You’ve been on the paleo diet these last few weeks.
Problem is, you haven’t lost any weight.
You’ve spent hours trawling through forums looking for answers. But you’re still none the wiser.
What’s going on?
If weight loss is your main goal, there’s not too much wrong with the foods that are typically recommended on the paleo diet – meat, fish, fruit, vegetables and so on – as well as a focus on eating less carbohydrate.
Some of the endless debates about the foods you’re not “allowed” to eat do get a little tedious, but the basics of the diet are sound.
There was a study done a few years back that compared the paleo diet with the Mediterranean diet .
With a few exceptions (nuts, olive/rapeseed oil, potatoes and eggs) subjects in the paleo group were not told explicitly to restrict their intake of any food. Despite this, they ended up eating fewer calories than their counterparts on the Mediterranean Diet.
On average, volunteers consumed a total of 1823 calories per day on the Mediterranean diet. On the paleo diet, they averaged just 1388 calories per day.
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In other words, when they make the shift to a paleo diet, a lot of people end up eating fewer calories as a result. That’s because there are fewer foods to choose from, and the foods that you are allowed to eat tend to be rich in protein or have a relatively low energy density.
As for why you’re not losing weight, this all hinges on the amount of energy you get from your diet.
It’s possible to eat a paleo diet and lose weight. It’s also possible to eat a paleo diet and lose no weight, particularly if you’re eating vast quantities of high-fat foods such as nuts, butter and avocados.
The only true requirement for fat loss is an energy deficit. It doesn’t matter what diet you’re on at the moment. If you’re not losing weight, it’s because you don’t have an energy deficit.
What exactly do I mean by this?
Think of the fat stored in your body like a bank account. But instead of storing money, it stores energy. To empty your bank account, you have to spend more money than you’re earning. In much the same way, losing fat is all about “spending” more energy than you get from your diet.
When there’s a mismatch between the amount of energy your body needs and the amount it gets, it starts looking for an alternative. As long as your diet and training program are set up right, most of that energy will come from the fat you want to get rid of.
This in no way means that the composition of your diet doesn’t matter, because it does.
A chocolate bar (mainly carbs and fat) and a chicken breast (mainly protein) might have the same number of calories. But your body will use up more energy digesting and metabolizing the chicken than it does the chocolate bar.
When they’re sat on a plate in front of you, a handful of nuts might contain the same number of calories as half a dozen sugar cubes. But, unlike the sugar, your body doesn’t absorb all the energy in the nuts . Some of the calories will literally go in one end and straight out the other.
“A mile climbed up the steeps of the Himalayas will not be experienced at all like a mile strolled through Hyde Park,” explains Dr David Katz. “The distance is the same – but the experience is totally different.
“Calories are just the same,” he adds. “A fixed number of walnut calories and a fixed number of Ding Dong calories are very different experiences in every way that matters. Simple, wholesome, nutrient-dense foods tend to help fill us up and keep us full. They don’t tend to send a surge of sugar into our bloodstream and spike our blood insulin. Highly processed, energy-dense but nutrient-poor foods tend to engender just such harmful responses.”
The effect that a given diet has on hormone levels, appetite, and energy expenditure will affect how fast you lose weight, where that lost weight comes from (i.e. muscle or fat), as well as your ability to stick with the diet.
In other words, you can’t ignore the macronutrient content of a diet and expect to see an identical change in body composition based on calorie values alone.
However, none of this changes the fact that an energy deficit is a required condition for weight loss. Without an energy deficit in place, you’re not going to lose any weight.
There are people who claim that much of what I’ve just told you is total nonsense. They say that an energy deficit is not required for fat loss, just as long as you’re on a low-carbohydrate diet.
Here’s what the author of End Your Addiction Now: The Proven Nutritional Supplement Program That Can Set You Free told me the last time I wrote on the subject:
“You’re passing along incorrect information. No calorie deficit is necessary with high fat, high protein, low carbohydrate diets, especially if coupled with exercise. If you eat a high carbohydrate diet, almost no matter what the calorie deficit, you’re going to have trouble losing weight. Please refer to my and Dr. Charles Gant’s book, End Your Addiction Now, for the information on the biochemistry of weight loss (and recovery from addiction) so that you can pass along the correct information to your readers.”
To this, I say the following.
Over the years, large numbers of people have made an equally large number of claims about various things they believe to be true.
We’ve been told on more than one occasion in the last 2000 years that the world will suddenly end on [INSERT RANDOM DATE HERE]. That NASA faked the moon landings with the help of Stanley Kubrick. And that humanity is being secretly controlled by a group of reptilian humanoids from another dimension.
The simple fact that someone claims something to be true does not make it so.
Second, fat is a form of chemical energy that we carry around with us. If someone is able to gain fat in an energy deficit, they have somehow managed to defy the laws of physics and create energy from nothing.
Anyone in this situation should present themselves immediately to a laboratory so that scientists can figure out exactly how their body is doing it. They alone may hold the key to meeting the future energy needs of the planet and saving the human race from complete destruction.
1. Jönsson T, Granfeldt Y, Erlanson-Albertsson C, Ahrén B, Lindeberg S. (2010). A paleolithic diet is more satiating per calorie than a mediterranean-like diet in individuals with ischemic heart disease. Nutrition and Metabolism, 7, 85
2. Sabaté J. (2003). Nut consumption and body weight. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 78, 647S-650S
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