It’s no secret that weight loss is one of the primary goals of people who switch to a Paleo diet. While some choose Paleo for the digestive and chronic disease benefits it provides, many others simply want to lose that stubborn 20, 30, or 50 (or more!) pounds that they’ve been unable to lose in the past, or have lost before only to regain all of it and then some.
These folks have learned the hard way that diets don’t work unless you find a way to eat on a regular basis that fuels your daily activity, makes you feel energized and happy, and supports optimal hormone functioning. And sadly, extreme calorie cutting, overexercising, carb/fat/protein restriction, and “cleansing” – while popular in today’s diet obsessed culture – rarely helps anyone lose weight and keep it off.
If anything, these diet techniques are just producing a population of unhappy yo-yo dieters who would rather stay overweight than go through another round of dieting. I don’t blame you if you’re one of them!
There are a few different strategies for weight loss that can be helpful, and a simple switch to a Paleo diet is usually pretty helpful for most people. As Chris Kresser explains in his eBook on weight loss, there are many people who lose weight rapidly and permanently when they switch to Paleo. However, there are some who don’t lose the weight they want to lose, so for those folks, these are the 5 tips I have for kickstarting your weight loss on Paleo.
1. Don’t Under Eat
It may surprise you to learn that the majority of my weight loss clients are significantly under eating on a regular basis. This is due to the unfortunate belief that the secret to weight loss is eating several hundred calories less than your body needs every day.
My clients often come to me with food diaries that show a meager 1200-1400 calories per day (or less!), which is not enough to sustain a healthy, active body. It’s no surprise that many of them feel exhausted and burnt out, and that their weight loss has completely stalled.
Unfortunately, the “calories-in-calories-out” equation rarely works in the long term, and frankly, leads many people to do significant damage to their metabolisms by chronically under eating and over exercising in an effort to shed weight quickly. While this can lead to short term losses, which only helps to reward this problematic dieting method, eventually the body will “rebel” and significantly lower its metabolic rate in order to conserve calories and limit fat loss.
What’s worse, is whatever food you do eat, the body will preferentially store as fat as long as it perceives itself to be under high stress. This explains why so many people gain back all the weight they lose… and then some.
The sweet spot for weight loss is to determine what you need to support your body’s overall metabolic rate (i.e. the energy it burns just to live a normal life), and eat just slightly less than that amount, or increase your activity levels if you’re not already pretty active. You can use this calculator to determine your caloric needs based on your current level of activity, and then subtract about 200-300 calories from that number for slow, sustainable weight loss.
If you track your intake over a few days using a calorie counting tool, you may be surprised to find that you’re not eating enough to meet that number you just calculated. As I mentioned, I’ve had dozens of patients who were eating hundreds of calories less than they needed, and their bodies were clearly not enduring the stress of dieting too well. While I don’t recommend calorie counting as a dieting tool for most people, I do think it’s important to ensure that you’re eating enough calories on a regular basis to support your activity and reduce stress levels.
Once you get the hang of regularly eating enough to meet your needs, ditch the calorie counting and just eat nourishing foods to satiety. I’m more concerned that you’re eating enough rather than religiously counting every calorie that passes your lips.
2. Eat Simpler Foods
As much as I love a good Paleo recipe, I’ve got to admit – many of the recipes you see on Paleo websites are not suitable for those who are trying to lose weight. And I’m not just talking about “Paleo” desserts like cookies, cakes, brownies, ice creams, or any other “Paleo-fied” version of a delicious dessert. I’m also talking about flavor explosions like bacon-wrapped honey mustard chicken, or spicy deep-fried sweet potato chips, or coconut milk fruit smoothies that use an entire can of coconut milk, or maple roasted pecans with sea salt.
Yes these foods are “Paleo”, and they sure are delicious, but therein lies the problem… these foods are highly rewarding, drive overconsumption (i.e. past the point of satiety), and may actually spur on fat gain simply because of how darn tasty they are. Bummer, right?
I’m not saying you have to give up desserts entirely, or eat unsalted chicken breasts and dry broccoli every night in order to lose weight. (Gross.) Indulging occasionally in some sweet ‘healthified” treats and cooking up a tasty curry or herb-roasted skin-on chicken for dinner isn’t going to totally derail your weight loss efforts.
Just remember, the more simply you eat, the better, and the more quickly you’ll drop those unwanted pounds. If you really want a flavor explosion, why not find a way to make those brussels sprouts taste like heaven? I’d rather you be motivated to eat way more veggies than make a tantalizing tray of chocolate almond flour muffins that you polish off in one sitting because they’re just that darn good.
3. Lift Heavy Weights
Another common fallacy in the world of weight loss is that cardio is the only exercise you need, and that heavy weight lifting will only bulk you up. (I’m talking to you here, ladies!) True, you may not lose quite as many pounds if you’re lifting heavy weights on a regular basis; after all, muscle weighs more than fat (i.e. more dense) and takes up less space. But when it comes to health and looking hot, a little added muscle can go a long way.
Adding muscle can also significantly increase your ability to use glucose (aka blood sugar) in a healthy way. Population studies show that greater muscle mass strongly correlates with improved insulin sensitivity, and the less glucose you have floating around in your blood going unused by cells, the more of it that gets stored as fat. In fact, weight lifting and other types of high intensity muscle use have been shown to increase glucose utilization without the need for insulin, helping to lower blood sugar even further.
I’m not knocking cardio here: in fact, a combination of cardio and weight training has been shown to be one of the best exercise strategies for weight loss. And high intensity interval training has many benefits, including a reduction in blood sugar for hours after exercising. But rather than plugging away on the elliptical machine for 45 minutes every day, mix it up with some heavy resistance training 2-3 days per week. You’ll get more bang for your exercise buck, and get some metabolic benefits to boot.
No matter what you do to exercise, though, make sure it’s something you enjoy. You’re more likely to stick to an exercise program that brings you happiness compared to one that makes you dread going to the gym.
4. Don’t Ignore Stress
Stress is one of the lynchpins of the majority of my clients’ health and weight loss success. If they’re able to get it under control, they find it far easier to meet their health goals compared to those clients who can’t find a way to manage their daily stressors. For better or worse, stress is a part of all of our lives, and keeping it to a minimum should be a key strategy of any smart weight loss program.
There are many ways to manage stress, so you should pick one that works for you. I personally love yoga, and try to do it once a week to help me manage my own anxiety that creeps up when life gets hectic. This doesn’t even have to mean going to a yoga class… sometimes I literally just do forward folds in my living room to help calm my nerves. Or I follow a short YogaGlo sequence. Deep breathing is another technique I use frequently when the stress bubbles up. It helps keep me focused without feeling panicked when my workload gets heavy.
Some people like meditation, others enjoy going for nature walks, and some prefer to splurge on massages or other pampering experiences. Find something that you love and that works to get your stress levels down… and then do it on a regular basis. Weekly, daily, twice daily – however often you feel is necessary to keep your mental state calm and happy!
This goes for getting enough sleep too. Inadequate or poor quality sleep is a huge stressor on the body, and a good night’s sleep can do wonders for your energy, mood, and stress levels. There are some awesome herbal remedies that can help you sleep better, and your diet plays an important role as well. I’m experimenting with lavender oil right now, and I’m finding it’s great for keeping me calm and helping me fall asleep more quickly! (Just have to be okay with having “potpourri burps” now and then!)
5. Get Help!
Losing weight and keeping it off is hard. I don’t think there’s a single person out there who would tell you weight loss is easy and keep a straight face. Sure, there’s plenty of “get skinny quick” protocols out there that promise immediate results, but those plans typically don’t help their users get sustainable, healthy, long-lasting results in their weight loss endeavors. In fact, many of these “lose weight fast” gimmicks leave dieters fatter and sicker than they were when they started the diet.
While healthy, sustainable weight loss takes time and dedication, it’s a lot easier to lose weight when you’re getting help from someone who’s spent years studying the topic of nutrition and healthy weight loss. It also helps to work with someone who doesn’t think you need to get “shredded” or “stick thin” to be a weight loss success story.
Personally, I want my clients to be healthy and happy, above anything else. I understand that losing weight can contribute to happiness through increased confidence, energy, and overall contentment with life. That’s why a diet shouldn’t be something that makes you miserable, sick, fatigued, or fed up.
While the Paleo diet is an amazing starting point, there are so many other factors that play in to your weight loss success, and I want to share my knowledge with you so that you can lose weight in the safest and least stressful way possible! If you work with me, I’ll help you discover the diet plan that’s right for you and your weight loss goals, and guide you towards a more fit and energetic life.
Interested? Sign up for a FREE 15 minute consult with me and let’s talk about your weight loss, health, and wellness goals.