A couple of months ago, I was relaxing in the Mustache Lounge and an interesting email came in. It was from the editor of a major blog called MarksDailyApple.com, which I had heard of but never really followed.
As it turns out, this guy was also an MMM reader and we had a great conversation about writing blogs on topics which tend to go against conventional wisdom. But even more fateful was the fact that he offered to send me a few books from author Mark Sisson, the original “Mark” behind that Daily Apple website and the employer of my new friend.
“Yeah, yeah, free books” is what you normally say in that situation. It’s flattering to get free stuff just because you have a blog, but I normally don’t accept the offers because I already get all my books for free – at the Library. Combine this with the fact that I already have a long queue of things I need to read, and the fact that free books are in general sent in hopes of getting free promotion from bloggers, and you can see why I don’t usually accept the gifts.
But in this case, I thought it could work out well. I was about to leave for the giant annual trip to Canada (a trip we’re just wrapping up this week, actually), and I figured it would be handy to have some more reading material on vacation. Also, the guy offering was a really interesting and genuine person, and the subject of health and fitness is one of my favorite to read about. So I requested that the books be sent to the address where I’d be staying in Canada, so they’d be there waiting for me when I arrived.
Then over the next two weeks, I forgot about the whole arrangement. I drove alone across the country, had a chance to meet many new interesting people, and had some neat experiences.
Eventually I arrived at my final destination in Ottawa, and found that my new books had been opened and were in active use. My wife and in-laws were eating differently, novel exercises were being performed, and both motivation and fitness levels were looking pretty good, by vacation standards. Occasionally I would hear the unusual phrase, “Hmm.. I wonder what Mark Sisson would think about this choice? Is it Primal?”
I had to figure out what all this was about, so I dug into the thickest of the three books, called “The Primal Blueprint”. And I’ll admit, even as a jaded fitness book junkie who thought I wouldn’t see anything new, I found it pretty interesting. And here’s why.
The Primal Blueprint is all about living a simpler, more powerful, and healthier life. The idea is to be inspired by the Badassity of our pre-agricultural human ancestors, who were actually just as clever as us and far more physically fit. In fact, if you adjust for the higher infant mortality of primitive times and the vastly higher danger of early death from infection and accidents, these people lived almost as long as we do now, and kept in much better shape throughout their lifespans, typically avoiding heart disease and cancer.
So the idea is that you can take the best of a primitive lifestyle, and incorporate it into your modern one, to get the best of both. In practice, this means thinking about our evolutionary past and sticking to foods and activities that are compatible with what we evolved to thrive on. Moving around all day, spending most of your time outside, and eating plants, nuts, organic meats and a generally low-carb diet: yes. Sedentary lifestyles, TV, refined carbs and grains: not nearly as much.
Mark Sisson suggests that we all live more laid-back lifestyles, walk around with bare feet whenever possible, let our bodies be forced to adjust to the climate around us, exercise moderately but with occasional heavy lifting and sprinting, and basically forego as much of the modern blare of flashy digital entertainment as we can stand to do. In exchange, he suggests that you’ll have a much easier time maintaining an excellent level of fitness, and you’ll become happier and more productive and live much longer as well.
I’m sure you’re starting to see why I like the message. This stuff sounds awfully similar to Mustachianism itself. Over the past 1.3 years, Adm Karpinsk has taken away your TV, made you live within biking (or walking) distance of work, taught you to get more of what you need from Nature, cut down on your purchases of unnecessary gadgets, told you to always put Muscle over Motor, and even drawn inspiration from another primitive culture of Badassity, the Native Americans. I took away most of your Air Conditioning privileges (never cool your house below 82F), arguing that it is better to make the most of your body’s natural adaptability to changing temperatures rather than wasting electricity just for the benefit of remaining a Climate Wuss.
In short, I too want you to live like a Cave Man or Cave Woman. You’ll be a well-educated and socially conscious one with Internet access, but in general you will be reaping the enormous benefits of this simpler way of life, with the six-pack abs and Giant Money Mustache to show for it.
The Primal Blueprint book is far more focused on nutrition than this blog, and I enjoyed the different perspective. For example, if you believe the studies cited in the book, dietary cholesterol intake has nothing to do with blood levels of “bad cholesterol” and heart disease . In fact, it is the excessive insulin production caused by high carbohydrate intake from grains and sugars that causes most of the lifestyle diseases we see today.
In other words, the book suggests that having a giant plate of bacon, eggs, and avocados (all organic if possible) is a far healthier breakfast than a few slices of whole wheat bread covered with some modern low-cholesterol spread.
It’s far from conventional wisdom, but it actually aligns almost perfectly with what the “Paleo” eating crowd has been preaching. And from my own non-scientific experiments on myself, I have to weigh in on the side of the low-carb eaters.
I’ve dropped bread and most grains out of my diet over the past year, just to see what would happen. It’s a huge change, since in my 20s I was an avid low-fat follower, avoiding most oils and eating plates of spaghetti and drinking mugs of skim milk with protein powder even as I did long weightlifting workouts 3-4 times per week.
The results have surprised me. I eat rich oily foods now, and do much shorter workouts. But with very little effort I’ve lost almost all the extra fat I had been carrying in the earlier years. Energy levels are better than ever. Even more interestingly, my body seems to regulate its own appetite much more easily now. Instead of requiring 6 small meals per day, I now tend to eat a big greasy breakfast, and not need food until much later in the day. On active days, appetite scales way up. On sit-at-home days, I need much less food. In the event of food shortage, the body has become very good at just using stored fat, making the belly fat reserves very easy to control at will (“Sorry, Metabolism, no food available right now, but help yourself to those Love Handles over there if you’re hungry.”).
These are all things advertised by lower-carb advocates, but I just happened to stumble on them myself earlier this year. Pretty neat.
But the neatest part is how the ideas of the Primal Blueprint also apply so readily to the field of becoming wealthy enough to retire early, the primary focus here at Adm Karpinsk.
Mark Sisson correctly recognizes the natural badassity of our ancestors and harnesses it to whip all of his followers into shape. If you follow the advice, you’ll have a nice body and a healthy mind. But you’ll still be locking those fine assets up in a cubicle all day, so you can earn enough to buy $100 steaks at Whole Foods and make the payments on the giant SUV you use to drive to the forest for hikes.
Adm Karpinsk simply keeps going with that set of ideas, and teaches you to apply them to your spending as well. By embracing rather than running away from simpler living and heightened challenge, you can learn to save 50-75% (or more) of what you earn, while coming out happier than you were while spending much more. Don’t be fooled into spending lavishly to attain a healthy and primal lifestyle. It’s all around you – you just have to take off your shoes, run outside, and grab some of it.
Many thanks to Aaron at Mark’s Daily apple and to Mark Sisson himself for working to share such a useful message.