The Primal Parent

When Everybody Else’s Prescription Fails, Make Up Your Own


On our quest for better health, most of us will try many diet plans, recommended by convincing and good looking advocates. We follow their advice to a T and are genuinely surprised when we don’t see stunning results. We ask ourselves “Why haven’t I lost weight? What’s wrong with my digestion? Why hasn’t my skin cleared up? Why am I still depressed?”

You read all of these blogs written by people who seem to have pulled it together by the prescription of some diet or other and it just doesn’t make any sense that you’re not also experiencing vibrant health.

You flip through another book or web page, on to the next diet, planning your meals around specific foods and quantities. You’re so excited you can feel it working already. You just know this one’s going to be different. Right? Wrong! You still feel like crap.

This was my experience for years. I believed I was a hopeless case. I tried everything but nothing worked. No diet, including Paleo, would save me.

Things changed when I realized that fixing a broken body is not as straight forward as a filling a cookie-cutter prescription.

There are things I have learned which are important for good health, such as avoiding processed vegetable oils, excessive carbohydrates, food chemicals and colorings, dead packaged foods, foods we’re sensitive to, and high fiber (yes this is generally a bad idea), and including things like saturated fat, grassfed meats and eggs, organ meats, fresh pressed juices, and other special foods.

But the minutia of these recommendations is where it gets tricky. How careful one needs to be, what amounts of foods one needs to eat, and which specific foods are good or bad depends on that individual’s immune system, intestinal damage, level of depleted minerals, and so on. For anyone with big problems you can expect that recovery will take time, and it may take constant adjusting for a while.

Living in a world of polluted air, polluted water, polluted toys and other things we handle, and food polluted with commerce and science, renders each and every one of us very different from each other. If we were all eating the same things and in the same amounts, from the same ponds and hills, we’d be much more similar and a Paleolithic Diet Plan would be just fine. But this is obviously not reality.

If we want to get healthy, meaning we want to have relatively few symptoms and feel good throughout most days and after all meals, we need to discover our own bodies first.

Self-Experimentation is the Best Prescription

I got an email from a woman yesterday asking me for the exact number of grams of protein I eat and exactly how much fat I consume. I cannot answer this. First of all I have no idea how many grams of protein I consume in a day and I guarantee it is not the same every day.

I do sympathize with the question, however. I think anyone trying to restore health does.

The problem is that we are not the same. We all have our specific sensitivities, allergies, conditions, background, tolerance levels, brain chemicals, etc. What works for me probably isn’t going to work for you. The only way she or anyone else is going to get to the bottom of what ails them is by working it out on their own. Just like I had to do.

In general I think those of us who have managed to get our shit together have stopped doing diets according to the book and have started feeling our own body’s responses.

Richard Nikoley of Free the Animal did a talk all about this at the Ancestral Health Symposium.

In this talk Richard said, “No matter how convincing, no matter what the conclusion is [of scientific studies], there’s no way that you can tell whether you are an outlier on one end, the other, fall in the middle, or whether it’s completely irrelevant to you whatsoever. You still have to test it on yourself.”

You will be a really lucky person to hear about a diet, try it, and have complete success. In reality experimentation is mandatory.

How to Start Your Self-Experimentation Project

There are a couple of ways you can approach a Paleo elimination diet. If you haven’t already, try the standard Paleo type of diet which consists of meats, fats, veggies, including starchy veggies, and a little fruit.

  • Don’t eat grains or legumes
  • Don’t eat dairy
  • Don’t eat processed oils
  • Don’t eat packaged foods, including juices

If that’s not enough – and it wasn’t for me – go a little further with elimination.

Things like drugs, alcohol, high fiber, and antibiotics, can leave a person’s gut in disrepair. Eating a diet of veggies, fruits, and meats won’t always fix it.

The rest of the Paleo community won’t tell you that. While I think their books and suggestions are great, they aren’t writing for hyper-sensitive people. They are writing for people who need some nutritional support, who want to lose weight, who need to lower blood pressure and triglycerides, and who need to learn about real food and real exercise. For those of us who’ve tried it and still aren’t quite happy with the results, getting a little more restrictive might help.

  • Cut out veggies and try fresh green juices instead
  • Don’t eat fruit but try juicing a little instead
  • Stop eating nuts
  • Quit drinking alcohol
  • Stop taking the pill and other drugs

Restriction probably won’t be enough. You will want to give your body the nutrition, fitness, and it needs to heal.

Add in fresh pressed juices, oysters and other shellfish, bone broth, fish, weight lifting, yoga, herbs, and supplements.

Whatever you try, just remember that you’re trying this out on your own body, and not on the 1,628 bodies in the study you read about last week, and not on my body or the body of any other blogger that you like reading.

Your body is unique and so must be your approach to healing.

Once you’ve got the diet down to a place where you are feeling better, try adding things in ONE BY ONE. Don’t ruin your experiment by adding in a whole bunch of things all at once!

So, tell me then, what are you going to tweak in your diet this week?

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  1. Oh Peggy! You’re rocking it as always! I love this post! It’s so true…everyone keeps asking me the same questions as your emailer. I keep saying, “You gotta figure it out for yourself!”
    When I originally went Paleo, I felt fantastic. Immediate, dramatic results. But it dwindled. I was still eating nuts. Some days, none but most days…anywhere from some to lots. My seasonal allergies were out of control and I was lagging in energy. I pulled everything back to almost only raw meat and some veggies. Instant relief. Experimented again. 3 more times to be exact. And bam! back to yucky.
    I’m a little bummed but I can not eat nuts. Period.
    STOP EATING NUTS. Seriously.
    Thanks for making your experimentation public. It’s helping a lot of think of things we would have never even considered!

  2. Peggy you nailed this on the head. You can talk about paleo, exercise or even things such as productivity systems. There is no one best method to do any of this. Everyone will have varying results with tweaks.

  3. This is such a good point! Unfortunately, it is pretty hard to think your way to all of these conclusions when you feel awful and your brain is sluggish. I try to remember that when I wonder why we always seem to keep doing the same things that don’t actually get any results!

  4. Great timing with this (and Mark’s) post for me this week as I’m really trying to cut my dairy down to just some kefir. My skin has been flaring up and my digestion a little off and I can sense its dairy because I was eating yogurt and cheese heavily over the past few weeks. Thanks for the tips!

    • I have to be really careful with dairy too. I can have a little bit sometimes, but I always end up getting addicted to it and I want to eat more and more in place of other foods. Then I quit it all together until the next round of dairy. The same is true for eggs. A little works for me, a lot doesn’t.

    • Doh! I was busy writing yesterday and didn’t swing by MDA. Just saw that he posted on the very same topic on the same day. That can take the excitement out of a post like mine. I hate it when that happens.

  5. Awesome post! I am still in the process of figuring out what works for me. I have been sufffering from IBS for 11 years now and it has such a negative impact on all areas of my life…It is so difficult not to let myself influence by conventional wisdom (“Eat more fiber”, “Meat gives you cancer”) but evidently, conventional advice doesn`t work for me. I used to focus on huge amounts of salads and vegetables as it seems “safe” to me from the Primal as well as from the conventional standpoint but it makes me feel bad. I guess I have to learn to be more radical and you are a great example of that it is sometimes necessary to make drastic changes!

  6. this pinpoints exactly why I keep coming back to your blog for advice when the other primal blogs don’t answer my questions! because of a bunch of your posts on meat, poop, high fat, mental health, I have put together a plan for myself. I am eating coconut ice cream (high fat coconut whizzed with a frozen banana to make it sweet) for brunch and beef (sometimes chicken) with palm oil and sometimes veggies for dinner. I’m also supplementing a lot and taking probiotics. I have found that eating so much fat and protein is allowing my digestive tract to rebuild itself, and I am feeling stronger and healthier as well. I’m trying to find a source for liver, and once it gets cooler am going to add bone broth back to the rotation, since I stopped making soup when it got too hot. Mostly it has been your posts encouraging me to make the changes that I knew I needed to make, but couldn’t because of the challenge of getting over the healthy sad diet education that I grew up with. A challenge that I am facing is that we travel once a week to visit family and friends, and that I am not able to keep up the high fat and protein while doing so. I usually eat some chicken and a lot of vegetables to keep from starving, and bring sardines in Olive oil, but usually I get stomach pains and am depressed by the time I am on my way home. I think I will have to start traveling with cans of coconut milk or bottles of olive oil. It is hard because there is no one here who has heard of the primal diet and even my husband thinks I am crazy sometimes, but if I can fix my body it will be worth it. The other fringe benefit is that I have not lost any weight in the past 2 weeks, since starting this diet. I’ve already lost 50 lbs and am an american size 4- and decided that I have to stop losing weight before I need a new wardrobe again (I’m 5’2″). I’ve gone down from a size 12 so I have had to buy new clothing every 3 months and I just can’t afford it anymore. Someday it would be cool to see if I could look like your pictures and those of all the other famous primal women, but in the meantime I’ll stick to this.

    • I learned a long time ago to bring my own food with me where ever I go. There have been instances when I’ve looked like a weirdo to be sure. For example, years ago I ate a diet of just fermented raw milk for a little while. (It helped me get me out of a rut with my diet, though I wouldn’t do it again). It was right around Christmas time that I was doing this so when I traveled to my husband’s family’s house, I lugged a duffle bag full of raw milk from California to Colorado.

      Now, I don’t enjoy being that weird. But at the time everything I ate made me feel terrible and I didn’t know why. (I didn’t know about fiber at the time. The elimination of fiber is probably why my raw milk diet was better for me than anything I had been eating.)

      Sometimes you’ve just got to do what you need to do for yourself no matter what people think. It’s better to be happy and weird when you’re with family, than normal and in bitchy or depressed or whatever.

  7. Fantastic post Peggy. I am not a parent but I love your advice regarding diet above many other people just because I feel we are in the same “outlier” boat. I take drastic and often weird dietary habits and feel fantastic now more than I ever have. I too have just realized that nuts have got to go. I love them dearly but hate the way they make me look and feel. Keep up the good work and thank you for your truly insightful dives into your own psyche and opening up to us without a glance of reserve.

  8. Thanks for this Peggy. I have been struggling with my gut even though I have been paleo for a year now. If you did not eat veggies, what did you eat instead? Starches do me in all the time and I am allergic to eggs and all forms of dairy.

  9. Very true, I think the paleo diet is good for most people but then you have to tweak it for your own needs. The one I struggle with is trying too many things at once, so then I don’t know which food or supplement it was that caused or helped the problem. I need more patience and knowing that this is going to take a long time to figure out, the body definitely doesn’t always respond right away. Especially in this age when we are all used to instant gratification!

  10. Iris and Echokitten,

    You are welcome! I am always thrilled to hear that something I write resonates with people.


    If you haven’t already, read I was eating eggs and a little yogurt during that week, but I don’t always. When I don’t I just eat more of the other stuff.


    I struggled with the same thing in the beginning, or for years really. It’s hard to be patient with such a restrictive diet. You want to eat food like everyone else so you just throw up your arms and eat six different mostly safe foods. And if there is anything in that mix that you’re sensitive to, be it an allergy or some problem with the way your gut digests it, you won’t know what hurt you. Try as hard as you can not to do that. But if you do do that, don’t fret, just remove all those new foods again, get back to square one and start over.

  11. So true! I read Eat Fat, Lose Fat by Mary Enig about a week ago, and even though it was great and she really knows her stuff, I have no intention of following her diet. But I have been experimenting with a couple of her suggestions: melting coconut oil into water and slugging it down before my meals, and trying to eat (and drink) more fermented foods.
    I plan to start incorporating more bone broths, too, but I’m going to wait until it gets a little colder. It doesn’t sound too appealing to me just yet :-)

  12. I think your post is still awfully exciting and relevant even with the MDA post out there. It just emphasizes how important it is to listen to our own bodies, and that’s where Primal has taken me. It’s not a one-size-fits-all diet, and you communicate this beautifully. Thank you again for sharing your experience!

    Now to watch that AHS presentation…

  13. Man, I needed this. I suspect, not through any significant or specific reaction, but just through my gut (no pun intended), that nuts are no good for me. I rely on almond butter a lot as a satiety mechanism (nursing a 9.5 month old and am ravenous, not to mention short on time to prep and cook food). I have tried lately to replace that with coconut milk (rather, reconstituted coconut cream blended up with ice) for a quick hunger fix, but I haven’t eliminated nuts entirely. Sadly, as much as I love them, I feel the same way about eggs. Thanks for the motivation.

    • I did the same thing when I was pregnant and breastfeeding, but I’m not sure that it was because I was so hungry but just that I was so addicted to nuts. If you gave me nuts right now, I’d do the same thing. Cheese and nuts are both so addicting. I think we need to do a cheese and nuts challenge.

      • Susie- I’m nursing two right noe and I feel just like you. I have a feeling nuts aren’t good for me, even soaked but I’m so hungry all the time and they are so easy. I’m hoping to be able to figure some things out soon, sensitivities but my daughter is just 3 months old so I have to worry about that first. :)

        • I found that the hunger you think you feel is actually brought on by the nuts themselves (and in my case, fiber in general). If you quit eating the nuts and other things that irritate your digestion, you’ll stop being so hungry.

  14. I don’t know. I can’t stand organ meats and oysters. I think they’re nasty. But, I’m a horribly picky eater. Bone broths I can do. I’ve already removed a lot of fruits from the diet, for now. I only eat green beans for a veggie. I exist on chicken, pork, a small amount of beef, turkey, greenbeans and soy.

  15. great post. thank you. i’ve given up cheese and can eat it whenever it’s around and not be “afflicted”. but, nuts, those are my absolute downfall. i gave them up for a month because of trying to fix terrible pms, and it worked! but, it’s this month now and they’re in the house because my kids like them and getting them to not whine for crackers and pretzels is my sanity.

    so, a few questions, please:

    why are nuts so addicting? what is our body craving that gets (a short lived) relief from them?

    how often do you eat organs?

    my understanding is that veggies have lots of nutrients in them so if you ditch the veggies, then you need the organs that also have lots of nutrients. true?

    thank you!

    • I think nuts are addictive because they’re the closest “paleo” thing to the other kinds of snacky foods we used to enjoy when eating non-paleo: they’re crunchy and fatty and filling (but not too filling) and often we season them with a little salt or oil. They’re like paleo potato chips! Also, they digest pretty slowly as far as I understand, which means you don’t feel instantly satiated by them, so you can eat more and more…yeah. Nuts are delicious. Unfortunately, I can’t eat them really, except for a little almond meal occasionally.

      However, in terms of cravings, often your body *is* legitimately craving nutrients – whether that’s fat, or the vitamins and minerals in nuts, if there’s a lack somewhere in your diet, that might be why there’s a craving. I think it’s important to investigate cravings, and not just dismiss them as being “naughty.”

    • I eat organs usually once per week. I just eat them raw because that’s easiest for me but in the winter I add them to soups too.

      You definitely want to eat a nutrient dense diet no matter what you eat. So if you don’t eat veggies, then eat other nutrient dense foods like organs, broth, oysters and other seafood, milk if it’s tolerable for you, and maybe some fruit.

  16. Peggy,
    I appreciate your knowledge. This post really hits home with me. I have Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, and through many paleo changes I have been able to figure out what helps me run the best. Mostly strick autoimmune protocol from The Paleo Solution. It is sad because I love eggs, and nuts. Nightshades I can live without, but the eggs part kills me. I can add them back in but if I go crazy and add everything for to long, I start to feel like general crap.
    We truly are little science experiments. I am glad I’m not alone in this. I also agree that the general “Paleo” diet does not work for everyone. We to have to personalize it. Thanks again for everything that you share!

  17. Thank you so much for this post! I found your blog yesterday and I am so happy to have finally found something like this. I have read all the well known paleo/primal info out there and have followed their ‘prescription’ to the T and still suffered from health issues. Now, just to clarify, I am not knocking those guys at all, in fact, just going paleo/primal helped immensely! It was just that style wasn’t enough for my health issues and I was really starting to feel like a lost cause. I appreciate this and will be starting my own experiment immediately!

  18. This is a great post, and I absolutely agree you have to find your own diet. One of the traditional food bloggers I read said today on facebook that among other things, she really believes grains are good for her–and I believe her. I’ve been taking a lot of mental notes over the past years and especially the past months, and I’ve noticed that while pasteurized dairy is poison to me, raw dairy is like medicine. I do well when I have a fair amount of veggies, only a little fruit, and what I consider to be a moderate amount of meat (about 3-6 oz a day, I would guess). I experimented with having more meat, and at first my body loved it, but after a while I could really tell that I needed to limit it. I could do with or without nuts. I think if I was well enough, soaked grains in small amounts would be totally fine, but since I’m working on my digestion, I’m keeping them out.

    I’m not going to doubt anyone that says they are thriving on some odd diet. They know their body way better than I do. I just think it would be great if people didn’t stick to one way of eating like it was their religion or something.

    • It’s understandable though, because when a person finds something that relieves so many years of pain or suffering they get pretty stoked about it. Or when certain foods causes so many problems they almost have to get religious about avoiding them. But usually in time people mellow out. :)

      • Yeah, true. I guess I mean like when they follow a diet plan because it sounds so convincing, rather than simply because they are feeling better.

        • Gotcha. Well, still I’ve been there. It’s like wishful thinking, no?

          • Oh, yeah, I can totally see why people would. I really just want everyone to find their path to health…and then not *assume* their path will fix someone else, too. That’s something I’ve struggled with…feeling like people are trying to get me to follow their path when I’m just trying to listen to my body and go with my instincts.

      • This article is somewhat older and I am just finding it. No Mistakes. I’ve struggled with FOOD RULES for most of my life. I love what you said about there really is NO way of eating that each person can follow. Believe me, I have tried every single diet that just MAY help me. Wanting someone, anyone to Tell me Exactly what, when, how much to eat. Sure, I get the food plans, then end up making up my own anyway. OR discounting what I was given to eat. Yet, when I ATTEMPT to make my own Food Plans, I end up not doing so well either. Those who understand Anorexia know it is a Disease of CONTROL for over 30 years. Not trusting what is placed on a Specific plan anyway. So it is the BEST to make up a plan that works for just ME is perfect. It is finding the exact amounts. I have pre diabetes, yes at Underweight, so I do watch all the carbs. I do like them, but not in the extreme. I have been craving more of a high Fat diet recently. I believe it is because I have been working out pretty hard a few times a week with a Trainer.I eat alot of the same foods over and over. I don’t have to think about it or obesses over it. Right now I need to gain around 8 pounds and I don’t think the scale should rule my life. Once I hit my goal, the Scale can leave. It is not something I want in my life. I just wanted to Thank you for sharing this article. Now to just figure out, How Much is ENOUGH to get the rest of my weight on. I like the thought process of this way of eating,as It seems that if one is eating Good Proteins, fats, veggies and some fruit, It works perfect. By the way, I have recent digestion problems with Gastritus and Dr. put me on Zantac, of course. My Diabetic MD said there may be reason why High Fat, High Protein diet works to take away this. Anyway, thanks for listening.

  19. Well I said. I agree 100%. Seriously.

  20. Awesome. I’ve been trying to catch up reading all your posts. I first found the one regarding your pregnancy. I’m 5 and a half months pregnant and I have been bad. I love paleo and low carb but while I’ve made sure to get in FCO, coconut oil, lots of beef, eggs, and mostly fruits as carbs I’ve had too much dairy in the form of lattes (mostly decaf but still so bad) and occasional splurges. I haven’t gained much though and no one can tell I’m pregnant.. I wanted to know your opinion on eliminating the fruit during pregnancy, did you eat low carb or did you eat fruits and veggies? I know you big on fats and meats etc. Also did your skin still go nuts, I’ve never had bad skin but pregnancy is taking its toll on my skin with breakouts and I feel like I am finding wrinkles?? Thanks much and I am a new fan! -amanda

    • Hi Amanda, I did not eat a very low carb diet while I was pregnant but I didn’t eat a very high carb diet either. I ate a decent amount of fruit (probably too much), sweet potatoes, and occasionally potatoes. My skin had always been nuts. It didn’t get any worse during pregnancy. My skin is fine now but I have to eat very carefully to maintain that. I basically followed Loren Cordain’s Paleo diet when I was pregnant. I don’t think there is one prescription though for a healthy diet, it just depends on the person. I don’t eat anymore the way I used to eat because I have found something that works better. But while I was pregnant I didn’t really experiment. I had just started the Paleo diet before I got pregnant, so I just followed the only version of Paleo that I knew of at the time.

  21. Thanks for the reply! Ok yeah my skin unfortunately is nuts.. But I’m sure the extra carbs and such I didn’t really eat before isn’t helping.. I’m going to do my best till the end..

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  27. I started having random diarrhea Jan. 2012 intermittently and it slowly got more and more frequent. After gallbladder scan, celiac test, h. pylori test, blood work testing enzymes, stool samples for parasites, and an endoscopy, everything came back normal and of course the GI diagnosed me with IBS and gave me Levsin, an antispasmatic. The IBS has slowly gotten better with diet changes, and Kefir intake. But I have had what seems to be reflux/Globus since August 2012. Some days are better than others, but it always seems to get worse after my evening meal. The levsin made the reflux worse, I’m assuming my already malfunctioning LES became for relaxed on the antispasmatic. I decided to try going Paleo at the beginning of this month (Nov) and then I stumbled onto your blog and it’s very possible that veggies bother me since I’ve been eating so much of them since all this began. I was drinking a lot of fresh juice (kale, beets, apples, carrots, celery, fennel, etc) but that I think was creating more gas for me. I’m interested in cutting everything out but meat, and then slowly adding things back in. I have a few questions. So, how long do you cut everything out for? Should I just eat fish and meats and nothing else at all to start out? And then how long do I wait after adding a new item before adding the next item to my diet? I’m just looking for some suggestions. I know you can’t really know what works for me, but a guideline would be helpful. Thanks!!!

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  29. I see this is an older post – but such a great one! I just wanted to share my latest food experiments…
    The goal has been to regain energy from pre-pregnancy, improve hormonal health, and PLEASE can I just lose these last few pounds on my backside already!?!
    Ahem. Excuse my kinda-sick-of-this. ness.
    But hey, recently I lost a couple of those pounds AND lengthened the luteal phase of my cycle by 2 days AND regained a lot of that energy back by taking most carbs (all grains and starches) out of my diet and replacing them with lots of fats like lard and tallow. A MAJOR success, right?
    Lately I have been feeling like I should take out dairy, something I have relied on a lot. I have a good feeling about it.
    I would love to read a post about your experience with your cycle health during your journey, if that interests you.
    Anyway, thanks for this post. It’s encouraging that there are other people who have to go through all this work to get healthy. It sure takes persistence. I had no idea so many hours of my life would go towards the “what should I eat” question!

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