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3 Reasons Your Paleo Diet Isn’t Working


I'll admit, I'm a fan: I've been drinking the Paleo Kool-Aid before it was cool.

I read Dr. Loren Cordain's research more than 15 years ago and was amazed at what the diet did for my PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome). Thanks to Robb Wolf, it's a diet that's become mainstream. With Paleo restaurants, meal-delivery services and convenience foods (like Epic products or the RX Bar) popping up left and right, Paleo is here to stay.


It's a diet that works well for my patients and me: women with autoimmune, thyroid and tough hormonal issues. But while it's a great template for health, it may not be giving you the fat-loss results you were hoping for.

Have you read the Paleo pamphlet and didn't get what you were promised? Like that effortless 11-pound weight loss your friend brags about? Or the pant sizes your boss dropped in two weeks after "going Paleo?"

What gives?

First, one of the big reasons a Paleo diet results in quick weight loss for so many is that by eliminating sugar, dairy and grains, many processed foods are out. Most of these are high in calories and carbs and low in fiber and nutrition. Second, the Paleo diet cuts out the main food intolerances or sensitivities in our modern diet, including gluten, lectins found in legumes and grains, casein and whey found in dairy and soy.

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If you are eating something that you're sensitive to and you eliminate it, you'll likely see a significant reduction in water weight very quickly as inflammation drops. So if your girlfriend was able to shed five pounds in five days from coming off gluten, she may very well be intolerant or sensitive to it. (Note: This is not the same as a celiac disease, but rather a wheat or gluten intolerance.)

But what if you did something like a Whole30 and didn't lose an inch? Here are a few reasons why:

1. Too much fat. I'm not suggesting we head back to the fat-phobic '80s. Fat is not necessarily bad for us -- even saturated fat -- but we can get too much of a good thing. Fat is one of our biggest-ticket items when it comes to calories: nine calories per gram, versus four calories per gram with a protein or carbohydrate.

So watch the side of bacon next to the whole eggs cooked in lard. And watch the coconut. — coconut milk, oil, etc. Coconut is a favorite Paleo food because of its clean-burning fuel: medium-chain triglycerides. It's a great cooking oil since it's very stable even at high temps. And it's delicious. But, again, those calories can add up.

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Finally, keep an eye on nuts. They're great sources of healthy fat and are a convenient snack, but they're also something many people struggle to properly portion. If that's you, nuts can rack up the calories faster than you can say "caveman."

The remedy? Aim for leaner proteins like chicken or fish instead of bacon and red meat. Or opt for raw veggies and a few nuts versus a whole handful of nuts.

2. Too many sweet potatoes. While grains are out, starches aren't. Root veggies, while usually a better-tolerated carb for most versus grains, are easy to overdo.

Carb intake is a highly individual variable, and too much (or too little) can make fat loss a difficult battle. Find your sweet spot, or "unique carb tolerance." Your UCT will help you eat enough, but not too many, starchy carbs for your goals. Use your appetite, cravings and energy to figure out your UCT.

3. The primal three-meal-a-day rule may not work for you. Next to carb intake, nothing is more individual than meal frequency. The Paleo/Primal community is big on the idea that Caveman Grog only ate three times day. But Grog didn't live in 2014 with our toxin load, chronic stress and various other endocrine disruptors, such as plastics, parabens, medications, etc.

Some of you simply don't have healthy enough adrenals to go five hours without eating. You end up with low energy, poor memory, irritable, shaky or, as they say, "hangry" (hungry and angry) if you don't eat more frequently.

Others may find that if they don't build in an afternoon snack, they go home ravenous and have a difficult time eating a sensible dinner.

If you're someone who does well on three squares a day, great. If your appetite and cravings are more manageable and you make better choices if you eat more frequently, then do that.

The takeaway is that you need to eat in a way that gives you results and is sustainable. If Paleo jives with you for various reasons, but you aren't getting the fat-loss results you want, give these adjustments a try.

--Dr. Brooke

Readers -- Have you tried the Paleo diet? Did it work for you? If not, why didn't it work? Do you think it's a sustainable diet in the long-term? Leave a comment below and let us know.

A licensed naturopathic doctor (N.D.), Dr. Brooke Kalanick Larson attended Seattle's Bastyr University, where she earned a doctorate in naturopathic medicine and master's in acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine.

Dr. Brooke takes a balanced approach to health, using both conventional and alternative therapies. Metabolic nutrition, fat-loss resistance and fitness remain her area of focus. In her Manhattan clinic, she primarily treats women with Hashimoto's hypothyroidism and PCOS, as well as other female hormonal imbalances. With these women, she works to reset their hormones, their heads and their habits so they can finally feel at home in their bodies. 

Learn more about Dr. Brooke on her website, and connect with her on Twitter.

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