Primal Certification? Are You Kidding?

I was half paying attention to the FatBurningMan podcast interview when I heard Mark Sisson state he was starting a Primal Certification program. You’ve got to be kidding me. Has it come to this? I made a joke on this blog in August 2010 that we would see a Paleo certification. It was a joke!

From Where the Paleo Message is Failing:

It is probably just a matter of time before paleo eating becomes more widespread, but part of me thinks the failing message is the fault of the paleo blogging community. What started as a simple message of returning to a diet from our evolutionary past has become an industry. Books, seminars, DVDs and even conventions. What is next? Paleo certification. :roll:

Wasn’t the entire point of Paleo was that it was simple? The gurus of Paleo told us that by rejecting Neolithic poisons, getting plenty of rest, and exercising sensibly we’d be better off. Makes sense to me. When did it get so complicated that we needed certification to share such a simple message?


Photo by Pascal

When I think of paying for certification, I think of database knowledge. Having someone pass a test to prove they have some level of competence before you hand over the keys to the corporate database kind of makes sense.

But, Paleo certification? Really?

This just reeks of hucksterism. Up until now, I have had tremendous respect for Mark Sisson. I still think the Primal Blueprint is the best book written on Paleo, but this isn’t rocket science. We don’t need Paleo or Primal certifications. If it is easy enough for a caveman, then it should be easy enough for us.

Maybe I am wrong about this certification? I did a quick search to see if anyone else shares my opinion and found nothing. Am I alone here?


Add yours

  1. I’m completely with you on this one, MAS. We don’t need any ‘authority’ to identifiy what is paleo and what isn’t and we don’t need any certification body. Sisson himself frequently mentions that the paleo ‘line in the sand’ is different for different folks and there are no absolutes on our approach to this lifestyle.

    I like Mark and his site for the most part. But you have to remember that he is running a business and on occasion, with this certification and his supplements he pushes for sure, he is putting his own business self-interests ahead of doing what’s right for the paleo community.

  2. you are not alone. i share this sentiment.

    on the other hand, robb wolf, mark sisson, and chris kresser as just a few high profile examples have put a TON of work into providing a lot of very good free content. they are now trying to capitalize on the market they helped create. it is what it is. i think there are people out there with money to burn who spend $200/month going to crossfit and probably spent $1000 to go to some crossfit cert. they also spend $5-$10/day on their coffees and $400+ on car payments/month. those are the people who buy this stuff.

    i myself, i get books from the library, borrow from friends ;), and gain knowledge from talking with people more experienced than me. much can be gained for free or very cheaply with a bit of effort. of course, some people don’t think they have time for that.

  3. This post is so right-on. I’ve been bitching about this for months. It’s gone from “hey everyone, I have some great knowledge to share” to “hey everyone, pay for this, or that, or this.” Has anyone heard of Jonny Bowden? He’s another low-carb guru. If you’re bored, google his site where he has a video on the front page. This video is the PERFECT example of how many, if not most, of these guys operate. The NEVER GET TO THE POINT. First they say they have the answer, but then we take a 10 minute detour into his past. Finally you think the info is coming. It ain’t. There’s no pause button on the video. No fast forward. I sat through this stupid video only for the “payoff” to be: eat more fat and protein and less carbs. Additionally, you guessed it, he’s selling boatloads of nonsense that we can buy.

    Another thing: webinars. Can someone tell me what the fuck constitutes a webinar? I heard one over a 10 day period last summer. It was the host interviewing people. THIS is a webinar? And I’m sick of these guys with their lawyer-like talk. The host would say “next up on the stage is…” STAGE??? The dude is on the fucking phone with you, liar.

    I find Chris Kresser to be more reputable, but in the past two years he did the following: 1) Authored a blog post entitled “Throw away your multivitamins and supplements” and 2) Started selling MULTIVITAMINS AND SUPPLEMENTS with Robb Wolf at a cost of $50 for 90 pills.

    I’m pretty much down to Gary Taubes as someone who only writes and sells books. REAL BOOKS. Not this “e-book” bullshit. And he doesn’t hawk anything else. And while I’m at it, these guys are now coming off like used car salesman. Have you ever shopped at the department store Kohls? You know how they artificially inflate their prices and then say you’re getting something like 80% off. Are they saying this half-ass sweatshirt is NORMALLY 79 dollars but they are marking it down to 25?

    Lastly, regarding Mark Sisson, I don’t know why, but I’ve always thought he comes off like an arrogant prick. Ever read his “tips”? Holy shit they sound preachy. Shit like “jump around more.” STFU

  4. “Maybe I am wrong about this certification? I did a quick search to see if anyone else shares my opinion and found nothing. Am I alone here?”

    No but I think that most people who would be offended have already left the fold. Maybe I’ll post this on PaleoDrama since I know how much you secretly love that blog.

  5. i work in the IT business in which people are expecting more and more to be free. we have google to thank for that. our products and services are not right for every business. neither is google right for other businesses. there are ways for intelligent people to do things well on the cheap. it does take time and effort to gain the knowledge necessary. but much of it can be gained for free or for very cheap.

    bottom line is, no one has to spend money on things they don’t want to. except maybe taxes and car insurance….and eventually health insurance.

    paleo is a simple concept IF you can blindly accept what we’ve been told all our lives is wrong. if you cannot accept that, it takes research and learning to eventually come to the conclusion that fat won’t kill you and make you obese and whole grains are not the base of a great diet.

  6. I don’t have an issue with someone giving away free information and then later trying to monetize their expertise. But when the information at its very core is YOU DON’T EXPERTS then you’ve painted yourself into a corner. Becoming a greater expert in Paleo doesn’t yield greater benefits, in fact I’ve seen it makes many people more neurotic and stressed.

    Maybe I should offer a competing a No Nonsense Paleo Certification for $1? 🙂

  7. Good point about Google spoiling us. I do agree. I don’t agree with simply stating, “you don’t have to spend your money.” Of course you don’t. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t call bullshit on stuff like this. That’s the beauty of technology in 2013. We’ve pulled back the curtain on stuff like this. If everyone who had a problem with something just said, “well, I don’t HAVE to buy it”, no one would be pushed to do things better.

  8. It is less a symptom of problems within Paleo than it is a necessity in dealing with an apeshit modern culture.

    For those wishing to devote their livelihoods to Paleo endeavors, certifications are an unfortunate reality. It helps legitimize us in the sea of all the CW noise. It also protects Sisson’s particular brand of advice and allows others to use those tools without stepping on copyright law. It might help erase the suspicion outsiders feel in engaging with this topic.

    For example, I am hoping to get certified as a MovNat trainer this year. I am already leading friends through workout sessions that utilize the skills, but I cannot call it MovNat and I can’t charge for classes without some claim to legitimacy. It sucks, but that’s reality.

    I too am cynical about all the money-grubbing and trademark wrangling going on, but also understand its necessity. There will be many who come and go through this whole Paleo thing, and those of us who understand the foundation and the simplicity will be the ones to truly integrate it and live it.

  9. @brian
    my opinion is there is a sucker born every minute. there are many rich suckers out there who will spend money on the latest trend to be part of the cool click. many of these same people who will not be doing paleo 6 months after their “Cert”.

    i have tried to distance myself from paleo drama. to each their own but i am not gonna let it occupy my mind or my time. in fact, i’ve spent too much time on it today.

  10. @Chuck

    I hear ya. As you can see from my first post, I have NOT distanced myself! It’s funny because this topic has been fresh on my mind lately and when MAS posted it, I couldn’t type fast enough.

  11. It’s the same concept the drug barons use. Create a demand by offering your stuff for free, then once that demand has been established, start charging at premium prices, and create more products to create further need. I discovered Mark Sisson via his exercise advice, which I still regard as sound, plenty of activity / slow movement, resistance training, and prudent sprinting / HIIT work. It was his rejection of traditional cardio and the reasons for it, which caught my eye, and initially led to his site. Once there I was put off by some of the more esoteric advice, and I couldn’t get on board fully with the Paleo eating thing. I’m with Go Kaleo and Franny Goodritch on this. Whatever happened to sensible ,sane eating? Your mother’s advice, which was free, that a little of what you fancy, and everything in moderation, wouldn’t steer you far wrong. As a species we were designed to ADAPT, which we do better than any other species, both to environments and dietary circumstances. We’ve done it so well, without advice that we have more or less populated most of the Earth’s land surface, with all it’s different dietary offerings. I also found mpeople on the site quite cultish in their views, a bit like Crossfit, another certified program, charging hundred’s. And that also put me off.
    There was circuit training before Crossfit, and there was sensible eating before Paleo. Unfortunately too many people are looking for there own niche in order to make money. Mr Sisson seems to be producing more and more largely unnecessary stuff, in order to maintain an income. He has also started to indulge in the internet “pyramid” type scheme, where various internet entrepreneurs promote each others wares and services. He’s not the first. I noticed Art DeVany’s web site was initially free, but then became subscription only, as he got more interest, and started writing more books.
    Michael, when it comes to Paleo and Crossfit certification…..( even certification to be a mainstream Personal Trainer is a complete rip off in my opinion…I’d rather they charged less, but made the qualification much tougher to get )….then I’m with you and Hitler on this one…

  12. Far be it from be to be seen as defending CrossFit, but certification there makes total sense. The exercises used require a high skill component. You can really hurt yourself or a client if you use poor form doing a movement.

    Maybe in Sisson’s defense it was just a matter of time before SOMEONE offered a Paleo Certification and he had the Primal Cajones to be first.

  13. ….I see your point about Crossfit certification….but you know what they say about a little knowledge being a dangerous thing…..A weekend course to coach Olympic lifting? That sounds half assed to me, and perhaps more dangerous than no one doing Olympic lifting due to lack of any identified “instruction”. Most Olympic lifting coaches are trained over years…NOT a few days…..would you feel safe being instructed in driving by someone who had only just passed their test?
    As for Mr Sisson…I see your point there too. But just because he beat everyone else to the punch, it doesn’t make it ethically or morally right.

  14. This is ridiculous, but it’s also a symptom of the widespread epidemic of the “certification” nonsense that we see in the fitness industry. There are tons and tons of overpriced certifications and very little actual hand’s on application or mentoring. People take a weekend course and leave with something they can throw on their resume. The reality is that they probably still know very little.

    Anyway MAS, I think you hit the nail on the head when you said it probably won’t lead a greater benefit.

  15. charles grashow

    Feb 27, 2013 — 1:19 pm

    Paleo has jumped the shark – it’s now official

    Question – what will someone do with this “certificate” when they get it??

    Question – who will the instructors be for this “intensive, college-level course designed for passionate students who have decent exposure to the Primal Blueprint philosophy from reading books and Internet content.”

  16. @charles I actually debated using ‘jump the shark’ in my post!

  17. Nikki, Charles……my thoughts exactly.
    The question is, despite what you put in your mouth, will you now be deemed as not eating Paleo unless you are certified? And what CAN you do with these certificates once you’ve got them. You probably cannot use them to teach others “the wisdom”, because to achieve “the wisdom” they cannot come to you, instead they have to pay their money and go to the source in order to become certified too. So in essence they seem to be worthless bits of paper that cost money to obtain.

  18. On Facebook, I said:

    “Paleo jumped the shark…on a stand up paddle board. ” 🙂

  19. Fakename McFartSimple

    Feb 27, 2013 — 6:43 pm

    What in the world am I going to do with this silly certification? Haul it out to bolster my side in internet arguments?

  20. I’m going to start demanding that any certificate I see has been notarized…a certification for a certificate if you will.

  21. I just heard yesterday about the Oregon and Washington Regional USA Yoga Asana Championship (yoga competition???!!??) and now this. I feel the earth shuddering on its axis!

    But the crazy thing is the certification will probably be quite popular – just like the yoga competition probably is!!

  22. (1) This has been in the making since last Spring. College level class? That term is meaningless in this context.

    (2) MAS & Charles, yes, it has and on a surf board on its tip, is the fastest way to the bottom of the ocean 😉

    (3) Robb Wolf has actually been involved in a college cert program (it is NOT a degree).

    (4) MAS, I respectfully disagree about Primal Blueprint.

  23. I wonder if some day, maybe thousands of years from now, there will be a Neolithic Certification program

  24. Hello, I am offering a high-school level certification course in Paleo for those who do not to jump right into the college level course.

    My course only costs $199 and only takes 30 minutes of your time, and when you complete it you will receive a certificate with an embossed gold seal on it.

  25. I think it’s human nature to go this direction. Parkour was supposed to not be competitive, but now they have competitions, because people are like that. And I just finished listening to a series of 24 interviews of hypnotists. Some of them offer at-home certification courses that replicate what you would learn over a weekend intensive, for a few hundred dollars. And there appear to be tons of different organizations of hypnotists, rather than a single standard like medical licencing, or clinical psychologists, etc. It doesn’t make sense to me, but then hypnosis doesn’t really do anything for me anyways. I did get a deal on the self-help course to end all self-help courses, so that was ok. (I think The Hypnosis Event was intended partly to unify the field somewhat.)

    I think there are advantages to offering local coaching of brand name healthy-living systems, that you might be able to find at a local gym, for example. If it’s a brand name system, you know what you’re getting, like the way there are different schools of yoga, or martial arts, and you can switch from one coach to another without a huge loss in continuity, or find a new system to try more easily. And it gives new coaches a framework to start with. They then end up certified in half a dozen systems of primal/paleo/natural movement/cold acclimatization/etc.etc.etc. which they can then mix and match for their clients. And you’d be paying them for their experience coaching people, not a particular certificate.

    And there will always be rebels who insist on making their own mix instead of going with ready-packaged. This way it will be more rebellious!

    And I’m going to be honest. After reading Sarno and Gabor Mate, I’ve started to wonder whether the paleo solution to today’s health problems is effective because it works on a purely physical plane, or because it fits with today’s mindset, where people get certain illnesses because of cultural norms, like the ulcer trend then the backache trend that Sarno talked about, then gravitate to particular cures to resolve them. If paleo is a cure for a psychogenic suite of illnesses, it will crash at some point because it doesn’t address the underlying causes. (Although a paleo lifestyle that encourages healthier parenting may prevent future problems.)

    But this does bring up the question again of whether popcorn is primal/paleo. 🙂

  26. I think the essential elements of a healthy lifestyle can be explained in relatively few pages – a pamphlet, rather than a long text book. That simplicity means it is hard to make a living or a build career around selling this kind of information. But if you can make it seem complex, then you have a product: books explaining the details, seminars, weekend retreats, instructional DVD’s, certification programs, teaching people how to make their own careers out of spreading the message, etc.

  27. “Maybe I should offer a competing a No Nonsense Paleo Certification for $1?”

    Well I’LL be offering a “Less-Than-No-Nonsense Paleo Certification” for 50 cents. Capitalism baby! 😉

  28. This type of stuff was inevitable and it will only get worse. As the saying goes, “complicate to profit.”

  29. @Matt – Perfectly said.

  30. Just stumbled across this and thought I would throw my 2 cents in. There is certification because there is a huge market for it. I don’t blame Mark Sisson for trying to fill a void. There are tons of people whose lives have been changed by living a Paleo/Primal lifestyle and they want to help others. The problem is they don’t want to go through the traditional nutritional channels that teach that grains are heart healthy. They want a certification to show others they know what they are talking about to give them some sort of credibility.

  31. Jodi Franklin

    Sep 15, 2015 — 6:07 pm

    I think people are interested in becoming certified so they have credentials to coach clients who are suffering with health issues. I am a health coach. After exhaustive research in certification programs, I recommend Wildly Successful Health Counselors. Tracy Harrison is a scientist with 3 degrees from MIT and one from IFM. Rather than paying $20,000 for a Functional Medicine Cert., you can learn all the wisdom of it without spending a fortune and having to re-learn biology and chemistry. Her website is I have enrolled for this January.

  32. My two cents on this with no horse in this race at all is that he has provided a tremendous amount of high-quality free content for years. Many people like myself are health coaches who might benefit from getting a certification of this nature. I don’t know why people get so offended when people who have provided free content suddenly want to make money off of their life’s work. I don’t expect my mechanic or my coffee shop guy or my teachers to work for free. Why should Mark?

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