The Keys to Primal Success

Eating primal is a big change. It forces you to change everything you ever thought you knew about food and healthy eating. It goes against the grain (no pun intended) when it comes to mainstream health. It seems impossible when you first start and fills you with doubt, confusion, apprehension. Most of all, it’s not commonly done, especially here in Scotland, so you will most likely be all on your primal lonesome. And that’s pretty tough to deal with.

But, regardless, people all over the world, in different situations, different incomes, different lives, make it work. Every day. Primal isn’t just for Americans or Australians, they’re just ahead of the game. Primal isn’t just for those with lots of time, or lots of money. It’s for anyone that wants to do it, anyone that wants to be on a journey to thriving over surviving. To do it well, you need to have a few things in common. You need to possess what I think are The Five Keys to Primal Success.

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1. You need confidence

Yep, I just went there. My Coconut Friend Amie says I have a way of doing that, in a good way.

I’m not going to sugar-coat this: overhauling your diet to ultimately change your life in ways you never knew possible takes a lot of balls. You need confidence to acknowledge that you need a change and what you’re currently doing isn’t working. You need confidence to start looking for a better, lasting solution, to start taking the first steps to betterment. You need confidence to tell that first person that you’re going make some serious changes, and to believe that you can do it, that you’re worth it and that you’re going to succeed. You need confidence to put your foot down and decide that this lifestyle is one of your top priorities. Above all, unfortunately, you need confidence to deal with the many questions and comments that will come, to explain what you’re doing and give information, to tell someone “No, I’m seriously not going to eat that,” and to not let others get to you.

I truly believe that confidence is THE MOST IMPORTANT factor to primal success.


2. You need to possess the proper knowledge

Knowledge is power. And the more knowledge you have, the better your understanding of primal concepts should be, and the more inclined you are to stay on track. I always say that primal isn’t just a matter of ‘tell me what to eat and I’ll do it.’ Although I started primal to lose weight, the further I got in my journey through constant reading and research, the less I thought of it as a weight-loss programme. For me, primal is my path to thriving.

It’s vitally important to understand the why’s and how’s of primal. I know some people skip over the scientific bits in all the primal, paleo and low-carb books because it seems dry, but in actual fact, I think the science is THE most important part of information. People should understand the difference between a sugar-burner and a fat-burner, the effect sugar and many carbs (even primal ones) can have on blood glucose levels. They should understand that weight loss isn’t about Calories In vs. Calories Out, and how exercise isn’t about working your ass off until you’re exhausted and dripping with sweat. Finally, people should understand how weight loss on a primal diet actually works, and how the diet can heal your guts and reverse many serious ailments. The more information you have the less abstract it becomes; it becomes very easy to understand and apply.

Knowledge allows you to make more informed choices on foods to eat and buy. It also allows you to be able to decipher that pseudo-information from the actual, the good science from the bad science. Finally, knowledge gives you more confidence (and arsenal) to deal with other people, and try new primal things… like making bone broth, or fermenting vegetables.

3. You need to feel supported

After our success story was published on Mark’s Daily Apple, one common theme kept reoccurring in the comments: spousal support. People remarked that it’s great we support each other and that we work as a team, and they could relate to that because they’re a team with their spouse. Some people also commented that they’re doing primal alone, and wish their spouse would join them. I never even thought about Pat and I supporting each other because our daily primal and athletic routine is just that: routine. It was only when other people said something that I thought “Oh yeah, we do support each other completely.” Whether it’s with meal prep, grocery shopping, or training, Pat and Danielle + Primal work because we get how important the whole package is.

At the end of the day, it feels good to know that you’re not alone on your primal journey. It’s very reassuring to be around other people, even if it’s just one person, that gets it. One person that you don’t have to go into a long-winded explanation over the why’s and how’s, one person that understands why Sunday afternoons (or whatever day you choose) are blocked off for meal prep, or training runs. Or both.

Even if you’re the only one you know that’s gone primal, just the fact that people understand your commitment, don’t pressure you to eat non-primal foods, or make positive remarks on your progress is something.

4. You need to be committed

You can’t be part-time paleo, it just doesn’t work like that. You can’t expect optimal results with subpar commitment. Making big changes requires unwavering commitment, which results in consistency, as per Mark Sisson.

I think that commitment is key. If something is important, you will make time, it will be a priority and you will do it consistently. Without commitment, all is lost. Your half-assed attempts won’t create the results you’re looking for, but why would they? The biggest reward in one’s primal journey is feeling physically and mentally better, and that comes with hard work and dedication.

5. You need to make time

“I want to go primal, but I just don’t have time.” How many times have your heard that? Or, how many times have you said that? The truth is, no one has extra time to spare. An ailment of the developed world is to over-schedule yourself and then compete over how ‘busy’ you are with your friends and family. Who actually claims to have any spare time nowadays?

This idea of being too busy to do anything is a disease that’s spreading quicker than type 2 diabetes. We think we need to overload and have jam-packed social schedules, but at then end of the day, how much of it is good quality? And how much of it do you spend wishing you were at home relaxing?

When it comes to time, the truth is we make time for the things we truly want. And when it comes to primal, that should be in your top 3 priorities. If you don’t make food shopping and food prepping a priority, you’re going to find it very difficult to stay committed. Yes, you can make a lot of primal meals quickly, but they can get boring, quickly – can you say omelettes anyone?

So, declutter your calendar. Start saying no. Start pencilling in meal prep every week if you need to. Look at your weeks ahead, and decide the days that are best for a few hours of uninterrupted cooking. And stick to it. Fill your freezer if need be, but get that meal prep done. It’s the most important aspect of your hands-on primal journey.

And when it comes to physical activity and training? Again, that’s a top priority if you’re looking to make progress and gains.

In conclusion

Primal isn’t easy. As they say in A League of Their Own: “If it was easy, everyone would do it.” But, regardless, people make it work all day long. And these keys to primal success are what get them there.

Have I missed anything?

What do you think is important to one’s primal success?


16 thoughts on “The Keys to Primal Success

  1. It is very, very hard doing it alone, especially when you are fundamentally terrified of food. I have often said to my friends ‘just give me a pill to pop for each meal so I don’t have to think about it ever again’. Truly.

    When you suffer from something like Binge Eating Disorder, batch cooking and having stockpiles of food in the house is terrifying because if you have a spell when your eating spirals out of control, you are scared that you will eat absolutely everything you can lay your hands on. Not helpful. When you live alone, cooking more than you need for that one meal is fraught with the danger of overeating at every turn.

    I am slightly more fortunate than some, in that I know that my main trigger is sugar and I can (and do) live without having sweet things in the house – but equally, it isn’t possible to make a stock of say, your delicious ‘Nutter Bombs’ because of the real fear that those would go exactly the same way re: the potential to trigger a binge!!

    Believing you are worth it and that you have a cat in hell’s chance of succeeding after a lifetime of failing at pretty much every other approach is also tough. It requires a massive, and I mean MASSIVE leap of faith. I am sure there are lots and lots of people who fall into that category. To have an inbuilt mechanism that really values yourself must also be an amazing thing to have, but not everyone does. Can it be learned? Maybe, I’m not sure. How can you turn your negative thinking around for long enough for the results of your changes to speak for themselves?

    What I’m saying is, don’t forget the mental aspects – unfortunately there are many of us for whom this is the greatest hurdle. Also, when your personality type enjoys spontaneity- not planning, and craves variety- not routines, it’s difficult to retrain yourself. It can be done – slowly – but I think sometimes people who are more naturally predisposed to planning can take it for granted and underestimate just how challenging this can be. Sadly, until there’s a restaurant and take away (and shop) on every corner that can help – we have to rely on ourselves! This is a big mind shift for a population that has become way too used to convenience! (Definitely me: No beans on toast? No porridge?…..) In Scotland – even in the capital, Primal is about as alien as it gets!

    Also, sometimes ‘one day at a time’ is all people with certain mental health issues can handle. It’s not an excuse – but even contemplating the next few hours is hard, especially if you have depression. Yes indeed, all the more reason to have the right stuff prepared and to hand (but see all the points above….!)

    Exercise definitely helps, it’s a matter of getting started and realising that it can be enjoyed for its own sake and not just endured to burn calories. Another massive mind-shift? Yep!

    For me, it’s about having a framework, but not a rigid plan that I instantly want to rebel against and throw out the window. Everyone has to find their own path and eating disorders are a specialist area, but no amount of Primal eating plans or recipe books can tackle those tricky demons!

    A holistic approach is definitely the way forward. The Primal Lifestyle concepts are completely sound in this way, but the slightly obsessive focus on food that seems to abound can be counterproductive for those who are scared of and have lost their enjoyment of it. Tiny steps, every single day….

    S x

  2. I also have a history of eating disorder and I find going primal the most natural and easiest way, because what is more easy then enjoying real food!!! Let other people eat other stuff nobody will force you to eat this and that as nobody will force you to smoke or take a whiskey though you do not want to. I always ate relatively natural and ‘clean’, but had bread and grains and processed food like candy bars once in a while, but nowadays, that stuff taste that bad, I can spend my money for better!

  3. I’d add “sheer bloody-mindedness” to the list! The more I hear the NHS guidelines thrown at me the more likely I am to try and prove everyone wrong. It’s when things are going well and people are agreeing with my choices that I get complacent! Maybe that’s just me..! 😀

    • Yes, the will and stubborness also keeps us driven, doesn’t it?! I’ve been described as a ‘strong-willed’ person, which can also be stubborn. I tend to dig my heels in.

      I don’t think you’re the only one that feels that way: I do think that it’s when we know it’s completely working that we can get complacent and think we’re invincible. Then, for me, my eczema comes back and I get a bit constipated, both hints that I need to get back on track 🙂

      • Stubborn and hyper-organised! I imagine there is t much that stops you when you decide on something!

        Unfortunately, when I get off track I get tired so do (even) less exercise and crave carbs more. Rubbish combo! I do find your bombs the bomb though – as long as I remember to make them – and the rest of my household hasn’t raided the stash first – they do catch the lethargy before it kicks in too far 🙂

  4. Apologies to Danielle as I think my stream-of-consciousness late-evening post could come across as a bit of a negative rant-but it really isn’t. It’s all so interesting 🙂 Glad to hear someone else who has had an eating disorder can now enjoy food. It gives me hope. Thanks x

    • No worries! You present several added complexities to an already complex lifestyle shift. While I don’t know what it’s like to deal with a binge eating disorder, I have read about food addiction (on Authority Nutrition and Diet Doctor), and both give the same advice: one day at a time.

      In terms of confidence, it is something that can be built, but that also requires effort and stubbornness, both qualities I have in great abundance! (I’m far too stubborn). Like dealing with the eating disorder, confidence is also a one-day-at-a-time thing. Resilience also comes into play as well: if you’ve fallen down, you need to be able to pick yourself up again.

      While it seems like from your perspective you have many obstacles in your way, the fact that you’ve not only identified what they are, and possible strategies on how to deal with them, are very promising. That’s huge, and that’s progress. I also agree that no primal expert’s articles/books are specialised to deal with the complexities of eating disorders because that is a completely different realm.

      Regardless of the content, keep the comments coming! 🙂

      • Thanks for the support, as always! Being one’s own worst enemy is an interesting scenario 🙂 What is really interesting to me right now is that since I started ‘talking’ about my eating disorder, it can feel that it is slowly releasing its hold over me. I hope this can encourage more people to do the same. BED is less well-known than anorexia or bulimia, but it’s thought that it’s actually more common xx

      • Yeah, sort of. Only 3 people know the extent of it (my Mum, partner and one friend) and how low it (and the atypical depression) has brought me at times, but being a bit more open about it has meant that some people now have a better understanding of my behaviour, both in the past and now. The toughest part just now is that I’ve benefited massive from CBT and talking therapies in the past, but I just can’t get it on the NHS and I can’t afford to go private and self-help is hard to maintain when you have a lot of ups and downs and inner demons. But I just keep trying xx

  5. There’s no crying in baseball! Great article, I think you nailed the keys for success. After the initial hurdles of the primal switch have been overcome, another challenging part comes a bit later down the road–after the thrill of shedding pounds and eating eggs all the time has faded, and you’re left with that feeling of “now what?” That’s really where support and commitment play a huge role in helping you stay motivated to continue to improve physically and mentally.

  6. These are great tips to success. You mentioned research. Do you have any specific books or articles that you have read that you have found super helpful along the way? Would love for you to share if you have any. Thanks so much 🙂

    • Thank you Karen! The book I recommend over and over again is The Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson. I wish it had been the first book I read when I started my primal journey. I also found Wheat Belly by William Davis, and Grain Brain by Dr David Perlmutter, to be eye-opening. Their books just made a lot of sense and I then started to see this application of information in people I know.

      I would also suggest Authority Nutrition for no-nonsense articles, backed by science. Kris Gunnars is very blunt and to the point, which I really appreciate. Thanks for your comment 🙂

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