Many people find that when they start eating paleo, they naturally lose any excess weight as a function of supporting their health from the inside out, eliminating processed foods, supporting their hormones, regulating their hunger signals, and allowing their bodies to be nourished in the way they were designed to be nourished. For anyone with weight loss goals, I always recommend they start with a paleo-based diet. That being said, while many people do have that experience of natural weight loss without even trying, some might find that they don’t lose their excess weight or might even gain some weight. What’s going on?!
You can make “mistakes” with any way of eating, and there are a few common reasons why certain women don’t lose weight when eating paleo even though others lose weight easily. While there are many reasons that come to mind and this list is far from exhaustive, here are a few of the most common factors I see preventing women from losing weight while eating a paleo diet.
- Not eating enough food. Most women who come to me are undereating – sometimes because they are still stuck in diet mentality, and other times without even realizing it. Chronically undereating can cause weight gain because the body thinks it’s starving, which increases levels of cortisol (our stress hormone) in the body. When cortisol is chronically elevated, you are more likely to store fat. Think about it this way – if the body thinks it’s starving, it’s only logical that it will downregulate your metabolism to preserve what little food it is getting. When your body does get more food, it’s more likely to hang onto it as fat to store for when it’s “starving” again, which is what it expects. Undereating can also often lead to weight gain because restriction often perpetuates binge-eating behavior later on. Someone might undereat all week long, but then feel the urge to binge on the weekends – causing them to gain weight in the long run.
Paleo foods are also generally much lower in calories than processed foods, so it can be easy to accidentally drastically slash your calories way too low when eating a real-food diet. For example, replacing rice with cauliflower rice or pasta for zucchini noodles is a dramatic difference in calories, especially when you add up all of your meals throughout the day. Some people move from 3000 calories a day to 1000 overnight without realizing it! Most people don’t realize the volume of food they have to eat to get their calories up. Veggies are not calorically dense.
Some of the most nutrient-dense foods that are critical to include in your diet for overall health also happen to be more calorically dense, like animal proteins and healthy fats, but sadly most women shy away from these because they still worry about how many calories they’re eating. Undereating protein, specifically, is a really common problem I see. Protein is the most satiating food, and eating more in the long run can actually help you lose weight.
- Working out too much. Most people believe that the answer is to move more and eat less, but that’s not usually the case. While exercise is important, I actually have more women coming to me overtraining than undertraining. Plus, when it comes to weight loss, nutrition is really the key. You don’t really lose that much weight from exercise alone unless you are spending a lot of time at the gym every single day – far more than most people. But even that could cause weight gain if it’s too much of a stressor on the body! I see many women working out 6-7 days a week for 1-2 hours every day, not realizing the stress that’s putting their bodies under. Even if it worked for you at first, in the long run that much exercise might be too much stress on your system and cause your body to store excess weight, especially if you’re also dealing with other life stressors. Exercising too much can cause inflammation in the body, and water retention in your muscles is a common way that inflammation shows itself, which looks like weight gain. Many women find that when they pull back on their training and allow their bodies to calm down, they drop excess weight.
- Eating too many nuts / seeds. Raw nuts and seeds can be great for a snack or to add as a topping on different meals, but I find that many people rely far too much on nuts and seeds. Nuts and seeds can be very calorically dense, and I’ve had many clients not even realize that their “handful” of nuts during the day is actually 1,000 calories worth! Nuts are very easy to overeat – our ancestors didn’t have access to bags of nuts like we do nowadays, and they would only eat them in small amounts when they found them. Nut butters in particular are very easy to overeat – I think we’ve all accidentally downed half a jar of nut butter before without even realizing it! Nuts and seeds can also cause inflammation in the body for certain people, especially those with autoimmune diseases. They can also cause digestive stress when overconsumed and potentially negatively impact gut health, which plays a huge role in weight management.
- Eating too many paleo packaged goods. Just because it’s labeled “paleo” doesn’t mean it’s healthy or okay to consume in large quantities! A packaged food is a packaged food. Many paleo packaged foods are just as addictive and calorically dense (sometimes even moreso) than their non-paleo counterparts. They’re very easy to overeat and probably contain ingredients that dysregulate your hunger signals and could potentially cause inflammation in the body. Sticking to whole foods is the best way to naturally regulate your weight. Paleo bars, paleo cookies, and paleo cupcakes are not whole foods – they are still packaged / processed, and should be kept as a treat instead of a daily staple. If you’re consuming packaged paleo goods every single day, this could prevent you from losing weight.
- Eating foods that you’re sensitive to. Unfortunately, sometimes our bodies are sensitive to even “healthy” foods, like certain animal proteins, vegetables, or fruits. Not all food sensitivities manifest as digestive issues, as many people expect. Food sensitivities can make people retain water, making them look “puffy ” and like they’re holding onto more weight – this is inflammation! Some of the most common paleo foods that people are sensitive to include eggs, nuts, seeds, nightshades (eggplant, potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, etc.), and coconut, although sometimes a food sensitivity can be another seemingly “random” food that simply just doesn’t work for your body. More often than not, food sensitivities are caused by leaky gut, and will go away after you heal your gut.
- Not getting enough sleep. Sleep affects your levels of cortisol, ghrelin, leptin, and growth hormone, which impact how much fat you store, how much fat you can lose, your hunger / satiety signals, and how much muscle you can build. Some women are shocked to find that even just a week of sleeping 8+ hours a night allows them to drop anywhere from 3-10 pounds. Getting more sleep will help reduce your body’s cortisol levels so you can release any excess inflammation and your body won’t feel like it needs to hold on to extra weight for safety.
- Not addressing your underlying health issue. If you want to lose excess weight, the most important thing to do is to address any underlying health issues. After you do that, the body typically naturally balances out to its ideal weight because it’s not “stressed” anymore while fighting that underlying health problem. Some of the common underlying health issues that prevent people from losing weight are thyroid issues, adrenal dysfunction, hormone imbalances, blood sugar dysregulation, gut dysbiosis, and autoimmunity.
- Following the wrong macronutrient ratio for your body. The right macronutrient ratio is very individual, but many women can’t lose weight until they switch up their macros. If you’ve been eating one way for awhile and you’re not seeing any change, switch it up. If it’s not working, change it. One of the most common things I see is women not eating the proper amount of carbohydrates for their bodies, which can lead to food cravings, insomnia, and hormonal dysfunction. For some women, this means eating lower carb, and for others, this means eating higher carb. For example, if you are an athlete eating low carb and not getting the results you want, you probably need to increase your carbs. If you’re post menopausal eating high carb and gaining weight, you probably need to decrease your carbs. It’s also very common for me to see women in “low carb purgatory,” where they’re not eating enough carbs to fuel their bodies, but they’re eating too many carbs to be in ketosis, so their bodies are confused about where to turn for fuel. It’s common for women to feel better when they pick a direction – higher fat and lower carb (make sure to increase your fat!), or lower / moderate fat and higher carbs. And, as mentioned before, increasing protein intake tends to lead to easier weight loss.
- High stress levels and negative self-talk. I put these two together because they often go hand in hand (although not always). If you have a lot of life stress, your cortisol is probably high, and your adrenals might be dysregulated, causing your body to hang on to excess weight. This is why prioritizing stress relief can be a game-changer for weight loss. Cut negative people out of your life, find a job you love, meditate, do yoga, go for a walk outside, read a book for pleasure, spend time with people you love, orgasm, lay on the floor with your legs up the wall. All of these things will help you to reduce your cortisol levels and better manage your stress.
Highly-stressed individuals also often engage in a lot of negative self-talk, picking apart their physical appearance or emotional traits, believing they’re not good enough. This can be conscious or subconscious. What we think, speak, and believe comes into existence. The more negative self-talk you engage in, the higher your cortisol levels will be, and the more you will tell your brain to be the things you are saying. Focusing on changing that language and truly learning to love yourself can have a huge impact on shedding excess weight.
- You don’t have any excess weight to lose. There are many women who are frustrated they can’t lose excess weight, yet they don’t have any extra weight to lose. We live in a culture of unrealistic ideals, and many women struggle with body dysmorphia and see themselves as much larger than they actually are. It’s important to be realistic about if you really have weight to lose. Sometimes your happy weight is higher than what you would like it to be, because you might have gotten a certain arbitrary number in your head at a young age that stuck with you for a long time. A number does not define your worth. Losing more and more weight will not make you any happier or better. I put this here because there are many thin women who want to lose “extra” weight that they don’t actually have, and they fight their bodies so much in the process that they actually might gain even more!
The stress of trying to lose weight and fighting against your body can sometimes do more harm than good. However, if you are a woman who does have excess weight or inflammation to lose, there is absolutely nothing wrong with pursuing that goal – you deserve to feel your best. Start with the suggestions above. The important thing is to be honest with yourself about if your results are realistic and coming from a desire to be healthier, or if your results are coming from a place of vanity and trying to accomplish something for others’ approval or just to avoid other things going on in your life
Interested in learning more about the most common health mistakes women make and how to avoid them? Check out my Paleo Women Lifestyle Program, my online course where I teach women everything they need to know about health and living a paleo LIFESTYLE to finally reach their health goals, so you can avoid all of the common mistakes women make. We cover nutrition, building balanced meals for your goals, exercise, stress management, sleep hacks, digestion, balancing your hormones, and everything in between. Head here to learn more. (Enrollment for the GROUP PROGRAM, where you have access to me for any personal questions in our private Facebook group and in our live video coaching calls, opens on MONDAY, JULY 15th before the program starts on Monday, July 22nd! After that, this course will only be available as a DIY / self-study course without direct access to me.)