Live Blogging from the Paleo Summit I: Mark Sisson

Link:  Mark Sisson


☼ ☼ ☼    Entertainment Value
☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼  Content
☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼  Informational Accuracy
☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼  Overall

It is fair to say that of all the paleo/LC folks with whom I have disagreements with on the substance of their message, Mark Sisson is probably the most enjoyable personality to listen to.  If you know nothing about paleo/primal, this is a good overview of the basics.  If you're familiar with Primal Blueprint at all, there's nothing new here.  The interview is more notable for what it is missing -- any major emphasis on excessive carbohydrate consumption (no carbohydrate curve), minimal mentions of insulin and no mention of fat being locked away.  Not too many overt factual errors or misrepresentations of the science.  Most of all this interview and other recent ones demonstrate Mark's ability to adjust his marketing pitch to the tune of what's going on out there.   His transition has been so smooth as to be almost unnoticeable.  The hot thing these days is the "fat burning metabolism", and Mark's a master at capitalizing on that.

  • Lays out principles clearly and concisely
  • Gives valid reasons for why grains are to be avoided in his opinion
  • Not overly "orthorexic" about hard and fast rules -- you get the feeling he pretty much means it when he says to tweak the plan for your needs
  • Espouses principles with widespread agreement even amongst non-paleo types:  that processed foods, seed oils, sugar, additives, and industrialized foods are bad for us.  Only veggie oils would be controversial on that list with some.
  • Doesn't harp on carbohydrates per se as fattening
  • Says we shouldn't overly romanticize paleolithic man
  • Doesn't support unlimited eating of nuts 
  • Touts fruits as "natures Gatorade" for athletes
  • I love the PLAY angle.  (but you don't have to be paleo to get this!)
  • No right or wrong foods.  No black or white.  Views food on a spectrum
  • No good reason to make grains the basis of your diet.  I agree! (with my emphasis added, however)
  • Despite what seems like disagreement coming through in his tone of voice, Sisson seems to embrace carbs in the form of starchy veggies and even rice.
  • The new sctick of humans being born fat burners, obligate fat burners, etc.etc. is not supported by science.  We're actually born obligate glucose burners if anything (will be blogging on this soon)
  • He provides values for gluconeogenesis and carbohydrate requirements during ketosis that I've yet to see in the scientific literature.  Specifically that in ketosis our glucose needs go down to 60-80g/day while we produce 150g/day by GNG. 
  • No major discussion of O6:O3 PUFA ratio that is pretty inherent in the paleo/primal community
  • PUFA inconsistency:  Almonds are slightly below macadamias but contain a lot more omega 6's.  According to his website, 1/4c = >4000 mg O6 ... that's a lot of O3 supplements to even things out.  Also lists lard first for cooking fat.
  • Tags fruits as fattening because of fructose content and not a good idea for weight loss. 
  • Mentions but doesn't really discuss sun exposure much
  • Ditto stress, though he does incorporate that with the discussion of having fun
  • REALLY didn't like the condescending chuckle when the topic of safe starches came up.
  • Blanket prescription that everyone should avoid wheat.  This ignores billions of people who consume the grain to no ill effects.
  • Makes the claim that grains are incompatible with the GI tract.  This is not supported by historical observations.  
  • No mention of cheese pro or con.  This is a big omission for an introductory interview
  • Rationale for dairy is sketchy (see further comments)
  • Anti-legume arguments are a bit over the top.  Castor beans contain the agent of bioterrorism ricin?  C'mon Mark!  Legumes damage the liver and lead to infertility? (see further comments)
  • No mention of MUFA specifically.  I realize this was an introductory interview, but something about these fats would have been nice.
Additional Comments:  (mostly in chronological order of the interview)
  • I take issue a bit with this whole fitness = sacrificing health thing.  Come on.  If one is striving to elite levels of a sport, I'm not naive enough to believe that sacrifices in terms of long term health are not made for optimizing current performance -- ahem, steroids.  But Mark says he was so decrepit by age 30 -- IBS, osteoarthritis, chronic respiratory infections, tendonitis -- that he limped away from the sport.  I can't imagine he could have maintained any sort of competitive standing if he was that unhealthy.  He was a fast, distance runner.  Somehow I doubt that all elite runners are sacrificing their health to such an extreme or they simply would not be able to perform.  And frankly, where running is concerned, I'd look far more to abusing one's physical form with repetitive pounding than diet for some of his problems.  Bottom line, there's a huge difference between training for hundreds of endurance events over a decade and hopping on a treadmill for 3-4 hours a week.  Being athletic and training doesn't mean being unhealthy.  I think a lot of folks listen to Mark who have never been athletic and think gee, I don't want to do any "cardio" that's just old-style harmful exercise.  Mistake!  I'm thinking "long and slow" for Mark is like an hour at an 8 min mile pace, if that slow.
  • Mark mentions our "factory setting" is to be fit and healthy.  This ignores the huge variability seen in ALL human populations, including, I'm sure, paleolithic humans.
  • Mark's Credentials:  Mark has a degree in biology!  At a school where "evolutionary perspective guides all areas of the curriculum".  Of course this liberal arts program (BA) only stongly encourages its bio majors to take two semesters of chemistry and to take calculus and physics.  Just a FWIW if you're going to let Mark Sisson be your teacher on matters of human metabolism and biochemistry ... (more later)
  • Mark mentions thousands of lengthy testimonials complete with photos, etc.  Now I wonder, why then don't we have a PWCR (Primal Weight Control Registry) or POHR (Optimized Health)?  Later in the interview he returns to this growing community of blogs and forums etc.etc.  And all of these folks who have transformed their lives.  Look ... I don't doubt this is true!  But I also don't doubt there's a bit of self selection and lack of accountability.  And yet still, there's this anecdotal database of evidence he discusses that could be legitimized.  Why do we have only one success story a week on MDA?  Where are the updates on all of these folks?  
  • Paleolithic = Humans prior to 200 years ago?  You mean George Washington was paleo?  Wowzers!!
  • Mark rightly says we should be careful not to overly romanticize the caveman/caveman diet.  Awwww c'mon Mark!  What, if not a romanticized fictional character, is Grok?  
  • I found the semi-sociopolitical discussions of agriculture unnecessary but interesting.  But this highlights the fallacy of even approximating the total lifestyle.  We simply are not nomadic.  A trip to the farmer's market is hardly hunting.  But the bigger chink in the paleo armor mostly comes from paleo advocates themselves.  We here statistics like prior to 1915 deaths from cardiovascular disease were virtually unheard of.  By my math, that's less than a 100 years ago ... Agriculture has spawned and sustained huge populations of humans, some with quite impressive records for longevity and absence of disease.  If we're going to go "there" with the sociopolitical arguments, a case for being able to sustain even a sizable portion of the current human population on a PB-based diet is slim to none.
  • Note to TWICHOOBS:  Note Sissons insulin reference about grains and how they "tend" to store fat.  Quite toned down from that 151st gram of carb causing insidious weight gain!
  • Sisson's discussion of dairy is nothing but plain and simple rationalization.  Dairy is the basic distinguishing point between paleo and primal camps where the latter allow it, the former only ghee if at all for the purists.  I was surprised that Mark didn't mention cheese or fermented dairy which seems to be the darling of the lactopaleos.  His rationale begins with the fact that we are born with the ability to process dairy -- e.g. mother's milk -- and the lactose in it.  But the fact of the matter is some of us lose this ability as we age.  My cat was born with the ability to process his mom's milk but can't drink cow's milk.  This is a silly argument.  It is one of the things I disagree with Paul Jaminet about -- infant food macros being a template for the ideal human adult dietary macros.  The needs of an infant are drastically different than even a toddler, let alone an adult.  Next up Mark cites how paleo humans ate the organs and fat from their kill and tended to leave the meat if anything.  Yes, the Inuit, from which the vast majority of us can trace our genetic lineage, would feed their carnivorous dogs upon which they relied the meat and preferentially eat the organs and fat.  And so we're to imagine that paleo dude not only had a ready supply of avian and reptile embryos to eat (eggs) without wiping out the species, but they also managed to make regular meals of lactating animals with milk-swollen glands.  My BS meter goes to about half with this stuff.  Look.  Justify dairy on a basis of it's nutritional value and human adaptation to its consumption.  Don't rationalize it on tenuous beliefs.
  • Mark seems to had a special problem with legumes (so it was odd that he didn't point out peanuts are legumes when he mentioned nuts).  It was interesting how he mentioned beans being a big part of "ethnic" foods and he seemed to stress their toxicity strongly.  The ricin mention, previously cited, bears repeating.  That's Mercola-land type stuff there.  But what caught my ear, since he brought up "ethnic" dishes containing legumes was that these foods are linked apparently to liver damage and infertility.  Infertility?  Really?  Ummm ... last I checked, most of those ethnicities who eat legumes tend to be rather populous.  Next he mentions flatulence as evidence that we don't digest legumes well.  Tis true, we don't digest the fibers, but legumes are rich in soluble fibers that gut bacteria thrive on producing butyrate amongst other SCFA's.  Butyrate is beneficial to intestinal health.  Yes, gas is produced.  It may not be socially desired, but gas production is evidence of soluble fiber fermentation.  It is also worth mentioning that gas production is more a function of the nature of your gut flora and less a function of the "food" you feed them.
  • We agree that saturated fats are not the cause of heart disease.  But this "efficient fat burner" stuff is wearing thin with me already.  If you skip a meal eating paleo, you are "eating" a high saturated fat meal according to Mark.  Because we store fat as sat fat, so when we burn body fat we burn sat fat, so based on this, sat fats might not only be "not bad" for us, but actually good.  Well ... not entirely.  The sat fat content of human body fat is 35-40%.  Also, longer chain unsaturated fatty acids are preferentially mobilized from adipose tissue stores so your NEFA "meal" is likely even lower in saturated fat than that.  I'm not trying to say sat fats are bad, only let's not go into woo woo land every time we feel the need to white knight for Princess Palmitate.  Indeed Sisson himself does remind us that his own diet is not "wickedly high" in sat fats, only that he doesn't shy away from them.  Me too, me too!
  • Coconuttiness:  The whole coconut oil mania is getting a bit much for me.  First of all, this is not a paleolithic food.  Coconuts may have been in certain climates to some degree, but coconut oil ... NOT.  Same with palm oil.  Whenever I hear of adding it to one's diet, putting it in coffee?  blech!  I just gotta think that unless someone is doing so for therapeutic reasons this is coconuttiness.  CO is not a "sat fat" as we think of them, although CO and palm oil did get bad reps in movie theater popcorn and chocolates and such because of being saturated.  But yes, even some of the vegans are on the coconut oil bandwagon.  It doesn't contain a huge amount of LCSFA so to compare it with beef fat and the like is disingenuous.  CO has it's place, it's a fat that may be paleolithic in origin, but cavemen didn't fry anything, let alone just about everything in it.
  • Sisson talks a bit about the small studies on the diet and is looking forward to some long term studies that might convince the hold-outs.  I'll tell you what.  I mentioned it before, and I'll do it again.  You supposedly have a lot of data.  Vast anecdotal data base.  When's that registry getting started?
  • Telling line:  Once you get past the indoctrination it's the easiest thing to maintain ...
  • In terms of PUFA Sisson only discusses the potential bad of O6 and good of O3's but in very general terms.  When he talks of sat fats he is careful to mention that they comprise your cell membranes -- we need them.  But he forgets, apparently that the other components of our cell membranes are both the O3 and O6 PUFA.  Not only that, we can't make those, hence the designation EFA.  One can't have it both ways.  If SFA are important for building cell structure, then so are EFA, and the fact that we don't need a whole lot of EFA only means that we don't really need a whole lot of SFA either.  Consistency please!  
  • For the love of fruit!  Man, don't diss the fruit!!  I gotta say, when I added fruit back to my diet I felt soooo much better.  I did it after not having but a few bites of melon for over two years because of ..... Mark Sisson's Primal Blueprint!  And I actually lost a few pounds at the time after a long long stall.  Having a bowl of fruit isn't going to help weight loss?  Tell that to Alton Brown.  And quite frankly if sat fat is so grand, then if fructose is converted to fat, isn't that a good thing for the fat burners?  After all, no insulin spike!  
  • Why the "slather" when talking eating his veggies.  Sorry Mark.  Sooo not paleo.  If our ancestors foraged for fiberous non-caloric non-digestible foods and shunned starchy ones (doubtful), one thing we can all be sure of, they weren't having them steamed with a pat of butter -- let alone slathered, or with "lashings" as the Brits like to say.  Eat lots of veggies, but you can't possibly eat too much if you add lots of butter?  Makes no sense. 
  • Safe Starches:  The snicker turned my stomach.  He can't take it back ... and it was what I call telling "voicey language" (since we are not privy to the video of the body language & facial expressions).  What was more interesting was the grudging acceptance of them "in moderation", but somehow reserved for athletes.  This really pisses me off.  Mr. move like a caveman, and play vs. workout should know better than anyone that "athlete" is a very loose term.  My husband is very active at work yet he hasn't worked out in over a decade.  So is he allowed to eat carbs?  All of those people discouraged from doing "chronic cardio" now have to skip all the carbs as a result too, right?  They're only good for refilling glycogen stores.  Well, all but those in a chronically overfed state have stores at far from sub-maximal levels.  Let's get a little real.  (Can't wait for Nora on this one!)
  • Sisson now goes on to launch his "efficient fat burner" schtick.  I guess it's understandable coming from a nutrition/fitness POV in the 80's/90's, but I don't recall reading the 5-6 small meals a day advice as being for the purpose of not cannibalizing my muscle in between.  It was more to avoid hunger (sound familiar) so one wouldn't overeat at the next meal.  So now the LC "fat burners" go on and on about how they are never hungry and can go all day without food.  I would have bought into this a couple of years ago when I was very low carb, but not anymore.  Because now I eat when I'm hungry and make sure to get some protein in any meal.  The result is that I often eat just one meal a day and I don't give a dang what anyone says about skipping breakfast, etc.  On the breakfast thing (different interview) I agree, it's not an important meal.  But now ...
  • Sisson drifts wide into making-shit-up lane with is fat burning metabolism, obligate fat burner, we only need 60-80g glucose/day in deep ketosis but make 150g/day from gluconeogenesis land.  I've never seen such numbers.  If you're going to stay light on the science, stay light.  Don't mix it up with BS.  For all the "wicked empowering"-ness of fat burning, I guess Mark only reads the posts of those who are so empowered, and doesn't bother to notice those who don't thrive on such a regime.  
  • Mark seems agitated when he says he gets sick of the arguments that paleo humans died young.  He states avg lifespan in the 30's.  But he says (rightly I suppose) that if one survives infancy and infectious disease and peril of the hunt, you had a good chance of joining the hunt at 70.  Nah .... no romanticizing there, eh?   I probably agree with Rosedale here, paleo is inconsistent with longevity.  Which is why it's odd he favors much the same diet as Sisson.
  • Sisson states that everyone could benefit from paleo.  I would say that everyone can benefit from reducing SAD foods from their diet.  The jury is way out for the low carb version of paleo.  
  • I really enjoyed the discussion of play.  It's what I miss the most from my youth because I played all manner of sports.  Competition is fun, teamwork, making that awesome shot, serve, dig, etc.  Nailing the bar routine.  There is nothing more fun than flipping through the air and I miss that.  Mark talks about how it is easier to maintain "the guns" and such than folks think.  BINGO Mark.  Key word *maintain*.  You were a professional elite athlete for a good long time and in the fitness industry hard core for a long time before you stopped all that bad exercise and adopted your current regime.  Mark claims his abs come from PB when in fact he likely developed them long ago, is an ectomorph (hint:  you can't have a 6-pack w/o very low fat on the stomach, period) and still does isometric contractions (just don't call it ab-work).  So this whole notion that eating primal is 80% of what you'll need to achieve that for yourself is a bit much.
  • A big pet peeve:   "Once you get rid of the processed carbs and the sugars, your insulin levels will moderate and come back down to normal levels and your appetite will self-regulate".  A vestige of TWICHOO there.  Guess it was to be expected, but it is not reality for most who have ever been obese and a goodly number of those who have been overweight.  Those success stories are few and far between.  Which is not to say that is the fault of the diet, but promises of some "mindless" self-regulation are wildly optimistic.
  • We learn that Mark eats a bit differently from his sample menu.  Gone is the teaspoon of sugar in his coffee (sorry glycogen stores, you must wait).  In the previous interview with Sean he had halibut for lunch and steak & veggies for dinner.  This time it's sea bass with veggies for lunch, ribeye and salad for dinner.  This sounds like ... not a lot of food.  I find it outrageous that he claims that "it's amazing to think that's a healthy dish" referring to his miso and ginger sea bass with broccoli and asparagus meal.  Umm ... what planet is he living on where that's not a healthy meal?  Only veggies would object!  If his other menu was ~2500 cal/day, it seems he's down around 2000 cal/day now.  Just saying.
  • Commercialism:  Of course the interview ended with plugs for the books.  That's all fine and good.  But then they discuss how in 6 months you will be able to become certified in coaching PB!  That too is all fine and good.  But in a claim rivaling GT's GCBC=3PhD thesis gem, Mark says the online course will be the equivalent of a 300 level college course!  Oh my.  His alma mater has a 100 level course on the whole Human Genome offered by the Bio department.

Final Thoughts:
From my perspective, this interview is more remarkable for what is missing than what is said.  By that I mean that insulin is mentioned a couple of times, but there's little mention (fructose excepted) of the whole "carbs turn to fat" mantra.  There's no carbs spike insulin trapping fat in your cells, starving cells and all that.  The fat-burning stuff mentions ketosis, etc., but there's no talk of carb burning shutting down fat burning per se.  It's more an eat fat/burn fat approach than a game of hormone ouija.  Mark is personable and looks the part.  He's also a master at marketing and branding.  Hat's off to him, but that doesn't excuse misappropriating science for that purpose.  For all the talk about whole foods and all this and that, here is the screen shot of the Paleo Summit page:
And there you have it folks.  Sisson says his company is moving in an educational direction.  But not-so-fast!  Remember always that the whole thing is about branding and marketing and selling supplements.  And after discussing the evolution and avoiding sugar and even fruits and whatever else in the end, "this episode of PaleoSummit bought to you for 24 hours by:  Primal Fuel(Ingredients:  Whey Protein Isolate, Coconut Milk, Inulin (from artichoke), Guar Gum, Sucrose, Cocoa Powder, Natural Flavors, Maltodextrin, Sodium Caseinate, Kelp Plant Extract, Stevia Leaf Extract).    Such a great deal this Primal Fuel is too.  Two scoops contain a whopping 20g protein (1 scoop of my Jarrow contains 18g) and 11g carbs -- 5 of which are, aaackk!, sugar!!  The rest is fat from dried coconut milk.  This stuff ain't cheap folks!  It's $80 for 30 day supply -- for less than 200 calories of daily nutrition.  But it's got only the highest quality ingredients.  Except it's not quite sweet enough without artificial sweeteners, so Sisson opted for a smidgeon of sucrose, and coconut milk powder doesn't make itself and stay powdery without a bulking/anti-caking agent so the maltodextrin just can't be helped. The excuses went on.  
It's just too sadly fitting that the opening of Paleo Summit is sponsored by the antithesis of paleolithic life:  the refined food, industrial-ingredient containing, sugar sweetened, dairy-derived, liquid protein shake.   just don't add fruit if you want to lose weight :(

Good for an intro for newbies, a pleasant listen for others. Catch it if you can for free, it's certainly not "upgrade worthy". Nothing there you can't learn from an equal time spent on Mark's blog.  


Thomas said…
"It's just too sadly fitting that the opening of Paleo Summit is sponsored by the antithesis of paleolithic life: the refined food, industrial-ingredient containing, sugar sweetened, dairy-derived, liquid protein shake."

So true. It should bother the hardcore paleo folk out there but I think Sission is a bit untouchable as he seems to be somewhat of a "paleo prophet" amongst the paleo congregation.

A certified Primal Blueprint coach? That is too much! Note to all who are thinking of taking the course-be prepared to not make your course money back in coaching revenue. It's pie in the sky.

If anything, I admire Mark for his business acumen. Also, he seems to practice what he preaches, which is a big deal.
elrajajo said…
This is too good Evelyn! I simply can't wait for the rest. It's funny that Durianrider chose to take a pop at Mark recently also - I don't think he's come out of either encounters too well. Sad really, he seemed to have so much integrity when I first came across this stuff :(
Awesome review. As an aside, IMO, Paul Jaminet makes a better case wrt infant food macros related to adult macros in his talk with Sean than they did in the book. It's still conjecture, but it makes a lot more sense to me than it did.
Sue said…
This is great Evelyn. I couldn't be bothered listening to all the interviews that are coming up.
Sue said…
Did he not mention the book on leptin he is supposedly writing with Kruse?
CarbSane said…
Oh Lordie help us if he does! Grok leaves a primal butt print on the levee? Primal Leptinade? Oy!!
CarbSane said…
Thanks Beth! I look forward to it.

I think when I post about late gestation/newborn metabolism it will make more sense why the "born fat burner" thing got to me. It's something I just came across.
CarbSane said…
Yep ... already got the "well he's how many discover paleo" and "whatcha complaining about an ad, you got a free edjumacation didn't ya" responses on Paleo Hacks. He does walk the walk at least ... but in a way I kinda doubt he takes all the supplements and stuff he sells.
CarbSane said…
Thanks! The Durianrider supplement Youtube video is harsh but true. All of his stuff is way overpriced. I recall someone on Jimmy's forum being happy her husband would take the packet of pills/capsules and didn't have to deal with jars. OK. I'm not the most organized person on the planet but even I can make little supplement "packs" for a few weeks at a time and open and close a few jars to do it. If you're eating nutrient dense foods then you shouldn't need so many supps.
Unknown said…
I so appreciate that you're doing this. In the middle of a big work crunch and really want to follow the whole thing but probably won't have time. I listened to this one and Sanfilippo, and agree with what you say--thanks for taking the time to put it out there.
Tonus said…
An enjoyable read. I also chuckle at the implication that there is this mass of people who are enjoying success with a certain lifestyle or diet or eating plan, but there is no attempt at verification. So close, and yet so far.

Regarding the six meals per day reasoning, I did that type of diet several years ago. I recall that the idea behind it (from what I read at the time, anyway) is that since it takes the body two-to-three hours to digest a meal (at which point your body would begin to cannibalize muscle) the ideal approach was to eat another meal just as your body was finishing up with the previous one. I have no idea if that is true or not, but it's what I remember as the reason for the "six meals a day, every three-ish hours" approach.

The most tangible benefit was that I went through the day without hunger and without that heavy feeling you can get after a big meal, since the meals were generally pretty small (~300-500 cals each). But the meal frequency is inconvenient for someone with a 9-to-5 job, and I relied on protein bars and meal-replacement bars for some of the meals. Back in the early/mid-00s these bars were not very tasty. I managed to find some that were kinda palatable, but in general if it tasted like dried cardboard, it was in the top 10% of taste.

The irony being that one of the things they used (and still use now) for flavor is maltodextrin. And my stomach does not, er... stomach sugar alcohols very much. The discomfort was a small price to pay at the time because my normal diet didn't do me much better. It wasn't until I made changes in '09 that I suddenly remembered what it was like to not have a stomach ache most days.