Being a chubby child that turned into an overweight adolescent who then grew up into an obese adult, I’ve been struggling with my appearance from early on. It wasn’t until I found Paleo that slimming down became truly effortless. So I’d like to take a few moments to point out how Paleo can help with weight loss. [A short recap: going Paleo means eating animal protein, vegetables, tubers (such as yams), gourds (e.g. pumpkin), and fruit, while avoiding grains, legumes (i.e. beans), and dairy.]
First of all, forget about counting calories, carbs, points, etc. Obsessing about staying within predefined numerical limits puts you under unnecessary psychological stress that could ultimately hinder weight loss. Instead, you should follow the signals your body sends you, and eat to satisfy your hunger. In fact, when eating Paleo, you’ll be feeling positively stuffed most of the time.
The reason for this is that a Paleo diet contains a good amount of protein (though not as much as people tend to think) and lots of fat, both of which are highly satiating, making it practically impossible to overeat. Think of it this way: how soon would you be hungry after eating a bowl of pasta? What about after eating steak? I don’t know about you, but I could scarf down a couple of bowls of pasta and still feel ravenous two hours later. A good Paleo meal will keep me going for at least five hours – on average, I tend to get by with two full meals, and sometimes a snack, every day.
So, you’ll be naturally eating less, without really trying to do so, and you won’t be feeling hungry, which is a pretty nifty bonus imho.
A lot of people have the misconception that Paleo is low-carb. In truth, it’s lower carb than a conventional diet due to the exclusion of grains, but the point of eating Paleo is not minimizing carb consumption. In fact, your Paleo eating plan could be as high or as low in carbs as you need it to be.
For weight loss specifically, it is better to limit carbs (see Gary Taubes’ Why We Get Fat), and, unless you’re packing your plate with potatoes or wolfing down scores of fruit every chance you get, you’ll be able to do that without having to worry about it. What worked best for me was having a piece of fruit with my breakfast and/or a fist-sized portion of starchy carbs with my lunch, while adding some nuts here and there.
Ultimately, there’s no real need to keep track of carb grams or anything like that. Just be aware of what is on your plate and keep things reasonable, e.g. consuming no more than two fist-sized portions of fruit per day, or not eating fruit and starchy veggies/tubers during the same meal.
What About Exercise?
I feel that Mark Sisson has summarized a Paleo approach to exercise and fitness in the best possible way, so check his article here for an overview.
Personally, I favor a cycling weight loss model, going through a muscle-building phase, a weight loss phase, and a “reset” phase, staying in each for 4-6 weeks. Both being obese and losing weight are highly stressful on the body, and I feel that cyclic programming is the healthiest, though not the fastest, way to produce results.
During the muscle building phase, you do just that: build muscle. Don’t expect to lose much, if any, weight during this phase. The goal is to strength train intensely and stimulate your muscles into building new fibers; this will facilitate weight loss during the next phase. Two important factors that will determine your success are rest and food. You need to allow your body adequate rest between training sessions, and make sure to provide it with enough nutrients, especially protein, to act as building blocks.
When you enter the weight loss phase, you need to drop strength training and focus on light exercise, such as walking and yoga. At this time, you want to keep your hunger under control without completely immobilizing the body, so try to avoid strenuous activities (no power-walking or hot yoga!). You’ll be naturally eating less, and thus losing fat and some muscle mass – the latter is hopefully offset by the muscle gains made during the previous phase and the light stimulus provided by yoga during this one.
Finally, the reset phase is when you establish a new balance point for your body. Do maybe one or two strength training sessions, go for a jog, take a vinyasa yoga class, maybe even do an interval training session, all while eating to satisfy your hunger. Notice what happens to your body. You should be neither losing nor gaining weight, and you should be feeling energetic instead of tired – modify your exercise intensity, sleep, and food intake, especially starches, accordingly. For example, if you’re feeling like roadkill, are you getting enough sleep (8 to 9 hours)? Are you eating enough starches? Are you simply exercising too much or too hard? Use this phase to honestly evaluate your habits and find what you need to do to be in a balanced state.
There is a lot more information out there about losing weight on a Paleo eating plan, including the nuts and bolts of why things happen as they do (you know, the nerdy stuff), but what I’ve described above is what worked like a charm for me, making my life – and weight loss – much easier.