Thursday, 27 August 2009

Getting Started: A Brief Guide to Paleo / Primal Living

What is the Paleo / Primal Lifestyle?
Other Things
How Paleo/Primal Are You?
Further Reading/Listening/Watching
Your Resources

I thought it was about time I pulled together a single resource that could be used to guide for newcomers, a summary for the curious and a reference for the already inducted.
What is the Paleo / Primal Lifestyle?
Also known as the hunter gatherer, caveman, ancestral, evolutionary lifestyle.

In one sentence:

We have been evolving for 2,000,000 years, yet we have made profound changes to our activity patterns and the composition of our nutrition in the last 10,000 years; whilst there may have been some small genetic adaptations in that time, we are still, essentially, built to eat and behave as our earlier ancestors did.

Where’s the evidence?

Don’t take my word for it – the blogs, books, podcasts and videos listed in the Further Reading/Listening/Watching section contain a wealth of detail, including scientific references, to help you make up your mind.

I won’t pretend it’s easy - proving what’s best for the human body is one of the most complex challenges we face. No one has all the answers, but the material in that section is produced, for the most part, by fair minded and intellectually rigorous individuals with a more transparent agendas than many who influence mainstream advice.
The Paleo/Primal ‘diet' is what people tend to hear about first and is usually the first thing they try.

In a sentence:

Paleo/Primal food is so much more nutritionally dense and so much more in tune with our genes than the typical modern diet that a radical improvement in wellbeing is almost inevitable when you switch from one to the other; you will feel better, look better and minor ailments you had taken for granted will often disappear.

In a quote:

Plants (vegetables, fruits, seeds and herbs) and animals (meat, fish, fowl, and eggs) should represent the entire composition of your diet.

- Mark Sisson, The Primal Blueprint, 2009

In a nutshell:

Paleo in a Nutshell Part 1: Food video.

Changing what you eat to fit the Paleo/Primal model can be quite a challenge. This guest post I wrote for another blog provides some ideas on how to go about it.

If you want to see what I am eating every day, follow me on Twitter or if you just want to see the photos, they automatically appear on this page.

I sometimes post the recipes for my favourite meals, which you can see here.
The diet and exercise aspects of the lifestyle cannot be truly embraced in isolation. Our bodies evolved to function optimally with a certain kind of nutrition, with a certain range of patterns of activity.

In a sentence:

Our ancestors had short, intense bursts of activity when hunting, fleeing or climbing, along with extended periods of low level activity when tracking animals, foraging or playing; so either getting no exercise, or doing regular, long, hard sessions is out of tune with our evolved past and affects our wellbeing adversely: fitness and health are not the same thing – otherwise Olympic athletes would not catch colds.

In a quote:

An evolutionary activity pattern is mixed and varied. It contains brief, intermittent episodes of highly intense physical action mixed with languid periods and play.

- Art Devany, Evolutionary Fitness essay, 2000

In a nutshell:

Paleo in a Nutshell Part 2: Exercise video.

For ideas, you can follow my own workout diary on Train Now Live Later.
Other Things
Diet and exercise are the big ones – but there is more. There are other things our bodies evolved to expect, but which modern life deprives them of.

Here are just a few:

Sun exposure: we got a lot more before. Many of us are vitamin D deficient as a result (read here and here for my experiences.)

Paleo in a Nutshell Part 3: Sunshine video.

Cold water exposure: we would have swum or bathed in cold water regularly. There are significant health benefits to doing so – yet we avoid it.

Sleep : we used to get more of it, get more naps, and be woken naturally. Modern sleep habits can affect our health more than we may think.

Medicine: we didn’t take any. Modern pharmaceutical drugs can save and improve lives - but many of us happily consume daily cocktails of drugs without realising how they affect our wellbeing.
How Paleo/Primal Are You?
Try this quiz to see how your current Paleo/Primal credentials stand (but don't take it too seriously!)
Further Reading/Listening/Watching
- Blogs & Websites
There are almost too many good blogs and websites to list – but these are the ones I visit most:

Free the Animal – no holds barred discussion of the science and research that sometimes misleads – covers mostly the diet aspect. Richard also posts some of his excellent recipes.
Michael Eades – one doctor who DOES get this – he doesn’t always blog about Paleo/Primal living but it’s an underlying theme. He is great at ruthlessly tearing apart bad science and exposing the conflicts of interest that lead to poor mainstream advice.
Mark's Daily Apple – the blog of Primal Blueprint author Mark Sisson – probably the blog where you will find the most comprehensive set of guidance for Paleo/Primal living.
Natural Messiah – ranter extraordinaire, and the thinking person’s Paleo/Primal blogger. Also the man who introduced me to Paleo a few years ago.
Primal Wisdom – my most recently added blog favourite. Don covers mostly diet and the science behind it – seems to know his stuff.
Arthur Devany - his Evolutionary Fitness blog was my first ever resource. He is fiercely intellectual but can get quite technical.
The Paleo Diet - Loren Cordain’s website - he is a researcher of some distinction, and applies his study of the living patterns of our ancestors to form the basis for his dietary recommendations. Author of 'The Paleo Diet' and 'The Paleo Diet for Athletes'.
TBK Fitness - I have spent almost no time on this site, but Tamir B. Katz is seen as one of the early innovators in this area and often gets mentioned, so it would be remiss not to give him a mention.
The Weston A. Price Foundation - I haven't spent as much time on this site as I'd like, because it seems to be a fantastic resource. Price was a dentist whose investigations into the diet of non-industrialised cultures led him to many of the conclusions about nutrition that underpin the Paleo/Primal philosophy.
As I say, there are many more – if you spend time reading the comments on these sites or looking at their blog-rolls, you will soon discover other blogs and sites.

- Books

Sometimes it’s hard to glean the information you need from archived blog posts. If you’d prefer to read a book on the subject, here are my recommendations:

Specifically Paleo/Primal Books I have read:

The first two are bibles. The third is a little more geared towards athletes - perhaps Cordain's The Paleo Diet, which I have not read, is worthy of bible status. If pressed on a single recommendation, I would say The Primal Blueprint - it's a great all-rounder and covers just about everything you need to know.

A new book, sure to be good, but that I have not yet read: The The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf.

Related Books:

Body by Science – Doug McGuff and John Little. This is about a particular approach to high intensity short duration exercise. Depending on your point of view you may not see it as strictly Paleo/Primal in nature, but the spirit of the protocol and the recommended diet is definitely in tune with the philosophy. There is a summary of BBS on Train Now Live Later, here.
The Great Cholesterol Con – Malcolm Kendrick. People who are suspicious of Paleo/Primal eating often cite the dangers to the heart of a high fat diet. Kendrick does a great job of dismantling the supposed evidence for this.
Good Calories Bad Calories – Gary Taubes. Gary debunks the myths and bad science that led to the current mainstream misconceptions that eating fat is bad. It is regarded as a seminal work on the problems with processed carbohydrate consumption, and so provides important support for the value of Paleo/Primal eating . I have not read this book but a borrowed copy awaits my attention.

- Podcasts

This resource would not be complete without a mention of some superb podcasts Jimmy Moore has done with thinkers in this area. Here is a selection of the most relevant:

Dr Loren Cordain (website and book author - see above)
Mark Sisson (website and book author - see above)
Doug McGuff (book author - see above)
Sally Fallon (member of the Weston A. Price foundation - see website above)
Tom Naughton (filmmaker - see below)
Gary Taubes Part 1 (book author - see above)
Gary Taubes Part 2
Gary Taubes Encore
Robb Wolf

- WebCasts

Two great lectures from Gary Taubes, the author of Good Calories, Bad Calories, mentioned above.

'Big Fat Lies' Lecture - Gary Taubes at the Stevens Institute of Technology

- Films

Fathead - Tom Naughton (reviewed here, trailer here) - not strictly about Paleo/Primal, but like Taubes' work, its efforts to undermine the fundamentally flawed mainstream advice on diet makes an important contribution to understanding the benefits of Paleo/Primal.

Tom Naughton's original short video - which is one of the best ways to explain to people in 3 minutes why the modern diet is wrong.
Your Resources
Read below in the comments for more resources. Please do add a comment of your own if you know of relevant blogs (including your own!), books, websites or any other media.

What is the Paleo / Primal Lifestyle?
Other Things
How Paleo/Primal Are You?
Further Reading/Listening/Watching
Your Resources


Asclepius said...

An excellent post!

I have to agree about Primal Wisdom - which as a primal blog, is shaping up nicely.

Honourable mentions should also go to:

1. Hyperlipid (
2. PaNu (
3. Whole Health Source (
4. Dr Briffa (
5. Low carb 4 U (

Finally, there is Chris's 'Conditioning Research' site which is a mine of information and useful resource (

Unknown said...

hey, how'bout a picture of you... so that we know that it works :)

Methuselah said...

Asclepius - thanks for adding those. I've updated the post to include a 'Your Resources' section, in anticipation of other readers bringing forward their own sites.

Luc - I always said I wouldn't post any posed shots of myself. But if you click on the last photo in this story I am on the right, sprinting with my friend.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post Methuselah! I've been collecting articles, blogs, videos to show the muggles, but not any more. I'm just going to send the link to this post.


Methuselah said...

Mamatha - 'muggles' - LOL!

barbara said...

ha! muggles, too funny (oh, but so accurate ;)
great summary!

Beastie Girl said...

Hi there!

I noticed on your YouTube page that you have the paleo diet video in a bunch of languages - including Dutch.

I live in Holland and am desperately trying to get my mother-in-law to drop her crazy, low-calorie and fat, high carb, cardio ways but cannot find ANYTHING she could understand. YOu wouldn't happen to know someone or something who writes/is written in Dutch? Any help you could give would mean I would be willing to FLY to where you are to give you thousands of kisses. :)

Methuselah said...

Hi Beastie Girl - I sympathise. Mrs M has a similar battle with her own folks, although in this case it is not language that is the problem - just years of indoctrination by 'the system.'

I don't know of any Dutch resources myself, but will drop an email to the guy who did the Dutch translations for me and ask whether he knows of any. I'll post a response in these comments.

Anonymous said...

I read your blog, and have my own new website (under construction) where I deal with obesity and bariatric surgery:
I am largely paleo, though I choose to have a one or two high carb days in a week (though they hardly ever exceed 200-300 grams on those days). My workouts are absolutely hard core style, though I am nowhere near as strong as I would like to be.

Drs. Cynthia and David said...

Thanks for the nice intro. I agree with most of what you describe here. The Paleo approach makes so much sense that people who are clueless about low carb diets suddenly "get it" when you explain it this way. It even makes some sense to vegetarians and vegans, though some of them probably still believe we should eat only leaves like gorillas. I think it also provides a good choice of carbs when you want to eat them (tubers and fruits usually).

However I think the schism between exercise styles- "cardio" bad, "high intensity" good- is silly. I think that most people in our modern lives are so sedentary that low level cardio is way more difficult than it would have been if people had actually grown up living a primal lifestyle, but that doesn't mean it was't primal or that we shouldn't do it. What about when someone got hurt or sick and the herb necessary to help heal the person is down by the river, now 10 miles away? What about persistence hunting, and then getting all that meat back to the group? What about when there is danger and the entire group had to move far away in a hurry? Do you think the only dangers they faced were the occasional stupid predator, who once foiled would forget about them and go away? What about when a rival tribe stole supplies or kidnapped individuals? Did they say "running is unhealthy, I should only sprint for short intervals"?

No, I suspect primal living involved quite a bit of "cardio" of all levels of intensity, just as a part of normal life and play. It's just that we modern humans are so out of shape and sedentary that an hour or more of consistent exercise seems unreasonably hard and therefore must be unnatural. I don't think the primal lifestyle involves waste of effort either, but these people would have been accustomed to long periods of walking and easy loping or even hard running and climbing on occasion. You would need to be able to sometimes if you wanted to survive. Lots of easy aerobic training makes it so that when you do need to exercise at high intensity, you can maintain it longer because of the strong aerobic base.

Most of your readers probably know by now too that you don't have to fuel exercise of any type with a high carb diet either. I'm just starting to get in decent shape and can say that running an easy 10 miles is just that- easy. It doesn't have to be exhausting, and it doesn't have to result in pigging out on doughnuts as a "reward." And it certainly doesn't make me get sick.

If people truly have no time, then maybe they can maintain muscle mass and improve insulin sensitivity by doing shorter more intense exercise, but it is not correct IMO to lead them away from incorporating aerobic exercise into their everyday lives if they are so inclined. My guess is the more exercise of various types and intensities the better for optimal health.


Dieta Efectiva said...


I have been reading your blog for a long time, but I think this is my first comment.

I like your honest approach specially when you simply eat too much or drink too much...I'm still laughing about your 6 Day Junk Food Rampage.

I have my own blog in Spanish and use the Spanish version of your Primal Video to explain a few things. We are missing a lot of information in Spanish, and the best books on the subject (Good Calories Bad Calories being my favourite) are not translated...Anyway I'm trying to let more and more people know about the benefits of teh low carb and primal approach...

Methuselah said...

Dieta Efectiva - thanks. Good to have a Spanish resource listed here - I sometimes get people asking whether I know of resources in other languages, since at the moment most of the material is in English, as I am sure you know.

Drs. Cynthia and David - thanks for your thoughts - I think we are actually on the same page about cardio, as I agree with your point about there having been a greater degree of variety in our ancestors' cardiovascular activities. The Nutshell Part 2 video, as with Part 1, sacrificed some of the subtleties in favour of simplicity. (In part 1 I did not address that fact that yes, some culture-specific adaptations have taken place to some foods.)

My central point is that what Mark Sisson calls 'chronic cardio' is bad, rather than that any cardio that's not very low level is bad.

Since reading the Primal Blueprint I have realised that occasional long, hard, cardio sessions can actually have excellent fitness benefits and that the damage only comes when working out like that becomes routine.

Would be great if you could let me know which parts of the post (or other resources) hinted at unqualified cardio-phobia, as it would be good to straighten that out for future readers!

Marc said...

You keep putting up these wonderful posts!
I refer many "interested friends and family" to your blog.
To off set somewhat their disbelief and ridicule of me ;-)

Really enjoy your blog!

Methuselah said...

Thanks Marc - I hope your friends and family are suitably convinced...

Drs. Cynthia and David said...

Thanks for addressing my comment. A careful reading of what Mark Sisson has written about "chronic cardio," and what many other health bloggers say as well, I think leaves people with mixed and confusing messages. He explains that he was high carb fueled and training very hard and that this was unhealthy for him, yet when he exercised at lower intensity for long periods (what I would consider chronic cardio since it is still elevated heart rate, but certainly not sprinting/maximal effort) when helping clients get in shape, he found his health and strength recovering. Maybe readers are confusing cardio with overtraining or something of that sort. Most recommendations I've seen for athletes is to do most of their training at easy effort (aerobic or "cardio" again). It produces the best endurance adaptations (mitochondria, capillary growth etc) for the least stress. Even hard core weight lifters know this and do some easy jogging etc as part of their workouts. I've read that pure aerobic endurance training can get even 800m guys most of the way toward their race condition.

Anyway, the reason I think there is a schism is because of the comments I've read numerous times on blogs such as this about people at the gym doing chronic cardio on a treadmill etc and how miserable and stupid this is. I agree that for some people such exercise might be miserable (boring at least, I'm not sure I could do it either), but I think their views are just an excuse to ignore their cardiovascular unfitness and concentrate on weights or sprints which are more fun. Maybe it doesn't matter, and all that is really important is that we get people out there doing something, anything, to regain strength and fitness, and once they've got the habit and confidence, they will explore other possibilities.

Thanks for listening.


Yummy said...

Excellent post and awesome resources! Thanks!

Methuselah said...

Hi Cynthia - thanks for your reply.

To be fair to Mark, he does make clear what he means by chronic cardio in his book (and maybe in the blog, too), describing it as being regular and long periods of exercise where the heart rate is elevate above 55-75% of the max for your age. But I agree there might be a problem with people hearing what they want to hear and using this as a justification for eschewing all forms of cardio.

I, too, have heard the advice to athletes to do long, easy workouts so I can see there is resonnance there. I think where there may be a disconnect between what's best and what's advised is in the recommendations around shorter periods of training - for example what some people call 'tempo' runs. This is where I suspect Mark would argue that running 5 miles with your heart rate up at 90% max is not the healthiest way to achieve a given level of fitness and would recommend sprints instead.

I also wanted to pick up on the 'hardcore weightlifters' point. Having moved in those circles I can tell you that in many cases the motivation behind the easy cardio is less to do with endurance or fitness aspirations and more to do with a belief that this is the best way to lose fat whilst preserving muscle.

Great discussion. I will ping Mark to see if he has time to chime in and confirm (or refute) my representation of his position.

Mark Sisson said...

We suggest that Primal living did indeed involve lots of low level aerobic activity of all types - for several hours a day. For that reason, the Primal Blueprint suggests you "move around a lot at a slow pace", along with brief periods of sprinting and occasionally "lifting heavy things" every few days. These together will leave you fit enough to be able to run a 5 or 10K or do a mid-length triathlon without hammering your joints. But you will also be able to dance,play soccer, volleyball, frisbee, golf or whatever else you want without incurring injury because you trained at one thing so repetitively. My concern isn't so much general cardio as repetetive cardio at a heart rate that requires significant glucose/glycogen throughput and fosters systemic inflammation. A large number of gym-goers unfortunately fall into that category.

Drs. Cynthia and David said...

Thanks Methuselah and Mark. Maybe part of the uncertainty is understanding the HR thing. Do you measure the percent relative to (resting - max HR), or absolute numbers? (This alone would make for a worthwhile blog post). Still, 55% max HR, depending on how you measure it, is not very hard exercise. A very easy jog that requires very little breathing is still a HR of ~125 for me, recent marathon pace was 145, climbing (walking) a steep hill is 145, a level walk is HR of 90. At resting HR (sitting here) of ~55 and max HR of ~175, almost any exercise gets me into the 55-75% zone. When my body permits it, I exercise in that zone for an hour or more every day, though shorter is fun too. I don't think it requires that much carbs to fuel either - but maybe I would be faster if I ate more carbs? I don't really care. I do wish the running community was more enlightened about nutrition though. Hopefully your messages will sink in eventually.

As for the weight lifting crowd doing cardio, I was influenced by this article by Eric Cressey. He seems like a pretty smart guy to me.

Thanks for your thoughts.


Drs. Cynthia and David said...

Sorry the link didn't come through. go to, click on "articles" and then on "cardio confusion." It's a good read.

Methuselah said...

Hi Cynthia - thanks for the link. I will take a look. It's a pain that with blogger you have to enclose links with HTML to make them active. E.g. &lta href='http://linkaddress'>link text</a>

I think with heart rate it's about being at 55-75% of max heart rate as defined by age. I think for men it's 200 minus your age.

I guess the central point is that frequent and long activity above 75% of the max heart rate (for me this is 120, which I can achieve with jogging or very brisk walking) has as many or more adverse affects as it does good effects. But it sounds like your patterns of activity are good in that respect....

Dai "Moose" Manuel said...

Absolutely great blog! Love it all. I've been following the Paleo diet for about 2 months and feel great.

Would you be interested in exchanging blog roll links? My blog is

Let me know.


Methuselah said...

Hi Moose - I don't put links in my small blogroll unless I regularly visit sites, I'm familiar with their content and they relate to the theme of the blog... but since you are a fellow Paleo eater I'll leave your comment on this post and hopefully you'll get a little traffic that way!

Dai "Moose" Manuel said...

No worries on the link back, I've added your site to my blog roll anyway. thanks for the note back!

DR said...

Great intro to Paleo/Primal

I tweeted(hate that term) about your post

Methuselah said...

Thanks DR.

Methuselah said...

Beastie Girl,

I think my Dutch friend has contacted you directly with some information, but in case anyone else is following this thread and interested in Dutch resources on Paleo, here is the information he sent:

There's decent, but somewhat messy information on these two pages:

I also came across these links:



Methuselah said...

Oops - link number 5 should be:


Anonymous said...

Dear pay now live later, I’ve recently been introduced to your blog, (which is great by the way) and paleo living. Firstly I’d like to say two things.
First, I am a lay person, and do not claim to know the scientific specifics of human biology, or evolution. (Although I did do all the sciences at A level, and environmental science at university, so I have some idea.)
Second, that on the whole I agree with your message, and blog, so please do not take the next few lines as criticism, but more investigatory questioning that could help me apply the paleo concept to my own life style.
I read the idea that we have spent 2 million years as tribal/hunter gatherers, and yet only 10,000 years as farmers. And for that reason our bodies are most adapted to the lifestyle of the hunter garter, and most healthy in this form of living. E.g.
Generally active, being outside, catching/gathering what you eat, barefooted etc etc
This is something I agree with. However... (and there’s always a however)
I believe the idea ignores the 10,000 years farming. As if this were such a small amount of time compared to the 2 million years we spent as hunter gathers its worth discounting. When we look at the evolutionary history of humans, we spent the majority of our evolutionary history as bacteria (as did every other species) My point is ‘time’ is not always a good indicator of how adapted a species is to a certain environment. High environmental pressures cause natural selection to increase the speed at which it works.
Converting from hunter gathers to farmers must have caused massive environmental and behavioural changes to the human species, and therefore a whole host of new selective pressures. (Again I’m not claiming to know many specifics here) but I know that we are adapted to drink alcohol (to a degree) and milk (to a degree) also we have a whole host of variant immunity to diseases, that even existing tribal communities do not have.
It is likely that those humans not possessing certain adaptive traits for a farming sustenance when leaving the hunter gather lifestyle behind, died, and those that did possess certain traits compatible with farming lived to pass on their DNA.
Getting to my point, I think that although we spent more time as hunter gathers than farmers, and many of those traits that made us successful hunter gathers still exist, I would propose we are now more adapted to a farming lifestyle than hunter gather lifestyle.
I also read some of your post on sunshine. It’s worth remembering that for most of human existence the world has been highly forested, the UK was 99% woodland until relatively recently, so although we might have spent the majority of time outside, it would have been in shaded areas not direct sunlight. (This is not true for all places; the savannah is an obvious example)
Sleep is something which I think your blog does not cover. According to some journal I read at some time (again no specifics sorry). All humans have an internal clock, which is not all the same. The purpose that in any community, tribe, or hunter gather band, there would always be someone awake to warn others of danger etc, which seems to make sense! So those of us which are not suited to a 9-5 job come off much worse, at work, and health-wise. I don’t know how we would get over this, but I guess it’s worth considering.
I would welcome your views on my email. Just take it easy if you’re really going to crush my ideas!!

Methuselah said...

Hello Steve,

I thought I would reply to your comment here rather than in the email you sent with the same message - hope this is okay.

Thanks for your thoughts - debate is always welcome.

To address your question about evolution, I think it's best to refer you to the work of Loren Cordain. He says there have been 333 generations since the Neolithic revolution (farming), as compared to 76,667 since the advent of the Homo genus - which means about 0.4% of the time. Yes, there will have been some changes in 333 generations, but natural selection, amazing thought it is, simply could not have happened quickly enough. But you don't need to prove this theoretically - there is plenty of evidence when you examine the effect eating the foods of farming is having on the people who have not been lucky enough to be among the small percentage of people whose genes have responded to the change. If we had fully adapted, we would not be getting sick from these foods.

Your point about sunshine is fair. In the video I imply that our ancestors spent all their time in the sun - which was an exaggeration for simplicity's sake... nevertheless, there is a big difference between the average day of modern man and the average day of ancestral man, whether forest, cave or savanna dweller. They spent more time outside and they probably wore less. This means less vitamin D, on average, so we need to do something about it.

Finally sleep - yes, very important. I have been meaning to do a post about that for ages, but what with one thing or another, not got round to it yet. When I do, I will augment the guide also. I guess if I got a bit more sleep I would get more things like that accomplished!

I would suggest reading some of Mark Sisson's stuff on Mark's Daily Apple and also signing up for Loren Cordain's newsletter on the Paleo Diet site - you seem to have a curious mind and these guys really do know their stuff. I'll forward the edition of Cordain's newsletter that contains the evolution information.

All the best,

Kenyatta Mayer said...

Wow! Thank you! I always wanted to write in my site something like that. Can I take part of your post to my blog?

Methuselah said...

Kenyatta - feel free to use the content on your blog.

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