This article was originally published on Paleo Magazine, and has been republished here with permission.
The reasons for going Paleo are multitudinous, running the gamut from disease elimination to exercise optimization and everything in between. With its inflammation crushing power, Paleo is able to handle these tasks with ease, which is why it can be easy to forget that Paleo is the perfect solution to the everyday problem of weight loss.
The sad fact is that two out of three adults in the U.S. are obese or overweight, a situation that’s due in no small part to the calorie-rich and nutrient-poor Standard American Diet (SAD). We live in a world where pizza is classified as a vegetable, canola oil is considered “heart healthy” and everything is washed down with soda, so simply going Paleo and ditching all that junk can often be enough to get to a healthy weight.
Sometimes you need a little more help, however, and that’s where we come in. By joining forces with top Paleo experts like Mark Sisson, Loren Cordain, Robb Wolf and Jason Seib, Paleo Magazine is providing you with the ultimate guide to losing weight with Paleo.
And one other thing—unlike your CrossFit workouts, feel free to cherry-pick. You might not need every tip presented here to supercharge your personal results. Chances are, you probably only need one good one, the one that connects with you and speaks to your soul. Change is tough, and if you’re struggling with your weight, it’s a struggle that the whole world can see. Don’t be afraid to give yourself a pep talk right now, because you can achieve your goals. By combining your personal power with Paleo, anything is possible.
Calories Count (But You Don’t Have to Count Calories)
Sorry, but somebody had to say it. Even when following the Paleo diet, calories still count. The caveat, however, is that Paleo calories generally count less because they primarily come from whole, unprocessed foods. The reason for this is that whole foods require more energy to digest than their processed counterparts.
Take, for example, a stalk of celery. By the time you chew, swallow, digest and absorb it, you’ve actually expended more calories than the celery contains, meaning that it’s actually providing negative calories! By comparison, a Twinkie requires almost no energy to chew, digest or absorb, but if you were going strictly by the listed caloric content, you would think that a calorie from a Twinkie is the same as a calorie from celery. In other words, a calorie is not a calorie.
What Paleo folks have to keep an eye out for are the Paleo “loopholes,” Paleo foods that are technically allowed, but are still calorie dense and easy to eat. To be sure, Paleo treat foods made with sugar from dates, honey and maple syrup, and fat from coconut oil or other nuts are certainly better options than Twinkies and Ding Dongs, but they are still treats. Save them for special occasions to avoid overloading on healthy but excessive calories.
Paleo Weight Loss Takeaway: Make a point to eat mostly whole foods while avoiding processed foods — even the Paleo ones.
Focus on What You Can Eat Rather Than What You Can’t
Weight gain doesn’t happen overnight, and neither does weight loss. In order to see Paleo weight loss results, you have to be in it for the long haul; it has be a lifestyle rather than a diet. Unfortunately, diets generally put the focus on forbidden foods, rather than permitted ones. In the Paleo world, most of us can recite the mantra, “No grains, beans, dairy, sugar or industrial seed oils” with our eyes closed, but the thing that makes Paleo a true lifestyle is the plethora of produce, the multitude of meats and the vast cornucopia of spices, herbs and other flavors that are 100 percent Paleo approved.
By looking at your plate of Paleo food options as “half full” rather than “half empty,” you’re much more likely to feel enthusiastic, optimistic and excited about sticking with the Paleo approach, and with this consistency will come results. On the contrary, if you’re always thinking about all the things that are excluded in Paleo, chances are you’re going to feel pretty miserable. You might think that you can no longer go out to dinner with friends, enjoy family meals or celebrate the holidays. The truth, however, is that your Paleo weight loss plan can actually open up an entirely new world of eating experiences if you simply focus your attention on what you can eat rather than what you cannot.
Paleo Weight Loss Takeaway: Discover a new Paleo-friendly food every day.
Eliminate the Need for Willpower
As a rule, we give way too much credit to willpower. If someone is successful, we say that they have a lot of it, and if they fail, we say that they were lacking in it. The truth, however, is that willpower is a pretty shabby pillar to lean on, for anyone.
When it comes to the relationship between willpower and food, the work of Stanford food behaviorist Brian Wansink demonstrates that simple things like overly large plates, bowls and even utensils encourage overeating, as does serving food “family style” or watching TV. Oftentimes, we make these “mindless eating” mistakes without even thinking about it, and blame our lack of “willpower” when we find ourselves staring at the bottom of a bag of potato (or plantain) chips. A better strategy is to use this information to our advantage, and eliminate the need for willpower in the first place.
By taking willpower out of the weight-loss equation, you also eliminate much of the shame and judgment that goes along with being overweight or obese. “Failing” is not a failure of you as a person; it is a systemic problem that can be fixed. When you “fail,” take it as an opportunity to review the situation from an objective perspective—in other words, become your very own behavioral scientist. Investigate and implement new systems, test the results and repeat until the desired outcome is achieved.
Paleo Weight Loss Takeaway: Stock your pantry and refrigerator with whole-food Paleo ingredients that require thoughtfulness to prepare. When serving food, use smaller plates and bowls, and eat with a minimal number of distractions.
Move a Lot, Exercise a Little
If we look through the artifacts left behind by our hunter-gatherer ancestors, we won’t find a stair climber, spin bike or barbell amongst the bone fragments and stone tools. For most of human history, exercise was the natural byproduct of living in a world that required movement. Building shelters, hunting and gathering food, dancing and playing games gave our bodies all the stimulation they needed in order to be healthy. Today however, we have the luxury of sedentarism, and we can quite literally move through life without ever moving.
At some point along the way, enterprising individuals created gyms as exceptions to the rule, and an entire industry was borne out of our desire for entirely voluntary exercise opportunities. For those of us who are trying to lose weight, we probably think that since being sedentary is bad, exercise is good, and more exercise is even better. Unfortunately, however, the benefits of exercise follow a dose response curve, meaning that there is a point when more isn’t better—it’s actually worse.
Unless you are a professional athlete, achieving high levels of movement—and not intense exercise—should be the goal. Instead of sitting at work, implement a standing or treadmill workstation. Instead of driving your car to the store, ride your bike, and if you have to drive, park farther out in the parking lot. If you have the chance to take the stairs, do it. When you go to the playground with your kids, play. The bottom line is that there are ample opportunities to move every day, but we just need to give ourselves permission to take them. Intense exercise, then, is only a supplement to the daily diet of movement that emulates the lifestyle of our ancient ancestors.
Paleo Weight Loss Takeaway: Shoot for 10,000 steps a day, make a point to play, and get your body moving.
Sleep It Off
We’ve seen it hundreds of times. Someone starts a weight loss regimen and immediately gets results. They lose 10, 15 or 20 pounds and then… nothing. The weight loss plateaus even though they are doing exactly what got them results in the first place, and as the results stall, frustration grows. At this point, most people either give up completely or double down on their diet and exercise regimens. We, on the other hand, propose a third solution: sleep.
With the widespread use of smart phones, bedroom TV sets and harsh indoor lighting, disrupted circadian rhythms and shoddy sleep are just as common as SAD diets, but somehow the message of getting more (and better) sleep just hasn’t sunk in yet. Nevertheless, eight hours of solid, restful sleep should be priority number one for everyone, and priorities number one, two and three for those who are trying to lose weight.
A good starting point for sleep rehab is to turn off the TV at night and instead read or listen to a book. Orange lights that are low in circadian rhythm-disrupting blue light, or blue light-blocking glasses, can also help improve sleep quality. Make sure your room is completely dark at night and at a nice, cool temperature. A solid sleep routine, one that you repeat every night, can also help condition your body and mind so that sleep comes more easily. Like anything, results come from repeated practice, so don’t give up if you aren’t sleeping like a baby right away.
Paleo Weight Loss Takeaway: When your weight loss success is stalling, spend more time sleeping.
Measure Success in Multifaceted Ways
If you ask yourself, “Why do I want to lose weight” three times, what answer do you get back? Do you want to be healthier? Do you want to be happier? Maybe you just want to be able to walk up a flight of stairs without getting winded. When you keep asking the question “Why?” you eventually peel back the hidden layers behind your desire to lose weight. Although we mistake it for the ultimate goal, weight loss is only a proxy for deeper and more complex desires.
If you understand that your true goal goes beyond a number on the scale, then it becomes clear that you need other metrics to gauge your success. You may want to consider performance measurements like how fast you can walk, jog or run a mile, or enlist a personal trainer to help you do body composition testing that takes into account levels of muscle mass in addition to body fat. Waist-to-hip ratios and circumference testing are also measurements that provide valuable information about progress that might not show up on the scale.
With a broad base of physical information, you will have a more accurate picture of how well you are doing from an overall fitness and health perspective, but it’s also worth assessing your emotional and psychological status. Consulting with a therapist or counselor can help you understand your mental and emotional needs, as can a religious or spiritual advisor.
Paleo Weight Loss Takeaway: Keep your focus on your ultimate goal, that of having a happy, fulfilling life, and don’t get too obsessed with the scale.