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.
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!
Those are my top tips for weight loss on a Paleo diet. Now, I’d love to hear from you – what have you found to make the biggest difference in your weight loss journey? Is there a strategy I didn’t mention? Share your experience in the comments below.