Mark Sisson on The Future of Primal and Paleo


JONATHAN: Hey everyone, Jonathan Bailor back – and I am – I am pumped — for today’s show. I kind of overcame a personal goal. I reached a personal goal I’ve had for like four years. There’s been this guy out there – which you’ve undoubtedly heard of, he has one of the most popular websites in the world and I’m not exaggerating – who I remember like four years ago, I had to shoot him a little email and he responded to me and I was like what – oh, my goodness, and I knew he was busy, so I didn’t want to bug him too much, but I’d jot him another email and then he let me post on his blog and I was like oh, my gosh – and then today the crowning achievement has happened. I have brought to you one-on-one, the man, the founder of the primal movement and the bestselling author of The Primal Blueprint, as well as the proprietor of the amazing website, marksdailyapple.com. None other than Mark Sisson. Mark welcome to the show, brother.

MARK: Thanks for having me Jonathan.

JONATHAN: Mark, I wanted to bring you on today because when we’re talking about modern advances in medicine and not just trivializing things in terms of calories, there’s this amazing irony where the modern science basically says, go back in time. It’s so funny, that we have modern science that just basically says, forget all the stuff we’ve been told, and in fact, do what we did before we really even had science and you’ve been on this path for many, many years, right?

MARK: Oh, yeah, I’ve been into evolution since college and I’ve always sort of looked at evolution as the main driving force in my life, in forming what I did in my training, how do I take advantage of genetic expression to match my performance and then later in my life when I stopped competing, I wanted to look at how we could all kind of tap into these hidden genetic switches and use evolution as the backdrop and the lens through which we view our activities and our behaviors and clearly it’s been working with diet and with exercise and now what I’m really gratified to start seeing is that we’re seeing it with — in medicine and I make a joke now that medicine has gone almost full circle back to a low tech approach where in the 1800s your surgeon was your barber and he would cut out whatever was ailing you and there was no real science behind it, but there was no magic behind it and we would do blood-letting and we would use leeches and hornets and salves and ointments and everything and then we became this science based medicine group that looked for real novel approaches to dealing with disease and didn’t really deal with what was causing the disease, but how do we alleviate the symptoms and that began at cutting and burning and poisoning and drugging and I think one of the most interesting applications of this — what I call the new low-tech of evolutionary medicine now is this idea, for instance you take Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis and I’ve met so many people who’ve had issues with that and I’ve been on antibiotics – that didn’t work and in fact made it worse – prednisone, that didn’t work and then finally had surgery, that didn’t work, and ultimately what finally worked was a fecal transplant. How low tech can you possibly get than a crap milkshake? But, I mean that’s the beauty of how the human organism works is that really, the low-tech and most cases with regard to medicine, you know there is a dietary component, a dietary eatology, probably the origin of the disease and certainly a way to either mitigate symptoms, alleviate the symptoms or actually fix the condition entirely through diet and exercise, so I’m very excited about the future of this.

JONATHAN: And it’s so promising, Mark, because not only do we see these physiological benefits, but the model you’re describing is one with such important psychological benefits which is getting us away from this myth that we’re somehow defective and that we need to have all of these intervention consciously balanced calories and spend our life on the treadmill because our body doesn’t actually know what it’s doing and unless we intervene and like buy makeup and go – all this artificial garbage, like we’re not broken are we?

MARK: No, no, we’re not broken at all. In fact, as I so want to say on a regular basis, each of us contains a recipe to build a happy, healthy strong productive lean human being. We have that genetic recipe, it’s just that the inputs that we’ve chosen thus far in our lives have flipped on the wrong gene switches and it’s incumbent upon us if we want to achieve this level of health and fitness to discover what new inputs that we can drive the future with and as our genes rebuild and renew and regenerate our bodies on a minute by minute basis, day in and day out, and so we’re not broken. I mean we may be broken in the short term as a result of choices and I won’t even go so far as to call them bad choices, they’re just choices, but there are other choices we could make that would probably improve our health, improve our energy levels, and our enjoyment of life, which is ultimately what we’re all after.

JONATHAN: And some of those choices, Mark that you’ve found to be – we’ve covered in this fat and protein and in carbohydrate, but you’ve actually taken it a step further and even some of these psychological approaches to life to help affect some of those switches. Can you talk about some of these less well known approaches?

MARK: Well, yeah, in my most recent book, “The Primal Connection,” we sort of looked at okay, now that you’ve got the diet dialed in and you’ve got the exercise part of this whole thing dialed in, and maybe you’re still not feeling like you jump out of bed ready to greet the world and discover what new opportunities lay for you today – maybe it’s something that’s a little bit more esoteric maybe it’s the fact that you’re not spending as much time in nature with the sounds of nature that have a frequency to resonate with the hard wiring of your brain that cause therelease of endorphins or serotonin or other neurotransmitters that would put you in a positive mood. Maybe you’re simply not getting enough sleep. Maybe you’re not playing in the dirt enough. Literally our genes expect us to be exposed to bacteria and other less than healthy organisms on a regular basis in order to train the immune system so that when the big onslaught comes, we’re able to handle it. Conversely, we’ve somehow created this society where everything is sanitized and deodorized and every other “I” is possible we’ve got to a point where our immune systems have no information, they’ve got no data coming in on how to build antibodies and to get ready for these onslaughts and so when we do get exposed to the flu germs on a doorknob, all hell breaks loose. So, there are a lot of these different aspects of life that go beyond diet and exercise that incorporate other elements of genetic expression of epigenetics and sort of my mission is to kind of tap into all of these hacks and figure out how we can incorporate them into our lives. So for instance, if you’re somebody who’s not getting enough of nature, but you live on the 42nd floor of a high rise in New York City, how can you get enough nature, well, you can maybe get some potting soil and grow some plants on the windowsill or something, not that there’s a windowsill on the 42nd floor, but – maybe on your balcony or whatever, or you go to Central Park and take a walk and try to listen to the birds and try to listen to the sounds – get under a tree with a lot of leaves and hear the rustling. Little simple hacks like that can go a long way in getting us back to this totality of wellbeing that just doesn’t revolve around looking good naked.

JONATHAN: Mark, speaking of looking good naked – you are known – not that I know how you look naked – but at least know how you look half-naked and you’re able to balance both the sort of sexy aspects of this lifestyle with the much more science aspects of this lifestyle and speaking of the science aspect, the sexy aspects, how can we get into the medical community so that when we go into our doctor’s offices and we start to bring up some of these topics, are you starting to see ways we can have those conversations?

MARK: Oh, yeah, I meet doctors all the time who have read “The Primal Blueprint” or who are going on Mark’s Daily Apple and that was their first exposure to this way of thinking and who are now incorporating the “The Primal Blueprint” lifestyle into the recommendations that they give to their patients. We’re coming on board with a certification program in a couple of months and we’re going to encourage not just physicians, but physicians assistants and RNs and LPNs and trainers to get certified in this so they know the basic principles of “The Primal Blueprint” so that when patients come into the doctor’s office, the doctor doesn’t have to spend that much time with them, as long as that physician embraces the concept and we’re seeing much more of this. I’ve got a book coming out in a couple of months by Dr. Ronesh Sinha, called, “The South Asian Health Solution,” he’s had tremendous success using this strategy in a particular South Asian Indian population in the Bay area, the San Francisco Bay area with a lot of people who have gravitated to that area for tech reasons and are now taking on the standard American diet and having horrendous results because of some genetic predispositions to Type 2 Diabetes and other metabolic syndrome and things like that. So, we’re seeing pockets of physicians who are not just embracing it in name, but are doing a lot with it and doing a lot about it.

JONATHAN: What can we do with our own physicians, let’s just say we’re not fortunate enough to have one of these physicians, cause a lot of physicians, Mark, and this blows my mind, I’m sure it blows your mind, are still like on the fence as to whether or not what you eat has any impact on your health. I know that sounds dumb, but there’s a lot of physicians that like, well, you know, a calorie’s a calorie so as long as you don’t overeat –

MARK: Yeah.

JONATHAN: You’re fine. Like how do we start that conversation with our physicians?

MARK: Well, you start the conversation and if your physician, your personal physician, is not willing to at least investigate this avenue, then I say it’s time to find a new physician –

JONATHAN: Uh-huh.

MARK: It’s that simple. Doctors don’t have answers. They have opinions. Just like lawyers. Lawyers have opinions. CPAs don’t have answers, they have opinions. No offense to any of the professional people out there, but this is not about answers, this is not about black or white, right or wrong, yes or no – these are about choices that we’re making in our lives based on the best information that we can gather from professional people that we seek out to assist us with these choices. In the case of your doctor, it’s critical that if you believe in what the course of evolution has manifested in humans and if you believe that the “The Primal Blueprint” of the Paleo way of thinking or the ancestral way of thinking is an appropriate approach for your health issues, and you believe that deeply and your doctor doesn’t, you’ve got a big problem and I just think you just need to seek out a new physician.

JONATHAN: Mark, what have you seen, because a lot of this makes just sense – do what we did before we had all these problems. Okay, like that’s seems to be the most sound argument we could ever have, but it seems like some people still want to be almost overcomplicate it – what is causing us to make this more complicated than it needs to be?

MARK: That’s a good question. I don’t think it’s complicated at all and I think that for the most part people who are new to this, they’re the ones that are the most easily convinced because they don’t know too much. One of the problems with the growth in the Paleo world and the fact that when I started there were four blogs that had to do with ancestral health and now there are probably 4,000 of which 100 are pretty good. So, there’s so much information out there and now it becomes difficult for people to sort out the difference between one dogmatic approach than another so we got the militant Paleos, no alcohol, no grains at all, no dairy of any kind, nuts are little bags of little phytic and that throws a lot of people off that really creates a sort of orthorexia that we hear the outside world accusing us of and in many cases it’s probably an appropriate observation at the very least. So, with a newbie, it’s kind of like oh, I got rid of grains, I can do this 80/20 thing, I figured out now I know I can do this for 30 days and if it works, then I know I can do it for the rest of my life because it’s pretty easy. So that is the initial exposure I think. That’s the most clear –

JONATHAN: Uh-huh.

MARK: And then as people get deeper and deeper into it and they start getting into a science then they start questioning some of the original wisdom that I would call and they literally start to overcomplicate it and I’m an example of that because as the more I get into this, the more doors open. I mean I started my blog in 2006, so seven years ago and I thought I’d blog regularly, every day I’d write a post for a year and after a year, I would run out of things to say. Clearly that hasn’t happened because every time we talk about something there’s a new nuance or a new opinion about that may come down the turnpike and I don’t have to address it, but I choose to address it and I like these questions, but I do think that there’s a strong tendency to overcomplicate this and if it came down to it, people say, well, can you tell me what to do, I’ve written seven books now, I’ve got a blog that’s got 3,000 articles on it, 6 million words, I’ve done events, I’ve done seminars, the bottom line is I can tell you everything you need to know on one sheet of paper. I’m just taking opportunity to give you the science and to explore some of the other in one out wire factors and experiments that you might do, but the reality is if you just get rid of the crap and just eat natural real food, it’s quite likely that you’ll be well on your way to achieving that mean, strong, fit and healthy body.

JONATHAN: Mark, it’s so brilliant and I continue to scratch my head as to why the mainstream doesn’t seem to be picking up on this and I think they are, but there’s obviously been a vast movement if you look at the rise in just the whole foods movement, the ancestral movement, the Paleo movement, this is all pointing in the direction of food quality, common sense, but you can’t help but pick up a women’s magazine or a fitness magazine and just see this ridiculous dogma, what can we do as viewers of this, as influencers to help make that mainstream difference?

MARK: It’s really tough and I’m a cynic at heart – or a skeptic I guess – I think this whole movement has flourished thus far on a grass roots, one-to-one basis.

JONATHAN: Uh-huh.

MARK: Hey, Jonathan you look great. You lost some weight. How did you do it and then Jonathan says, well, you know what, I stopped eating grains, I cut out the sugar, I’m exercising less actually, but I’m smarter about it and it’s this real one-on-one, it’s almost like multi-level marketing, although that’s not something I’m a big fan of and to think that we could maybe get public policy to adopt this is just ridiculous. It’s just not ever going to happen. So, the only way we’re going to get real large scale buy-in as a nation or as a world is through Corporate America by saying, look, we understand that we want healthy employees, happy employees, who are energetic, who don’t need to take a nap at 2:30 in the afternoon, who don’t lose days to sick days – if we could get Corporate America to say, all right, we’ll provide this information for the large part of our employee population. I can show any company that’s willing to allocate X amount of dollars and say a couple of thousand employees that over an 18 month period, they’ll save 2, 3, 4 times their investment in increased productivity and worker’s satisfaction and that sort of thing, but there aren’t that many companies, particularly today that are willing to take on that sort of an experiment given the financial status of the world. Now, having said that, there are some that I know of that are in the process of trying us out and I’m anxious to see what the results are. So, that’s how it’s going to happen. It’s an economic function. It’s not going to be some sociopolitical function.

JONATHAN: Mark in speaking of results, speaking more loudly than really anything else we could do, in terms of results, you’ve been doing this for a really long time, you worked with a lot of people – what – and this may not even be a fair question – what delivers more results? Is it literally the elimination of the really bad stuff — stuff that everyone agrees on, like the elimination of sugar. I don’t know too many vegans that are like, yep, eat sugar, it’s plant based, so it’s just like the elimination of the stuff that everyone agrees is bad, or is the addition of stuff that some people may disagree on?

MARK: Well, it’s largely the elimination stuff and that’s why you’ll see an intersection of a healthy populations who have gone from being unhealthy to trending towards healthy and you’ll see that in vegans, in vegetarians, in fruitarians in carnivores Paleo people, in quasi-vegan, “The Primal Blueprint” people, I’m suggesting that it’s all likely the result of the elimination –

JONATHAN: Uh-huh.

MARK: Of these toxic foods that’s driving the initial response. Now, over time, remains to be seen who’s going to be the strongest or fittest or leanest, but for sure, I think it’s important that we recognize that’s it the elimination of the processed crap, the carbs, the sugars, the Omega 6 oils, that’s the first level of achievement and that really does happen across all of these different diet modalities.

JONATHAN: So, Mark that’s said and let’s get back into the psychology piece of this a bit, because I know you’ve got quite a bit of passion there too – if we all agree on whatever, the 60 percent, the 70 percent, the 80 percent, why is 99 percent of the time spent talking about that which we disagree on – rather than maybe like uniting and trying to make Kraft to do something different, or making Unilever try to do something different or make Washington do something different?

MARK: Well, it’s interesting because you talk about these large multi-national corporations who own most of the brands that consumers consume. At the Ancestral Health Symposium this summer, there was a session there in which Hamilton Stapell did a presentation on sort of what is the size of the Paleo market and how do we arrive at who we are and at what point do we hit a critical mass and sort of the bad news was that at the high end it probably only 3 million people in the United States that are aware of and live in any kind of a Paleo or primal lifestyle. That’s less than 1 percent of the population so when you keep in mind the fact that the Krafts and the Unilevers and the Proctor and Gambles, they’re all selling to the other 330 million consumers. They don’t care.

JONATHAN: Uh-huh.

MARK: They don’t care to sell to a tiny segment like that. So, again it’s economics and if you’re a large multi-national corporation that’s got stockholders that are anticipating you showing a profit by creating great tasting foods, so what if they’re bad for you, and they don’t cost much to make, then that’s sort of your mandate and that mandates coming from stockholders, not from consumers.

It’s going to be a problem for a long time, so that’s why I’m starting a food company now. So, I’ve got “The Primal Blueprint” foods coming out in 2014 because I really honestly believe that we need to address at least the 3 million of us, which is not an insignificant number and I want to add a zero or two to that in the next couple of years, but that’s the real issue that we’re dealing with from a Paleo business sort of thing. So now, and then you talked about infighting and everything and how come we can’t get together on infighting. So, those of us who are participating on the forums and the boards and blogging, there’s nothingsalacious to write about if you don’t write about discourse and disagreements, because if everybody agrees, then they’re not going to read your book because it’s like okay, (Inaudible 00:22:14) or agree with that, give me something new and salacious. I mean that’s my theory.

JONATHAN: It makes sense and it just seems like there is so much salaciousness out there from Coca-Cola and Pepsi that maybe we could talk about that a little bit, but…

MARK: Yeah, I love to watch some of these commercials and I saw one the other night for Pepsi 1 that had nothing to do with Pepsi and everything to do with some lifestyle thing that was so far removed, but they’re selling a lifestyle. They’re not selling a product and they’re selling sex and they’re selling –

JONATHAN: Yeah.

MARK: Whatever they’re selling it’s not the product, but it’s creating the feelings. I mean that’s the science of advertising and it’s what you can get away with I guess.

JONATHAN: Digging into that science and maybe even the science of change and making this into a larger bigger movement adding those zeros, let’s look at a case study, for example, like gluten free. I mean gluten free seems really esoteric and affects whatever percentage of the population actually need it, but like man, everyone knows about gluten now, like what happened there and can we do that?

MARK: Yeah, absolutely. I mean gluten free is a great example of the first step. There is awareness now that again, it comes from the media, the television, network television glommed on to the fact that there were people out there who were suffering from gluten. That was a salacious story, by the way that was a story where thefood manufacturers we’ve been growing this wheat that’s been specifically selected for its gluten content because that’s gluten’s protein, we recognize that people are severely affected by it and so that’s the first step. So, now we had our little moment on TV with gluten. That was enough that magazines picked up on it and the popular press, the written press, the printed press starts writing about it now you see more and more of it and finally, now there’s gluten free products and I don’t know how well they’re doing, and it’s the first step, and the irony is that a lot of the gluten free products are horrendous, it’s like the fat free products that addressed the fat scare from 20 years ago. The fat-free products were worse than anything you could ever imagine because the sugars and the crap they added to it, so the market is just adjusting to this, so gluten free is a first step, but there’s a lot of things behind that we need to do I think.

JONATHAN: So, if they’ve got gluten free and I’m also just thinking I recently flew to Manhattan and when you book your flight you can make special dietary requests and there’s of course like kosher or halal, there’s gluten free, which is new, there’s also vegetarian options. What do you think we would have to do and what would we call it to get that primal, that Paleo or just eating things found in nature option added as a mainstream lifestyle?

MARK: I think it’s probably not going to happen in my lifetime. I honestly believe that. Again, I love what we do. I feel a certain – a real sense of liberation and freedom –

JONATHAN: Uh-huh.

MARK: Because I get to choose – not only do I get to choose the types of food that I want to eat – it’s almost like a game. You go to a store and you go, okay, I’m foraging here for a healthy food versus wickedly unhealthy food and I know how to do that. I’ve got the skills. I’m a really skilled forager, I know how to do that. So, there’s a sense of empowerment when I do that and when I teach people how to do that and so they can go to a restaurant and they can order anything off the menu and if it’s not on the menu, they can ask the chef to prepare something with a little bit of this and little bit of that because I know you have it in the kitchen. I know you have a stick of butter somewhere in the kitchen, right. It’s those sorts of skills that we’re encouraging people to take on that allow us to thrive in otherwise an environment that’s full of hurdles and other impediments to this pathway. Are we going to get a Paleo option on United Airlines? I severely doubt or sincerely doubt it.

JONATHAN: Mark, being in a position of so much influence and then also having an (tape mute at 26:29) business in the economics of this and how to really turn this into something that can scale, you’ve had a very diverse set of experiences in this arena that very few could compare to, so given that the diversity of experience – I want three things people should think about and be concerned about and three things which maybe they don’t need to worry about as much and if you need to be controversial feel free. So, the three things that definitely do matter, and the three that you might think do, but actually don’t.

MARK: Well, three things that matter, are sleep, cutting out the bad – the toxic foods, and what I would call appropriate movement, so getting your exercise strategy dialed in and three things that don’t matter —

JONATHAN: At least as much as we’ve heard over –

MARK: Yeah, as much as we’ve heard. I think that if you cut out the bad stuff, it’s really difficult to overdo some of the marginal what we would call safe starches so I don’t think people ought to worry that much about certain types of sweet potatoes or fruits, or that type of carbohydrate thing, provided again, if you’ve eliminated all the other stuff you’re going to fill up pretty quickly by the time you get to 150, 200 grams a day of carbs, so I’ve had people who are not in the ketogenic program not agonize that much about their carb intake. What else? I wouldn’t – what wouldn’t I worry about –

JONATHAN: Salacious stuff that we’re disagreeing about –

MARK: I should say what I should worry about, right? I don’t worry that much, so what should I be worrying about, Jonathan?

JONATHAN: I like what your statement about nuts, about being little bags of little phytic acid, certainly there’s been some talk about are nuts actually healthy, so it seems like you have some strong –

MARK: Yeah, but that’s an example again, all things in moderation. I hate that term, but I’m going to invoke it here. I look at all foods on a spectrum and so with nuts, I say some nuts are great. Macadamias are really, really good, there’s nothing wrong with them, it’s kind of hard to over eat them because they’re so satisfying. On the other end of the spectrum, peanuts, cashews, that have been prepared in some kind of corn oil, safflower oil, high Omega 6 preparation or probably, probably not that good, they’re not a great choice somewhere on the spectrum, nuts are either quite good for you, or not good for you at all, and in the middle, you can overdo them and a lot of people that are trying to lose weight say, Paleo says I can eat nuts, so I’m going to eat nuts. Everytime I feel a hunger pang coming on, next thing you know they’re eating 1,200 calories worth of nuts every day and they wonder why they’re not losing weight, maybe I would put that on my thing to be more concerned about is nut intake, but back to this thing about what shouldn’t I be concerned with. I’m still kind of stuck there.

JONATHAN: Well, no worries Mark. One thing that I know we all don’t need to be concerned with is a shortage of information coming from you and your myriad company, so what can we look forward to coming from you and the primal movement in the new year?

MARK: Well, lots of stuff, Denise Minger’s book is coming out in the next couple of weeks actually, I’ve got Ronesh Sinha’s book, Dr. Ron, we call him, South Asian Health Solution, we’ve got a certification program that will introduce in the first quarter of the 2014, probably one of the most exciting opportunities for people to get Primal and have a lot of fun is the Tulum vacation in March. That’s on our website right now. We’re trying to get 300 people to show up at this great all inclusive resort in Tulum, Mexico and hang out with me and Robb Wolf and a number of other Paleo primal ancestral luminaries so, what else? We’ve got a lot coming down for 2014, including the launch of the new book company.

JONATHAN: I love it and what was the name of the Denise’s book

MARK: Death by Food Pyramid.

JONATHAN: Woo-hoo…

MARK: So, yeah, and it’s a great title and it really is a very intense look at the politics and the shoddy science that went into the food pyramid and it even has a tutorial on how the average person can take a look at a scientific study and kind of call BS on it half the time. So, people are going to love this book.

JONATHAN: And certainly, you’re going to still be pumping out great free content on marksdailyapple.com, I would assume.

MARK: Absolutely. Well into the future.

JONATHAN: I love it. Well, Mark Sisson, thank you so much for joining us and thank you for the 6 million words –

MARK: Yeah.

JONATHAN: That’s an epic amount of free content so thank you –

MARK: Yes, it is. Yes, thank you very much Jonathan.

JONATHAN: Listeners, I hope you enjoyed this wonderful conversation as much I did again, our guest, you’ve undoubtedly heard of it, Mark Sisson, check him out at marksdailyapple.com and be sure to check out Denise’s awesome upcoming book, “Death by Food Pyramid,” an awesome lady, certainly an awesome book and remember, this week and every week after, eat smarter, exercise smarter and live better. We’ll chat with you soon.