In my experience, the paleo diet is the most sustainable way to get lean and stay lean.
Yet, some people are not losing weight on paleo.
In this article, we will look at the reasons and how to fix it.
Read on to learn why not all paleo foods are created equal, how exercise plays into weight loss, and why mindful eating was a game changer for me.
- 1. Too Many Fruits
- 2. Too Many Dried Fruits
- 3. Too Many Nuts
- 4. Too Many Starchy Vegetables and Grains
- 5. Too Many Paleo Pancakes
- 6. Too Many Cheat Meals
- 7. Too Many Carbs
- 8. Too Much Oil and Butter
- 9. Too Much Dairy
- 10. Too Much Low-quality Protein
- 11. You Are Not Exercising
- 12. You Are Overtraining
- 13. You Are Doing Exercise Wrong
- 14. You Are Not Walking Enough
- 15. You Are Not Tailoring Carbs to Activity Levels
- 16. You Are Mindlessly Snacking
- 17. You Are Distracted While Eating
- 18. You Are Doing Too Many Things
- 19. You Are Not Sleeping Enough
- 20. You Have Unrealistic Goals
- 21. You Are Being Impatient
- 22. Your Environment Doesn’t Support Your Diet
- 23. You Are Relying on the Scale
- 24. You Are Not Counting Calories
- 25. You Are Starving Yourself
Note: I am not a doctor, and I am not offering medical advice. I am simply sharing my personal observations with you. If you want to change your lifestyle in any way, consult with your physician first.
1. Too Many Fruits
I remember when I started eating paleo in 2013, I would eat about five pounds of fruits a day; some days more.
Of course, I did not lose any weight.
Fruits, even though technically paleo, still contain a lot of sugar (fructose). This is especially true for the over cultivated varieties available to us; this stuff was not around in cavemen times.
So, if you overeat on fruits like I did, it becomes impossible to lose weight.
When you eat fruits, choose berries before other types of fruits, as they have a lower glycemic index (which means you will stay full longer)
Stay away from bananas, grapes, oranges, mangos, cherries, and figs, as they are especially high in fructose.
Overall, reduce your fruit intake. Instead, eat more non-starchy veggies and high-quality proteins.
2. Too Many Dried Fruits
If over-bred, high-sugar fruits are not ideal, dried fruits are worse.
Since dried fruits had most of their water content removed, you are left with a compact, energy-dense food.
This reduced size makes it easier to overeat dried fruits, while regular fruits — due to volume — will fill you up more quickly.
Another problem is that the most common varieties of dried fruits include raisins, dates, prunes, figs and apricots — some of the highest fructose fruits around.
Reserve eating dried fruits for traveling days, or as the (very) occasional treat. We are talking a few pieces once a month or so.
3. Too Many Nuts
I could eat macadamia nuts all day.
But they do pack a punch. 100 grams of macadamias contain a whopping 700 calories, due to their high-fat content.
Essentially, with just two hands full of nuts, you are getting the caloric equivalent of a whole meal.
And while macadamias are the leader of the pack, nuts in general are some of the most calorically dense foods out there.
If you are not losing weight on paleo, skip the nuts. If you really feel you need some, opt for almonds or pistachios. But even those have well over 500 calories per 100 grams.
4. Too Many Starchy Vegetables and Grains
Sweet potatoes and yams are paleo, but they contain a lot of starch, which is eventually broken down into sugar inside the body.
Potatoes and rice are technically not paleo, but are still included in many paleo diet meal plans. And while they are relatively harmless in terms of anti-nutrients, they, too, contain a lot of starch.
If you eat these starchy foods regularly, your weight loss will probably stall.
Cut the starchy foods. Instead, eat lots of non-starchy vegetables, like broccoli, cauliflower, or spinach.
5. Too Many Paleo Pancakes
Paleo pancakes made from almond flour. Paleo banana bread. Paleo ice cream. Paleo protein bars. Paleo chips.
All of these miss the point.
Paleo is about having a large portion of steamed vegetables in front of you, maybe with some olive oil, and a serving of high-quality protein next to it. Simple, filling and extremely healthy.
Rebuilding common comfort foods like pancakes or ice cream with ingredients that are technically paleo is just a way of kidding yourself.
Questionable ingredients like almond flour and agave syrup are overused to the point where there is little difference between them and other processed foods.
If you are eating these foods regularly, it’s no wonder you are not losing weight on paleo.
Stop eating pseudo-paleo foods. Accept that real paleo food will taste somewhat bland in comparison to the Standard American Diet. But, unlike processed foods, they won’t cut your life short.
6. Too Many Cheat Meals
Cheat meals are a good way to wane yourself off your carb addiction.
Instead of going cold turkey, you allow for the occasional planned slip-up. This tends to increase consistency with the paleo diet, especially when starting out.
But if you have too many cheat meals, you will sabotage your weight loss goals.
How many is too many? That depends on your starting point. If you are massively obese, you can easily do three cheat meals a week and still lose weight.
But if, as a man, you are sitting at 20 percent body fat, three might be three too many.
Tailor your cheat meals to your current weight. The bigger you are, the more you can get away with. The leaner you are, the fewer cheat meals you should have.
Long term, strive to eliminate cheat meals altogether. I’m not saying you can never have pizza or ice cream again. But ideally, you eat this every once in a blue moon, not on a weekly basis.
7. Too Many Carbs
Everything we talked about so far comes down to one thing — you are not losing weight on paleo, because you are still eating too many carbs.
If you eat tons of carbs, you are spiking blood sugar levels. As a result, the body produces large quantities of insulin to counteract that. But with blood sugar level now down, you will shortly feel hungry again.
That dynamic is at the heart of the obesity epidemic.
To break out of that vicious cycle, you need to reduce carb intake.
The majority of your meals should consist of non-starchy veggies plus high-quality, fatty protein. If you are eating steamed broccoli with grilled salmon for all meals, it is impossible not to lose weight.
The more you stick with this simple formula, the more you will lose weight.
The more you deviate from this formula by adding in all kinds of carb-heavy foods — fruits, dried fruits, nuts, dairy, sweet potatoes, yams — the fewer results you will see.
8. Too Much Oil and Butter
While the paleo diet rightfully promotes healthy fats like olive oil and grass-fed butter, neither of these are ideal if you want to lose weight.
Because of their liquid, processed state, they are just too easy to overeat.
For example, my standard option for dinner is scrambled eggs. But if I don’t measure how much butter I use, the chunks of Kerrygold tend to grow bigger each night.
Always measure your oil and butter intake. Never wing it.
Just use tablespoons for oil, and the 50 gram markings printed on the wrapping paper of the butter. No need to fetch the scale.
Generally, choose fatty fish and fatty cuts of meat rather than adding liquid fat to your meals.
9. Too Much Dairy
This only applies to those who follow the primal version of paleo, as popularized by Mark Sisson. Here, you are allowed to eat certain high-fat dairy, like Greek yogurt.
But just like fruits and nuts, high-fat dairy is very dense, i.e., low physical volume but high calorie count. Therefore, it’s easy to overeat on kefir, Gouda and the like.
If you can, cut the dairy. Not because it’s bad for you (unless you are lactose intolerant), but because it will stall your weight loss.
At the very least, practice moderation. Weigh how much Greek yogurt you are putting on your blueberries. 150 grams is fine, 400 grams less so.
10. Too Much Low-quality Protein
The paleo diet is about high-quality proteins like grilled salmon, organic chicken breast or grass-fed rib-eye steak.
If your majority of protein intake comes from bacon, burger patties and luncheon meats, you are doing it wrong.
First, low-quality proteins contain sugars and are easy to overeat on — that means weight gain.
Second, because of the additives in low-protein, you are more likely to experience inflammation related problems.
Third, there also seems to be a correlation between low-quality protein and an increased risk of cancer.
Eat high-quality protein, always. If not for the weight loss, then at least for health reasons.
11. You Are Not Exercising
Even if it were true that exercise does not make a big difference in terms of caloric expenditure — as some recent research suggests — you must lift heavy things.
First, muscles make you look better. And aesthetics are the major reason why people start dieting in the first place. It is not about what the scale says. It’s about how you look naked. Muscles are a major part of that.
Second, nothing counteracts emotional eating like exercise. When life gets too much, instead of reaching for the Doritos, simply get up and take a long walk.
Third, being muscular improves your quality of life. Lifting that heavy couch while moving? Having more stamina during sex? Picking your grand children off the ground? All muscle related.
Forth, muscles prolong your life span. You are much less likely to die from heart disease (or other diseases) if you carry a healthy amount of muscle.
So, if you are just dieting and not building muscle, you are selling yourself short. Neither health nor aesthetic goals can be fully accomplished without exercising. It’s like using only one leg, when you have two.
Make exercise as easy as possible.
Work out at home. Each day, do a pushing movement (e.g., push-ups), a pulling movement (e.g., pull-ups), and a squat variation. Do at least one set each. On days when you feel especially good, do two sets.
12. You Are Overtraining
You can have too much of a good thing.
Especially if you just made a resolution to get fit, it’s easy to get carried away. Yesterday, you were spending hours on end on your couch. Now, you are doing daily CrossFit WODs.
Of course, your body will revolt.
And if you are also cutting calories at the same time, your body will come to think it’s under attack. It will hold on to whatever fat reserves it has to better weather the storm.
Dial in your exercise. “A lot helps a lot,” is not a smart fitness strategy. Do short workouts that make you feel better afterwards, not worse. If you can hardly walk the next day, you overdid it.
13. You Are Doing Exercise Wrong
There are three popular types of exercise:
- cardio training — jogging, cycling, swimming
- mobility work — yoga, stretching
- resistance training — lifting weights, machines, body weight training
Resistance training has by far the most weight-loss benefits.
You will burn more calories if you are more muscular. You will look better, which is often the real reason behind losing weight. You will reduce atrophy as you age, which will prevent further weight gain.
Yet, despite these benefits, what does the average Joe focus on? Cardio and mobility.
That’s because standing on an elliptical trainer talking to your girlfriend or taking a yoga class are still somewhat fun. Squatting a heavy weight in the barbell rack? Not so much.
So we come up with all kinds of excuses to not do the latter. “It makes me look bulky” or, “I’m a hard gainer, why bother?” But then don’t act surprised if you are not losing weight / looking better.
Do a tiny amount of resistance training — 10 minutes — each day. By keeping it very short, it will become almost impossible to fail. Follow the 21/90 rule, and the habit will eventually become automated.
Simply do a set of incline push-ups to failure on your kitchen counter. Max out a set of back widows on the living-room carpet. Work up to 100 daily squats outside on your lawn.
14. You Are Not Walking Enough
Instead of doing cardio, especially jogging, most people would be much better off with brisk walking for fat loss.
Walking primarily burns calories from body fat, while other forms of cardio tend to deplete glycogen stores much more. The latter leads to carb hunger with ensuing weight gain.
Also, unlike heavy cardio training, walking does not tax your central nervous system.
Therefore, it does not interfere with your resistance training. You can easily do a short body-weight circuit and walk a few miles on the same day. That means more weight loss in a shorter period of time.
Yet, most of us take the car to the supermarket, when it’s five minutes away. And with electric scooters, you can now zip around the city without taking a single step.
As a result, you can eat a healthy diet (paleo), but still not see much weight loss.
Build a walking habit. Start easy, with just 15 minutes a day. Then each week, increase the duration to five minutes. Work your way up to one hour. On days when the mood strikes you, walk even more.
15. You Are Not Tailoring Carbs to Activity Levels
Let’s say you work out four days a week at the gym.
During those days, your energy expenditure will be high. Naturally, you will want to eat more, especially more carbs. That’s justified.
But what about your off-days? It is tempting to keep eating the same calories on those days, simply out of habit.
This might be the reason why you are not losing weight.
Tailor your caloric and carb intake to your activity level.
On workout days, as a big man, you might be consuming over 3000 calories and more than 150 grams of carbs. On non-workout days, you might eat fewer than 2000 calories and stay under 100 grams of carbs.
Alternatively, and this is what I do, you can work out every day at about the same intensity. I do a daily set of one pushing exercise, one pulling exercise, and one squat variation. If I feel extra good, I might do two sets.
This way, I can eat the same amount of food every day without having to count calories.
16. You Are Mindlessly Snacking
Many people are in the habit of mindlessly snacking between meals.
This is usually not due to hunger. Rather, we grab snack foods when we are bored or annoyed with what we are currently doing. It’s an easy break, that also comes with a dopamine hit from sugary treats.
Even if you snack on paleo treats like dried fruits or nuts, you will still gain weight. Excess calories from emotional eating will do that.
It should go without saying — eat two to three major meals a day that truly satiate you. Focus on non-starchy veggies with high-quality protein. That’s the baseline.
Next, throw out all snack foods. When you have that stuff at home, you are more likely to reach for it.
Most importantly, learn to monitor your own feelings. When you start to feel antsy, maybe because you have been staring at a screen for too long, take a mental note.
Now find a new behavior to replace the snack habit with. I recommend taking a walk. Not only will it elevate your mood; it will also boost fat burning.
17. You Are Distracted While Eating
For me, this is the single biggest reason why I am not losing weight on paleo.
If I watch Netflix while eating, I keep mechanically shoveling food into my mouth. I won’t stop until I am about to burst.
Reading while eating has a similar effect on me. Likewise, listening to a podcast. Heck, even having a conversation makes me more likely to eat past satiety.
But when I eliminate all distractions, portion size goes down. Suddenly, there is a voice letting me know, “Listen, you kinda feel full. Maybe it’s time to stop eating.”
But it’s hard. Even before we start chewing, we reach for our smartphone. It is our automatic reaction every time we have a free minute.
Using the baby-step approach, wane yourself off this addiction. For example, decide on one meal per day during which you only focus on your food. Do this for a few weeks, until it becomes effortless. Then extend that rule to your second meal. Repeat.
You can also increase your awareness while eating by closing your eyes or eating in a dark room. You will receive much more pleasure from food this way. And it will make you stop even earlier, thereby boosting weight loss.
18. You Are Doing Too Many Things
Every little decision we have to make during the day depletes our willpower reservoir.
If you juggle numerous work projects, get 80 emails a day and have a spouse and children, you will have to make hundreds, if not thousands, of small and big decisions each day.
Naturally, you will have no willpower left when it comes to your diet. So of course, you will choose some pseudo-paleo food with lots of calories, or worse yet, order a pizza.
We claim that we have too much to do. But in truth, it’s just us being greedy. We want to have it all.
Understand that you cannot have it all. The perfect relationship. The great career. The model body. The cool group of friends.
Something has to give.
If you make your diet one of your few things in life — or even the main thing — results will follow inevitably.
19. You Are Not Sleeping Enough
One of the major reason why people are not losing weight on paleo is lack of sleep.
Lack of sleep is another way to deplete your willpower reservoir. And less willpower leads to bad food choices.
You order the coke instead of the water. You reach for the donut instead of the apple. One row of dark chocolate becomes a whole bar.
Also, without sleep, our body is more likely to store excess calories as body fat and less likely to lose stubborn fat at the lower belly and hips.
Go to bed at the same time each night, even on the weekends. This will help your body to get into a rhythm, which will improve the quality of your sleep. You will fall asleep faster and sleep more deeply.
Ideally, go to bed so early that you can wake up without an alarm.
Develop an evening time routine to calm yourself down. No screen exposure during those last two hours before bed. Read for pleasure to calm yourself down. Foam roll to release tension. Meditate to turn off your bee-hive mind.
20. You Have Unrealistic Goals
Most of us have very unrealistic weight loss goals.
We imagine that if we just follow the paleo diet, we will soon look like a Men’s Health cover model.
But to get to that peak stage of fitness, a lot of things have to come together.
These models don’t just eat an extremely clean diet every day; they have also been working out hard for several years, they practice great sleep hygiene, and they manage their stress.
On top of that, many of them are at their peak age (around 25 to 30), and also use steroids for even greater results.
For a 46-year-old software engineer who spends most of his day sitting in front of a screen, this is almost impossible to replicate.
Adjust your expectations.
Do a Google image search for “modern hunter-gatherers.” Study the pictures for a few minutes. Lean, but not ripped. Some muscle tone, but far from “jacked.”
Understand — you can get fit and healthy on the paleo diet. No more beer belly. A bit of a v-shape. Less inflammation. More energy.
But not Chris-Hemsworth-in-Thor fit.
21. You Are Being Impatient
Lasting weight loss takes time, a lot more time than we would like to think.
For most people, especially the obese, we are talking years.
It’s not so much about losing excess weight, as it is about reconditioning yourself. You spent years reinforcing bad habits. How could you expect to reprogram those behaviors in just a few weeks or months?
Understand that quick fixes do not exist. They are just a marketing gimmick.
Also realize that success in dieting is about behavioral change rather than counting calories and such technicalities.
The goal is to fundamentally change your relationship with food. You must learn to appreciate healthy, relatively bland-tasting food again.
And that takes time.
22. Your Environment Doesn’t Support Your Diet
If you are the only one in your family eating paleo, while everybody else is munching away on mac and cheese, you will have a hard time sticking with your diet.
Same when you lunch with your colleagues at work, or have a romantic dinner with your girlfriend.
You are who you surround yourself with. And if your environment doesn’t support your diet, you hardly stand a chance. It’s like being the only one trying to get clean when you are surrounded by substance abusers.
The obvious solution is to find people who share your ideas about health. They are out there. Hang out with such people exclusively, and losing weight on paleo will become almost effortless.
But this requires a hard cut from your current social circle. Most people reading this article will balk at that idea.
Yet, if you don’t, there will be a high price to pay. You won’t lose weight, or at least, you won’t keep it off. You will never look “sexy.” You will be ill more often. You will have less energy. You will most likely die earlier.
Is hanging with your current friends worth that?
Another, less effective way, is to find new “virtual” friends.
By reading books and blogs on ancestral health, watching YouTube videos on the subject, and following Paleo influencers on Instagram, you can create a bubble of like-minded people around you.
Third, you can find an accountability buddy, or hire an accountability coach. I recommend the latter, they are more reliable. Such arrangements have proven to increase adherence with a new behavior significantly.
23. You Are Relying on the Scale
Especially if you are working out while eating paleo, the scale might not budge but go up. That is because you are gaining muscle.
Embrace that. The goal of dieting is not to lose weight. Nobody wants to look skinny and sick. We want to look good naked.
And for that, you need muscle tissue, men or women.
So don’t just rely on the scale. It is not telling the whole story.
Every two weeks, take pictures of yourself. Also, use a caliper to measure skinfold. If that is complicated for you, simply use measuring tape.
Once a month, compare the visuals and the numbers to determine if things are going according to plan, or if adjustments must be made.
24. You Are Not Counting Calories
To be clear — I don’t think it’s necessary for most people to count calories on the paleo diet.
If you simply eat non-starchy veggies plus high-quality protein for most meals, you will easily stay fit and lean (10 to 15 percent body fat for men, 20 to 25 percent for women).
But if you aspire to get ripped, i.e., less than 10 percent for men and less than 20 percent for women, you have to count calories.
Going this low, your body will be fighting you. It thinks you are starving. If you don’t have an objective measurement, you will, sooner or later, start to cheat yourself.
Don’t worry about your method of recording. Apps, Google Sheets, pen and paper — all of them work.
The crucial thing is that you record absolutely everything. Weigh everything, down to the oil you use for cooking.
When trying to get ripped, put everything else on hold. No big work projects, no learning Mandarin. You will need all the willpower you have.
Understand that once you get ripped, it won’t last for long (unless your livelihood depends on it). It’s simply not sustainable to walk around with only 6 percent body fat all the time.
25. You Are Starving Yourself
If you are trying to get to a very low level of body fat — below 10 percent for men, below 20 percent for women — your body will eventually start to fight you for every ounce of fat, as it thinks you are starving.
Restricting calories further will not have much of an effect anymore. You will see little if any weight loss, but constantly feel miserable.
Do carb cycling.
Occasionally, do a higher carb day with more calories, ideally on a training day. This will reassure your body it is not starving yet, and therefore it’s okay to let go of these last few pounds.
Start with once a week. Track everything, before and after — take pictures, measure abdominal girth, weigh yourself. Don’t freak out if the numbers temporarily go up, that’s to be expected.
Then calorie restrict again until you get slightly below your previous threshold. Now do another carb day to convince your body you are not dying yet. Wash, rinse, repeat.
As a rule of thumb, the leaner you get, the more high-carb days you might need to keep getting leaner. But again, measure everything. It is extremely easy to rationalize eating more, since you are constantly hungry.