Recently by Mark Sisson: Overcoming the Insurmountable
With the Primal Blueprint 21-Day Challenge having just begun, it’s the perfect time to go over the Primal Blueprint 8 Key Concepts. I believe that fully grokking these powerful ideas is crucial to success during the challenge. As the saying goes, knowledge is power. Having a firm grasp of these key concepts will provide a framework for — and make you more resolute in — your daily decisions. Read them, commit them to memory, live by them, and you’ll be well on your way to a lifetime of health and wellness.
In the coming days and weeks, I will lay out the path to Primal health in greater detail, but for now, are you ready to learn the basics? Let’s get to it…
1. Yes, You Really Can Reprogram Your Genes
The popular conception of a gene is “a weird collection of DNA and chromosomes and other stuff that determines whether or not you’re going to get this type of cancer, how long you’ll live, and if you’ll get a coronary bypass at some point in your life.” There’s this idea that genes are immutable, that they represent a sort of cosmic destiny for an individual. But, aside from some heritable traits like eye and hair color or the number of fingers on your hands and feet, genes are actually programmable. They “express” themselves in different ways according to information gathered from our environment, our food, and our behaviors. They “turn on” or “turn off” in response to these environmental signals. Thus, though you might have “the gene for type 2 diabetes” — which is really just a genetic proclivity towards the disease, not a sentence — providing the right environmental signals will prevent the gene from ever turning on.
How we eat, exercise, sleep, interact with our social circles, stress, and spend time outdoors (plus tons of other environmental signals) determines how our genes express themselves; how our genes express themselves in turn determines our level of health. Genetic predisposition is not your destiny.
2. The Clues to Optimal Gene Expression Are Found in Evolution
While we can’t sit at a control panel and fiddle with our gene expression like a mad scientist just yet, we can make some very good guesses based on a powerful heuristic: human evolution. Reason being, two million years of selection pressure exerted upon the hominid line designed a healthy, successful, productive, vibrant organism. We didn’t just “happen,” after all. We look like we do and work like we do and have the genes that we do that express themselves the way that they do because of very powerful selection pressures. The habitats in which we lived, the foods we ate, the movements we had to perform in order to survive, the sunlight to which we were exposed, the stressors we faced — these environmental factors shaped our genetic code, and it is to these various environmental stimuli that our genetic expression responds most favorably. The clues to realizing our Primal Blueprint lies scattered amidst our evolutionary history.
Until that day when we can sit a computer terminal and decide which genes we want to express today, and how, the best we can probably do is use human evolution as a base level tool for making lifestyle decisions. You’ll probably refine the details later, but evolution is a darn good place to start.
3. Your Body Prefers Burning Fat Over Carbohydrates
We’ve evolved to be fat-burners (must be why we’re so adept at storing it on our bodies!). It’s easy to see why. Fat burns slow and evenly, providing all-day steady energy levels. Carbohydrates burn quickly, and they’re gone in an instant, leaving you groggy and depleted unless you “carb up.” Furthermore, carbohydrates are an inherently unreliable and fleeting source of energy for our body, with most people only able to store about 400-500 grams of carbohydrates on the body at any one time. Our storage capacity for fat, on the other hand, is virtually endless. Just ten or fifteen pounds of body fat, which is the bare minimum available on even the leanest individuals, can provide tens of thousands of calories. Luckily, reducing carbohydrates and increasing fat intake sends the epigenetic signals necessary to help us revert back to fat-burning, and it only takes a week or two to get things moving in the right direction.
Become fat-adapted, enjoy boundless energy. Free yourself from the shackles of a carbohydrate-based metabolism/dependency.
4. 80 Percent of Your Body Composition Success Is Determined by How You Eat
Food is the single most important factor in body composition. You can exercise all you want but as long as you’re eating garbage, and too much of it, you won’t get very far. For that reason, any real attempt to modify your body composition has to begin by addressing what you put in your mouth. I like to start with the quality of the food you eat. I don’t discount the importance of quantity, mind you, but I do find that honing in on the quality of the food is more crucial and effective. Case in point: 2000 calories of fast food will have a very different effect on your body composition, satiety, and nutrient intake than 2000 calories of grass-fed meat, wild fish, and produce grown in rich, fertile, nutrient-dense soil. The fast food won’t be as satiating, nor as nutrient-dense, as the real food, so you’ll likely be compelled to eat more of it. The fast food will primarily include trans- and polyunsaturated fats, sugary sauces, refined grains, and poor quality meat, which will promote insulin resistance and the storage of body fat while inhibiting fat burning. Eating Primal food, rich in animals, plants, and healthy fat, on the other hand, will normalize insulin sensitivity, thereby allowing fat burning. In effect, quality will determine quantity; you’ll eat less spontaneously when you eat healthy Primal foods. Quality paired with proper quantity will in turn determine your body composition.
Sleep matters, exercise helps, stress has an effect, but how you eat — what you eat and how much you eat — is the prime determinant of your body composition.