Does it feel like your Paleo diet is not working for you? Are you doing everything right, following all the ‘rules’, yet are failing to see the results in weight loss, increased energy or improved general health?
As more people commit to taking care of their health and eating real food, it is so common to hear, “I did Paleo but it didn’t work for me.” There are a few common pitfalls that novices and veterans alike may want to address when their Paleo plan no longer seems to be working for them.
Out of habit, comfort, ease or desire, you may find yourself searching for foods that are eaten regularly on a Standard Western Diet but made with Paleo ingredients. If junk food, fast food and desserts were demons for you in the past, trying to Paleo-ify them in your quest for healthier eating is likely to set you up for failure. This does not imply that having a treat now and then is out of the questions, but if your main objective is to figure out how much you can “get away with” on within your Paleo limitations, you might find success is eluding you.
Get back to the basics of a Paleo diet – well sourced proteins, healthy, naturally occurring fats and local seasonal vegetables and fruits with a few nuts and seeds. Recommit for 30 days or so and reassess your progress.
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Calories and Fats
It can be a wise plan to gauge how much you are eating and check in with yourself, however, if you have been severely restricting calories in the past, you may need to give your body a chance to start sending the correct hormonal signals of satiation / satiety and hunger again. A well formulated Paleo diet is not a numbers game, nor is it an “eat as much as you want of whatever you want” plan. Paleo is about creating balance in your body and learning to listen to and understand your personal needs. Focussing, on a certain number of calories a day is not setting yourself up to thrive.
A Paleo diet encourages fat consumption and is not meant to be a low-fat plan. You physiologically need fat to function, including for (but definitely not limited to) a fuel when at rest, to maintain your cell membranes, to serve as hormonal precursors, to keep you feeling satiated.
A baked chicken breast with some steamed vegetables may appear to be Paleo friendly and easy but, while that meal doesn’t contain non-Paleo foods, it’s not quite Paleo enough.
Protein cannot be adequately utilized without dietary fats. That is why protein and fats occur together in eggs, fish and meats. A high protein, low fat diet can cause many problems including too rapid growth and depletion of vitamin A and D reserves.
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In simplifying your diet and purging processed foods and carbohydrates from your pantry, you can expose yourself to staples like meat, eggs, fish nuts and a whole market of new-to-you vegetables. You may have certain reactions or intolerances to some of these foods. This can cause low levels of inflammation throughout the body, making it difficult to feel energized, have well-working body functions and an efficient metabolism. Eggs, nuts, soy, corn, wheat, and dairy are the most common allergens found in food, but if embarking on a Paleo eating plan has left you feeling less-than optimal, or even worse, it is advised to seek the support of a professional to rule out or work within your body’s responses to certain foods.
Furthermore, certain illnesses, autoimmune conditions, medications, bacteria and parasites can have an impact on the functioning of any of the cells and systems in your body. These can express themselves and food intolerances and reactions along with a host of other symptoms ranging from pain, bloating, nausea, lack of energy, weight gain and general lack of function. Working with a qualified health care professional will help you rule out or mitigate any physiological mechanisms contributing to your on-going feelings of dis-ease and less than optimal health.
Nuts and Seeds
When looking to make a Paleo version of one of your favorite treats or comfort foods, it often appears that nuts and seeds replace grains in everything. Breads, biscuits muffins, cakes, cookies, crackers and even cereals seem feature ground nuts as the primary ingredient.
While appropriate as a treat or as an addition to a Paleo meal, nut-based baked goods present multiple pitfalls:
- Nut/seed butters and flours disguise the actual volume of nut/seed consumption. For example, a cup of almond flour contains 90 almonds and a tablespoon of almond butter contains 7 almonds.
- Nuts and seeds were traditionally a seasonalFor example, almond harvest lasts from August to November and walnuts are in season from November to June.
- Nuts and seeds contain anti-nutrients including enzyme inhibitors.
- Nuts and seeds are high in omega-6 fatty acids. Contrary to popular belief, nuts/seeds fail to provide the body with useable omega 3. Instead, most contain high levels of omega-6 fatty acids which, when consumed in over-abundance, can impair the body’s anti-inflammatory pathways.
Personal Carbohydrate Needs
Carbohydrates have become a hot topic of contention recently.
Amongst all the chatter and clickbait headlines, you may be challenged to find your optimal carbohydrate intake because there is no one-size-fits-all answer. Carbohydrate needs vary depending on sex, body type, exercise, ancestry, weight loss goals, and more.
To find your personal carbohydrate balance, you can begin by paying attention to your body’s signals
You may be consuming too many carbohydrates if:
- You use sweeteners (honey, maple syrup, etc.) on a daily basis
- Your fasting blood sugar is elevated in the morning
- You crave something sweet or starchy with each meal
- You regularly feel tired after meals
- You wake up feeling hungry in the morning
- Your wound healing and tissue regeneration are slow or delayed (indicates insulin resistance)
It can be really easy to over-consume carbohydrates on a Paleo diet by replicating your old eating patterns as a grain-free version. Eating almond flour pancakes with syrup for breakfast, having a tapioca bread sandwich for lunch, and eating sweet potato pasta for dinner is not a well-formulated Paleo diet and, as mentioned previously, is not creating the foundation for health, wellness and fat loss success.
You may be consuming too few carbohydrates if you experience:
- Feeling dizzy or light-headed upon standing quickly
- Feeling chronically chilled
- Having very cold fingers and toes
- Excess weight loss
Paleo friendly carbohydrates include:
- Winter squashes
- Starchy vegetables, such as sweet potatoes and parsnips
- Fresh fruit
- White potatoes, if tolerated
The Paleo Lifestyle.
While diet is the central point of Paleo lifestyle, other lifestyle factors play a very important role in your health and need to be addressed. The three main other lifestyle factors to keep in mind other than diet are movement, stress and sleep.
Failure to have healthy habits in one or more of these lifestyle factors can greatly limit or hinder your results. Bad sleep quality or lack of sleep can be especially harmful and no amount of healthy food is going to make up for it. Stress management is vital in creating a healing and nurturing environment for your body to reach its optimal state of health.
It is important to note that when switching from a typical Western diet with excessive sugar, processed carbs and food with low nutritional value, it can be common to experience some symptoms associated with withdrawal from this high glycemic lifestyle. Your body needs time to switch over to burning fat at rest and this process can take some time. If you want stable energy, improved mood and fat loss, you need to stick with your plan for at least a month, possibly longer.
Keep in mind that your body is unique, what works wonderfully for me, may be less than optimal for you. Constantly re-assessing is important, Paleo is not meant to be a one-size-fits-all approach. While the journey can sometimes seem long and hard, changes always seem easier when looking back.