Q. Cynthia, Can you tell me if there are reasons why I am not losing weight after being on the Paleo diet? I am keeping my fruit intake down and nut intake as well. I don’t use artificial sweeteners. I do have hypoglycemia from Candida and am taking Nystatin. I have had lots of blood work done and my thyroid is working properly. Any thoughts? Loretta.
A. Hi Loretta, that is great question and one that others may have as well.
As you may know the Paleolithic diet is the diet I believe we are supposed to eat, and although the goal of this diet is not to lose weight, weight loss is a one of the many naturally occurring benefits that result from eating the foods that we are genetically designed to eat. However, for some people there can be a variety of factors that hinder this process. We’ll discuss each possibility below, and be sure to read the section on thyroid, even though you have had testing.
Fruit and Nuts
The first issue which sounds like you are already aware of, but I’ll mention it anyhow for others reading this page that may not be, is the consumption of fruit and nuts. The reason weight loss occurs with the Paleolithic diet is because it eliminates all the carbohydrates that cause excessive levels of insulin which leads to weight gain. When we eat carbohydrates, they are broken down into sugar, which releases insulin to bring blood sugar levels down and then any excess sugar gets stored in the body as fat.
So, if carbohydrates are absent, there is nothing to store as fat. Since fruit is broken down into sugar, too much fruit or fruit that is high in sugar, will trigger insulin and the storage of fat. Nuts have some carbohydrate content too so they too can be stored as fat and they are high in calories. For the person wanting to lose weight, the nuts and fruit need to be minimized. Stick with the low sugar fruits like strawberries, blackberries, raspberries and blueberries.
Eating Too Much
Although most people drop weight by eliminating the sugar and carbs, calories still count to some degree. If you’re eating too much, then the weight may hang on. Try reducing calories or use portion control.
I don’t know if this applies to you or not, but many people in the Paleo community, myself included, allow some degree of dairy in their diet even though it is not traditionally part of the Primal diet. Dairy, with the exception of butter, does trigger insulin and it can add to your calories. If you’re allowing dairy in your diet, then you may find the weight comes off better if you eliminate it or restrict consumption a little more. When you eat dairy, it should be in the organic, raw and cultured form, like cheese, butter and yogurt. I never encourage the consumption of drinking milk.
You didn’t mention how long you’ve been following the Paleolithic diet, so I want to mention that it does take a little time for insulin to stabilize and the body to begin burning fat. If you had insulin resistance before going on the Paleolithic diet, which many people do and are not aware of it, it may take a little longer to stabilize. So if it’s been less than a month or two, then give it a little more time. It can take a few months to reverse insulin resistance, and that’s assuming the person is exercising as well.
Be sure there is no hidden sugar in your food. If you’re eating any processed foods, sugar is often a hidden ingredient. For example, if you use table salt, it contains sugar, but it isn’t listed as an ingredient. Salt should be a pure source of sea salt, like the brand called Real Salt. Sometimes, even organic frozen vegetables will contain sugar. Be sure to read labels.
Chronic stress is the number one reason people don’t lose weight on the Paleolithic diet. When we’re under stress, the adrenal glands release adrenalin, which triggers the liver to dump the sugar it has stored (glycogen) into the blood stream. Just like it does when you eat sugar, this alerts the pancreas to release insulin to bring the blood sugar levels down and then stores it as fat. So even if you aren’t eating sugar, if you are living with chronic stress, the body is impacted as if you are. It is crucial to manage the stress levels with things like meditation, deep breathing exercises, communing with nature mindfulness, and exercise.
When we’re under stress the adrenal glands release cortisol, a crucial hormone to help us cope with stress. If we’re under chronic stress and cortisol is released all the time, eventually the adrenals burn out and can’t produce enough cortisol to handle the demands for stress, which puts more stress on the body. A vicious cycle ensues. Adrenal fatigue and/or autonomic nervous system dysfunction will then become an issue which can prevent the weight loss.
Although diet is the most important element for losing weight, you also need to exercise to burn fat that is stored and restore insulin sensitivity. However, it’s important that you exercise the right way. Exercise should consist of different levels of intensity in a short period of time, not an hour of cardio or marathon jogging. There should be short bursts of intensity, not endurance, because this is the way our bodies have been coded genetically by our primal ancestors. Read these pages on the benefits of exercise and my review of the P.A.C.E. program for more info on the type of exercise that should be practiced.
If you have a lot of stress, then exercise is even more important. Exercise will burn off the sugar so it doesn’t get stored as fat and then burn the fat that is stored, which will increase sensitivity to insulin. However, too much exercise is perceived by the body as stress, which will result in weight gain, so it should be mild to moderate.
Sleep deprivation decreases the hormone leptin, which tells us when we are full, and increases the hormone ghrelin, that tells us when we’re hungry. If leptin and ghrelin are not functioning properly, we remain hungry. Lack of sleep is also perceived as stress by the body, and as we discussed above, stress causes the liver to release sugar into the blood stream, then insulin, fat storage and overactivity of cortisol. It’s crucial to get that 8 or 9 hours of sleep each night or take naps to catch up.
Unidentified Food Sensitivities
When following the Paleolithic diet, many of the most common foods that result in food sensitivities are eliminated, like corn, wheat, sugar and soy, however a food sensitivity can develop to even wholesome foods like beef, chicken, broccoli, tomatoes, onions, garlic etc. Weight gain is one of the most common symptoms to occur from a food sensitivity or allergy. You may want to look into the ALCAT test to identify any hidden sensitivities that may be present.
Common every day chemicals found in your shampoo, laundry soap, dish soap, disinfectants, air fresheners, air pollution, carpeting, perfume, cologne, pesticides, herbicides, etc .are toxic to the human body. Toxins trigger the stress response system, thus setting the whole cascade of rising blood sugar, insulin release and fat storage, that we discussed above will happen when we are under stress. Reduce chemical exposures by living green and getting products that are free from those substances.Our Paleo ancestors were not exposed to toxins, and we shouldn’t be either. Living a non-toxic and environmentally friendly lifestyle is as important to Primal living as the diet.
If you’re eating food that isn’t organic, then it is laced with a variety of pesticides, herbicides and other possible environmental toxins, which we established in the previous paragraph triggers the stress response system, thus rising blood sugar, the release of insulin and the storage of the sugar as fat. The diet needs to be organic.
Although you said you had your thyroid checked, you need to be aware that hypothyroidism is not usually detectable with lab tests. Most people with hypoglycemia have normal test results and weight gain is one of the most common symptoms to occur with an under active thyroid. Read this page on hypothyroidism, to learn the most reliable and easy way to assess your thyroid gland.
An overgrowth of some type of unfriendly organism like candida yeast, bacteria or parasites in the GI tract can also contribute to weight gain, as the toxins the critters emit trigger an autoimmune response by the body that can lead to inflammation resulting in weight gain and activates the stress response system in the body, which as we mentioned several times before, incites the avalanche of high blood sugar, insulin and storage of fat.
An imbalance of the sex hormones, estrogen, progesterone and/or testosterone is another common contributor to weight gain and/or the inability to lose weight. Women and men in their pre-menopause or adropause years are most vulnerable, but individuals of any age experience the symptoms of hormone imbalance, because of the presence of so many chemicals in the environment that disrupt our hormones. Be sure to read up on hormone imbalance.
Too Much Protein
If more protein is consumed than your system needs for basic repair and maintenance, then the liver will convert any excess into glucose through gluconeogenesis, which will then get stored as fat. So even if you are eating a low-carb diet, excess protein can impede your weight loss efforts. How much protein is needed for basic repair and maintenance varies from person to person and depends on many different factors. However, most people need between four and eight ounces per meal, but your needs may change over time. For example, in my own life, for many years my body demanded eight ounces of protein per meal, but after I went keto-genic, my need for fat increased and my need for protein went down to about six ounces per meal.
I discovered in my own life that once you go through menopause your body can change dramatically and women in this age bracket may need to go below 50 grams of carbohydrates a day in order to become a good fat burner and lose weight. I wrote about my experience with this on the following page.
Like most things, losing weight takes a multi-faceted approach. The Paleolithic diet is the foundation on which everything else is built, but just like building a house, if you don’t add to the foundation then you don’t have much of a house. All other contributing factors must be addressed as well for the best results.
All the best.