Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
31 Oct

9 Ways You Might Be Inadvertently Sabotaging Your Weight Loss Efforts

Whenever friends, co-workers, or loved ones complain about not being able to lose weight and turn to us for answers or advice, we can all generally rattle off a few suggestions that, if followed, usually set them on the right track. For the soda-swilling cubicle mate who keeps a recycling bin just for cans beneath his desk who asks, “Why can’t I lose weight?,” you suggest stopping soda. For the fast food addict who wonders why she can’t hit her high school weight, you suggest avoiding fries, getting water, and ditching the buns. To the vegetarian best friend who eats “healthy” but is growing increasingly skinny-fat, you send a link to MDA. Those are simple solutions. What about your stalled weight loss? You’re Primal, you’ve lost a bunch of weight already, you’re feeling good, you don’t have many complaints, you know all about nutrition, and you’re sticking with the lifestyle – but you’re not losing as much weight as you’d like. Well, it could very well be that you’ve inadvertently throw a wrench into weight loss efforts.

What do I mean? Let’s take a look:

You’re overly obsessed with dietary purity.

Now, if you’re celiac or gluten sensitive, it’s natural to be concerned about even minimal amounts of gluten in soy sauce. If you’re allergic to dairy, you should be that guy who pesters the waiter about the powdered milk in the gravy. If you’re pregnant, I wouldn’t blame you for worrying over the source of the fish you’re being served. But if you’re generally healthy – or on your way there – and you’re not acutely intolerant or allergic to any particular food, I’d argue that worrying over a single component of a single meal to the point of physical manifestations of stress (racing heart, sweaty palms, nervous tick, scattered thoughts) is not conducive to weight loss. You’re trying to be so perfect that it becomes the enemy of the good.

You’ve ignored the other aspects of the PB lifestyle.

When I put together the ten Primal Blueprint laws, I tried not to emphasize any single one over the rest. They are all important for health and vitality. “Eat lots of plants and animals” may trump “Move around a lot at a slow pace,” “Get lots of sleep,” and “Play” in the body composition arena, but you cannot overlook or underestimate the others. The more people I encounter, the more I see that every aspect is vital for real success with this lifestyle – and that includes weight loss. I didn’t make it ten laws just to hit a nice even number, ya know.

You’re wedded to an ideology rather than what actually works for you.

At last year’s PrimalCon, I fielded an interesting question during the keynote. An attendee asked whether it was okay that his kid ate lots of fruit and other Primal carbs along with meat, eggs, and veggies. I asked how the kid was doing, and he said, “Great.” I said to keep it up as long as it was working. You don’t mess with success. Now, if he had just assumed that his kid was getting too many carbs and decided to replace the fruit and potatoes with spoonfuls of coconut oil, he would have been doing his child a disservice. The kid probably wouldn’t understand why some of his favorite foods were now off limits; the kid would get stressed out and unhappy and his sense of metabolic homeostasis could have been disrupted as a result. Since the guy was attending PrimalCon, he was obviously a fan of the Primal Blueprint – but he wasn’t an ideologue. He recognized that his kid did well on a diet somewhat different than his own, and that this was okay.

You’re not tailoring your macronutrient levels to your lifestyle.

If you’re a CrossFitter going five days a week, doing the WODs as RX’d, and finding yourself growing a bit pudgier despite your best efforts, you may need to eat some sweet potatoes. Conversely, if you work a sedentary job and do some gardening and some dog walking for exercise, you probably don’t need to modify your low carb consumption. I see carbs as elective macronutrients, in general. I don’t elect to eat all that many of them, personally, but that’s because I’ve tailored my lifestyle such that this is the healthiest way for me to eat. Eat more if you’re going to be burning glycogen. Eat fewer if you’re not. Eating too few carbs while working out with high intensity and high volume will ruin your adrenals, depress your thyroid, and stall weight loss. Eating too many carbs without putting them to good use or enjoying exercise-induced insulin sensitivity will promote hyperinsulinemia and weight gain. Make sure it all matches up.

You’ve taken the “exercise doesn’t cause weight loss” claim a bit too literally.

It’s true that “eat less, move more” is an overly simplified, ineffective piece of weight loss “advice,” akin to a psychiatrist telling a depressed patient to simply “feel better.” However, that doesn’t make it a downright falsity. Exercise is an essential part of losing weight – particularly unwanted adipose tissue – and you can’t ignore it forever and hope to lose the weight you want to lose. I don’t think it’s helpful to look at exercise as a mechanistic obliterator of calories, because that can enable the “I’ll eat this cupcake and then run for twenty minutes on the treadmill” mentality that just doesn’t work. But exercise is a potent enhancer of hormonal function. It can raise testosterone, growth hormone, and improve insulin sensitivity (all of which improve fat loss). It can divert the calories you do eat toward lean muscle and away from body fat. It can divert the carbs you eat toward refilling muscle glycogen. All in all, as long as you don’t overdo things, exercise is an important ally in fat burning and lean mass accumulation.

You’re switching things up too often.

A downside of this Internet stuff is that there’s almost too much information out there. Not only that, the flow of information never stops. New blogs are popping up every day, each one pushing a slightly or radically different view. New studies are coming out from different researchers with different biases or areas of focus or sources of funding. Instead of ruminating on your own experiences, you can hop online and read a hundred different accounts of a hundred different dietary variations. It’s crazy. It’s great – if you keep things in perspective – but it can also lead to information overload and a wild goose chase for the “perfect diet.” Instead of doing that, try sticking to a “program” for a few weeks, at least. Heck, a few months is even better. Give the regimen (whatever it is) a chance to do its work. Give your body a chance to figure things out. Muscle confusion might sell P90X videos, but it’s not a useful approach to diet.

You’re overthinking your food.

Eating should be a relaxing, enjoyable, eminently pleasurable experience. It should be stimulating, but not because you’re analyzing the micronutrient content of the spinach based on the duration and temperature of the steam used to cook it and wondering whether or not you should reduce the light green cooking water into a syrup and add cold pastured butter to make a mineral-rich demi glace oh but wait the butter is looking a little too white I wonder if this was fresh spring grass-based pasture or hay-based pasture because the vitamin K2 content will vary wildly and oh man if it was pastured on grass the omega-3s might oxidize in the pan. Sounds stressful (even to read), right? Acute stress is great and all, but eating is an everyday occurrence, and if it’s a stressful event just to eat, that stress will inevitably become chronic. Chronic stress is the enemy of fat loss. Relax. Sit back. Pull up a chair. Enjoy your food. Enjoy your company. Have a glass of wine. As long as you make sure the bulk of your food is high quality, you’re gonna be just fine.

You’re eating too little.

Yeah, it sounds funny, but it’s true: eating too few calories can make fat loss extremely difficult. The beauty of going Primal is that it often causes spontaneous reductions in calorie intake, which is one of the reasons why it’s so good for weight loss. In some people, though, calorie intake continues to drop unabated, because, hey, it helped me lose weight at first, so why not go even lower? Right? Except it doesn’t work that way. When you continually eat fewer calories than your body requires, you are doing two things. First, you’re applying a chronic stressor to your body. A lack of calories for a day or two (say, if you’re on an intermittent fasting regimen) signals a missed kill, a momentary hiccup in the food supply. No biggie. You’ll get ’em next time. It’s an acute stressor that will actually improve your health. A lack of calories for weeks or months, on the other hand, signals a famine, war, starvation. It’s a chronic stressor that will impede weight loss and promote fat storage. Second, eating fewer calories gives you less of a chance to obtain the micronutrients you need for optimal functioning. All said and done, a 2,000 calorie diet will have more minerals, phytonutrients, and vitamins than a 1,000 calorie diet. Make sure you’re eating enough food.

You’re eating too much (healthy Primal food).

Primal can make weight loss really smooth, but some folks have the idea that they can eat as much as they want and not gain weight. Though it’s certainly harder to gain weight eating just plants and animals, it’s not impossible. Some people’s satiety mechanisms don’t kick in simply because they ditched grains, sugar, legumes, seed oils, and reduced carbs. Some people assume that since I’ve written posts extolling the weight loss benefits of a diet made up of grass-fed butter, coconut oil, sweet potatoes, cheese, olive oil, lamb, grass-fed beef, fish, and other healthy Primal fare, quantity is suddenly immaterial. It isn’t. While I’d argue that overeating Big Ass Salad is better, healthier, and causes less adipose tissue growth than overeating McDonald’s, it’s still overeating.

That’s what I’ve got today, folks. What do you think? Anything look familiar to you? Thanks for reading!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. i’m definitely guilty of most of these. very helpful post. thank you.

    Brian wrote on October 31st, 2012
  2. This is fantastic. I think ALOT of people participating in the crossfit/paleo lifestyle tend to go overboard. Food and fitness is a wonderful thing but when taken too seriously can do alot of damage. Once exercise and eating stop becoming fun then its not worth it anymore. I agree with ENJOYING your food. If one day out of mannnyyyyy you eat too many carbs or too much fruit, or even a dang chocolate bar don’t worry about it…just move on and continue to enjoy your life because when your older and wiser you will realize that punishing yourself wasn’t worth it!

    Brittany wrote on October 31st, 2012
  3. Great post! I talk to my patients about these points all the time!

    Dr. Maria Lombardo wrote on October 31st, 2012
  4. What a great post! My weight has been stalled for about 2 months now and this post help me to figure out why (I think)! I think I’m in the not eating enough group. I also think I need to eat more red meat and slightly more good fats. Oh yeah…It’s that last 10lbs that I’m trying to lose. It does seems to be true that it’s the hardest weight to lose.

    Angela wrote on October 31st, 2012
  5. I was going to write a funny comment, but the surveillance team overruled me with their hacks. That’s dirty.

    Animanarchy wrote on October 31st, 2012
  6. This might also be relevant to some of you (not my blog, just found it very useful) x

    Ellen wrote on October 31st, 2012
  7. I have noticed that upping my carbs has caused me to lose weight. I was under eating. A normal day for me will consist of 1 tin of tuna with half a sweet potato for lunch and a chicken breast with another sweet potato for dinner. I will eat 2 big apples a day, 6 tblspns of olive oil cold poured on the potatos per meal and 2 litres of water. This is a non crossfit day. On or just after a crossfit day I will eat 2 sweet potatoes, 2 apples, 2 portions of fish, a big plate of veg and loads of cold olive oil, maybe 15 tablespoons of oil in a day. The fat melts off and I feel very energetic. The fat helps tremendously. Without fat I feel dreadful, weak and lethargic as well as foggy thinking.

    My biggest problem is quitting the chocolate.

    I often fast from 6pm to 12am the following day a few times a week to do what I feel is ‘resetting my body’. It feels great. I feel clean when I reset myself. Sometimes it feels like I don’t want to eat after a fast. Other times I load up on food like a winter bear. Sometimes I fill myself up on a huge carvery meal with loads of veggies. It’s great. I don’t stress about being primal. I just focus on eating right for my body. My bmr is now 2253 from crossfitting and Paleo eating.

    Chrissy wrote on October 31st, 2012
  8. WWPRBS…What Would Paleo Ron Burgundy Say?

    skeedaddy wrote on October 31st, 2012
  9. Great post as always.

    We’ve been participating in the Whole Life Challenge recently; it ends in another week and it can’t end too soon in my book. We usually eat a really healthy diet with occasional cheats to keep us human and social. But the approach for this 8 weeks is way WAY too serious. I’ll be glad to get back to a way of eating that’s more in line with what’s discussed here.

    Saying that, I have learned to do without sugar including honey and I don’t really miss it…so maybe it wasn’t so bad.

    Ninaneil wrote on October 31st, 2012
    • .. or subhuman.

      Animanarchy wrote on November 1st, 2012
  10. Balance and being intuitive to our own bodies’ needs…some days you need more sweet potaoe carbs…others you are happier with fats…your daily rhytmn dictates your fuel intake and energy output…rest and rebuilt with sleep and get hormones to balance by exercising “right4 you”…play, laugh, socialize and laugh some more!!

    firefly elke wrote on October 31st, 2012
  11. Mark,

    I can relate to the 4th point you mentioned about tailoring your macronutrients and adapting your carb intake. My fat loss stalled out a bit when I tried to be too strict on limiting carbs even when I was playing a lot of competitive soccer, doing P90X, etc.

    So now, I try to not worry about that as much especially on heavy workout days and it seems that this combined with the burden lifted from stressing about carb counting has also helped me break the plateau.


    Alykhan - Fitness Breakout wrote on October 31st, 2012
  12. Thanks! This was exactly what I needed! I’m already excited for the next one! 😉

    alisch16 wrote on November 1st, 2012
  13. How does one decide how much to eat? I own all of Mark’s book and we all agree that calories are not the best measure of ones diet; nor is macronutrients. So how does one decide what satiety is?

    Daniel Merk wrote on November 1st, 2012
  14. How do you find out what your body needs to thrive on when it concerns calories? I have tried looking it up but have gotten several different numbers ranging from 1200 to 1800. I tried just eating till I’m full or at least enough to where I’m not thinking about food everyday which is usually 1200 to 1500 depending on the day but I can’t seem to shake off the last couple of pounds OR build muscle. At least as far as I can tell . . . I don’t think I need to change my carb intake (about fifty to eighty for me) because I think I’m generally carb intolerant and if I eat more than I need I get really sick for a couple days afterword.

    Kaylee wrote on November 1st, 2012
  15. Good post, sums up my situation of stagnation in the weight loss area. I am not eating enough of the right foods. I will be all over this problem like a cheap suit in the run up to Chrimbo. Cheers Mark and Stevemid. Just the tonic needed before heading into hibernation mode!


    rob wrote on November 1st, 2012
  16. The sedentary lifestyle is what’s killing me right now.

    I’m a student, so I’m sitting on my backside in the library or at my desk at home ALL DAY LONG. I take stairs and such, but moving frequently is definitely not happening, my chronic injuries are acting up because I haven’t maintained my physical therapy routine, I have bad cases of “student neck” and “keyboard shoulders” and I haven’t done any bodyweight exercise in weeks.

    Putting it all into words just now made me realize just how pathetic it is.

    I AM going back to dance classes tonight with my mother (we do adult ballet classes, oh yeaaah) and my fiance (who is also not exercising anymore but doesn’t gain weight like I do) and I are still having lots of what I’ll call “primal recreation.” That’s something, anyway!

    Kristina wrote on November 1st, 2012
  17. Dealing with my own weight loss plateau myself. I’m just a couple of months into PB, but started changing things up in May with getting rid of processed foods, then sugar, and finally dairy. Easily lost 35lbs without much exercise, which has come to a stop the last month. Thought I could “cheat” a little the last couple of weeks due to cravings with a little sweet here, a little wheat there… and I’ve put on 4lbs and sporting a poochy belly.
    Unlike a lot of you, I don’t get my brain muddled with the science behind it all. Obviously what I was doing was right, what I’m doing now is wrong, and I’ll have to get back into my former routine.
    I really appreciate this program like no other. And LOVE that the play factor in exercise is focused on, rather than “kill it at the gym”.

    ElleBeau wrote on November 1st, 2012
  18. I’ve been losing 4-5 pounds a week for the last couple of weeks. I’ve been taking the slow and steady approach though.

    I had a type IV cancer. Since then I have to be careful. The doctors gave me 6 months to live, but several years later I am alive and cancer free. I credit God and my husband, who drove to a local farm to get me organic raw milk, butter and eggs and who made fresh organic juices for me 4 times a day while I had cancer. Juicing, BTW, is a great way to get lots of nutrients into your body but is NOT good for weight loss.

    Anyway, thanks to the cancer, I’ve been eating organic, grass fed meat, raw, grass fed dairy and eggs. It’s not only good for health, it is also humane. I hate the cruelty of factory farms. I also of course have been doing lots of raw veggies – large salads, crudites, etc.

    About 6 months ago I started using only healthy oils – organic coconut oil, lard from free range pigs, raw organic butter, olive oil, organic beef tallow, etc.

    About 5 weeks ago I gave up white sugar and switched from coffee to tea for my adrenals. I stayed completely off them for 2 weeks, then started to allow small amounts back into my diet – Dark chocolate or coffee a couple of times a week. My energy levels are improved so I signed up for a yoga class.

    2 weeks ago I gave up wheat products. This I am 100% hard core about, no cheats EVER. I have been allowing myself other grains in moderation – brown rice or oatmeal or quinoa or millet once a day. But no wheat. Since I gave it up, I have been losing a pound a day except on the days I have chocolate or coffee. I’ve actually been deliberately cheating to keep the weight loss to 4 pounds a week since I think more than that is probably unhealthy.

    Next week, I am going to two dance classes and playing ping-pong. I know if exercise is play, I will stick to it. When I was younger I loved to play racquetball, so once I’ve adjusted to the dance classes, I’ll add that to the mix, as well as some hikes with friends.

    I may gradually cut out all grains or do other stuff as necessary, but, at least for me, I’ve found what works is to let my body adjust to a change until it becomes a habit before introducing another change.

    Shefali wrote on November 1st, 2012
  19. Awesome Jennifer! I just bought some 😀

    Brian wrote on November 1st, 2012
  20. I’ve lose 2 stone in weight in 6 months. I firmly believe that whatever ‘diet’ you’re on, there is only one way you’re going to lose fat (as opposed to weight). And that is simply, burn more calories than you’re eating.

    As the meerkat would say, simples.

    Robert wrote on November 1st, 2012
  21. Absolutely love this post. I’ve been following for a while, but I’ve definitely fallen victim to the “stress about eating” and the “eating too little”, and I’m just now beginning to relax, eat a little bit more and really find joy in the primal lifestyle. Thanks for a really articulate, well-written post that meets people where they are and reminds us all that you’ve still gotta LIVE even when working towards weight loss goals :)

    Emily wrote on November 1st, 2012
  22. Hyperinsulinemia was linked to Vanadium and Chromium deficiency back in 1971.

    And obesity, diabetes, depression, peripheral neuropathy, high blood triglycerides and cholesterol,…

    The other 58 essential minerals have disease symptoms as well.

    For me, the gears in the graphics represent the minerals and the wrench our ability to override or ignore our body’s urging. As was pointed out in the article.

    I might resort to the wrench when the problem is missing gears. Missing minerals that is.

    Some signs are obvious. Copper deficiency is graying or white hair and is reversible.

    I am suggesting that if the Primal Blueprint is not providing the desired result a mineral deficiency is a likely culprit. Mineral cravings can override the staunchest will. How long can one hold their breath?

    More science: Rare Earths, Forbidden Cures.

    Thanks Mark. I’ve enjoyed your articles. They contain good science backed with practical experience. I think you are doing a great job spreading a great message.

    Paul_S wrote on November 1st, 2012
  23. I’ve got a funny story to tell which highlights the point I think Mark is trying to make about individuals and their diet requirements.

    I had been going low carb for several months with great success. I then tried going more primal. Again, success with weight loss, more energy and seeing many health improvements. I should also add here I have T1 diabetes, so unlike most people I know exactly how much insulin I’m taking daily.

    Then suddenly, I started craving carbs out of the blue. I couldn’t explain it. Suddenly I hated dairy, meat and fat. I couldn’t look at it any more. I was looking for sugar and carbs like a desperate junkie. I thought I’d dealt with all this – hadn’t I seen the success? I thought I was weak willed and felt like a terrible failure.

    Because I’m T1, I also noticed my insulin wasn’t changing much, but I was eating more and my sugar was dropping. The mystery continued. I felt like a total nutcase after several weeks/months of this, and thought the whole low carb/primal deal was just another pipe dream.

    Then the light bulb moment came when I discovered I was pregnant. Oh yes, that is what had changed and it wasn’t anything I could “detect” until a few weeks (try two months) later.

    All that time, I had this new cell dividing and multiplying in my body, and it was requiring energy reserves (from me) at a phenomenal rate. Hormonal changes caused me to go off my normal primal foods, and a need for energy caused me to crave things I thought I had given up.

    So there you go – a case in point, some things you just cannot see with the naked eye, but your body still requires those extra foods/minerals to thrive. Diets are great bases to start from, but we have to be prepared to adapt when our bodies signal a change is required.

    Chris wrote on November 1st, 2012
  24. I know what has stopped my weight loss…. I lost my way. I hurt my knee, stopped exercise and was easily lead astray with food my hubby bought in the house, (cakes, bread, scones, jam and cream.) I looked at my weight and realised that I had not put any on for 2 months, but also had not lost any. My knee is healing now and I can do a bit more, but I needed this MDA today to give me a kick and take note again. Thank goodness I subscribe and get reminded :)

    Charmaine wrote on November 2nd, 2012
  25. FWIW, I sat down with my CF coach (also a nutritionist) and reviewed the food diary I kept for 21 days. Her assessment, and it really jumped out when you see everything written down, is that I was eating WAY too little protein and need to improve the quality of my carbs along with eating some balanced snacks between meals. Nothing was especially bad, but it seemed like I was not eating enough in general. I have not felt hungry, but I see a lot more chicken, turkey and broccoli in my future.

    On a positive note, I have dropped about 6 pounds over the past few weeks, but my body fat % is roughly that of a stick of butter and my focus will be on getting that down to around 20% by Memorial Day which would make me a lean 235-245. I think that I could live with and be happy and 7 months seems like a reasonable timeframe for getting there.

    TJ wrote on November 2nd, 2012
  26. Thanks for this website, Mark. I can’t put into words how grateful I am for all this information

    Caleb wrote on November 3rd, 2012
  27. Thanks Mark – this totally makes sense. I’m afraid I was one of those stressy-heads about counting every gram of carb (and not going over 50g) per day, BUT overeating on Primal food at the same time and wondering why I had stalled.

    Actually, just before your post, I decided to stop worrying so much about the carbs (and now probably eating around 100-120g per day), and also now watching my portions of the most calorific stuff and guess what? The fat is shifting again!

    One thing I’m testing my body on (being my own private laboratory) is fresh organic RAW milk (yes I know this isn’t strictly Primal/Paleo) but I’m getting good results on it – feeling great, maintaing/building muscle (no more non-grass-fed-non-organic-suspect whey protein powders) and it’s providing me with a good amount of protein & the just the right amounts of carbs I need pre/during and post workout. I will never touch pasteurised milk again!

    Thanks again for this.

    SymeonC wrote on November 4th, 2012

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