Mark Sisson: An interview with the Grokfather

We were pony-at-Christmas excited when we found out that Mark Sisson, founder of Mark’s Daily Apple and the Primal Blueprint, had agreed to our interview.  We wanted to talk to Mark and share his perspective with our readers first and foremost because we’re all in the same business – making people healthier.  And despite our small differences in approach, the more people we can collectively reach with our health and fitness messages, the better.  In addition, we’re noticing more and more cross-over between the Primal and Whole30 folks – we’ve got Primal devotees commenting on our site, and there are several Whole30 threads over on the MDA forum.  And while we may have been critical of some of the “compromises” made in his Primal diet – perhaps overly so, lessons learned – we want to start the new year focusing on the bigger picture.  It’s all about helping people improve their quality of life – and in the last four years, Mark has successfully achieved that goal with millions of people.

So here is our interview with Mark Sisson, the serious, the hard-hitting and the just-for-fun.  Visit him at http://marksdailyapple.com (as if we needed to tell you) to learn more about his programs and offerings.

Mark Sisson talks to Whole9 (Saturday, December 18, 2011)

[W9]: The Primal Blueprint is HUGE – you’ve developed a book and cookbook, a heavily trafficked blog, an active forum and a supportive product line.  To what do you credit the success of the P.B.?

[MS]: My goal has been to make the concepts behind the PB as entertaining and accessible to the greatest number of people possible. I think one of my strengths is the ability to take science-based and very effective but as of yet “fringe” (at least to the mainstream) ideas and translate them in ways that average people (although MDA readers are all above average) can understand and easily incorporate into their lives – without appearing to have joined a cult. The PB takes the best proven hacks, performance tips and secrets from genetics, exercise physiology, endocrinology, immunology, behavioral psychology and other life sciences and wraps them all into a neat evolutionary perspective that allows the reader to understand more intuitively what the best choice in any situation might be. Simply ask yourself, knowing some of the basic elements of evolution and epigentics, “what would Grok do?” The result is that we have hundreds of thousands of positive user experiences and thousands of documented personal testimonials that drive links and traffic to MDA and promote book sales.

[W9]: Your library of posts is beyond extensive – every search term brings up dozens of individual write-ups.  Where do you get your ideas for posts?

[MS]: When I started the blog over four years ago, I committed to writing a post every day for just one year, thinking that by then I’d easily run out of things to say or topics to cover. Obviously, that plan got shelved.  As the traffic and interest have grown, every post has opened up new questions, new ideas, comments from readers, and the next thing you know, I have so many niche topics I want to cover, I’ve got posts scheduled well over a month out. Making it even more challenging, many daily inane headlines in the news or health sections often beg for immediate comment.  Ultimately, because the PB encompasses far more than diet and exercise, the sky’s really the limit.

[W9]: Ooh – speaking of your web site… who is your photographer for all of those running-on-the-beach header photos?  We’re going to Mexico next week and we were hoping we could hire them, too.

[MS]: Amazing what your family and friends can do with a small camera and a big attitude, isn’t it?

[W9]: Earlier this year, you released a Primal whey protein shake – and took a bit of a hit across the web, even from folks on your own site.  Is it difficult to see public criticism of your products or services?  How do you manage that, from both a business and a personal perspective?

[MS]: I try not to take things personally, but that was an interesting first few days.  As you know, I design supplements for a living, and I endorse the use of certain key supplements within a Primal lifestyle. Some of your most revered Paleo guys (Wolf, De Vany) do, as well.  In this case, I had spent over a year building what I felt was the best possible supplemental meal replacement to address the two major questions I get daily from the low-carb and Primal world: “What’s for breakfast besides eggs” and “what can I eat when there’s no real food and I don’t feel like fasting?”  Primal Fuel was designed and labeled as an alternative (a meal or snack replacement) to real food using whey protein isolate, coconut milk powder, natural flavors, and prebiotics.  As a low carb, moderate fat, high protein MRP, it’s quite unique and it tastes fabulous.

Yes, a few people (ahem) came out of the woodwork and said it wasn’t Paleo or Primal, and that somehow I shouldn’t be promoting it.  It’s kind of funny when people tell me what’s Primal and what’s not, since Primal Blueprint is a trademarked brand that I own. I guess we can argue the semantics of sun-dried natural cane juice versus sucrose (same thing, actually) or whether the butter and canned coconut milk that many in this community rely on, and which have been quite “processed”,  also fit the precise definition of Paleo… or Paleo cookies, for that matter.  In the end, all I want in a pinch, when real food isn’t convenient, is the next best thing: something that satisfies my hunger, provides protein and healthy fat, mitigates insulin and cortisol, promotes a healthy immune system and has no discernible downside.

A few people groused about the initial price, which is now set at $79 for a 30-serving supply. Helluva deal, actually.  It’s ironic to offer hundreds of thousands of unique visitors a site that provides thousands of free articles, free eBooks, recipes, and advice daily, yet when I also offer a unique supplement that has a price attached, a few of those users get vocal about my trying to sell them something. Meanwhile, we’ve sold thousands of canisters and people love the convenience, the taste and the macronutrient profile, so it has already proven to be a huge hit. Some of my most ardent users are also big names in the Paleo/Primal and Low-carb worlds, so it clearly serves its purpose with them. Anyway, it’s all good now.

[W9]: We wanted to write a post about how folks commonly misunderstand the spirit of the “80/20 rule” that you’ve so effectively popularized.  When we poked around on your site, however, we discovered that you’ve already said everything we wanted to!  For the record, can you summarize what the 80/20 rule means – and what it doesn’t mean?  (We can add links here too.)

[MS]: The simplest translation of the PB 80/20 rule is that you should try the best you can – even strive for perfection – in your life, but not beat yourself up for minor transgressions or falling off the wagon.

[W9]: On that note, we’ve got this thing called the Healthy/F-Off Scale – it’s been around for a few years now, very popular.  We would LOVE to see your version of the Healthy/F-Off scale.  Can you pick three foods that would fall into each of the three categories?

[W9]: I must say, the Cinnabon is surprising.  And refreshing.  To continue the discussion of “balance”, how do you integrate Primal concepts with modern technological necessities, like the computer and cellular phone?  How do you personally balance your on-line time (which has to be extensive) with the rest of your Primal life?

[MS]: The premise of the PB is precisely about honoring one’s 20,000-year-old hunter-gatherer genes in the context of a comfortable, pleasurable – and even hedonistic – 21st century lifestyle.  I sometimes chuckle at how far some of my readers have taken these concepts. “Full Primal” is a term we use for those are truly militant about what’s Primal and what’s not.  If I’m obsessed about anything, it’s optimizing gene expression using the best tools available.  That’s why I take advantage of certain supplements ; it’s why I wear VFFs instead of going barefoot, why I use cell-phones instead of smoke signals.  This is where the science trumps Grok.

On the other hand, you’re right about balance and online time. Extensive doesn’t begin to describe it! One of my personal daily goals is to find more time for play, because I have begun to realize that play is one of the highest and purest iterations of the human spirit. Ironically, though, as MDA and the Primal community grow, play-time has shrunk and the amount of time I need to spend writing and researching has expanded. Luckily, I do have a wonderful, capable staff that helps with the research and editing.

[W9]: Really quick, have you heard of the Shake Weight?  Could the Shake Weight be Primal? Would Grok shake rocks?

[MS]: Sorry, there’s nothing decent that can come from a discussion of Shake Weight here, so I must decline to answer this part.  Would Grok shake rocks? Only if he thought there was a prize inside. Otherwise, Grok didn’t waste his time on pursuits other than life or death…or play.  Grok’s life was significantly about energy management; in other words, what’s the least amount of energy one can expend and still thrive?  Even today, hunter-gatherers work an average of 17 hours a week to meet their basic needs and then just do a lot of hanging out.

[W9]: Do you ever find it (ironically) hard to follow your own recommendations for sleep, stress, exercise or nutrition, given your (assumed) heavy responsibilities and busy schedule?  If so, which factors are the most difficult to keep in line, and how do you manage that?  If not… how do you manage THAT?

[MS]: I feel confident that I have nutrition and exercise dialed in as well as anyone on the planet, so I follow my recommendations pretty closely (including even the occasional sensible dietary vice or several days without working out). The randomness built into the Primal eating and exercise strategy makes it easy to work around busy and often changing schedules. I’m also pretty fanatical about getting my sleep and sun. Probably the one area where I need the most work is in managing stress better. Sure, I bring it on myself with a pretty hefty workload and ambitious plans, but I also have a tough time adequately dealing with the fallout. The few times I’ve had a cold over the past decade, I can point to stress being the deciding factor that put me over the edge. The real irony? Knowing how devastating chronic stress can be only makes it even more stressful during those times I’m not able to effectively dissipate it! It’s not like I’m stressed out all the time either. Hell, I have a really great, comfortable life. I’m just aware that that’s my Achilles’ heel.

[W9]: What’s coming up for you in 2011?  Give us some New Year scoop!

[MS]: We have a big year planned. I have three new books coming out: The Primal Blueprint Quick & Easy Cookbook in March; The Primal Blueprint 30-Day Transformation Guide (logbook, guidebook) also in March and Reconnect (the next extension of the Primal Blueprint philosophy and lifestyle) in June. We will announce in a week or so the new Primal Blueprint Seminar and Workshop series (one-day events across the country on how to live Primally) which we’ve been working on for over a year.  PrimalCon 2011 in April (Oxnard, CA) is already close to being sold out. In the time between all these, I’ll be doing corporate speaking gigs.

[W9]: Yes, we are very excited about the Ancestral Health Symposium. Tell us more – what is your role, and which speaker(s) are you  most looking forward to hearing?

[MS]: My good friends Aaron Blaisdell and Brent Pottenger decided over a year ago to put this symposium together, really out of thin air and a huge interest in health. They created a non-profit society and have done a phenomenal job of gathering most – if not all – the top players in the Ancestral/Paleo/Primal/Evolutionary/Hunter-gatherer community to attend the August event. It promises to be a major milestone in coalescing our thoughts and principles.  I see it as an opportunity to show the world just how much critical mass we have gathered as a movement.  I will be one of the speakers, and I honestly look forward to everyone’s input, because I think we all come at this with different points of view, filters, goals and skill sets.

[W9]: One last question – what’s your most un-Primal guilty pleasure? XBox 360, US Weekly, Baywatch?

[MS]: Survivor (although it’s kinda Primal in its own way).

Thank you so much to Mark Sisson for taking time out of his busy holiday schedule to speak with us. We look forward to more collaboration in the future!


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Comments

  1. Lauren :) says

    LOVE THIS!!!! As someone who found whole9 through MDA, to see you guys coming together for this interview is pretty rockin. I personally had slight reservations about whole9 in general (before really reading through the archives and actually giving whole30 a try ;) BECAUSE of what I perceived to be a few slightly anti-MDA statements I read here. (Now I’m loving whole30 and have enjoyed marrying what I continually learn from both whole9 and MDA.)

    I just really enjoy seeing folks from various areas of the paleo/primal/ancestral nutrition realm coming together (man I’d love to get to the ancestral health symposium!!)

    Thanks for the fun read! I must admit, Survival is one of my guilty pleasures as well. ;)

  2. Alexa says

    I found the Whole9 site through Mark’s Daily Apple as well. There’s definitely a lot of sharing between the different crowds – Paleo, Primal, Whole9 etc – and there’s a lot of common ground. In the end, you have to look at what’s best for you and your situation. I still like visiting all of the sites and seeing what everyone has to say about a particular subject.

    Nice interview!

  3. Chris says

    Nice Interview…

    For me, it all started when I stumbled upon Mark’s website, and its been a whole new life for me ever since. It’s great to see you as well as all the other Primal/Paleo/Crossfit/etc. groups link up and share ideas. Its beneficial to all as we grow and learn.

    Thanks again

  4. Wayne says

    I’m still surprised that Mark is pushing his whey powder as being at an excellent price. Sorry it is easy enough to find quality whey powders that are absent of the crap filler ingredients at more then a 50% saving at what mark charges, even from whey from grass-fed beef.

  5. says

    I’m another one who’s impressed that he said Cinnabon was high on his f-off axis. I like Mark Sisson for his moderate approach to evolutionary nutrition, and while I dislike the idea of supplements, his plan works perfectly well without them.

  6. says

    @Aaron: Ha! We were hoping to borrow Mark’s camera guy, but we’ll have to settle for shoddy Photoshop work instead.

    Hope to meet you in person this summer at the big event!

    Best,

    Melissa & Dallas

  7. says

    @Melissa. I’m stoked you guys are coming! It’s gonna be the paleo/primal/etc. bash of the century. So many awesome folks are descending on LA for this event it’s mind boggling.

    Happy New Year!

    Aaron

  8. says

    Great interview! I am glad that you all are looking at the big picture versus arguing over the the differences between your philosophies. Glad you all asked the supplement questions.

  9. says

    Great Interview. I came across Mark Sission when doing p90X and wanted to know more about the nutrition side, read the book and become a convert. He also inspired me to become a blogger.

    I love the photoshop job too!

  10. Thomas says

    you have both forgotten the high entertainment value of the Saturday Night Live version of the shake weight commercial….

  11. Learn How to Go Green says

    We are a gaggle of volunteers and starting a new scheme in our community. Your website provided us with useful information to work on. You’ve done a formidable job and our entire community will probably be thankful to you.