Ask almost anyone how to lose weight and you’ll get the same answer. It’s easy. All you need to do is eat less and move more. In the Paleo world it's almost as bad – eat Paleo and your weight will naturally regulate. For a lot of people, this seems to be the case – but unfortunately this simplistic view just does not work for everyone. I’m now almost certain that for myself, weight loss is a far more complicated equation than eat Paleo,eat less, move more.
I’ve made a lot of huge discoveries in the last few weeks, and am starting to understand why my body is fighting all efforts to burn fat. It’s time to share my weight loss struggles with you…
As you may have read when I first found Paleo in 2010, I quickly and effortlessly lost 17 kilos. This was several dress sizes and changed me quite dramatically. I felt so much better, my asthma disappeared, my sleep improved – I felt like a brand new person. With another maybe 15 kilos to go, I assumed my weight loss would continue – perhaps not at the same speed – but I thought I would gradually get to the right size for me (that’s what the experts tell you, after all…)
But then nothing happened. Nothing. For the last four years I have stayed within a 3kg weight range. I have been completely unable to break through this barrier, no matter what I’ve tried. And believe me, I have tried almost every approach.
With the distractions of day to day life – a busy corporate job with weekly inter-state travelling, running a business, blogging, multiple house moves etc etc– I’ve always been able to blame my inability to lose weight on a variety of things I’ve “been getting wrong”. My favourite thing to blame has always been sleep. When I’m stressed, I don’t sleep well. Poor sleep increases cortisol causing the body to hold onto its fat stores. Therefore even though I'm eating well and lifting weights, it must be the poor sleep preventing weight loss, right? Or perhaps the problem lies with one of these problems:
- Living alone and cooking for myself, perhaps I had been eating huge football team size portions, without realising?
- Perhaps I've been lying to myself all along and punctuating my amazing Paleo meals with McDonalds every few hours?
- Perhaps I've been sleepwalking to the fridge with no knowledge or recollection?
- Perhaps it's my adrenals?
- Perhaps I'm just big boned?
- Perhaps I'm just meant to be this weight?
Last year I went to PrimalCon for the third consecutive year and felt really embarrassed to have made no progress over the course of another year. I spoke at length to Sarah Fragoso (of Everyday Paleo – one of the sweetest most genuine people you could ever hope to meet) about my weight loss plateau. Sarah didn't take the “eat better/ move more” approach, but really encouraged me to focus on stresses in my life and get my sleep in check. Coming back I had a renewed belief that I could change this – and a determination not to give up.
Last year, I was fortunate enough to have several months off the corporate conveyer belt, for the first time in years. Escaping the daily early mornings/ commute/ work/ meetings/ pressure/ deadlines/ late nights gave me a golden opportunity to experiment with everything. I could to finally start losing some weight.
What I did every single day
The first change I incorporated was sleep. Just how much was that really impacting things? In all the time I wasn't working, I only set an alarm twice. I stuck thick cardboard* to my widows to make sure my room was darker than a remote cave in the middle of the night.
After sunset I turned off all main lights and used side lights with red bulbs. I forced myself to turn off all screens (tv, laptop, iPhone) at least two hours before bed.
I read. Real physical fiction books before bed.
I turned off the wifi in my house overnight and switched my iPhone/ iPad to flight mode (I still do this)
I did interval sprits to the local outdoor swimming pool most days. I swam. I lifted weights.
I got sunshine everyday.
Changing things up
Once I had my baseline established, with the new habits I mentioned above, I tried pretty much every piece of paleo weight loss advice. Whenever I tried something new, I stuck at it for a few weeks, without introducing any other changes. Here are some of the things I tried:
- Intermittent fasting. Without the usual life stresses this was the perfect opportunity to give this a real go.
- I tried very low carb (below 50g a day, then lower, about 20g a day)
- I tried high (relatively speaking) carb, which meant eating a lot of things like pumpkin and sweet potato.
- I tried counting calories strictly, sticking to a conventional wisdom approved daily limit (keeping it paleo, within that limit)
- I tried eating more fat
- I tracked my macros and micro nutrients and made sure I was hitting all of the recommended amounts of everything (except for calcium)
And guess what happened….
Nothing. That’s right. NOTHING. I could get to the bottom of my 3kg range, but I could not break through that barrier.
Perhaps I eat too much?
I was able to spend a couple of months in the UK with my family during my time out, which gave me some great insights into this weight loss puzzle.
Looking at me and hearing about my weight loss plateau, I'm frequently quizzed on my portion sizes. I know people think I must be eating an entire chicken, 2 packs of bacon, 6 eggs and a litre of coconut oil for a mid-afternoon snack. Well, actually no. And my time in the UK proved this to me.
My parents are both slim having lost a few pounds when they went Paleo three years ago. For the duration of my stay we ate exactly the same for all but two meals. Same food and similar portion sizes (my Dad having slightly larger portion sizes). They are at ideal body weights – and their weight remained constant. I didn't lose any weight, despite having significantly more kilos to support than my parents do.
So what's going on?
For the first time I felt I had conclusive proof that there was more going on in my body, than I could control with nutrition and movement…
I was explaining my puzzle to my friend Jodie – who happens to be a trainee naturopath (and eats a natural, real food diet too). “There has to be more to it than eat less, move more?“. Her empathetic agreement encouraged me to delve a lot further into this and for the last few months I’ve been on a journey to find out everything I can….
Over the last few months I’ve been on an incredible personal journey into this puzzle. Over the coming weeks and months, I’m going to share with you who I’ve met, what’s really going on – and what I’m doing to fix things. From emails and comments I get from you, I know I’m not alone in this struggle. For all of those who are doing everything the “paleo experts” tell you – and are still struggling to lose weight, I think I have some answers that will help you, which I’ll be writing about in detail in the coming weeks and months.
You can read the next post on my weight loss journey here
In the meantime, if you’re struggling to lose weight (or you overcame a struggle), please please leave a comment or email me. I’d love to hear about your journey and what you think the problem is for you.* If you're renting, don't do this. It took hours and hours to scrape the glue off the windows when I moved out