6 Tips for Successful Weight Loss on a Paleo Diet | Chris Kresser
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6 Tips for Successful Weight Loss on a Paleo Diet

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paleo diet for weight loss
When you're doing the paleo diet for weight loss, it's important to have support on the journey. Ron Chapple studios/Hemera/Thinkstock

In the last two articles, I explained how a Paleo diet can help you lose weight without trying, and why it’s a better choice than many of the diets most commonly used by those trying to lose weight.

In this article, I’d like to discuss some of the key strategies that can help make your weight loss journey successful. While a switch to Paleo is a great start, there are a few key lifestyle habits that will help you reach your weight loss goals.

Looking to lose weight on #Paleo? Check out this article for tips.

1. Keep Your Food Simple.

As I mentioned in the first article, one of the reasons why Paleo is so effective for weight loss is due to its ability to help you reduce calories without consciously restricting them. Studies have shown that eating simpler food leads to eating less, which in turn helps you shed pounds without effort.

So how do you keep a Paleo diet simple? Stick to the basics of a healthy meal: a protein like meat or fish, plenty of non-starchy vegetables, whole foods carbohydrates from root vegetables or fruit, and some healthy fat. Although I love a delicious gourmet meal as much as the next person, it’s easy to go overboard with delicious Paleo recipes. If you’re trying to lose weight, you’re better off cooking simple dishes that don’t have a bunch of extra ingredients and additional flavoring, and saving those recipes for special occasions or a nice weekend dinner.

2. Be Sure to Eat Enough.

Many Paleo newbies believe that less food is always better when it comes to losing weight. This belief causes you to deprive your body of the calories and nutrients it needs to function optimally and causes additional stress. Plus, decreasing your caloric intake too much lowers your resting metabolic rate (how many calories you burn just staying alive), which can cause weight loss to stall or even reverse. No matter what program you choose, dieting should never be about starving yourself. Calories do count, but when it comes to weight loss, undereating is just as problematic as overeating.

What makes a Paleo diet special is that it is more satiating per calorie than other diets, which helps you eat less without fighting hunger or counting calories. Voluntarily restricting calories isn’t an effective weight loss strategy, but naturally consuming less food without trying is truly the holy grail of weight loss.

This means you can eat meals that are satisfying without counting calories, and naturally eat less than you would on a typical American diet. This is one of the key reasons why a Paleo diet is a better choice for a weight loss diet than any of the popular methods out there.

3. Eat Enough Carbs to Support Your Activity Level.

Carbohydrate tolerance is highly individual, and I’ve seen patients who do quite well on a very low carb diet, while others crash and burn. Usually, the biggest factor is the amount and intensity of exercise the person is doing, as many of my patients trying to lose weight are participating in high intensity training programs, such as Crossfit, or spending many hours at the local gym.

While I don’t think it’s necessary to restrict carbohydrates, I do think it’s important to match your carbohydrate intake to the amount of exercise you do. Not only can a mismatch stall your weight loss, but it can lead to instances of fatigue and muscle breakdown if you’re overexercising and not eating enough carbohydrate to match your activity level. I’ve had many patients who, in an effort to lose weight, ramp up their exercise and cut back on carbohydrate intake. Many even remove carbohydrates entirely, avoiding even small amounts of healthy choices like sweet potatoes and fruit. Unfortunately, this can often do more harm than good.

If you’re relatively sedentary, or are only able to do a small amount of exercise every day (due to pain, health conditions, immobility, etc.), you may find that eating a lower carbohydrate diet (7-15% of calories) may help you shed weight faster. If you’re highly active, have a physically demanding job, or have tried a low carb approach in the past without success, you might find a more moderate carbohydrate approach can be helpful (15-30% of calories) in stimulating fat loss.

4. Move throughout the Day.

Sitting too much can reduce the benefits of an exercise program and stall weight loss. Unfortunately, if you work in an office, commute by car and watch a few hours of TV each night, it’s not hard to see how you could spend the vast majority of your waking life (up to 15 hours!) sitting on your butt. And unfortunately, exercise alone isn’t enough to reverse the harmful effects of too much sitting. When it comes to weight loss, getting active throughout the entire day, and not just the 60 minutes you spend at the gym, is a crucial component of a well-rounded regimen.

There are many different ways to increase your movement throughout the day, and I outline several of them in my article about the dangers of sitting excessively. Getting into the habit of moving throughout the day can not only benefit your weight and promote fat loss, but it can also improve your overall health and reduce your risk for chronic disease.

5. Don’t Do It Alone.

One of the hardest parts about losing weight is trying to do it all on your own.

Making major lifestyle changes without any social support is not only difficult, but often unsustainable. Having friends or family around you to encourage you, or even make changes along with you, can greatly increase your success in any major lifestyle change, particularly the switch to a Paleo diet.

You can share recipes, plan partner workouts, and encourage each other on your journey to better health.

Don’t know anyone locally who is able to support you? There is a large community of people following a Paleo diet and lifestyle on the ChrisKresser.com forum, and many of them are folks just like you getting started on a Paleo diet and looking for answers to their general nutrition questions. Perhaps you’ll find a buddy there who can support you throughout the change process and keep you motivated!

6. Address Your Whole Life, Not Just Diet and Exercise.

Did you know that there’s a lot more to losing weight and keeping it off than just diet and exercise? For example, sleep deprivation makes us hungrier, and high levels of stress hormones cause us to eat more and store more fat, in turn reducing our ability to lose weight and keep it off. Studies also show that those with social support, a better ability to handle stress, self-efficacy, and those who assume responsibility in life are more likely to keep weight off once they lose it.

Focus on managing your daily stress using mind-body techniques like meditation or yoga. Plan ahead using shopping lists and meal plans to help you reduce the stress that comes along with starting a big lifestyle change. Connect with friends and family, and get support in your weight loss efforts. You’ll be more likely to lose weight and keep it off for the long haul. And you’ll actually be able to enjoy your life while doing it!

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  1. Weight loss is incredibly simple (though not necessarily easy). Its all about calories. Sorry everyone. Low body fat/ideal body composition isn’t the same thing as having optimal health. One of my chief complaints I have of Paleo community is the sheer dismissal of the importance of calories. It baffles me how meticulous this community is in regards to their diet yet 5-10 minutes a day with a food scale, basic math skills (sites like myfitnesspal.com/dailyplate.com do 90% of the work for you) is to rigorous and not lifestyle friendly .

    I don’t care how incorrect current measures are, its about consistency more than accuracy. Plug in your weight to a online calculator (or multiply lbs by 15 for a rough rule of thumb) for your maintenance level of calories and slash 500-1000 off of that to start losing (tweak the number to stablize fat loss at 1-2lbs a week for a healthy pace). Count everything that is consumed, every veggie, every snack.

    Even if you cannot stand this, do it for a month or two to calibrate your portion control (and realize that a lot of paleo recipes are loaded with fat for flavor, which is a big reason why seemingly none of them have nutritional info but will contain a biology textbook in between). Just like everyone’s tolerances/health is different, so too is everyone’s hunger response and relying on intuition won’t get you where you want to go.

    Sorry for the rant but calories have been documented in study after study as the factor for body composition (weight training to keep/build lean mass as well) but have such a negative stigma that I had to post it somewhere.

    • Amen to your words Peter. There isn´t a miracle diet that helps you lose the weight. You have to watch yout calorie intake. If you keep overeating even on paleo it´ll be impossible to lose some weight.

    • Not true for all people, especially those with metabolic disorders. I recorded all food and all activity for 30 days. I decided not to to get on the scale during this time because I wanted to surprise myself at the end. I had a 900-1300 DEFICIT every single day. I should have lost somewhere between 7-12 Lbs. I got on the scale on day 31 and had not lost one single pound. I finally went in and had my thyroid checked and found out I had elevated TSH levels. I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism and was told that calories in vs calories out mean very little when your thyroid does not function normally. I had to eliminate all dairy, gluten, sugar, and all processed foods from my diet which is why I am now paleo. So for those not seeing results, it wouldn’t hurt to get your thyroid checked for underlying problems. Get your thyroid under control and you’ll start seeing results.

    • I agree that the number of calories consumed should be less than burned for weight loss and calculating, weighing, counting, tracking is the only way to be fully aware of how many you’re consuming. I’ve never allowed myself to gain more than 10-15 lbs throughout my adult life (I’m 54) except during my 4 pregnancies. I always took off weight by doing what I stated above . Something changed about 8 years ago. I find it extremely difficult and tedious to track everything I eat. I’ve tried Fitness Pal, Weight Watchers, Sparkpeople, food journals and more. Those are all great tools but very difficult/time consuming to stick with. I found myself planning every single morsel. I was not able to lose any of the 10 lbs I’d like to drop because as soon as 3 dropped, 4 came back on. I have been yo-yo-ing like this for 6 yrs!!!! So discouraging! On Paleo, I eat strictly what hunter gatherers would eat. My meals are bigger than before and i eat whenever I am hungry. The first 4 lbs have come off within 8 days without even trying. The difference? This is the easiest, tastiest, most nourishing way of eating for me since my kids were little. I track nothing. I follow the guidelines of what is allowed and what to avoid. I look forward to each meal and never feel as if I’m on a diet. To continue losing I will have to shrink my portions and not eat so close to bedtime, but compared to tracking, that is super easy to do. My body (and brain) are thanking me for no longer “abusing” them by calculating every single bite that passes my lips. Perhaps my body has been reset, as they say. Perhaps I have accepted that at 5’9″ weighing 161 lbs is not that bad because for the first time in 6 years, I feel GREAT! I encourage everyone to at least give Paleo an honest try.

  2. I just had a baby and want to lose around 60 pounds. I know is a lot and feeling a little bit overwhelm. I’m not breastfeeding anymore (can’t) and have to work (end up sitting down for about 10-14 hrs) of my day. I don’t want to go to the gym after work because I already spend the day away from the baby, so I’m looking for ways to workout that I can do it with him. I did the whole 30 for a couple of weeks and lost 6 pounds. Is it realistic to try to lose this much with Paleo? I’m becoming a bit discouraged. Any advice?

    thank you!

    • I completely understand where you’re coming from! I was a working single mom for years and deficient in exercise. Things that helped me: doing 20-min yoga routines at home (GAIAM.com has a subscription service that’s inexpensive with a ton of different levels of yoga/pilates/tai chi/meditation videos), many of which you can do in 20-min or less. When my daughter was a baby through age 3, I would wear her in an Ergo carrier and take long walks at night. This actually put her to sleep so it was a double-bonus! You could do stroller walks and do lunges, incorporate uphill, etc. Hope this helps!

  3. Can someone please provide studies that prove that not eating a consistent amount of calories throughout 3-5 meals per day slows metabolism?

    It makes perfect sense that starvation mode will make our bodies regulate and slow the amount of energy stores used in order to survive. However, does it make sense that starvation mode sets in after 16-24 hours without eating? It’s a scientific fact that the average person can survive 3 weeks without food; but after about 5% of that 3 weeks the human body thinks it starving? Does that make sense?

    If anyone can point me to any scientific studies that answer these questions I would appreciate it.

  4. Hi! I am an avid crossfitter, but since my divorce, my training has been cut in half with 2 little ones at home. I put on 20 pounds! Ugh… never thought that would happen. My diet wasn’t great either. Anyway…. I just started Evolve Paleo last week – which i LOVE – and am wondering how soon I will start losing some pounds. I feel so much better, just want to lose the weight that I gained over the last 18 months.

  5. I found that making simple but tasty Paleo food helps me stick to Paleo and I have lost 12 pounds but want to lose 5 more and can’t seem to lose the last 5. I’ve given up dairy already and find intermittent fasting too hard. I do chi gong to control stress but probably not enough. Will either try less carbs or more movement.

    • why do you think that loosing another 5 pounds will get you to your ideal weight? where does that figure come from? what if your body prefers to be at your current weight for a reason ( if you are only 5 pounds overweight, it is not anymore about health, is it?). don’t get mesmerized by a number. as a matter of fact people with a little extra weight live longer and are healthier then the really skinny ones. having said that, if you still want to loose those 5 pounds, swap some of the fat for potatoes on the training days (post workout) and move more. check out http://www.leangains.com for some no nonsense information about how to get there. good luck.

  6. Hi everyone,

    New to Paleo and loving all your comments and help, I have dropped 1kg in just over 2 weeks, still having my glass of red wine! I cut out bread and all grains and my beloved dairy (all except fetta, got to have that in my salad!) and have started walking a bit more regularly. I am a young 56 (looks so old when I see it in writing!), with the menopausal waist line, but not exceedingly overweight. For me it will be a 90/10 journey and I have found that keeping it simple, (after I had many purchased e-books) is the way to go. I said simple, not boring, I still try and minimise my animal fats and have reduced carbs. I alternate by breakfast, nuts and seeds with almond milk one day and then a ‘purple smoothie’ on another. Love salads with olive oil and balsamic dressing, salmon and lean meats. I do snack on nuts if I get the urge, almonds, and not more than 10 and the really important thing……drink plenty of filtered water! I think only one person has mentioned hydration. You must keep your water intake up to help your body flush everything out, I have found this to be so important. Sometimes when you think you are hungry you are actually thirsty! I am happy with the way things are progressing and actually feel like I am doing my body a favour 🙂

  7. Ultimately, however good our diet is, if we’re thinking too much about what we eat, we’re probably eating more than we need. The times when I feel the thinnest and healthiest are when I’m enjoying life and passionately involved in my projects. The old saying “Eat to live, not live to eat,” is really wise. People (including me at times) who spend all day planning healthy meals and grocery shopping, etc., are probably using this behavior at least partly to escape from life. And when you’re not really living, what else is there to do besides eat (and maybe spend too much time posting on blogs, lol)? For me, reducing food reward down to nothing is only an excuse to further retreat from life. Look at photos of both Guyenet and Sisson. Who do you think has a richer, more passionate existence? Simple food, YES. Purposely tasteless food, NO. Don’t do it.

    • JeanAnne, What Was Your Thyroid # Before taking Armour Thyroid Meds? I’m Wondering If That Is Attributed To My Gain In fat.

  8. So many weight loss posts include the need for exercise. True Quadriplegics (loss of use of all four limbs) are incapable of exercise, zero, zilch, none.

    Have you ever known an overweight quadriplegic?

    They are thin because they can’t put food into their own mouth, someone else has to do that for them.

    Left to our own resources too many of us put too much food in our mouths; the real question is why we do so?

    When you know why healthy body weight in adults is easier to achieve.

  9. This is such an interesting post. We have been trialling a low carb paleo approach and realise now that it is definitely not working for us. We are excited to re-introduce some good quality carbs into our daily diets. Oh how we missed you sweet potato!

    Just wanted to add how awesome everyones comments are! Just as much info in them!! Thanks everyone!!

  10. I am a newbe and again it is about weight. I have read two books, bought to cook books. I have been careful of fruit.
    l did my food shop, almond and coconut flour, nuts and oils.
    I have always used olive, we eat a lot of wild meat. I am watching portions, i am getting my sleep and being very careful of my stress , that is how l gained 38lb. in the first place.
    I have made the bread in the book against the grains and one batch of the muffins that my husband loved. Did not eat this on a daily bases. Old habit all in moderation and did know if l could. Feeling a little discouraged, l have little to were everything is to small and l will not buy new clothes l have a nice wardrobe. l do not know what to do or what l am doing wrong.

    • This may help. All healthy humans have an inbuilt appetite control system, we did not evolve to be overweight. This system is controlled by hormones that are released by fat cells, pancreatic cells, the stomach, the intestines and other cells.

      Very briefly these hormones are produced in response to blood sugar, and free fatty acid levels. Fructose (sugar is 50% fructose) disrupts the operation of this system reducing the feeling of fullness and makes us eat more.

      There are many types of fats, or more precisely fatty acids (FA’s). There are short chain, medium chain and long chain FA’s,then there are saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Our circulatory systems are water based, water and fat don’t mix (try it mix any oil with water shake it up and see if your would like your blood to look like this), so our body packages fat up into particles (lipoproteins) that are suspended in the blood, much like fine clay particles can be suspended in water. These are not free fatty acids that trigger the appetite control hormones. Short chain fats are not packaged this way and pass into the blood stream when consumed. Butter and cheese contain free short chain fatty acids that will help trigger the release of appetite hormones quickly.

      What to try? Eliminate food with added sugar in the labels ingredients list, this includes (sugar, sucrose, fructose, HFCS, inverted sugar, molasses, honey, maple syrup, raw sugar etc) and then check the nutrition list and do not purchase any that show sugars above 4% by weight or volume.

      Follow this and listen to what your body is telling you, eat when hungry, and stop when you are not. When eating as you begin to feel less hungry stop eating for a little while (say 10 mins) if after that you still feel hungry eat a little more.

      Stress is both psychological and biological. Overeating causes biological stress through inflammation due to the excess production of free radicals and what are known as reactive oxygen species that cause cell damage and an inflammatory response. The second reason for elevated inflammation is Advanced Glycation End products (AGE’s) these are the result of uncontrolled reactions between sugars and fats (sugars and amino acids as well but to a lesser degree). Fructose is 7 to 10 times more likely to cause these reactions than glucose, and polyunsaturated fats (much less stable fats) are much more likely to be subjected to these reactions than saturated fats.

      Sugar plus polyunsaturated fats are a highly inflammatory combination. Systemic inflammation (your can’t feel or see it) also disrupts the hormonal appetite control system.

      Polyunsaturated fats are not common in natural unprocessed foods and neither is fructose (accept fruit, honey etc) so a paleo diet should limit the intake of these foods.

      In summary, no sugar, no polyunsaturated fats, get fats from real butter and cheese, but most importantly, listen to what your body is telling you, do not eat out of habit. Eat when you are hungry and stop when you are not. If you aren’t hungry when you wake up, have a coffee and leave eating to when you are hungry.

      Good Luck

      • I’ve not heard this about dairy fat before. I’ve only heard that medium chain fatty acids (coconut oil) could be used almost immediately for energy. Would this not have a similar effect? I would really like an excuse to eat cheese though, so thank you (?).

        • Here is your excuse for cheese: Gouda has a lot of Vit K2 /MK7 form/ which is hard to get anywhere else /except natto and foie gras/ and is vital for bone health. K2 directs calcium to the bones and teeth, instead into your arteries. I eat gouda every single day and once a week I eat fatty goose liver. Hope that’s a good excuse 🙂

  11. I truly believe in the KEEPING IT SIMPLE tip – No need to add excess anything to a dish because healthy foods are delicious on their own. It baffles me when people add brown sugar or syrups to salmon! ALONE that fish is by far the tastiest thing on the planet!

  12. These are important points, Chris. Thank you. I think that weight loss is an area that has been under dealt with in paleo. Certainly any obese person going from SAD to Paleo will probably lose quite a bit of weight, but the rest of us who have been trying to eat right for a long time already may have trouble getting down to their ideal weight on Paleo (especially women, I would guess). This is something I’ve been working on myself for the past couple of years. I struggle around a BMI of 21, when I feel so much better and healthier at 19 (still fatter than the average Kitavan woman, lol!). I have also recently discovered your number one “Keep your food simple” rule. I have a theory about this. Food clearly serves both physiological and social purposes. Fancy dishes (usually calorically very dense) are reserved to special occasions in traditional societies (potlatches and other types of special feasting occasions). In the modern world where we are used to having anything we want, we have gotten used to having feast day be every day.

    • Woops, i hit “post comment” accidentally before i was done. So basically I was just trying to say that eating simple foods helps us get back in touch with the more organic aspects of food as nourishment. Don’t get me wrong, feasting (and drinking alcohol) as a way to connect with one’s community is wonderful, but that type of eating should have a more limited place in our lives. Eating hard boiled eggs and some raw carrots for breakfast (which is what I did), sounds boring, but when you start really enjoying pure food vs cuisine, it’s a good sign you’re getting back in balance. One thing I should add though: I’ve been eating very simple for the past 3 weeks, and losing weight. I have, however, found myself eating a lot more often. I used to eat big complex salads or prepared meat and vegetable dishes. These were pretty high in fat, so I wouldn’t be hungry for a few hours. Eating simple tends to lower the overall fat content, so I find myself munching a lot more. It’s a little annoying, but keeping fruit and snackable veggies around helps a lot.

  13. This is good advice. I generally follow the 80/20 rule. Be good Monday through Friday, but allow myself a little indulgence on Saturday/Sunday. I don’t hold myself hostage to weight loss; it’s happening, just slower. But more importantly, most of the time I’m good food for good health.

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