By 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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The way the health headlines (or let’s face it – any headline) reads these days, you’d think we were all eating our way off a cliff. While I certainly believe conventional practices are robbing people of the full measure of their birthright – a happy, balanced, vital life, I’m not about to scream like my hair’s on fire. My sense is we absorb a continual dose of anxiety promoted by the media or commercial interests about our health always being on the sheer brink. Even those of us who eat a near “perfect” diet, move plenty and workout regularly are always at “risk” for something. After a while, we internalize the 5-alarm mentality. Our health becomes something we have to protect with a never failing, always higher reaching diligence.
What if we’re not as fragile as all that? You know, you could read health blogs all day, and you’d likely come away with the impression that the human body exists in a precipitous balancing act so delicate that the slightest deviation in diet or behavior will wreck the whole house of cards. Can we seriously just dispense with this bogey?
Let’s back up for a moment and acknowledge that the average human body under even the best, most natural of circumstances, goes through a heck of a deal in a lifetime, including the unsavory effects of run-of-the-mill illnesses, hormonal shifts that can feel cataclysmic (e.g. anyone here have a teenager?), inevitable occurrences of various and sundry injuries, the rigors of pregnancy, childbirth (often multiple) and child care, and so on. Even back in Grok’s day, we weren’t all food for evolutionary powder. People often survived some heavy stuff.
Beyond all the big physical events, however, there’s the question of lifestyle inputs. Long before the advent of electricity, gas heat or cargo transport, humans resided in every far-flung corner of the globe with all their uniquely circumscribed resources. The frigid tundra of Alaska and Scandinavia – yes. The unrelenting heat of the Sahara – yes. In keeping, humans have subsisted on food limitations most of us can scarcely imagine – little vegetation in the extreme Northern regions of the globe, little meat in other scattered areas of the world, scarce food supplies for years at a time. Even today, an expansive review of global diets whether in anthropological literature (PDF) or photo collection, illuminates just how many global diets seem “extreme” by our standards. Forget the likes of Doritos, pizzas and soda. What jumps off the page in these examples, for instance, is the blatant minimalism of food intake in many regions – the meagerness in terms of quantity as well as variety – some legumes, rice and a modest bit of native vegetation. While these groups aren’t the longest living populations in the world, they’re not all succumbing to the make-up or missing elements of their diets to the extent we might think.
On a more dramatic note, we can examine the circumstances of individuals who lived with extreme deprivation and duress for months or years. Yes, there are the sobering instances of those who have lived through tremendous human tragedies – survivors of war camps, enemy incarceration and natural disasters who lived in near-starvation and otherwise genuinely brutal conditions but go on to live surprisingly long lives from a physical standpoint (even as countless others don’t in the same tragic circumstances). On a more sensational but individual scale, there are the people who become stranded in remote areas and survive for weeks or even months on next to nothing, like the lost German hiker who evidently survived nearly a month of trekking across 2500 miles of the Australian Outback by eating insects, or another hiker who got lost in a snowstorm and survived four months of a brutal winter in the Andes Mountains by eating “rats and raisins.” The particulars, as curious as they are, aren’t as important as the central message itself: the human body can withstand much more than we often give it credit for.
Rest assured, I’m not suddenly casting off all the principles of the Primal Blueprint. I believe and practice everything in it (as well as The Primal Connection). While we’re less likely to fully thrive on some diets to the degree that we could on another (that’s what the PB advocates and explores), people can live on a wide range of foods and macro profiles. Particularly in the grand scheme of overall lifestyle, our species is surprisingly adaptable.
Let me say I don’t believe in tempting fate (i.e. let’s see how poorly I can eat/treat my body and how long I live that way). Nor do I believe in throwing up my hands and declaring “good enough” to avoid being bothered with anything beyond the most basic of changes. I want to thrive rather than just survive, and I don’t mind a little extra thought and effort to that end. Yet, it’s important, I think, to stand back now and then and appreciate how inherently strong, capable and resilient we all are. In the midst of our health endeavors, it’s a good reminder that the minutiae might not offer us as much benefit as the added stress it can induce when we let it.
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Thanks for reading, everyone. What does this message mean to you today? Share your thoughts, and have a great end to the week.