The One Food You Just Can’t Give Up May Be What’s Messing You Up the Most

coffeeWe got a comment on the blog today that went something like this:

I’ve been Paleo for a year now, but I haven’t lost weight and I still feel extremely fatigued. My doctor says it must be all the meat I’m eating and that I should stop Paleo. I do everything right, so I don’t get why I’m not feeling or looking any better. The only thing I haven’t done is stop drinking my 2 cups of coffee every day. What am I doing wrong??

I don’t know… Maybe drinking “your” 2 cups of coffee every day?

I’m sorry to be glib, but that’s how I felt when I saw that comment. Maybe it’s the coffee causing her issues and maybe it’s not, but a lot of us – deep down – actually KNOW what’s causing our own symptoms; we’re just not willing to admit it to ourselves. So instead, we write cryptic messages to random bloggers online to see if they can see through our own bullsh#t for us.


I think this person somehow knows intuitively that coffee is the root of her symptoms.

That it’s making her body resistant to losing weight and giving her the dragon syndrome (as in, How are you today? Ohhh, ahm a draggin’…). Why else would she have brought it up? She didn’t say, “I still eat nuts, though.” Or “I definitely feel more fatigued when I eat coconut milk.” Her parting thoughts were about coffee.

I’m not immune to this self blindness.

I’ve done it many times before. I was the biggest dairy whore on the planet 5 years ago. I ate it every day, in all kinds of forms, and I adored it. And during my dairy eating days I had yeast infections most of the time for 3 years straight. I knew somewhere inside of me that it was crushing my immune system and clearing the way for candida growth, but I swore up and down, “Dairy is FINE for me – I don’t get any symptoms from it!”

And then someone who could see more clearly than I could told me I was full of it. And she was right. I am absolutely not ok with dairy, and removing it from my diet solved my problem.

So I implore you to do the following if you’re having some sort of symptom, whether it be weight gain, fatigue, skin problems, breast milk insufficiency, whatever. Even if you’re not Paleo. Whatever way you eat, if you have any symptom whatsoever, ask yourself, “What is the one food/drink I love more than any other?”

“What would I be devastated over if I had to give it up?”

Then give that thing up.

Just for 2 weeks. You can do it, and I promise you that it won’t feel as bad as you anticipate it’ll feel. We’re very adaptable – we humans – and we forget things and people and events more quickly than we expect to. That’s why we continue to binge drink after the worst hangover of our lives, or give birth to more than one child.

“Your” coffee or bagel or oatmeal – or dairy – will find its way into your food graveyard and you will forget it over time. You may even end up reveling in your newfound freedom from it if it means you get to lose that weight or have more energy. Sometimes our best friend can be the thing that most negatively affects your life, however fun that person may be. Same with food.

Oftentimes the thing you crave and love the most is actually doing you the most harm.


  1. hahahaha. what a timely post. I am 3 weeks into my second whole30 and decided just this morning that I hadnt noticed any differences with coffee being gone and that I missed it too much to not have it. So here I am sipping my coffee reading your post…but I am going to excuse it because chocolate is what I absolutely couldn’t give up so ill wait to feel bad until I am eating chocolate and reading your blog… :)

  2. A tad harsh if what you’re saying is that coffee is keeping the weight on. Sixteen ounces of coffee has about 5 calories and negligible Fat and Protein. There’s no way that drinking that everyday isn’t going to be the only factor in a lack of weight loss. Obviously the person can’t be doing everything strict as far as Paleo goes, but coffee is very unlikely to hold the entire blame.

    I’m on day 4 of a 6 week weight loss plan and yes, you have to get right with yourself and decide if your fitness is important enough to you to commit to eating clean. Try to stay lighthearted and upbeat about it; experiment with things. Eat more protein and less fat, cut way back on fruit, see what happens. If you haven’t seen change in a year, then keep changing things up until you do. People need encouragement, direction and inspiration. People don’t always need ball busting, because they’re probably already busting their own balls far more than you can.

    1. CVG – To the contrary, coffee contains a lot more than just calories. It’s a stimulant that messes with your hormones, and it definitely does prohibit certain people from losing weight. I see it all the time. Not for everyone, but definitely for some people. But the point here wasn’t really about the coffee – it was about listening to your body’s own wisdom, instead of denying it.

  3. Stupid comment. There are so many variable that could contribute to they way we are feeling. There is no way to isolate one thing as the cause. I think this post/article is simple. I would hope people reading it are smarter than that. and it they aren’t smarter…maybe they should give up reading…I’m sure that’s the culprit.

  4. I don’t think coffee is her problem. Probably does not watch her portion sizes of what she is eating. Also is she exercising regularly? Sometimes fatigue is worse if you are not active. If you don’t exercise and follow the diet then the weight will not come off. It has to be an overall change in both eating and physical activity. I love the Paleo plan. I have been doing Paleo for several months and I do enjoy coffee and I have some dairy in my diet. Not much, but a little. I am the lowest weight that I have been in my entire life. I enjoy nuts all of the time!! I am addicted. I am currently 46 years old. I weight life 5 times a week and love every minute. I always tell my friends, especially women ,weight lifting is a huge key to increase metabolism. Cardio alone is not going to do it, but with this diet and weight training, it is a lethal combination that will get you results. Paleo has made me healthier and much happier and I will never go back to processed anything for the rest of my life!

  5. All she is saying, if you can read und understand, that the food you like the most, might be your problem. In my case it was bacon, had it actually tested. It’s not only about coffee. But I do agree, coffee can wreak havoc on some people. It’s all about trying what works. Why do people always feel so offended by what some people are blogging about?

  6. Coffee was the last thing I gave up in my journey to better health – I eliminated (most) sugar, all processed foods, medications etc. I had severe heart burn for many months but refused to give up my coffee. I even changed the bras I wore in an attempt to stop the heartburn. None of it worked. I bit the bullet and gave up the coffee two weeks ago and… yep, no more heart burn! Another positive was I finally started to lose weight which simply hadn’t happened before. I’m happily drinking chamomile tea now. Loved this article – thanks!

  7. Wow. Rude response from Paleo Plan. I can assure you and the person who initially wrote in, it’s not coffee that’s her problem. And it certainly didn’t sound like she wrote in thinking you’d cut through her bullshit to find the real solution. Hopefully she’s found better, more real feedback and solutions to her problem from other more reputable blogs and websites. But absolutely wrong answer – two cups of coffee a day is not what’s keeping her from losing weight for a year. Your site is very uninformed.

  8. The issue is not coffee – its the individual craving. I love this post – I can give or take coffee. I love the flavor and when I can drink good coffee I do. And if I can drink it every morning I do – but sometimes I can’t, so I don’t. I’ve given coffee up for months on a time to “check.” But nuts – oh my God! I eat them furiously if I can, and LOVE THEM.. I also can’t digest them, get a little crazy and thus know (Neely confirmed this), that I ought to limit them.
    I still eat them – because I love them – but I am aware of their impact on me, and I suspect my hormones. There was a time I couldn’t even think about giving up my “healthy” nuts. SO JEALOUS of those for whom nut can be considered healthy – there’s a lot of you. But I can’t. Oh, well – I can drink coffee. We must face our demons. Thanks Neely for not sugar-coating!

  9. No need for caustic remarks. Reasons for weight loss, or lack thereof, vary for each person – that was the point, to listen to what our bodies tell us. For several years I have gradually put on weight, no real reason. However, since the first of the year, I’ve lost 15 lbs. No diet, special or otherwise, just making it a point to get to bed earlier every night (adequate rest!), eating a good breakfast (homegrown eggs and bacon), making it a point to eat the same time every day regardless of when that is (keeping metabolism constant so my body knows what to expect). You notice there is *nothing* in there about calorie consumption. If anything, it is higher as I have my own goats and eat homemade ice cream every day and cream cheese several times a week. My blood work is better than for 20 years. Like was said, listen to *your* body!

  10. Yeah, this is what depresses me so much about my body. I discovered that corn – in all its forms – wreaks havoc on my body: cystic acne, painful craters in my tongue, sinus problems, etc. Yet popcorn and corn chips are my favorite foods in the whole world!

    I cut wheat, corn, soy, and dairy out of my diet about a year ago, and I’m probably 90-95% Paleo, yet I still have *intense* cravings for all things corn all the time! It still makes me sad when I think about not being able to eat movie popcorn ever again. :(

  11. I’m not a doctor, nor do I play one on tv, but I seriously doubt it’s coffee that’s making her fatigued and preventing weight loss.

    Darlin’ have you had a thyroid check? Your symptoms suggest hypothyroidism to me. Ask your primary care physician for testing. And please, insist on a full thyroid panel–don’t let your PCP check only your TSH level. You need the full panel–T3, T4, free T3, free T4, T3 uptake–the works–to really pinpoint what is going on.

    If your thyroid is out of whack, all the clean eating in the world won’t help you.

    1. Sue – “If your thyroid is out of whack, all the clean eating in the world won’t help you.” That is not a true statement, as I’ve seen my thyroid improve with just diet, and I’ve seen others’ improve as well. It’s true that supplementation with certain nutrients is extremely helpful for thyroid issues, and I agree that she should get her thyroid tested, though.

      As for your assertion that coffee isn’t making her fatigued and preventing weight loss, coffee’s stimulant properties affect the adrenal glands, which in turn affect the thyroid gland. They’re both controlled by the pituitary gland, so if you’re stressing the adrenals constantly with coffee, the pituitary is going to have a hard time keeping up with the thyroid’s needs. Coffee does, indeed, cause fatigue in many people, and I hear about it all the time. I know that coffee has this reputation of being a completely safe, fun, enjoyable drink that gives you lots of energy, but it is absolutely not any of those things for a lot of people. Some people are totally fine with it, but many are not. That’s all I’m trying to say here and in any other article I’ve written on caffeine.

  12. Neely, I am glad you addressed coffee (caffeine)…the most widely used and accepted drug out there currently.

    People don’t want to associate it as a product with negative affects on the body, however the list for caffeine’s side effects on the human body are long and varied.

    For everyone that is doubtful of the drug addiction to caffeine that we have in North America and that it affects not just your central nervous system, but many organs and other bodily functions. Here is a website where these facts can be reviewed:

    Side Effects:
    increased breathing and heart rates
    restlessness, excitability, dizziness
    headaches and lack of concentration
    gastrointestinal pains
    dehydration (can affect weight loss/gain)

    *********Serious injury or death from caffeine overdose can occur, but it is extremely rare.

    Long Term Effects:
    high blood pressure and heart disease
    severe insomnia (can affect weight gain/loss)

    Not to mention that caffeine is an additive to many other consumable products, so you could be consuming more caffeine then you suspect at first. Read, read, read every ingredient and if there is any side notes on a label – they sneak it into a lot of products, yet it is legal.

    I appreciate you addressing this Neely, as hopefully one day people will realize what this high consumption of caffeine is doing to North Americans. I am not against coffee as a treat once in a blue moon, just against the co-dependency which forms with the daily consumption of high quantities in caffeine. :)

  13. While it’s not certain that the problem is coffee, it’s certainly possible, especially since the commenter called it out.

    I found that I had hit a plateau, so I started food logging and discussed it with the coach at the gym I had recently joined. He suggested ditching my regular breakfast of an apple with some almond butter and cheese and eliminating all three from my diet (as well as all other dairy).

    I was *miserable* for a couple of weeks, BUT I came off my weight plateau and eliminated a handful of digestive issues that had been a periodic nuisance.

    I’ve since found that I can eat some dairy and some nuts without a problem, but if I want to drop more weight they have to go.

    Giving up something for a few weeks, even if it’s hard, maybe especially if it’s hard, can be a good exercise. The worst case is that you’ve given something up for a few weeks and it wasn’t the problem. The best case can be transformative.

  14. Neely, I am hypothyroid myself, and I stand by my statement. If your thyroid hormones are out of balance, avoiding coffee and following a paleo diet will not be the primary factor in successfully addressing the issues of weight and tiredness. If your reader is indeed hypothyroid, as I suspect, her fatigue issues and inability to lose weight will not begin to be resolved until she begins thyroid hormone replacement therapy.

    Now once her thyroid is balanced, a paleo diet will certainly FACILITATE resolving her weightloss/fatigue issues, but it is not the primary component of her recovery. While eating paleo, it will be important to avoid goitrogenic foods, such as raw cruciferous vegetables such as kale, broccoli, cauliflower, & spinach. And of course soy in any form is to be avoided. Eventually, she may wish to give up coffee for precisely the reasons you mentioned, if she is indeed that sensitive to it.

    But to say that coffee is the root of all her problems? Is completely incorrect and a disservice. She needs to see a doctor and get some blood tests, not just stop the coffee.

  15. I think one thing we CAN agree on, Neely, is that she needs to find a new doctor. I could not have any respect for my G.P. if he was misguided enough to suggest that my fatigue and lack of weight loss “must be all the meat I’m eating and that I should stop Paleo.” Thyroid is the first thing that doctor should have checked, and the fact that he didn’t doesn’t inspire a bit of confidence.

    Actually, there are two things we can agree on. The second thing is that you have a nice website here. :^)

  16. Also, on a personal note (as I’m no Dr either) the coffee could be holding her back and affecting her hormones which mimics thyroid issues.
    My friend with thyroid issues swore that my health problems must be thyroid related. I was tested many times for it and always negative. In the end I was told by an allergist that my health care wouldn’t cover being tested for all substances, yet if there is anything I could eat bottomless and crave constantly and never be able to give up then I most likely have allergies or intolerance to those foods. It was 10 years of trying to give up gluten, refined sugar and caffeine and being diagnosed with unknown infertility and still having undiagnosed symptoms which made me change. Almost all my symptoms are gone since I ditched those 3 products, once I’m 100% paleo I have no doubt they will be gone.
    As for my hormones….I recently started going to an acupuncturist, who recognised that my past diets had causeed a disruption in my hormones. It was not a level of disruption recognised by Dr’s but once she corrected it, wow!

  17. I only drink organic DE-caffinated coffee & I can notice a difference when I drink “regular”coffee – when I drink decaf I can go for days without and then have a cup – I thought going off dairy, well more specifically cheese, would be tough – and it’s been a breeze! It’s the grains that get me, instantly feel the bloat. My thyroid is getting back in check, simply by following the Paleo diet LOVE LOVE LOVE it

  18. Caffeine has a profound effect on our bodies and some are more sensitive than others. I think the point is, if you mention just this last thing you haven’t given up, you can’t move forward until you release it all. We all have our ways, but sometimes hand holding doesn’t work. I would be as blunt, the person put out that last thing, in any problem solving process you remove the variables. It may or may not be coffee, can’t find out till you stop. It may seem ridiculous but coffee is not tolerated well by many, as mentioned it does mess with hormones (caffeine). First thing my mother was asked to eliminate during hormonal issues.

  19. Neely,
    Well said!

    I recently found out through testing I have adrenal burnout and signs of severe bipolar. The 2 things I always seem to keep “grabbing” for are caffeine and sugar… including fruit. I gave these things up after reading a story about a man who healed himself of bipolar II after almost committing suicide.

    This man’s doc told him that if he really wanted to heal and recover for real, he had to get coffee and sugar out of his life. The man initially walked away and said “that isn’t going to happen”. Then some time later close to his suicide he remembered what this doc said and made a promise to himself no sugar or caffeine for a year. He later went on to find his soul mate after he recovered. How cool is that!?

    I realized that my own coffee and sugar addiction was like Golum and the Ring in the Lord of the Rings… and other than slutty sex… was a strong addiction for me. And ironically enough my last girlfriend was a cocaine addict… while I did my own version of that with loads of caffeine and sugar while we were dating. When I decided to stop doing sugar and caffeine that relationship no longer had any traction and we both got weird. I had hella’ fun in the short run, and the shadow of the seduction, sugar, caffeine and sex took me into a sucky place I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

    Imagine where I’d be if I had stayed in that loop of toxic women, sugar and caffeine. I’m glad to be 9 days into my commitment of having a life without sugar and caffeine. It sucks, but I know that what is on the other side of my forest… so to speak… will be worth it in the long run for my dreams and what I want in heart. I’ve been studying experts specializing in ortho-molecular medicine and severe mental health mood related disorders say that what awaits you on the other side is “so worth it!” if one can just get through the initial hell of withdrawals and detoxification.

    It’s people like you and Jason sharing the benefits of the sacrifices we make in honor of our selves and our dreams and goals of health that inspire me to keep going… even when I’m going through hell. Thanks for the great article and for the way you deliver paleo and the work you offer.. and reminding us all of the ways we bullshit and seduce ourselves!

  20. Neely, would be interested in your opinion of green tea or extracts of green tea. Can they cause similar issues as coffee? I have yet to hear health “professionals” suggest the giving up of green tea or its extracts, although coffee is frequently addressed.

    1. RJ – Caffeine is caffeine – sorry! If caffeine affects you negatively, then green tea would definitely fall in the category of things to give up or decrease your intake of.

  21. I have Hashimotos and have been eating 98% Paleo for almost a year. I realize the 2% is holding my complete recovery back. I’m trying to get there. I only gave up coffee and tea about 2 months ago. I was still feeling really tired and overwhelmed. Now, after no coffee and tea, I have so much more energy! I’m really amazed. I still miss coffee, but that craving is getting better. I will take the next steps to be 100% Paleo in the near future. I do agree that there are people that are caffeine sensitive which causes a wide variety of symptoms.

  22. Thanks for the post, it’s a sad fact of life that the things we enjoy most often have negative effects on our health! However, I do feel that this post is speculation more than a scientific hypothesis.

    I would love to see more research on the effects of caffeine specifically on weight loss. I’m not denying that caffeine can cause fatigue or heart burn, or a myriad of other undesirable effects; but I would really love to see any information on a the direct link between caffeine and weight loss. I know many of us have sacrificed a lot on our journeys to Paleo perfection, and I want to do whatever possible to help myself lose weight; but after all I’ve given up the past year I’m not sure that I can give up coffee without a really strong motivation to do so!

    Please help me understand if this daily habit could realistically be sabotaging my weight loss goals. Thanks :)

    1. Jill – I understand it’s hard to give up your favorite thing without scientific “proof”, but just remember that you can find proof for just about anything out there due to the unbelievable amount of questionable research that’s been done. So if I gave you a study that said, “Coffee cessation causes weight loss,” I wonder if you wouldn’t go searching for a paper that says, “Coffee cessation causes weight gain,” just to disprove my point so that you could carry on with your coffee. I would argue that this blog post I wrote isn’t pure speculation, as I’ve had clients and readers alike who’ve had success with weight loss only after cutting out caffeine.

    1. lisa – I hope you understand the analogy. I was just saying that we easily forget pain and discomfort and go on to cause ourselves that pain and discomfort again and again, such as child birth and hangovers. I meant no offense to people who have more than one child…

  23. I looked at this blog to get info/opinions/suggestions for Paleo/Keto dieting. We don’t need to be hard on one another, we’re all here for the same thing, right? Everyone’s bodies react differently to things, none of us is the same. What negatively affects or doesn’t is going to vary. How about we be nice and support each other in our efforts? Geez.

    Thank you for ALL input and experiences.. I’m considering all of it to find what works for MY body.


  24. They will have to lock me in a closet before I stop drinking coffee or giving up ANY specific food I enjoy. I have lost tons of weight on many different diets and NEVER gave up my coffee with milk. NEVER will! Nope, NEV ER! Got that? Good, ’cause I meant NEVER as in NEVER. If people stop all this BULLCRAP and just eat like civilized human beings when they are truly hungry and enjoy what they like, they will not be fat or unhealthy. Villifying any particular food or food group is LUDICROUS and COUNTERPRODUCTIVE.

    1. Matt Trelease – You must be a coffee lover. I only get comments like this from die-hard coffee lovers who can’t bear to stand the idea that coffee just might be bad for some people. It doesn’t matter what studies you cite: sometimes people just do better without coffee and that’s all there is to it. I’ve seen it countless times, and all I’m saying in this article is that you should give yourself the opportunity to know whether or not you are one of those people. Again, it doesn’t matter what studies say: it only matters how your OWN body responds to coffee.

  25. This article is spot on! Love your candor! I tested this hypothesis myself and just lost the last 10 lbs of baby weight (that just wouldn’t come off despite my near-perfect primal diet for several years now) in two months. Nuts were my problem. I just can’t eat them in moderation (I call them one of my “slippery slope foods.” Chocolate is another.). I also realized that they hijack my appetite. I could never understand why so many paleo/primal people could go without snacks between meals. Anyway, it took about 3 days after giving up nuts before my crazy appetite settled down, and the weight began to melt off (despite the fact that I am still nursing round-the-clock and getting woken up every 2 hours at night). Now I plan to just avoid slippery slope foods altogether. What a revelation!

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