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The Unspoken Truth about the Paleo Diet & Weight Loss

by Suz on February 17, 2012 · 31 comments

in Paleo, Weight Loss

The widely reported Paleo message is that if you follow a strict Paleo diet, you will effortlessly lose weight.  I’m reading more and more comments on Paleo forums from disappointed people, reporting that they have not lost weight – and in some cases have even put on weight.  This was my experience too, until I finally understood the missing piece to the Paleo weight loss puzzle. 

Portion Size – It Matters

When I initially changed my diet, at that time to more of a Primal diet, I very quickly lost a lot of weight and several dress sizes, effortlessly.  Looking back, I think a large part of this was due to replacing high calorie, refined foods, with more satiating whole (Paleo) foods.  However, without apparent reason the weight loss reached a plateau after a few months.  I remained strictly Paleo, I reduced my fruit intake and stopped eating nuts.  I continued to work-out.  Yet my weight would not budge; very frustrating.

Over Christmas I began to think more and more about portion sizes – the one variable I had overlooked before.  Most of the key Paleo bloggers and experts did not come to Paleo overweight.  They were often unhealthy and unwell, but rarely overweight.  Whilst not expressly stated, the “Paleo message” that could be construed is that provided you eat the right things (i.e. Paleo foods), you can eat as much as you like (perhaps even “the more you eat, the more beneficial the effects become”).  From what I’ve read, it appears that when you are overweight the hormones and signalling in your body become distorted – meaning that what works for someone of a “normal” weight, will not work in the same way for someone who is overweight.  At least, not until they restore the balance and signalling.  I’ve been particularly interested in reading Dr Jack Kruses Leptin Reset ideas in this regard.

For the last six weeks I’ve been challenging and significantly reducing my portions.  I’ve not been weighing and counting calories, nor have I changed what I eat.  I’ve simply been eating a lot less.  For example, where I’d have had three serving spoons of soup or beanless chilli, I now have two – and I don’t have seconds.  Where I’d have had three rashers of bacon and two eggs, I now have two rashers of bacon and one egg.  When I Intermittently Fast, I’m careful not to expand the size of my first post-fast meal to compensate.

I’ve lost 7kg in the last six weeks (15 pounds) and finally smashed through that plateau.  I think this is proof enough that a Paleo diet – with reduced portion sizes, is the essential combination for weight loss.

I don’t know what happens at the right body weight, but I am expecting to find (when I get there) that I will be able to eat as much Paleo food as I like, with no adverse effect on my weight or body composition.  In the meantime, it’s clear that reducing portion sizes is the right approach.

Essentially, I think the Paleo diet needs are very different for an athletic individual, compared to an overweight individual.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this – have you had similar experiences?  Do you agree that portion control is essential for weight loss, on a Paleo diet?

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{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

Therese February 17, 2012 at 9:44 am

Thanks for the info, interesting read and congrats on busting through your plateau.

I went strict paleo 51 weeks ago and have had a consistent weight loss and health improvement journey. I follow the autoimmune version, though have tried some nightshades in the last month or so and egg as part of paleo pancakes else been off dairy, legumes, grains, fruit, nuts, seeds, egg, nightshades all this time.

The results have been phenomenal, 35 kgs gone! When I think I’ve finally hit plateau my body seems to suddenly drop another 2 kg, I generally weigh once a month, though lately am doing fortnightly – start of month + middle.

The portions are considerably less, but so very filling. Most times my meals are served in a bowl, or bread and butter plate, rarely do I grab a dinner plate anymore. As the food is more nutrient dense I also only have 1-2 meals a day, and that’s while training for triathlons. My coach & paleo guide (Mark Pomery – http://www.swimcyclerunonline.com) just explained it so well to me when we started – eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full, no weighing or counting calories. THAT was music to my ears as in efforts to lose weight before had sucked the life out of me as I was always trying to plan and consume 4-6 food pyramid balanced meals. Since ditching that process, and ‘philosophy’, life is much more enjoyable.

My goal started out with wanting to improve my health, the weightloss I was expecting to be a 2-3 year process. I am still flabbergasted by the results, and couldn’t be happier on the improvements choosing a paleo lifestyle has had for me.

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Suz February 17, 2012 at 11:28 am

What a fantastic year you’ve had Therese! I think that’s a key point you make about how your portions are less, but very filling and nutritionally dense. Agree counting calories and weighing food is no fun at all – and fortunately just not needed to lose weight.

You must look and feel completely different from this time last year!

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Emma February 17, 2012 at 9:55 am

Wow, well done on losing 7kg in 6 weeks, that’s fantastic!

I switched to eating (mostly) paleo in November last year and have been very slowly losing weight since then (although you wouldn’t know it from the scales, I’m hoping it’s because of added muscle from Crossfit), but my clothes definitely fit better and people have commented on my shape changing.

The weight loss has not been as dramatic or quick as I would have liked and I know it’s most likely because of the same things you mentioned, too much fruit, too many nuts and generally portion sizes that are too large.

I’m currently just over halfway through my first Whole30 and have definitely lost weight just in the last 2 weeks, but I know I could stand to reduce my nut intake a lot (such an easy snack though!) and reduce my portion sizes and it’s something that I’m actively trying to work on. I’ve already reduced my fruit intake to one serve a day and I think that has helped a lot because I started to notice that eating fruit makes me hungry about an hour later, which isn’t really useful for weight loss!

So it’s a work in progress, but I completely agree that you will lose weight eating paleo, if you have weight to lose, as long as your portion sizes are not over the top. Your post has definitely motived me to try a bit hard controlling my portions though, 7kg in 6 weeks is brilliant! :)

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Suz February 17, 2012 at 11:30 am

That’s great you’ve moved to a more Paleo diet Emma! Added muscle will almost certainly be playing a part. I find exactly the same with fruit, it always makes me hungrier. I find it best just to avoid nuts now, I’d rather have none than just 5 or 6!
Good luck Emma!

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Emma February 17, 2012 at 1:09 pm

Thanks :)

No nuts! Hrm, I think I’m slightly further away from trying that out ;)
What do you eat for snacks? (If anything)

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Suz February 17, 2012 at 1:32 pm

Yes – I avoid nuts now! I don’t really have snacks anymore – I don’t feel I need them either now I keep my blood sugar levels stable woth a relatively low carb version of Paleo.

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Rhonda February 17, 2012 at 11:21 am

THANK YOU!!! …so much for posting this!!! I’ve been following the paleo way of eating, with the idea that I could eat however much I wanted and that my body would naturally tell me when I was full (said with air of sarcasm and bitterness). But, the scale hasn’t budged except for 1/2 a lb. I had decided it was just not working for my body, that it worked for some but not all. Doesn’t your post and our experiences just prove that calories are what matters when it comes to weight loss? I mean, eating paleo may be great for your health, but for weight loss the amount you put in your mouth is really what counts? Aren’t all “diets” really the same when it comes to calories?

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Suz February 17, 2012 at 11:33 am

Thanks Rhonda! It seems like it’s a very common situation. Calories definitely count. However, I do think the same number of calories of nutritionally dense Paleo food is a lot more filling (and meets your bodies micro nutrient requirements) than the same number of calories of SAD food – which makes eating less calories a whole lot easier and more managable.
Hope it works out for you – I’m sure it will!

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Caroline February 17, 2012 at 3:04 pm

Great post Suz. There have been two things that I have been struggling with Paleo for the past 10 months or so and you have nailed one of them. So, two things I have learned on the ‘paleo journey’. (1) Portion size is still important when it comes to weight loss (as you have well described above) and (2) glucose is important depending on health issues. Have still been struggling with burn out issues, and have had real problems with low carb Paleo (i.e. all carbs only coming from vegetables). I haven’t really been able to get rid of the sugar/refined carb cravings when stressed, but after reading http://www.perfecthealthdiet.com (Paul Jaminet), have realised that some safe starches are fine (which I was avoiding to try and get through the plateau) and so am eating more sweet potato or a banana when the cravings/stress hits and feel much better for it. If you haven’t read Paul’s book (which is now on Kindle), I suggest a read. It is still Paleo, but suggests that going very low carb (i.e. veggies only as a carb source) may not be the best to achieve perfect health.

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Suz February 19, 2012 at 6:07 pm

That’s really interesting Caroline. Safe starches seem to be getting a lot more Paleo press lately. I’ll have to get a copy of Paul’s book, sounds like an interesting read.

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Brenda Watkins March 1, 2012 at 5:30 pm

I’ve been paleo/primal since nov 2011 and have lost 4-5kgs but my clothes are fitting better, feels like I’ve lost more weight so this means my body fat% is going down. I’m gluten intolerant, and had gluten free foods, my digestive system still wasn’t the best, bloating, gurlging and not regular. That changed with primal/paleo not more bloating or gurlging and regular every day. I feel heaps better and more awake. My exercise is minimal. Instead of looking at the scales and going by the numbers, think about how you are feeling, how good your skin looks, your energy levels. In other words the overall effect this way of eating and living has on your body and life.

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Suz March 6, 2012 at 4:48 pm

You’re so right Brenda, the scales start to get quite meaningless – particularly when you gain muscle. They certainly don’t tell you how healthy you are, either!

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debbie March 27, 2012 at 10:43 pm

hmmm…I have been following a paleo lifestyle/diet for past 2 months and have been extremely disappointed that not a gram has been shed on the scales- and for the first few weeks i was keeping track on a food diary which consistently gave calorie counts of 1200-1500/day so I would have thought that which ever way you looked at it by rights I have should have lost weight and of course you hear all thses stories of people who just cut out bread/reduce carbs etc etc who shed kgs in the first few weeks. Then I stopped obsessing so much cos I thought that was just adding to my stress…I do feel well and definitely almost eliminated cravings but beginning to wonder what I need to do to get the scales to shift??? i barely eat fruit and I think portion control is reasonable too

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Suz March 27, 2012 at 11:42 pm

Hi Debbie, females definitely do seem to have a harder time losing weight than men. It’s great you feel better – do your clothes fit better? I think that’s a better measure than the scales.

A lot of people swear by intermittent fasting for weight loss. Might be one to bear in mind?

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Frank June 22, 2012 at 5:22 am

Hi I am a man and I to have been down about not showing any loss on the scale. I have been on paleo and Crossfit for 2.5 months. I am getting stronger and I know I am gaining muscle but it is still discouraging . I may try portion control next but my crossfit trainer thinks I need to eat more. I probably have 2000 calories a day. I workout 4 days a week some times more.

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angie July 10, 2012 at 4:16 am

Thanks for the info!

I started strict paleo (with a few nuts, a tiny bit of dark chocolate allowed and little to no fruit) about 8 months ago. I’ve steadily gained weight since. I was not super overweight before — maybe just 10 lbs. I’m a performer and thought this would help my health, stamina, leanness, and reduce fat a bit. (So far,…. that has not been the case). I’m completely discouraged at this point. I’m continually told that my previous diet did not contain enough calorie intake. Now that I’m eating around 2000-2500 calories a day…. I feel stuffed all the time (with only 3 meals/day) and feel like I eat a ton. I want to cut portion size but am concerned about eating too little and having my body think I’m starving it. (Before, I ate between 1200 and 1500/day). Any suggestions? (I’m moderately to heavily active… I am a dancer and dance educator, so moving a lot most days…. plus my own workouts which are similar to cross fit).

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Suz July 10, 2012 at 9:27 am

Sounds like it’s probably a good idea to cut calories. Everyone’s different, so I’d start experimenting. If you’re eating too little, you’ll soon realise. Calories do still matter – and feeling full all the time isn’t good. A lot of people also experiment with intermitant fasting – and don’t eat until they’re really hungry. Good luck!

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Kait July 25, 2012 at 12:57 am

Thanks so much for posting this! I lost 40 lbs. with Mark Sisson’s ‘Primal Blueprint’. This was with diet alone, no exercise. I came to Primal from a very low carb Atkins diet. I was consuming about 10 carbs a day before going Primal and losing no weight, so you can imagine my triumph when I experienced significant weight loss with eating whole foods even though I was eating way more carbs! Unfortunately, I have only been maintaining my weight for the past 5 months. I haven’t been able to lose any more although I have begun to exercise. I think the reality is, I’m just eating too much! Even Mark says he doesn’t argue that a calorie deficit is necessary in losing weight. 4 thick slices of bacon and 5 eggs with veggies is really too much, and if I’m being honest, I am quite satisfied before I finish the meal, so I think it’s time to cut back. In my experience though, I can agree that I’m sure once you’ve lost all the weight you want and you are in a maintenance phase, you can probably successfully begin eating as much as you want again, granted you increase slowly…Thanks for this eye-opener!

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Karen August 11, 2012 at 12:08 am

Really interesting to read this, Suz. A naturopath put me on the Paleo diet as I was feeling tired, run down and going through menopause. Over one year I put on 12 kgs! The naturopath kept on saying I would ‘balance out’ and start to lose weight but I stopped believing that.

I’m always hungry on the Paleo diet – I honestly don’t find protein foods filling and can eat huge amounts. I’m more satisfied if I can mix a small amount of protein with carbs such as rice or quinoa. I should also say that I ate a diet based around wholefoods with an emphasis on organic produce and avoidance of processed foods before I was put on the Paleo diet – plus I have allergies to wheat, soy, oranges, tomatoes, mushrooms, cocoa and baker’s yeast. My diet wasn’t ‘bad’ per se.

I’m really starting to believe it is all about calorie counting.

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Lisa August 14, 2012 at 4:31 pm

Thank you Suz.
Boy oh boy after reading everyones accounts and experiences one can be very confused….Paleo is unreal, health benefits are amazing etc etc but it seems many of us women are struggling to lose body fat on this plan. Calories do matter from one camp then they don’t from the opposing camp. I came from a bodybuilding/sculpting background so when I found Paleo was delighted to think that I wouldn’t have to weigh and measure everything ever again. I started crossfit style training and loved it as I was bored to death with the bodybuilding style of training and lots of cardio. Anyway at present I weight the heaviest I have in 15 years (now that sounds dramatic but competiton weight was 50 kgs with body fat 14% now I’m 56 kgs with body fat 22%…normal of course) however I am also the strongest I have been in my life, the least stressed and glad to not spend hours on the treadmill. My dilemna is that i have just read about the underground diet people talking about calories in vs out is a load of rot….How confusing for all of us. What I am coming to is that it is all experiential. I am all about health, wellbeing and less about a number on a scale.

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Rob September 14, 2012 at 10:59 am

I think its important, especially when a person is on a low-carb, paleo or primal diet to consider your fat intake in relation to your daily energy needs. Both paleo and primal encourage an increased intake of fats over the “standard north American diet”. I agree with most people that fats are healthy and should be consumed in fairly hefty doses compared to traditional thinking, but we still need to make sure we are consuming less fat as an energy source than we are burning (for weight loss purposes). Its all fine dandy to be in a fat burning, ketogenic state, but if you are consuming enough calories via fat to meet your daily needs, your body has no reason to dig into the stored energy reserves.

Calories are still important when it comes to weight loss. We need to be in a deficit to loss weight. For those comfortable with physics, the law goes, energy can be transformed but never destroyed. When it comes to weight loss, at the end of the day its all about energy in, energy out. Of course, there are other variables, such as insulin sensitivity, genetic makeup, metabolism, muscle mass, etc. But for the most, control your calories, control your weight.

I think that eating until your stuffed is never a good idea. It not only stressed the stomach but causes an UN-necessary caloric load. Besides, once you stabilize your blood sugars, you shouldn’t feel a need to eat all the time, and to eat massive amounts of food.

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Paul October 5, 2012 at 7:48 am

You make a good point about the amount of fat you consume influencing the conversion of stored fat into ketone bodies, and that may indeed be all or part of the problem, but the other side of the coin to consider is protein. The theory of weight loss on the paleo diet is that once you reach a state of ketosis your body will have lower levels of insulin (for a variety of reasons) and your fat cells will be able to release their stored fat into the blood stream as a source of energy, once it is converted into ketones. Any glucose your body needs (about 120-150 grams) comes from the conversion of protein into glucose. The problem is, though, that if you are eating protein in excess of the amount your body needs for glucose and for maintenance/repair, all the remaining protein gets converted into glucose, which takes you out of ketosis! Then, the same high protein, high fat diet out of ketosis your fat cells will not mobilize their stored fat, and your body will rely exclusively on the conversion of protein into glucose. This is basically the same thing as being on a normal higher carb, low calorie diet (that doesn’t work for weight loss). Your metabolic activity will decrease to match the total amount of glucose your are providing your body, all the fat you eat will go into your fat cells, all the protein you eat will be converted to glucose, you will probably lose muscle mass, and you will lose no weight/fat.

If you are not losing weight on a paleo diet, I would check to see what percent of your total caloric intake is coming from protein. Chances are that you are eating too much. I am a 6’1″ 200 pound male with some weight to lose and I have been successfully losing weight while gaining muscle while eating a diet of 65% fat, 25% protein, and 10% carbs. This amounts to 125 grams of protein on a 2,000 calorie diet, or about 0.6 grams of protein per pound of body weight. Accounting for the protein in vegetables and meat I eat, I can easily reach this amount with a 6 ounce serving of meat 3 times a day.

If protein is not the problem, then you may indeed just be eating too much.

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Olivia October 30, 2012 at 1:30 am

How many ounces of meat do you usually eat, and do you eat the same portion for every meal you eat? I heard that on the paleo diet you’re supposed to eat the same portion for breakfast, snacks, lunch and dinner?

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Carol March 12, 2013 at 8:22 pm

Calories do matter but they need to be nutritionally dense. Have a read of Nora Gedgaudas – Primal Body Primal Mind.

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Kenyra April 17, 2013 at 12:43 am

I’ve contemplated on doing calorie count and paleo in the past. It’s just that I can’t be that productive at work if I’m too hungry starving myself whenever I strictly count the food that I eat. I realized that it could lead to some serious problem, if not my GI, then it has to be my job..lol.. Paleo sounds a good choice as you portion size every meal. But for those who eats small frequent meals with nutritionally dense food , say 5 meals a day, I think is unlikely to give you good results. I have these irritating hunger pangs, that’s why these two won’t work for me. So I made some research on how to control myself and lead me into taking an appetite suppressant. I asked a physician about it first, it’s imperative. I’m now using Liproxenol and I’m actually somehow doing just fine with it. I’ve managed my eating habit which is a good sign for me.

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Maria August 13, 2013 at 10:21 pm

I totally agree with you!!! portion size is very important.. I started paleo along with my husband in March 2013 and so far I have been able to lose 56 pounds.. yes I also workout alot and between Monday and Friday I receive all my paleo foods from The Primal Plan Delivery Serves. My husbands food is the same as mine the only difference is the portions are three times bigger than mine. On weekends I cook myself and I notice that I gain weight bc I will have 2 eggs and 2 turkey bacon strips, basically I tend to eat more when I cook :( however my weight loss has slowed down and the only time I see the scale move is when I lift heavy weiht at the gym. I still have alot to lose to be at my goal.. But atleast my numbers are moving slowly but steady. Congrats on your success!!

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Lady Z October 10, 2013 at 2:21 am

Hi All,

I am so glad I found this post because there are two camps of Paleo people. There are the fit althetic folks and Obese ones. The fact of the matter is that if your an obese female like myself, you got that way by eating more than your body needs. I like to eat large hearty portions of food. I binge eat. So of course I am going to be attracted to a diet that tells me I can eat ALL I WANT, that I don’t have to count calories and that the weight is going to melt off! Eat those steaks drowned in butter! Eat 3 avocados a day! Fry those eggs in coconut oil! Bacon with EVERYTHING!

I am 110 pounds overweight and sure its hard to give up french fries and bread, but I sure was going to make up for it with bacon and butter and to my dismay I gained 5 pounds in a week.

If you are obese and Paleo, you are going to have to bite the bullet. There is no magical diet that will allow for unlimited food comsumtption AND weight/fat loss.

So now I will have to do the thing that I have resisted for years. Weigh and measure my food. I am terrified at looking at how tiny these meals seem– going from eating 3000 calories a day to only 1600 looks very different.

Breakfast was 4 strips of bacon, Four fried eggs. 4 sausage links. With an avocado. 843 Calories!!!!!!

LEts say I ate this meal 3 times a day: 2529 calories!!! And I need to eat 1600 to lose 2 pounds a week!

I am eating 939 more calories than I need and so how do the Paleo Folks account for the 2 pounds I am gaining rather than losing? Hmm… Maybe they would say eat more fat! Haha!

Anyway I have joined the ranks of disaapointed Paleo overweight people who thought they found a panacea. BUT— I am not throwing away the baby with the bath water.

I am insulin resistant, so these is no going back to the SAD diet. I just have to eat less of the good Paleo stuff. And I think that it’s going to be doable.

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Rachelle Hyde March 26, 2014 at 10:08 am

Hi Lady Z

I agree wholeheartedly with your comments hon. Good luck with your journey! I too am insulin resistant and whilst I am not making huge grounds with my weight, I am feeling better than ever.

I have always spent my time hopping from one diet to another as none of them seemed to be the magic bullet I was looking for. At least with Paleo/Primal lifestyle, reducing calories is definately less scary as you do feel fuller for longer and those crazy carb cravings are a little more under control.

I wish you all the best in your wellness journey.
Cheers Rachelle

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cyndie! January 20, 2014 at 10:51 pm

I just hit my plateau, god, and it’s a relief that I just read this because I was getting frustrated. I have been doing Paleo for almost half year now, I feel a lot healthier, with a lot of energy (to spare even) but I did not start wanting to lose weight (although I was overweight +15 kg more than my ideal weight), the last two months I wanted to get rid of the extra weight. I lost 7 kg and now I’m stuck. I have been looking at portion sizes and realized that I ate one can of tuna, 2 avocados in one sitting, and that my body actually does not need that much food. I get satiated quite easily…
thing is it’s true, I ditched the wheat, sugars, fruit, and everything processed that has more than three ingredients in it, I still enjoy nuts, eggs and fatty diary (full fat cream for coffee)… and it made a huge impact on my body even without losing weight… but I never realized that portion size is important.
Paleo changed a lot of things for me, even though I suffer from social pressure: why don’t you eat this and that? oh, poor thing you can’t have ice cream/ mc donald’s/ chips, whatever… and this is quite annoying: can’t people see that I’m A LOT healthier this way?…
well, I am insulin resistant too and this is really the best way to go! :)

so my new mantra is: do I really need ALL of this food? I believe it’s doable! :)

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cyndie! January 20, 2014 at 10:55 pm

Lady Z! The keto calculator helped me a ton while wanting to shed weight, it tells you how much calories you actually need to live, how much you need to lose weight…in the long run, it helps a lot! check it out: http://keto-calculator.ankerl.com/

and it’s doable!!! :)

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Dani January 24, 2014 at 10:49 am

I experienced a similar thing when I started eating Paleo except I are way too much and thought that because of intermittent fasting I could fast after eating too much and lose it. That just resulted in a binge and starvation cycle which made me gain weight! Then I went off Paleo and gained a tons of weight, I’m ready to give it another try now and this article was a huge help! Thank you! :)

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