Effective, healthy weight loss isn’t only due to the simplistic calories in, calories out paradigm. Nor is it solely reliant on diet and exercise. It’s everything – it’s all the various signals our body receives from the environment that affect how our genes express themselves and thrive. How we approach the subject matters, too. Our mood, our methods, our temperament. Our conscious decisions and our willpower. It’s setting good habits and expunging bad ones. Most of all, it comes down to keeping our genes happy by providing an environment that approximates evolutionary precedent.
1. You think you’re eating healthy, but aren’t.
Does your diet consist of a massive amount of “products”? Low-carb or not, you want to eat real food. Flagons of diet soda, plates of pure fiber in the shape of noodles, and loaves of 1g net carb “bread” do not a Primal eating plan make. You’re just feeding an addiction and consuming empty calories – sound familiar? Disregard the labels and look inside for what you know to be true: this crap isn’t food, and you shouldn’t be eating it. It’s about way more than just low-carb.
2. You’re under too much stress.
The stress response system is subconscious; it responds to stimuli and nothing else. Emotional stress, physical stress, financial stress, relationship stress – I hesitate to even make these distinctions, because the body does not differentiate between sources of stress. They all cause the body to produce cortisol, the fight-or-flight hormone that catabolizes muscle, worsens insulin resistance, and promotes the storage of fat. For 200,000 years, stress meant a life or death situation. It was intense and infrequent, and the cortisol release was arresting and extreme enough to improve the chances of survival. Today, our body responds to a stack of paperwork the same way. Traffic jams are like rival war bands. A nagging boss is like a rampaging mastodon, only on a daily basis. Take a step back from your life and take stock of your stress levels – they may be holding you back.
3. You need to watch your carb intake.
Carbs are key, as always, especially when you’ve got weight to lose. Veer closer to the bottom of the curve, taking care to avoid all processed food (hidden sugars). You might also try skipping fruit.
4. You’re adding muscle.
I always tell people not to get hung up on the scales so much. Those things are useful – don’t get me wrong – but they never tell the whole story, like whether or not you’re adding lean mass. The PB will spur fat loss, but it also promotes muscle gain and better bone density. If you’re feeling good but failing to see any improvements register on the scale’s measurements, it’s most likely extra muscle and stronger bone from resistance training. You wouldn’t know that just from the bathroom scale. If you absolutely need objective records of your progress, get a body fat percentage test (although these might not even tell the whole story) or try measuring your waist.
5. You’re not active enough.
Are you Moving Frequently at a Slow Pace for three to five hours every week? Remember: the near-daily low-level (between 55-75% max heart rate) movement should be the bedrock of your fitness regimen. It’s easy to do (because every bit of movement counts) and it doesn’t dip into your glycogen reserves (making it a pure fat burner, not a sugar burner). If you’re on the low end of the spectrum, crank it up toward five weekly hours and beyond.
6. You’re lapsing into Chronic Cardio.
Of course, you can go too far with the low-level movement – you can begin to lapse into Chronic Cardio. When you stay above 75% of your maximum heart rate for extended periods of time, you’re burning glycogen. Your body in turn craves even more sugar to replenish the lost stores, so you polish off a heap of carbs, preferably simple and fast-acting. You can continue down this route if you wish – I did, for a couple decades – but you’ll gain weight, lose muscle, release more cortisol, and compromise any progress you might have made.
7. You still haven’t tried IF.
Results vary, but if you’ve seemingly tried everything else, intermittent fasting can be a great tool to break through a weight loss plateau. Make sure you’ve fully transitioned onto a Primal eating plan and start small. Skip breakfast and eat a late lunch. If that feels okay, skip breakfast and lunch the next time. Just take it slow and pay attention to your hunger. Eventually, try exercising in a fasted state to maximize the metabolic advantage. If all goes well, your hunger won’t necessarily disappear, but it’ll change. A successful IF tames hunger, makes it less insistent and demanding.
8. You’re eating too much.
Low-carb isn’t magic. It reins in wild hunger and tames insulin, but calories do still matter – especially once you approach your ideal weight. In fact, those last few pounds often don’t respond to the same stuff that worked so well to get you to this point. Eating nut butter by the spoonful and hunks of cheese without regard for caloric content may have gotten you this far, but you’ve got to tighten things up if things aren’t working. And that’s the real test, isn’t it? There is a metabolic advantage to eating according to the PB, but if the weight isn’t coming off, something’s up – and calories may need to come down.
9. You haven’t overcome bad habits or developed good ones.
Be brutally honest with yourself. Do you engage in bad habits? If so, identify them. Make tentative, loose plans to disengage from their clutches, and tell people close to you. Make it public, so you can’t back out without losing face. You’ve also got to develop good ones. Follow roughly similar guidelines as when kicking a bad habit – identification, planning, publication – and you’ll be on your way.
10. You haven’t purged and Primalized your pantry.
Out of sight, out of mind; out of reach, out of mouth. Keep the crappy junk food out of your pantry, if not out of your house altogether. Go down the list and toss the stuff that doesn’t apply. As for the rest of your kitchen, check out the fridge interiors and grocery lists of some other Primal folks for inspiration, and visit Thrive Market for Primal approved replacements.
11. You’ve reached a healthy homeostasis.
It may be that your body has reached its “ideal” weight – its effective, genetic set point. Reaching this level is generally painless and effortless, but it won’t necessarily correspond to your desired level of leanness. Women, especially, tend to achieve healthy homeostasis at higher body fat levels. Breaking through plateaus can be hard enough, but plateaus ordained by the body itself can be nearly impossible. It’s probably going to take some serious tinkering with carbs, calories, activity levels, sleep, and stress. If everything else is on point and accounted for, you may be looking at healthy homeostasis. Then, the question becomes: do you want to mess with a good thing?
12. You’re low on willpower.
Willpower is like a muscle. It must be used or it will atrophy. You’ve also got to provide fuel for your will – little victories to start out. Go for a walk if you can’t muster the will for the gym. Take note that willpower, or lack thereof, might actually be an indicator of your body’s needs. If you truly can’t muster up the will for the gym, it may be that your body needs to recover. When that’s the case, overtraining is a bigger danger than lack of will.
13. You’re full of excuses.
If you find yourself having mini self-contained internal arguments throughout the day (and you lose), or (even worse) lying to yourself about what you’re eating and doing, you’re probably also full of excuses. Read this, maybe twice, then follow up with this.
14. You haven’t actually gone Primal!
We get a good number of new readers on a regular basis, and not all of them take instantly to the Primal concepts. And yet they come back. They read the archives, the comments. Something draws them near, while at the same time keeping them at arm’s length. Why is that? What’s stopping them? If that describes you, what are you waiting for? Take the plunge. Go Primal for 30 days and see how you like it. I assure you; the many enthusiastic community members are here because it works.
The Primal Blueprint is a fat loss hack, undoubtedly, but it isn’t always a shortcut. Some people get instant results from dropping carbs, grains, sugar, and vegetable oils, while others have to take a month to get acclimated and only then does the weight begin to slide off. Either way, though, this is a lifestyle. You’re in it for the long run. Approach it with the right mindset and you won’t get discouraged.
17. You’re eating too much dairy.
Some people just react poorly to dairy. We see this time and time again listed in the forums; dairy just seems to cause major stalls in fat loss for a good number of folks. There are a couple speculative reasons for this. One, folks coming from a strict paleo background may not be acclimated to the more relaxed Primal stance on dairy. Reintroducing any food into the diet after a period of restriction can have unintended consequences on body composition. Two, dairy is insulinogenic, which is why it’s a popular post-workout refueling tool for athletes. Does a non-strength training PBer need to drink a few glasses of milk every day? Probably (definitely) not.
Bonus Reason: Sprinting is not part of your fitness routine.
I’ve found that many assume that they’re getting everything they need from their workouts from plenty of low level aerobic activity and a couple of strength training sessions each week. Sprinting is often overlooked, but it’s one of the Primal Blueprint Laws for a reason. Nothing shreds you up faster than sprinting. I’d ease into sprints if you’ve never done them or are extremely out of shape or overweight. That is, I recommend you have some measure of fitness aptitude before you jump into a routine. But once you’re ready do 6-8 all out sprints (with short breaks between) once a week to break a weight loss plateau when all other attempts have failed.
Am I missing any other reasons? If you’ve successfully surmounted a stall in your fat loss, what was the ultimate explanation? Let everyone know in the comment board!
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About the Author
Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.