Tell me if this sounds familiar.
You heard about Paleo from someone who lost weight effortlessly on Paleo. They told you Paleo was amazing, the food tasted great, you could eat bacon (omg!), and that they ate as much food as they wanted and they just…. LOST WEIGHT! Poof!
So you decided to try it for yourself, and in the first week you lost 7 pounds… 7 freaking pounds. That’s more weight than you’d lost in the past 5 years combined. In one week – amazing.
You figured you were on an easy peasy downhill ride to your optimal size. So you kept doing what you did the first week, but after the 2nd or 3rd week, the weight stopped coming off. And now you’re stuck right where you were at week 3. Maybe you’ve even gained some weight.
Is this you? Standing on the scale or in front of the mirror saying to yourself, “Why am I not losing weight on Paleo?!” Well, it’s a lot of people, according to my email inbox. You are not alone – that is for sure. And you will get through this. If you need to lose fat, you’ll lose fat if you take the right steps.
I’ve talked to a lot of Paleo people, and I’ve learned a lot from them (and myself) over the years about failing to lose fat, even on Paleo. Let me share with you what we’ve collectively figured out, and you can start experimenting with yourself to get over this little bump in the road.
A lot of this info is being borrowed from another similar post I wrote on this topic here.
1. You may be eating too many calories.
I just had a conversation with my beautiful cousin, Meg about calories. She’s thin as a rail and has always had a sweet tooth. She decided a while back to cut out some of the candy and other junk food she was eating, and instead opt for a healthier snack of nuts and dried mango. Well, she ended up gaining 7 pounds on a small frame in a short period of time because she was overeating those “healthy” foods. The moral of the story is that it doesn’t matter how healthy your food is; if you eat too much of it, you’re going to gain weight.
I’ve had the same thing happen over and over in my own life. I’ll be at a good weight that I like, and then I get overly comfortable and start putting more food on my plate (all Paleo foods), eating more for snacks, using more oil/fat in my meals, and eating a few too many sweets and BAM. I’m fitting in my pants all wrong.
Then I usually end up going to myfitnesspal.com and log what I eat for a few days to see the damage. One time I found out I was eating 1,000 calories just in cashews every day. Duh.
If you record what you’re eating and find you’re eating too much (according to myfitnesspal.com), just cut down your calorie intake. Don’t be crazy about it and start making spreadsheets and bar graphs of your food intake vs your exercise vs the gravitational pull on your belly… Just put a little less food on your plate. You need that stuff to make energy and happiness and basic bodily functions, and if you have too little of it, chances are your plan is going to backfire and you’ll binge at the end of every day you deprive yourself.
Yes, there are some people out there who can just “eat whatever they want” on Paleo and still magically lose weight. But those people and you may have different appetite signals in your bodies (my own appetite is very demanding, and sometimes I have to have little sit down talks with it). Or your metabolisms may be different, or you may just be more genetically prone to having fat on your body than that other person. Whatever the case may be, the amount of food you eat – and I don’t care what other people say about calories and Paleo – will have a large effect on how… large… you are. I see it all the time.
2. You may be exercising too much (or too little).
I know that, “You’re exercising too much to lose weight” may sound counterintuitive, but I actually see this phenomenon a lot, and it happens to me personally. If I exercise too much, I gain weight. It happened when I started doing CrossFit last year, and as soon as I stopped CrossFit, I lost the weight. If you’re exercising more than 3 days a week, I’d ratchet it down to 3 days a week – or even less if you have diagnosed adrenal issues – for a while and see how that goes.
Exercising 5-6 days a week is a lot, and many people’s bodies don’t like it. You may be causing inflammation in your body, and water retention in your muscles is one of the ways inflammation manifests. Water retention = extra weight and ill-fitting clothes. Exercising too much can also negatively affect your cortisol levels because it’s so stressful on your body, and unbalanced cortisol levels can inhibit weight loss.
Conversely, of course, if you’re not exercising at all, or doing just a little bit low impact exercise (walking – even really quickly ;), your body could just need a kick in the pants. Sometimes a bit of intense weight lifting, sprints, or some kind of high intensity interval training (CrossFit-type workouts) is just what your insulin levels and muscle fibers need to get things moving.
3. You may not be sleeping enough or well enough.
Make sure you’re getting 8 hours a night (seriously) in a dark room with no noise. If you need to, wear ear plugs and/or an eye mask. Or sleep in a room where there’s no snoring spouse. If you don’t get enough sleep, you tax your adrenals and your cortisol levels can get out of whack, which can in turn inhibit weight loss, like I mentioned in the last point.
I sleep with ear plugs in every night. I don’t know what I’m going to do if I have a kid and I need to hear him/her crying at night… I can’t sleep without them at this point. I’m an anxious, sometimes hyper-vigilant type of person, and if I hear the house creak at night I immediately think it’s a rapist coming into my room. I’m only sort of kidding. So earplugs changed my sleep forever by making all those noises go away. I can sleep through most things now, and I can’t recommend it highly enough for people like me.
This is a really interesting article that sort of sums up the sleep/weight loss connection. Basically, there are several connections, including cortisol, ghrelin (the hormone that tells you when you’re actually hungry – ever noticed you’re hungrier when you’re tired?), and leptin (the hormone that tells you you’ve had enough to eat – same concept as with ghrelin).
The one they don’t mention in the article is growth hormone. When you’re asleep your body produces growth hormone, which allows you to build muscle lose fat. If you don’t sleep, or if you don’t sleep well, then your body doesn’t produce as much growth hormone.
So use the ear plugs and eye mask, invest in a comfortable bed that you actually sleep in, and do whatever it takes to get those 8 hours every night – or as often as you can. If you can’t get them at night, try to take naps whenever you can.
If you have trouble falling asleep at night, try experimenting with your caffeine intake – when you drink it, how much of it you have, etc. – to see if that helps at all.
4. You may be eating too many or not enough carbs.
If you’re eating over 100g a day and you’re not really working out at all, then you may be getting too many carbs. If that’s the case, then you can start experimenting with eating fewer carbs – less fruit, sweet potatoes, Paleo sweets, non-Paleo sweets ;) Too many carbs will quickly put extra fat on you if you’re not using those carbs up. By the way, the 100 grams I just referenced is a very rough number, and everyone is different.
For instance, some people can’t handle more than 25 grams of carbs a day and really need to try a ketogenic diet, or ketosis. That means lots of fat, moderate amounts of protein, and very low carbohydrates. Your body starts to adapt well to ketones (the fuel your body produces from fat in the absence of carbohydrates) and a lot of people have success with weight loss with this method, including Jimmy Moore of livinlavidalowcarb.com.
I tried ketosis once and it didn’t fit my body type. Here’s a blog post about my experiment with it and what a Paleo ketogenic diet might look like. According to my many commenters on my blog posts throughout my ketogenic experiment, I did it all wrong, but I tend to think that I would’ve died if I’d kept going. Just kidding, but I at least would’ve withered away to Skeletor status. Either way, my body didn’t like it, but yours very well may. If you’re exercising a lot, though, you’ll want to do a LOT of reading up on how to do ketosis properly.
Anyway, to figure out how many carbs you’re eating every day, just go into myfitnesspal.com and record a few normal days of eating. If you’re eating fewer than 100g a day and you’re working out intensely and regularly, then you may need more. “More” might mean you need a fruit smoothie and a couple sweet potatoes every single day. Plus some honey or another natural type simple sugar, especially if you’re doing long endurance workouts.
But “more” may just mean one half of a sweet potato every day, or a Paleo muffin made with honey or something. It depends on your size, your activity level, and how your particular body responds to carbs. I can’t tell you exactly how much you’ll need as everyone is different, but please do experiment.
It may seem really silly to think that more carbs might help you lose weight, but if you’re not getting enough, you’re stressing your body out. Cortisol levels are going to get all wonky, and we already know what that means. Not enough carbs often leads to insomnia for people, or crazy carb cravings that make people binge (what’s the point of going super duper low carb if you’re just going to binge on non-Paleo pie anyway?).
So you can see that there’s a pretty delicate balance of not enough carbs and too many carbs in your Paleo diet. You’ve gotta experiment and see what works for you.
5. Try eating more protein in the morning.
In fact, try eating more food in general in the morning. A lot of Paleo people eat just eggs in the morning, and it doesn’t seem to fill them up for very long, so they end up snacking a lot through the day, often on nuts and fruit, which don’t really fill you up and are easy to overeat.
Add some meat to your breakfast, whether it be sausage, leftover burger, chicken, or whatever. Just get some more protein and fat – and some veggies would be nice, too – in there and see if you feel more energetic, more satiated, and have fewer cravings through the day. It’s better to add 200 calories to your breakfast in the form of meat and fat than it is to succumb to a Frapuccino craving every day at 3pm. Know what I mean?
6. Caffeine can hold people back from losing weight.
If you’re a coffee, green/black tea, decaf, etc drinker, consider giving caffeine up to see if it improves your situation. Since caffeine is a stimulant, it affects your adrenals and therefore your cortisol levels (and thyroid and sex hormones, and on and on), and again, messing with your cortisol can inhibit weight loss. Caffeine can also affect your sleep, even if you only have one cup a day. And not getting enough sleep, well, I already went over that in point 3.
7. Make sure you listen to your body’s hunger and exercise cues.
If you’re really tired, don’t work out hard that day, and go to sleep early. If you’re not hungry, don’t eat. If you’re done eating and there’s still food on your plate, push the plate away. If you feel weak, lethargic, have achy joints, headaches, feel unmotivated, anxious, depressed, or your athletic performance is waning, those are all signs of overtraining. The cure for overtraining is to stop training so much! :)
8. You may have a tricky food sensitivity.
Sometimes food sensitivities make people retain water, which can make you look puffy and weigh more than you actually would without all that water. Beef does this to me. If I eat beef, I wake up the next morning with puffy eyes and painful joints, weighing a couple pounds more than usual. So don’t dismiss any foods as culprits – it can be anything. I’d start with the first 7 tips above first, though, and if all those fail, move onto testing foods by removing them from your diet for a couple weeks and then trying them again.
The most common food sensitivities within the Paleo realm are nuts & seeds, eggs, coconut products, and tapioca. Try playing around with those, in that order, if you think this is the culprit for you. If it’s none of those, then start weeding out all the foods you eat one by one.
9. You may actually be losing fat – you just don’t know it.
The scale is a nasty devil sometimes. While you may actually be losing fat, the scale may not show it because you’re simultaneously gaining muscle, leaning out, and getting some tone like you’ve always wanted it. Your clothes may be loose, even though the scale is telling you you’re imagining things. Check out this story about a lady who looks way healthier now, but the scale has stayed the same.
Some people even GAIN weight when they go Paleo because they don’t have much fat to lose and then they put on muscle. They’re heavier on the scale, but they look totally different.
So weight isn’t everything. That’s why it’s really important to take measurements and get your body fat tested (any gym will do this for you) before you start so you can track your progress. Pictures are good, too.
10. You may need to see a naturopath.
I don’t know how many of the situations above apply to you, but this is what comes to mind when I hear that people are having trouble losing weight. I have a feeling you’ll have some success if you start experimenting with these things. If you don’t, then I’d strongly suggest going to see a Paleo friendly naturopathic doctor, or “Naturopath”. You can find one in your area on www.primaldocs.com. They’ll do some testing to figure out what’s going on. Who knows – maybe you have yeast overgrowth or a parasite that’s causing weird stuff to happen to your immune and digestive systems. Maybe your thyroid is out of whack and you need to take herbal and nutrient supplements for a while (like me). Maybe your sex hormones are out of balance and need some nutrient support, or even bioidentical hormone replacement. It could be a lot of things, all of which could affect weight loss.
So… I hope this helps! I hope it’s not overwhelming, but if it is, just start with number 1 and work your way down the list. And be as honest as you can with yourself about all of them! You’ll never know if something is affecting you negatively unless you experiment with it.
And please, if you’ve had a weight loss plateau and successfully worked through it, we’d all love to hear about it in the comments!