition in 1988, he was determined to figure out a better way to achieve health and fitness. Armed with a degree in biology and a pre-medical background (he wanted to do medicine before being sidetracked by running), he began researching nutrition and health.

“After some serious research, I saw that the sugars and grains I was ingesting in the interest of running faster and getting healthier were, in fact, causing problems like irritable bowel syndrome, osteoarthritis, tendonitis, respiratory infections and a general feeling of always being tired,” he explains his findings.

So he began cutting out those grains and sugar, increasing healthy fats, and training less. His health improved dramatically: “I’m healthier and, in many ways, fitter at 57 that I was 30 years ago when I was a top marathoner,” he says.

After researching and writing a number of books (Maximum Results, The Fat Control System, The Anti-Aging Report and The Lean Lifestyle Program) over 25 years, Sisson came up with what he feels is the definitive way to being healthy and fit: The Primal Blueprint, a diet and fitness system that claims to not just help people lose weight but also get healthier and fitter.

In 2006, Sisson created a blog, MarksDailyApple.com, to spread his health and fitness philosophy. “The blog has become perhaps the world’s biggest laboratory in which to test the Primal principles,” he says.

The Primal Blueprint diet eschews grains and sugar and encourages adherents to eat unprocessed foods such as fresh fruits, vegetables and meat. Sisson believes that human beings don’t really need as much carbohydrate as we think. So he recommends consuming about 150g and below to maintain your weight, and 100g and below if you’d like to lose weight.

The diet also encourages you to consume fats such as animal fat and olive oil, as they are vital for health. Like the Paleo Diet, the Primal Blueprint is built around the diet and lifestyle of our cave-dwelling ancestors.

In fact, Sisson calls it a “kinder, gentler Paleo” – unlike the Paleo diet, Sisson encourages adherents to consume dairy products, which the paleo diet is very strict about giving them up.

Like the Paleo Diet, the Primal Blueprint emphasises simple, unprocessed meals like this chicken salad.

Another difference that sets the Primal Blueprint apart from the paleo diet is that it not only focuses on the “eating strategy” but looks at how one should get enough sleep, have fun and exercise, says Sisson.

Sisson recommends exercises that “optimises gene expression” such as sprinting and bodyweight exercises, and to avoid what he calls “chronic cardio”, where one exercises for long stretches at a high intensity. “(It’s) not only a waste of time, but likely harmful to your health in the long run,” he says.

Since the creation of his blog, Sisson has also published a book – Primal Blueprint – and has released a few free e-books such as the Primal Blueprint Fitness e-book at his website.

“I have prided myself on giving away as much information as I can,” he said. “The Primal Blueprint Fitness e-book is free primarily because the concept is so simple that I think everyone should use it as a guideline for organising a fitness strategy,” he explains.

His mission is to help 10 million people “reclaim their health through understanding how their bodies work”.

Therefore it is gratifying to regularly receive success stories from his readers in his e-mail box. Some of those stories are posted at his website, saying that some readers have lost weight and become muscular, fitter people. Some before and after pictures seem to show dramatic transformations, with people going from being pot bellied to sporting six packs.

“Jezwyn” from Melbourne, for instance, keeps a blog on living the Primal Blueprint lifestyle at girlgoneprimal.blogspot.com.

“Over the course of nine months, I shed my 15kg and – although still a bit fleshy in spots – happily paraded in a bikini for the first time in my life whilst holidaying in Thailand,” she says when we e-mailed her for her take on the diet.

However, in early 2010, she had to take medication for a nerve injury. The side effect of the medicine caused her to gain back all the weight that she lost. Despite the setback, Jezwyn is still following and supporting the Primal Blueprint lifestyle, she says, pointing out that: “Starvation and calorie counting does not work long-term unless you are really committed and can push through the unsustainable deprivation forever.”

The Primal Blueprint, however, is a lifestyle, she says – with weight loss as a nice side benefit.

“The PB lifestlye isn’t a miracle, it’s just good sense and a way forward for people who haven’t known life beyond what McDonalds dishes out. It offers a starting point for those with weight issues, as eating real food often helps us become sensitive to our true appetite, and discourages overeating,” she says.

It’s stories like these that keep Sisson going.

“There’s no greater feeling than to hear someone thank you for helping them overcome years of failure or depression, or even for ‘saving’ their life’,” he says.


> Eat fresh, organic, unprocessed food such as vegetables, meat and fruits.

> Get you essential fats.

> Consume dairy propducts.

> Engage daily in low-intensity activity, be it at the gym or just a walk around the shopping mall.


> Grains such as rice and wheat.

> Refined carbohydrates.

> Sugar.

> ‘Chronic cardio’, where you exercise for long stretches at a high intensity.

Related Stories:
Against the grain
Eating food that’s alive
Doing the diet dance


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