Why You're Not Losing Weight On The Paleo Diet
Posted on February 17 2016
So, you’ve finally taken the plunge… You’ve gone full-blown Paleo! Maybe you joined a 30-day challenge at your gym. Maybe you were inspired by a friend’s amazing transformation. Whatever the reason, you’ve made a life-changing decision and should be proud of yourself. Congratulations! If you’re one of the lucky ones, you went Paleo and watched the pounds fall off, almost effortlessly. You may even be feeling as if your new found lifestyle is too good to be true! This is actually a pretty common occurrence. Still, I do get questions, almost daily, from frustrated Paleo newbies. People who just aren’t getting the results they were hoping for. They’re not losing pounds, they’re not losing inches and they're definitely losing patience. So what should these people do? What changes can they make to ensure they get the incredible results they were hoping for? The changes that other people seem to be getting so easily.
First things first, don’t give up and don’t write off Paleo as a whole! I see this knee-jerk reaction all the time. Someone tries Paleo for 3-4 weeks and they don’t see the miracle results they were hoping for. As a result, they write the entire diet off as quackery and move on to the next trendy diet plan. In even worse cases, they decide there is something wrong with them and they are doomed to a life of muffin tops and jiggly arms. They give up on proper nutrition and go back to their old unhealthy habits; a result that truly breaks my heart. Please... don't go breaking my heart! Stick with me here.
Let’s examine some of the reasons why Paleo may not be working for you. Contrary to popular belief, you can follow a strict Paleo diet and still fail to lose weight. In fact, you could eat nothing but “Paleo-Approved" foods and still get fat! Is it possible? Yes. Is it likely? Not if you’re careful. As we move forward, keep in mind that dietary needs vary from person to person. You’ll need to do some trial and error to figure out what works for you. Consider your lifestyle and activity level when adjusting your carbohydrate intake. Generally speaking, if you are overweight and following The Paleo Diet, the reason it may not be working for you is usually pretty simple:
Be honest with yourself, was your life before Paleo full of pasta, bread, and soda? If so, you’re in desperate need of a good detox. Most Western diets include entirely too many carbohydrates. The constant flow of carbohydrates leads to constant overproduction of insulin in your body. The more insulin you produce, the less your cells respond to it, so your body produces even more insulin. As insulin levels rise, your body stores fat. The only way to get rid of that fat is for your fat cells to release it into the bloodstream to be used as fuel. As long as there is a steady supply of carbohydrates in your system, your cells will refuse to release fat, so your body cannot burn it for fuel.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, you may be asking yourself, “Isn’t The Paleo Diet low-carb? How could I be eating too many carbs?!” To be clear, The Paleo Diet is not necessarily “low-carb,” by definition. Sure, it is lower-carb than the typical Western diet. That much is true. But it is still possible to eat a boat load of Paleo-friendly carbs that can hinder your results.
My advice is simple: track your carbohydrate intake. Especially during the first 30 days of your Paleo protocol. Until your body is able to adapt, you are still going to suffer from carbohydrate cravings. This can lead to overconsumption of Paleo-friendly carbs. Fruits, sweet potatoes, honey and other sweeteners can all cause problems when eaten in excess. Your carbohydrate intake alone can dictate your success or failure on The Paleo Diet. Unfortunately, most “Paleo protocols” don’t even address it. Sure, they give you a list of approved foods, but they don’t tell you how much of these foods you should be eating. Having, at least, a general idea of your macronutrient intake is essential to success on The Paleo Diet. If you're not training on a given day, there's no reason to consume more than 50 grams of carbohydrates. Don't go eating 6 bananas and a whole bag of cashews every day, just because you saw them on a Paleo shopping list! Fruits and nuts are Paleo, in the most general sense, but that's almost 150 grams of carbs in bananas alone! You're just not going to see results with that kind of carbohydrate intake, Paleo or not.
I know, I know, another Blogger telling you to get more sleep. It may be cliche, but it doesn’t make the problem any less real. Sleep is always a crucial part of overall health, but when it comes to starting a new diet, it’s absolutely critical. If you’ve spent any amount of time eating like a typical American, you are probably suffering from chronic inflammation. As you get deeper and deeper into your new Paleo lifestyle, you will have less and less inflammation. Once the inflammation stops, your body can begin repairing itself and get back to being healthy! That being said, stopping chronic inflammation is just one step along your path to better health. Once the inflammation is stopped, the healing process can begin.
This is where sleep comes in. Contrary to popular belief, your physique doesn’t change during workouts, it changes during recovery. More specifically, while you sleep. In fact, I would go as far as to say the amount of sleep you get is even more important than the amount of time you spend in the gym. Body fat, lean muscle mass, mental and athletic performance are all directly tied to sleep. There are a number of hormones at work while you sleep including, testosterone, human growth hormone (HGH) and cortisol. All can have a marked impact on your health and especially your physical appearance. Testosterone and HGH are both considered “anabolic” hormones. Meaning that they stimulate protein synthesis and muscle tissue repair (growth). Cortisol is just the opposite; it is the body’s primary "catabolic" hormone. Meaning that it breaks down healthy tissues even further. As if that weren’t bad enough, high cortisol levels also signal the body to lay down excess fatty tissue in the abdomen! The term “stubborn belly fat” exists for a reason. Individuals with high cortisol will have an extremely difficult time losing belly fat until they address this hormone imbalance and correct it. Regardless of your diet and exercise program, if your cortisol level is too high, you’re going to have belly fat. Period. So, anabolic hormones repair muscle tissue, and catabolic hormones break muscle tissue down and store body fat. It must then be safe to assume that the fate of your body composition (muscle/ fat ratio) lies in your hormonal balance. Well, it just so happens, that the balance between anabolic and catabolic hormones is regulated, in part, by your circadian rhythm (sleep cycle). In an ideal world, testosterone and HGH levels are at their highest during deep sleep and your cortisol level is at its lowest. However, cortisol levels can increase dramatically in response to stress. Sleep deprivation causes a massive amount of stress on your body. In fact, cortisol levels can jump as much as 50% after just two nights of partial or total sleep deprivation! Think about that next time your workaholic buddy is bragging about sleeping four hours a night to be more “productive.” That type of constant stress on the body can derail any chance you ever had at success on The Paleo Diet.
Get more sleep! It sounds simple enough, but it’s mind boggling to me how difficult it can be to get adults to just go to bed at night. If it’s passed 10 pm on a weeknight, you’re not missing anything special. Trust me, I’ve spent 13 years of my life performing in night clubs. Just got to bed! Your body will thank you in the morning. There is no activity or Netflix series that is worth compromising your results for. If you want to improve your health, 6-8 hours of sleep per night is non-negotiable! The practice of sleep (yes, proper sleep takes practice) is too dense a topic to dive into in this particular article. But I will give you just a few quick tips to help you prime your body for a good night’s sleep:
- Turn off all electronic devices 1 hour before bed. This means any and all screens! If you can do this for even just one week, I can personally guarantee you will experience a massive improvement in sleep quality.
- Read a fiction book 30-60 minutes prior to bed. This will help calm your mind. Non-fiction tends to be too thought provoking just before bed.
- Try journaling. If you’re someone who can’t stop your brain from spinning just as you lay down to go to sleep, try keeping a small notebook and pen on your nightstand. Taking even just 5 minutes to jot down your thoughts before bed can induce an amazing calming effect.
- Try sleep meditation. You can find endless sleep meditation guides on the internet. Do a little research, find a technique that appeals to you and try it out!
- Sleep in the dark. I can’t overemphasize this enough. Your body and mind are extremely sensitive to light. You could take the time to “blackout” your room, which I highly recommend. Or just buy yourself a good quality sleep mask and minimize the hassle.
Overtraining can have multiple negative effects on the body. Just like sleep deprivation, overtraining can also raise cortisol levels. Unfortunately, the onset of a new diet usually goes hand-in-hand with the problem of overtraining. I blame it on a lack of education. People make the decision to improve their health and they carry the dreadful assumption that more gym time equals more results. I promise you, nothing could be further from the truth. This “no pain, no gain” mentality has just got to go! It’s based on bad science, which has been refuted time and time again. But for some reason, people keep accepting this myth as fact. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say, “I am so sore today I can barely move! This new workout program must be awesome!” It makes me want to pull my hair out! If you start a new workout program and you are constantly in pain… JUST STOP! Take a day, or 2, or 3! Just rest and recover. Listen to your body! New Year’s Resolutions are probably the biggest offender when it comes to overtraining. In fact, it’s estimated that over 60% of people who make fitness-related New Year’s Resolutions give up within the first 30 days. Why? Because it’s just too damn hard! In some cases, people who haven’t had a strenuous workout in months decide they’re going to workout every single day. This doesn’t make them healthy, it makes them miserable. So miserable, in fact, that they give up altogether. The fact that you are Paleo doesn’t mean you are now obligated to do CrossFit six days per week!
For all you fitness junkies out there, don’t take this the wrong way! I am not saying exercise is bad. I have been a competitive hockey player and a boxer and I am still an avid CrossFitter and love power and Olympic weightlifting. I do these things because I love them, not because they are necessary to be a healthy person. For most people, reaching their ideal body weight and looking better naked is the end goal. Not everyone wants to be Rich Froning and there is nothing wrong with that! This country has a huge problem with brainwashing people into thinking that, if they aren’t at the gym 5 days per week, they are lazy. Not only is that wildly inaccurate, it’s also mean. If you’re a fit person, your job is not to judge and intimidate, your job is to motivate and educate. Not all people are as far along in their journey to better health as you are.
Look, if you’re trying to be a competitive athlete or a fitness model, you may need to maintain a high training volume. But even that opinion is debatable, at best. If you’re an average person who is just trying to be healthy, there is no reason you can’t achieve that goal with three (or less) workouts per week. They can even be less than 30 minutes in length. When it comes to your physique, proper nutrition is 80-90% of the battle, and that number is still giving fitness too much credit. If you’re new to all of this, start slowly with maybe 2 or 3 workouts per week. Focus on heavy resistance training and maybe throw in some high-intensity intervals, like sprints. Keep it short. With proper training and nutrition, you may be astonished at the results you can achieve with just a few workouts per week!
To sum things up: If you're new to Paleo and you're not a hardcore gym goer, take it easy on the carbs and don’t beat your body into submission! Get some sleep and be a little nicer to yourself. Focus on health and happiness, with a giant emphasis on happiness. Do these things and your body will take care of the rest!