The Primal Blueprint: An Interview With Mark Sisson

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Primal BlueprintIn his book, The Primal Blueprint, Mark Sisson presents the compelling idea that by adapting to the lifestyle of our hunter-gatherer, paleolithic ancestors, we can reprogram our bodies in the direction of weight loss, good health, and longevity. The book gives an historical background on why we should be eating like our earliest paleolithic ancestors did, explains why we’re now eating like our neolithic ancestors, and why our bodies haven’t adapted to many of these newer foods. Furthermore, Sisson tells us that many of the foods we eat today, especially grains, have been genetically and environmentally modified causing insulin resistance and inflammation, the root causes of many of today’s lifestyle diseases. The Blueprint in the book offers 10 steps for reprogramming your genes to transform yourself from a sugar-burner to a fat-burner, lose weight, heal your body and boost your energy. The Primal approach is not just a meal plan.  It covers a life system including fasting, bursts of exercise and strength training, sleep and stress reduction. 

The book is written very simply and is a quick, easy and fun read. Some readers will probably also enjoy the cartoon-like characters Sisson uses to illustrate his points. If you choose to try the diet, there is much support and more information on Mark’s blog, Mark’s Daily Apple. Mark has written hundreds of articles about going Primal and provides recipes to help on the journey. 

Though Mark will enthusiastically tell you this is a simple diet and lifestyle, for the average American it probably isn’t. There is some repetition in the book and at times not as much specificity, or scientific evidence as I would have liked.  I must, however, confide that I like the fact that on the Primal plan red wine and dark chocolate, in moderation, are allowed.

I had the opportunity to interview Mark about the Primal Blueprint, and to find out whether it might work for a person with type 1 diabetes.  

Tell me what the Primal Blueprint is in a nutshell?

For over 200,000 years, homo sapiens were hunter-gatherers living in “the wild,” eating plants and animals. For the last 9,900 years, our ancestors lived on unprocessed, whole foods, with few modern comforts. It’s only in the last 100 years that we’ve started eating industrialized, processed food and living sedentary lives. So, we’ve got 200,000 years of eating animals and plants versus 10,000 years eating grains versus 100 years eating mutated grains, refined sugar and vegetable oils. 

The Primal Blueprint is a lifestyle whose tenets are informed by biological evolution, traditional wisdom, and modern science to form a healthy, sustainable, enjoyable way of being. It’s a way to eat, move, sleep, and simply exist with our ancient genes in this modern world – taking advantage of modern science and drawing upon lessons of our evolutionary background.

Mark Sisson

You talk in your book about one being a “sugar-burning” or a “fat-burning” person. What does that mean?

A sugar-burner requires a steady drip of dietary sugar – fructose and glucose – to maintain energy levels. So they can’t go long without eating. They burn basically carbohydrate and have difficulty accessing their stored body fat to use for energy, and in terms of weight loss, burn their fat. A fat-burner uses both their body fat and dietary glucose for energy and ends up burning fat which leads to weight loss. Also, if a fat-burner skips a meal, it’s okay because he can run for days on his own fat (adipose) tissue.

Even though our earliest ancestors may have eaten as you suggest in the Primal Blueprint, our more recent ancestors have been eating grains and beans for thousands of years. Have we not adapted to this way of eating? Asians were always thin eating their diet of rice and noodles, how do you explain that?

Rice is the least offensive grain. It’s basically pure starch as opposed to something like wheat. It has no problematic lectins or plant proteins that interfere with digestion or disrupt satiety signals to the brain. In Asian countries they used to eat only foods like rice, meat, vegetables, all cooked in animal fat, and every day life was active. Now diabetes, heart disease, and obesity are on the rise because, like us, they’re eating more wheat, sugar, and vegetable oils and moving less. And no, our bodies haven’t evolved to catch up to our diet today.

Most medical professionals regard burning ketones as a bad thing. The Atkins diet was criticized for that in the 1970’s. Yet the Primal diet depends on it. How do you answer them?

They mistakenly equate ketosis with ketoacidosis. The former is a viable physiological way of burning fat for energy. It burns cleaner than glucose and spares necessary glucose for the brain to use. The latter is a pathological condition that occurs when insulin isn’t around to keep ketone production in check. Ketosis is a perfectly healthy physiological state to dip into from time to time. Burning ketones, which isn’t the same as being in ketosis, let alone ketoacidosis, is always occurring in a healthy fat-burner.

I have type 1 diabetes. Making ketones has always been regarded as dangerous for people with type 1 diabetes. Is this diet viable for people with type 1 diabetes?

Making ketones, which leads to ketoacidosis, only occurs when there is insufficient insulin present to regulate ketone production. Making ketones is different than burning ketones. As long as a person with type 1 diabetes is aware of this and manages this, there shouldn’t be a problem. I get a fair amount of feedback from people with type 1 diabetes who have had success implementing the Primal Blueprint. And it can help with managing the disease. I would tell any patient to let their doctor know before undertaking any massive lifestyle change.

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Comments (3)

  1. Nathan at

    I am a Type 1 diabetic of 26 years.
    I have been low-carb for eight years, and I have been following a primal/paleo way of eating for the past 6-9 months. In the end, I have benefited from better glucose control when eating low-carb, and when avoiding gluten I believe my level of inflammation has been reduced. I am sleeping better and have noticed better energy, and faster healing. I haven’t gotten a cold or flu for 9 months, and I work in a school.  My infusion and CGMS sites work longer because they don’t become irritated as quickly. Overall, I would say I am at my healthiest level in my adult life. Since I conquered fast-acting carbs several years ago, avoiding gluten has been simple.
    I think the primal/ paleo lifestyle has a lot to offer diabetics. Diabetes is a primarily metabolic problem, and the lifestyle is a viable solution to metabolic issues.

  2. Kitty at

    My husband and I can eat like this, and do, but how important is strenuous exercise with these food choices? I have a lot of lower back and shoulder problems that are limiting my ability to move as much as I’d like to.

  3. Henry at

    The Paleo Diet can be adjusted for your specific tastes, weight loss goals and blood glucose needs. The Paleo Diet is very strict about the types of foods you can consume, however those foods that abide by the Paleo premise can be consumed in unlimited quantities. On this diet, you and your healthcare team can choose how much carbohydrate, protein and fat is best for you.

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