Are You Losing Weight on the Paleo Diet?
One of the top reasons why people go on a Paleo diet is to manage weight. This makes sense, since research has shown that people lose more weight on the Paleo diet than every other compared diet.
However, if you’ve been doing Paleo and aren’t seeing the weight loss results you were hoping for, it can be frustrating to not understand why.
Is the weight coming off too slowly?
Have you seemed to reach a weight loss plateau and the numbers and inches aren’t moving? Don’t give up. All it takes is a little troubleshooting to pin down the cause.
The answer might be easier than you thought. Let’s look at the possible causes…
REASON #1: You’re relying on the scale
Weight is not everything. Before you let the numbers on your scale cause you despair, look at your other measurements. A weight scale should only be one of the multiple ways you track your weight loss progress. Keeping track of the inches around your waist, hips, arms, etc. can be even more important than weighing yourself on a scale. The reason for this is because one pound of fat is larger than one pound of fat.
When you do a Paleo diet and work out, your body begins to restructure itself.
If you are exercising using weight resistance (gym weights or bodyweight), you are most likely burning fat but leaning and toning your body with muscle.
Therefore, the numbers on the scale may not decrease, but your clothing size might.
SOLUTION: Keep a daily or weekly log of your weight, body measurements (arms, waist, hips, etc.), and take regular photos of yourself in tight clothing or bathing suit. Also, consider getting a scale that measures your body fat percentage. This way, you can track your progress more accurately.
REASON #2: You’re eating processed Paleo snacks
Just because it says “Paleo” on the label, doesn’t mean it’s good for you. Unfortunately, Paleo-labeled junk foods are entering the food market. Some companies are taking advantage of the Paleo label as a way to sell more products and sometimes they are full of sugar from honey or maple syrup, or have hidden non-Paleo ingredients. These processed snacks can lead to cravings, extra calories, and weight gain.
SOLUTION: Stick to fresh, whole foods, and read labels carefully even if it says “Paleo.” Try to eat enough during breakfast, lunch, and dinner, to avoid being hungry and snacking between meals.
REASON #3: Your plate isn’t balanced
Whether it’s because of not enough or too much of protein, fat, and carbohydrates, your weight loss might be at a halt because your plate isn’t balanced.
SOLUTION: Portion your plate according to the Paleo Pyramid below. Note that foods at the base of the pyramid are what should mostly make up your plate, and foods at the top of the pyramid are what you should have least of. You should have more vegetables, animal proteins, and healthy fats than anything else.
REASON #4: You’re counting calories
No matter what plan you are following, weight loss still comes down to calories. As a rule of thumb, you need a deficit of 3,500 calories to lose one pound of fat.
However, counting calories is a way of the past. It sets you up for a weight loss disaster and should be shunned.
There are a few reasons for why you shouldn’t count calories.
First, calorie needs change and weight loss is not a linear process. If you work out more on one day, you need more calories that day. Also, you may be less hungry some days and more hungry others. If you restrict yourself to the point of being very hungry, you’ll most likely crash your diet. You need to feel satiated to stick to a weight loss plan. Hunger does not help at all.
Second, counting calories often leads to a nutrient deficit. You need enough nutrients to burn fat, and if you’re missing out on those, your body will try to preserve fat instead.
Third, restricting calories is associated with less energy expenditure, which predicts less weight loss in some people.
SOLUTION: Pay less attention to calories and pay more attention to hunger cues. Count nutrients and not calories. Focus on eating fresh, whole foods, and eat until you are satisfied but not too “full.” Listen to your body and don’t punish it when it needs more than what you want to give it.
REASON #5: You’re not eating mindfully
When we aren’t focusing on our food and are distracted by other things, we don’t pay attention to our bodies either. We end up mindlessly overeating because we ignore our body cues that tell us we’ve had enough to eat.
SOLUTION: Shut off the TV, put the phone down, and enjoy a meal without distractions. You can read my 8 tips to eating mindfully here.
REASON #6: You’re overly stressed
Stress is a 6-letter word that can cause us to eat poorly and metabolize our food poorly. The reason for this is because of changes in hormones as a physiological response to stress.
When we are stressed, our bodies release cortisol (the “stress hormone”).
Too much cortisol (stress) inhibits weight loss, breaks down muscle, increases insulin resistance, and promotes fat storage.
Decreased leptin sensitivity (the “satiety” hormone) occurs, which creates increased hunger, causing us to want to eat more and store fat.
SOLUTION: Think of ways that you can reduce stress in your life. I know that may not be easy, since careers, bills, relationships, and other everyday stressors pressure many of us. However, just taking a few minutes to take a few deep breaths and center yourself can work wonders. Find an outlet for your stress, whether that is going for a walk, listening to music, meditating, or calling a friend.
REASON #7: You’re not sleeping well
It seems like sleep is something that kids try to avoid and adults just can’t seem to get enough of. In fact, 40% of Americans aren’t getting the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep each night.
When we don’t get enough sleep, our cortisol (“stress hormone”), ghrelin (what), leptin (what), and growth hormones get out of whack, which leads to weight gain.
On top of not getting enough Zzzz’s at night, we also don’t recognize napping as important. Research shows that napping for as little as 6 minutes can improve your mental function and even lower your risk of heart attack.
SOLUTION: Make sure you’re getting at least 7-8 hours of sleep each night. Check out these tips:
REASON #8: You rely on caffeine for energy
Since caffeine is a stimulant, it affects all those hormones I mentioned in #7. Plus, it can affect your sleep, even if you only have a small amount. It takes 8-14 hours for caffeine to completely leave your system.
SOLUTION: If you can’t cut out your coffee or tea, try to at least have a cut-off time during the day.
REASON #9: You’re skipping meals
Although you may have heard that fasting helps you lose weight, this is NOT always true for women.
Women are biologically different than men. We are designed to eat and hold onto whatever fat we have for the purposes of reproduction (making entire humans!).
When we starve ourselves, or fast, our hormones change in a way to shut our bodies down to slow down our metabolism so that we don’t burn the fat off. Evolution has not kept up with our bikini desires. So, don’t skip meals!
SOLUTION: Eat 3 meals a day. Keeping a steady and reliable intake of food will help keep your blood sugar and insulin levels in check. It will also keep your appetite in control, which will lead to less crashing with unhealthy foods and foods not geared to your weight loss.
REASON #10: You’re not eating enough protein in the morning
SOLUTION: Plan your breakfasts or keep some quick, on-the-go protein sources available in case you’re in a hurry out the door in the mornings. Hard-boiled eggs are my go-to. Other ideas: make a high-protein Paleo shake or keep frittatas in the fridge. I have some great recipes in my cookbook for more ideas.
REASON #11: You’re not playing with the right deck of carbs
Cutting out carbs completely may work for some but it can be counterproductive for others. However, the most important factor in balancing carbs is according to activity level. You need carbs to provide energy for exercise and to avoid muscle breakdown.
SOLUTION: It takes a little experimenting to find out what ratio of carbs works best for your weight loss goals. Typically, the more active you are, the more carbs you need. Those who are less active may find that low carbs work best for their weight loss goals.
REASON #12: You’re not eating enough fat
It’s time to let go of the “fat makes you fat” belief. First, low-fat diets were a trend and are definitely not in style anymore. Second, eating fat can help you lose weight. So, don’t be scared. There are plenty of cultures that thrive on eating animal fat and not much else, and could easily trade in their native garb for size 4 jeans.
SOLUTION: Don’t fear the fat. Healthy fat, that is. Olive oil, avocados, animal fats, coconut milk and oil, and nuts are great sources of healthy fats.
REASON #13: Your workouts are too heavy or not enough
Too little exercise will obviously halt weight loss, but did you know that working out too much can have the same effect? Exercise burns calories, but too much exercise can raise your cortisol levels and inhibit weight loss.
When you work out excessively over a longer period of time, your body views it as a chronic stressor.
SOLUTION: There is no perfect exercise blueprint for weight loss, since we are all biologically unique and have different goals. However, a combination of cardio and weight resistance training is ideal, in varying intensities.
REASON #14: You don’t have enough support
Living a Paleo lifestyle can be difficult when doing it alone. It’s not easy when everyone around you eat junk food or serve dinner that is primarily made up of grains and your plate looks “beige” from lack of veggies and variety. Having friends or family members who also share the same health and nutrition interests can be incredibly helpful.
SOLUTION: Get in touch with friends on Facebook or other social media sites that post photos or give other clues that their interests are the same. Challenge a friend to meet a weight loss goal with you. Keep each other updated with daily food diaries, photos of your food and workouts, and share recipes. Keep each other motivated!
REASON #15: You are already at a healthy weight
It’s much harder to lose weight if you’re already at a healthy weight.
SOLUTION: Be realistic when setting goals and base your goal weight on a healthy target. Use a body mass index calculator as a guide, you can access one here.
REASON #16: You’re retaining water
You might THINK that you aren’t losing weight when it’s being hidden by water retention.
Water retention can be caused by 4 things:
- Not drinking enough water. When your body senses it’s not getting enough water, it holds on to it as much as possible.
- Elevated cortisol (the “stress” hormone) levels. Being chronically stressed, exercising hard over prolonged periods of time, and starving yourself can increase cortisol.
- Electrolyte imbalances. When you eat a lot of sodium (salt), the cells in your body swell.
- Refined carbs
SOLUTION: Drink plenty of water throughout the day. Cut back on sodium intake and counteract its effects by eating more potassium (bananas, avocados). Find ways to relax and relieve stress, eat 3 meals a day, and don’t starve yourself. Obviously, stay away from refined carbs, but that’s easy if you’re living a Paleo lifestyle.
REASON #17: You’re not being patient
The weight didn’t get put on overnight and it won’t come off that quickly either. Weight loss is not instant, although media tries to make it seem that way. Healthy weight loss is around 1-2 pounds per week. Keep in mind that weight loss is not linear. You might lose more weight one week and less the next. Pay more attention to the way your clothes fit instead of relying on the scale.
SOLUTION: As in #1, keep a daily or weekly log of your weight, body measurements (arms, waist, hips, etc.), and take regular photos of yourself in tight clothing or bathing suit. Have patience and know that progress will come if you stick to your guns.
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