Q&A: I Can’t Exercise – Will I Still Lose Weight on Paleo?

This post was written by Neely.

Here’s a quick Q&A between a Paleo Plan reader and me, just in case you have this same question…

Man on crutchQ:

Good evening Neely,

I recently had a couple of back operations (Nov & Dec 2012) and am not yet allowed to exercise other than walking.  I started doing the PaleoPlan with my husband a week ago and I’m wondering if my inability to exercise too much is going to have a negative impact on my weight loss with the plan.  I will be starting rehab in a couple of weeks so exercise will increase then.  Can I still expect to lose weight before then and now?


Yes, it’s certainly possible.

Plenty of people do Paleo or Primal without any exercise at all and have great success with weight loss. I can’t make any promises, of course, but I can say that what you put in your mouth is the main determining factor of weight loss, despite what you may have gleaned from watching “The Biggest Loser”. You can even gain lean muscle mass on this diet without exercising (read this success story from marksdailyapple.com to see for yourself).

Just make sure that you don’t eat too much food. No matter what “diet” you’re on, if you eat too much food, you won’t lose weight. So if you’re used to exercising a certain amount and therefore eating a certain amount, make sure you decrease your food intake appropriately. I’m not saying start counting calories, but definitely listen to your body’s hunger cues a little more closely now that you’re not working out. That may take a little getting used to, but just see how you do with a little bit less food on your plate than you’re accustomed to.

Now, I’m not encouraging people who don’t have serious injuries to just forgo the exercise when trying to lose weight. Obviously, it has plenty of benefits like building sexy muscles, giving you peace of mind, increasing your body’s sensitivity to insulin, improving blood glucose, and burning calories. It feels good to work hard, and your body is meant to be put to work. But if you just can’t get out and move your body for some reason, there’s absolutely no need to throw your hands up and give up on all attempts at being healthier. Yes, exercise would probably speed up the weight loss process, but it’s not the end all be all to losing fat.

“The Biggest Loser” is not an accurate portrayal of how real people lose weight, after all. It’s nonsense to think that most average people have the time or motivation exercise 8 hours a day in the gym. (When are they going to start showing what those people eat on the show, by the way?)

One other thing to think about is this: can you really not exercise? Or is that sprained ankle (or other relatively minor injury) just a convenient excuse to watch more TV? You could certainly sit or lie on a bench and lift some weights with a sprained ankle; you might even be able to swim. Depending on the injury, you may actually be able to do quite a bit. Ask a trainer at a gym (or google) for suggestions.

Anyway, even if you can’t exercise – for real – and you want to lose weight, give Paleo or Primal a shot and see how it goes for you, and add in exercise when you’re well enough.

Anyone else want to chime in?


  1. Two Cents: I hurt my back in sept of this year. So Crossfitting was out of the question until recently. I decided to challenge myself for the month of october. (the month tradtionally filled with candy!). I cut out all cheating except monday night wing night. No alcohol either. IT went really well. I didnt gain any weight no being able to workout and i felt great!! Sadly I gave in to temptations over christmas and ruined it!! Next year I will be much more prepared to say “no” to all those cookies and treats!! I think the important part is allowing yourself to “cheat” one a week or so. Dont look forward to it, but remember that you are doing this for your health and in turn your happiness. In my case a Cookie or a doughnut doesnt taste better then a non bloated and “skinny” morning feels. Once you start paleo and get it going for a few weeks you will know what I mean.
    Good Luck!!

  2. I would suggest tracking carbs a little tighter when you are not working out. I can maintain great energy levels and weight loss with 50-100g/day when I am working out 5 days a week. However when I take time off from the gym I find that if I still want to lose weight I need to keep it below 50g/day

    1. Mercedes – Thanks for your comment! Totally spaced the carb issue in my blog post. This is a really important point :)

  3. I have spinal arthritis and 6 herniated disks in my back, and no insurance for the spinal fusion I am told I need. My doctors tell me the only relief from the daily pain I feel is to loose weight (I weigh almost 270), but it seems like every time I excercise (even just walking) I mess up my back and am in bed for weeks until it is better. Thanks for addressing this issue, Neely! It gives me hope.

  4. Not sure if this comment is exactly related to this post, but when I hear of people getting injured or have serious chronic pain, it makes me remember the reason’s I train and am active – BECAUSE I CAN. Tomorrow I may not be so lucky.

  5. You can DEFINITELY lose weight on this type of eating, especially depending on what your diet was before…remember that as you are healing, the good fats and protein will help that process a LOT! AND by reducing processed foods, you’ll be reducing your overall inflammation, and hopefully SPEEDING your healing…all very good news! Best to you!

  6. I started a paleo diet about two weeks ago. I could tell when my body went into ketosis — I got this giant burst of energy seemingly out of nowhere. I didn’t alter my activity level in any way, and I am fairly sedentary. I’ve lost about 10 lbs so far. I don’t know if these kinds of results are typical, but they tend to be for me; if I don’t watch my bread/grain intake, I always gain weight — and it disappears fast when I stop eating those things.

  7. Oops, sorry, 5 lbs in the past two weeks. About 10 lbs since October, when I started tracking my food intake. So much more rapid once I cut the bread.

  8. I’m hypoglycemic. Must eat every 3 hrs. Have nerve damage in back, legs & feet. Can’t have sugar. Cannot tolerate anything that speeds up my metabolism due to unbearable, life long colon spasms. This pretty much eliminates any sources for weight loss. I have recently gained about 10 lbs. This is making the back–leg-feet pain worse. Is there any hope for me to ever lose weight? I am 5 ft, 2 inches tall and weight 153. I have never weighed more than 140 lbs in my life before.

  9. PS I just had a complete shoulder replacement with a rod down to my elbow. That really makes life interesting. I just brought up the site for the Paleo diet but know nothing about it.

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