Zone Paleo: Eating Lots of Carbs, Gaining Weight, and Feeling Good

After my ketosis experiment, I told you I had some serious carb cravings. Well, the intense sugar cravings subsided and I went back to eating my normal Paleo diet, which usually means eating under 100 grams of carbs a day. Sometimes a lot less than that.

But I started being hypervigilant about my energy levels after that ketogenic week of almost blacking out every time I would stand up, having a hard time making it up the stairs, and not recovering from workouts for days and days. After I added more carbs back in, I definitely felt better, but still not great. I still felt sort of weak and low blood sugar during workouts, still felt dizzy upon standing… And it dawned on me: What if I need more carbohydrates than I’ve been eating all this time on Paleo?

And that’s when I started looking into Zone.

If I were to follow Zone at 40% carb, 30% protein, 30% fat kind of diet – Paleo style, of course – what would happen? If I were to do that on an approximately 1500 calorie diet (sometimes more), I’d need to eat at least 150 grams of carbs a day.

That’s what I’ve been doing for the last couple weeks. Well, I’ve at least been getting that number of carbs every day; maybe not the 30/30 protein/fat. Either way, I can definitively say that I feel better, I have more energy, my workouts are easier, and my recovery time is faster.

The carbs I’ve added are more fruit (especially apple sauce), more sweet potatoes, some honey, and… carob chips sweetened with beet sugar. Yes, I said “sugar” and I’m totally fine with it. If something doesn’t give me food sensitivity symptoms (skin irritation, digestive problems, etc.) then I’ll eat it, and carob chips are actually easier for me to digest than sweet potatoes. My new favorite snack is a cup of unsweetened applesauce, a tablespoon of shaved coconut butter, and 2 tablespoons of carob – or as we call them, “carbo” – chips.

But… I’ve gained a few pounds.

However, I’m actually ok with it. The scale started going up and up, but now it’s leveled out. I got a DEXA scan done and I’m 15.5% body fat and my bone density is above average. I’m completely fine with those results and don’t think I need to be any leaner. Maybe it’s just all the water that’s being stored in my cells now that I’m eating more carbs that’s causing the pounds to appear on the scale. Or maybe it’s water weight from inflammation from shocking my body with CrossFit for the past 6 weeks. Honestly, I don’t know and I don’t care. I don’t even see the difference in my body – I just know I feel better.

So for now, this is what I’m doing with my diet in my never-ending personal experiment. I just wanted to tell you all this to stress the point that everyone is different, and active people need to fuel their bodies differently than inactive people. And lean, active people may need to fuel their bodies even differently than overweight, active people. All of it is really complex and individual, but I finally feel like I’m onto something, at least for myself.

I’ve always told my athletic clients that they need to eat more carbs (or get serious about ketosis) if they want to fuel their workouts properly. Now I know I was ignoring my own advice a little. This might be one of the keys to my climbing success this year – who knows? That, along with CrossFit, might get me strong enough to do what I want to do out there…

Eat what fuels you.


  1. Great article!!

    I am fairly new to the paleo world and do worry about not eating enough if you try and maintain a meat/veggies type diet. But the Zone seems a much more satiable way to go, as long as the counting doesn’t get unreasonable. I worry about going crazy with food measuring and counting, but a good balance of everything sounds the way to go!

    1. Jennifer – I forgot to mention that I’m not weighing or measuring anything. One of the benefits of being a nutritionist is that I have a lot of food calorie/carb/protein/fat counts memorized, so I’m estimating in my head. And I took an hour or so on before I started and mapped out a few different ways I could get to 150 grams a day, which really helped me get my head around it.

  2. Just wanting to share-
    beet sugar is gmo!
    I would avoid it at all costs. Camino makes a great chocolate chip, so does Enjoy Life.

    1. Chelsea – Thanks for the heads up! I’ll check to see if that brand uses gmo beet sugar – they probably do… I don’t eat chocolate (I’m sensitive to it) or I’d be all over the organic chocolate chips :)

  3. Hey Neely!

    So glad you feel better with this set-up!

    I’m going to be anxious to hear about how the ongoing experiment goes.

    You women are both awesome and hard to figure out, you’re all the same, but your all different.

    And honestly….have you ever enjoyed sweet potatoes quite so much?

    1. Max – I didn’t mention our conversation in the post, but I’ll say thank you here for your educated insight into my diet and for your encouragement to do this. I’ll be writing more on it later where I’ll go into more about what we talked about. And yes, I love sweet potatoes. And tapioca crepes and apple sauce… :)

  4. Excellent article – I’ve been varying my carb intake lately as well, trying to find the best combination that works with my diet and activity level. One question that I always have regarding carb articles is how much “net carbs” vs total carbs matters in this context.

    If a person’s carb intake contains a large amount of fiber (vegetables, some chia seed, some fruit, etc), is it possible their body may be getting less “carb energy” than they think?

    1. Mark Bosma – Yes, your body doesn’t use fiber as fuel, so you’re going to get less energy from those carbs. Keep that in mind while you’re tinkering with your diet to find what works best for you. I found I need to eat more real carbs to keep me happy :)

  5. Oh, you’re at 15.5% body fat? No wonder you didn’t do well in “nutritional ketosis”.

    Absolutely you will have trouble as a woman freeing up enough fatty acids to keep yourself fueled when are you that lean.

    If you ever decide to try fat adaptation again, make sure you get a lot more food than you’re accustomed to. I know you said you “just won’t do it” (in the other post), but… you have to when you are that lean.

    I’m sure the weight fluctuations are mostly water. I personally store about 8-9 lbs of water.

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