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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!