Did you start a Paleo diet this year hoping to lose weight? Have you seen all the buzz about other people who have lost weight on a Paleo diet without counting calories, all while eating bacon and butter to their heart’s content? Are you becoming frustrated that you aren’t seeing the same results???
You aren’t alone!!! If you aren’t losing the weight that you want to, it doesn’t necessarily mean there is something wrong with you or that “Paleo doesn’t work.” There are several common mistakes that newbies and seasoned veterans alike make when it comes to Paleo eating for weight loss. I’ve made a few myself. In this post, I’d like to share with you 7 of the most common reasons people don’t realize their weight loss goals on a Paleo diet.
- You’re eating too much. At some point, calories do matter! I wrote more about this here, but the ‘unweighed, unmeasured’ ideal of Paleo works best for people who have a lot of weight to lose, who are making the switch away from a really poor diet to begin with or who already have good appetite control. If you only have 10-20 pounds to lose, already eat a decent diet, or tend to struggle with strong cravings or emotional eating, you really need to do some tracking of your caloric intake for a few days. You don’t need to to obsess about it, but you may find that you are eating 800 calories just in nuts. Or maybe you’ve been a little too liberal with the grass fed butter. Healthy fats are good for you and essential to a healthy diet, but remember that they do have more then twice the number of calories per gram as protein or carbs, so they are easy to overeat.
- You are too inflamed to lose weight right now. Whenever there is chronic inflammation in the body, cortisol is secreted in order to control and suppress the inflammatory response. It acts like the brake on the whole thing. Cortisol will also affect blood sugar regulation and under the influence of the cortisol, we tend to store more adipose (fat) tissue, particularly in the abdominal region. If you have unaddressed food allergies/intolerances, autoimmune disease or hormone imbalances, your cortisol is going to be too high and this will make weight loss more difficult. In this case, the first and primary focus should be calming down the inflammation. Once that is addressed you can begin to eat and exercise in a manner that will support your weight loss goals.
- You aren’t sleeping enough. Yes! You can sleep your way to a skinnier you! Sleep deprivation increases cortisol levels. Also during sleep, the body produces growth hormone, which helps build & repair muscle and burn fat. It has also been shown that a lack of sleep can lead to increased cravings and less ability to resist those cravings. If you aren’t getting enough sleep or aren’t sleeping well, you’re not going to be able to reap the full benefit from any exercise that you are doing or from the diet changes that you have made. Eight hours of sleep a night needs to be the minimum. Sleep in a dark room with as little noise as possible. Remove electronic devices from your bedroom. You can read more about good sleep hygiene here.
- You are over or under exercising. Exercise is a stress to the body. It works by actually tearing the muscles a bit or putting stress on the bones, and when the damage is repaired, our bodies make the tissue a little bit stronger in order to be better prepared for future stresses. This means that adaptation and the benefit from exercise technically comes from the REST period AFTER the actual physical exercise! So if you are doing hard workouts 5-6 days a week, going for broke every time, you are probably over training and causing too much stress and damage while not giving the body a chance to repair and adapt to the stress. At the same time, if you aren’t doing any sort of physical activity and you have a pretty sedentary job or sedentary hobbies, you may not be giving your body enough of a stimulus to lose weight. At the end of day, fat loss depends on a calorie deficit. The most fun and beneficial way to do this is to eat a nourishing, whole foods Paleo diet while increasing your activity a bit. You don’t have to be an exercise junkie or have a gym membership, just try incorporating more walking into your day, riding a bike to do errands in town, etc. You can also find plenty of quick, bodyweight exercise routines you can do from home on the internet. Jump squats, push-ups, pull-ups, planks, burpees are all great full-body exercises that can be done in various combinations and sets to get a short HIIT workout in without even leaving your house.
- You aren’t eating enough protein. Protein helps repair muscles and tissue and also provides satiety from a meal. A minimum standard for protein is 0.8 grams per pound of body weight. If you are trying to lose weight and especially if you are exercising more, I recommend people aim for 1 gram per pound of body weight in protein a day. (Also, the math is WAY easier!) So a 150-pound person should aim for 150 grams of protein a day. A large egg contains approximately 7 grams of protein. So if you are only eating 1-2 eggs in the morning, you might need to add a denser source of protein to your breakfast. Try adding some leftover chicken, pork or beef from dinner the night before. I also like to add a tablespoons of grass fed beef gelatin to my coffee for additional 12 grams or so of high quality protein.
- You are eating too much or too little carbs. If you followed the USDA food pyramid guidelines, you’d be eating 300g or more of carbs a day. Processed foods, because they often contain a lot of hidden sugar, are also really high in carbohydrates. Carbs in and of themselves are not bad, but carbohydrate intake has to be matched to activity level. If you sit at a desk all day and don’t exercise regularly, eating lots of sweet potatoes and bananas is probably going to stymy your weight loss efforts. Conversely, if you are doing Crossfit 4 days a week and eating 50g of carb a day, you may find that your performance is suffering. Also, you may find your carb carving increase to the point where you can’t resist gorging on non-Paleo dense carbs, which defeats the whole purpose of trying to eating healthier in the first place. A good range for most people to start is 100-150g of carb a day. After a month or so, see how you look and feel. If you are leaning out, but still have energy and aren’t craving sweets all the time, you’ve hit the sweet spot with carbs. (Bad pun definitely intended.)
- You are eating to many nuts/snacks/treats. I find a lot of people are addicted to snacking. A question I hear often, is “what can I eat for snacks?” Ideally, you shouldn’t need snacks. If you have to pound two fistfuls of almonds between breakfast and lunch or you become a hunger monster, then you aren’t eating enough protein and/or fat at breakfast. Nuts are great and certainly worth eating, but because of their portability and Paleo-friendliness, a lot of folks new to Paleo over-do them at first. I also see people go over board on the Paleo ‘treats’- muffins, cookies and breads made with almond or coconut flour instead of regular white flour. These can pack an even greater caloric punch without having the same feedback mechanism that tells the brain, ‘stop, I’ve had enough’ as the whole food. Treats should be just that- occasional treats, not everyday food items. The same goes for snacks. Nuts can be great to carry around and have when you’re in a pinch, but if you are trying to lose weight, don’t rely on having them everyday as a ‘snack.’ Before having a snack, check in with yourself to make sure you are legitimately hungry. A lot of people snack for reasons other then hunger- they are bored, stressed, tired or even just because its a certain time of the day. If you aren’t hungry, then find something else to do to break the habit. Drink water, stand up & stretch or even just do a mini-meditation session where you take 10 deep breaths, and just focus on the breathing. If you, however, legitimately hungry then have your snack and try to make tweaks to your next meal to make it more satisfying for longer.
Have you been making any of these common mistakes? Feel free to share your experience in the comments below!