What If I Don’t Want to Lose Weight?

I receive a lot of emails from folks worried about losing too much weight on the Primal Blueprint, underweight readers who need to gain weight, or the formerly overweight who have reached their target weight and wish to stay put. No, they don’t outnumber the questions from overweight readers, but that’s to be expected given the obesity rates in industrialized countries, from which most of MDA’s readers hail. Anyway, with the frequency of those emails increasing, I decided to take a look through the archives for pertinent posts. Other than the post on how to gain weight and build muscle, I realized that gaining weight hasn’t been addressed at length on MDA. I’ve explained how to pack on muscle mass, but what about the folks who aren’t going to squat heavy and don’t care about getting 70’s big?

Is Primal right for those people? I’m talking about:

  • The naturally lean, petite woman who’s already underweight and can’t seem to gain weight. Rather than add fat, stress makes her lose it.
  • The guy or gal who “eats anything they want,” never exercises, and can never keep anything on. We all know one of these.
  • The classic “skinny fat” person, whose BMI implies healthy body composition but whose protruding gut tells a different story.
  • The man who’s finally nearing his target weight, can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but doesn’t want to keep losing once he gets there.
  • The ectomorph, that gent with the blistering-fast metabolism who everyone hates, while on the inside he just wants to gain a little mass (but is scared to voice his desires for fear of being ridiculed).
  • The person who lost all the weight, then kept losing, and found the only way she could maintain weight was by “eating normal” again.
  • The marathoner/triathlete who’s at the top of his game and, by all external accounts, looks fitter than 99% of the population, but who’s a wreck on the inside with a laundry list of health woes (sound familiar?).

Lemme talk about that last guy for a second, because I know a little something about him. When I was at the top of my game, running 100+ miles a week, engaging in ungodly amounts of training, and stuffing my face, I was incredibly underweight. You could see every striation of every muscle (even though I didn’t have much to write home about) because I was so skinny. As I developed the Primal Blueprint and began applying evolutionary principles to my diet, training, sleep, and overall lifestyle behaviors, I gained weight – both muscle and much-needed fat.

Err, how could that happen, you might ask?

I ate far fewer carbs than ever before, started choosing grass-fed meats, ate way more animal fat, and stopped snacking (let’s face it, eating meals) constantly, and I still gained weight. What’s the deal? Isn’t that the dietary advice you give someone who wants to lose weight?

Sure. Someone wants to get leaner and burn fat, the simplest way is to eat Primal. It’s fewer headaches, less agonizing over calorie counting, and more satisfying. But I’d also tell someone who wanted to gain weight to do the same thing, to eat the same food. By eating, exercising, sleeping, and living in accordance with the “expectations” of my genes, I was sending all the right hormonal, epigenetic, and environmental signals. My body was simply realizing its ideal composition – the degree of leanness that it was “meant” to maintain.

If your “ideal weight,” as decreed by your physiology and genetics, is higher than your current weight, going Primal will most likely cause you to gain weight. If you are malnourished, with visible ribs, jutting hips, and low energy levels, sticking to meatvegetablesfishfruitnuts, and tubers will pack the weight on as needed. There are different tweaks you can make depending on whether you need to lose or gain, including macronutrient ratios and total caloric count (which I’ll get into below), but the basics – eat animals, plants, fish, fruit, nuts, and tubers – remain the same regardless of your weight.

The 10 Primal Laws aren’t designed for “weight loss” or “weight gain,” for that matter. They are designed to optimize your health. They are founded on the blueprint for fantastic health, including the hallmarks of fantastic health like longevity, performance, and yes, body composition, that resides within each of us.

So, for me, going Primal came down to normalizing my weight. I’m pretty sure the same would be true for anyone.

Let’s get on to the solutions. These tips, tricks, and suggestions assume that you are already following the Primal Laws, that you’ve ditched the grains, sugar, and vegetable oils, you’re eating the right stuff, you’re getting good sleep (or working on it), you’re reducing stress (or, again, working on it), you’re walking when you can and lifting heavy things now and then with the occasional sprint session, and you’re getting regular sun (or taking vitamin D), but the weight just won’t budge (skyward).

1. Track your calorie intake.

I know, I know. This sounds like sacrilege. But a huge number of people who claim to eat 4000+ calories each day without gaining an ounce of fat or muscle are simply not eating as much as they think they are. Classic fat-and-protein-rich Primal fare has the benefit of being nutritionally-dense and/or extremely satiating. These are excellent traits if you need to eat less, but if you’re trying to eat more, they can lead to unwittingly undereating. Don’t let that happen. Use Fitday or Cronometer or Paleo Track to track your food intake for a few weeks. Stop guessing and stop estimating; start measuring, if only to get an accurate idea of how much food you’re actually eating.

2. Ease up on the VLC approach.

I love fat. I love burning fat. It’s healthy and makes your body run better and cleaner. And I think most people eat way too many carbohydrates than they require, but that isn’t true for everyone. Many Primal eaters get to where they want to be by consulting my carb curve, finding where they fit, and going with a low-carb approach to lose the weight. Generally speaking, the thinner you are, the more insulin sensitive you are and the better you can handle glucose. I’m not saying engage in carbo-loading day in and day out. I’m just saying that a sweet potato with dinner, a few handfuls of berries through the day, and a butternut squash won’t kill you. Remember that the “sweet spot” for weight maintenance is 150 grams per day for most folks. If you’re actively losing weight – too much of it – and want to gain a few pounds, I would definitely avoid dipping below that maintenance level. That doesn’t mean gorging on pizza and burgers. Stick to roots, tubers, and other Primal-approved sources of starch.

I suspect a lot of the underweight are going very low-carb when they really don’t need to. Once you’re at your target weight, it’s unnecessary, and even counterproductive. I mean, I swing low-carb compared to mainstream recommendations, but I don’t shy away from a bowl of berries, a sweet potato, or even a bit of rice from time to time.

3. Eat more food.

Eat bigger meals. It doesn’t get much simpler than that. You just have to eat more food, especially once you’ve established that you actually aren’t eating very many calories after all.

Sneak in calories. Drizzle butter on your food. Incorporate coconut oil into everything. Take an extra serving of yams. Add an extra egg to your usual omelets. Grab some nuts for a snack. Just eat.

4. Optimize your nutrient intake.

Don’t get stuck on the ground beef and broccoli Primal eating plan. You need a wide range of nutrients to optimize your hormonal status. Minerals? Those are raw building blocks for hormones, neurotransmitters, and bodily tissues/structures. Some even act as antioxidants. Eat food that contains a lot of all of them. Vitamins? They enable a whole host of bodily processes. Without vitamins K2 and D, for example, calcium doesn’t go where it’s supposed to go. You need them all. Are you eating organsSeafood? Are you making bone broth? Are you eating mineral-rich green vegetables? If you’re not, and you’re underweight, you may be deficient in a number of crucial micronutrients that play a role in maintaining proper body weight.

Remember my post on the zero-carb diet? Heed its lessons. Valuable – heck, invaluable – nutrients exist in plant foods, people!

5. Realize that you’re no longer fat.

This can be the hardest part of all, especially if you’ve spent most of your life overweight. The weight becomes part of you (literally), and many overweight people can’t shake that feeling of being psychologically tied to it, even after losing the pounds. Now, I don’t know the feeling firsthand, and I won’t pretend to, but I’ve talked to enough formerly overweight readers, friends, and clients who have had trouble severing the mental ties with their former selves to know that it’s normal to feel and act overweight even when you intellectually acknowledge that your body comp is perfectly fine.

Sometimes it’s not even a conscious decision. You spend so much of your life trying to lose weight that eating tiny meals and exercising deep into the night become ingrained habits. It’s all second nature to you. Except you’re not fat anymore, and those habits are counterproductive. Realize that. Give yourself constant reminders.

Once again, folks, it boils down to eating and living Primal. That’s not a cop-out, because there are plenty of tweaks you can make to your Primal plan to address weight gain, as I’ve shown above, but the basic formula remains the same.

How about you? Are you trying to gain more weight? Are you worried about losing too much? What’s worked for you? Let everyone know in the comments!

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.

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94 thoughts on “What If I Don’t Want to Lose Weight?”

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  1. I am thin and did very low to zero carb for a long time. Sometimes I thought I might shrivel away but I didn’t. I never dropped below my low threshold. However, when I started eating more saturated fat, like from beef, I gained just a bit more fat. As long as I eat saturated fat, I don’t get ridiculously thin.

    I can’t say that adding carbs really changed anything as far as thinness is concerned. Now if I want to really gain weight I could add carbs with saturated fat…

  2. Great post Mark. I’ve dropped 30 pounds since starting primal in February, even though I thought 20 pounds was the “right” amount. In actual fact, I’m back to the weight I was throughout my 20s and most of my 30s, so I guess I’m at the “right” spot. Sometimes I worry that I’m going to keep losing, but I eat when I’m hungry (2-3x/day) and add in sweet potatoes occasionally, berries every now and then, and a bit of dark chocolate every day. The main reason I don’t want to lose anymore — I really can’t afford to keep getting my clothes taken in or buying new ones!

  3. I was definitely “that guy” for awhile. Was thin to start and dropped about 20 lbs the first few months of going paleo. The things that got me back on the right track were red meat for dinner 4-5 nights a week, tons of butter on everything, and a nightly bowl of berries with heavy whipping cream after dinner. I eat a fair amount of carbs too but more just to feel better after tough workouts

  4. So many people assume this is a weight loss plan which is not the case at all. My naturally very slim housemate has been eating this way for almost three months and hasn’t lost weight, but has gained abs, more energy and attained a marathon PB!

    1. I’ve found similar results – many folks don’t necessarily lose weight (especially if they begin underweight) but put on muscle when they start eating primal foods. Specifically, incorporating dairy seems to help people bulk up.

      1. Hey, I’m a teenager, and I’m pretty damn underweight.. I’ve done a lot in terms of research on workouts, nutrition, everything, and despite trying my hardest to succeed with the conventional wisdom touted often by weightlifters and bodybuilders, athletes of all kinds really,, (eating less fat, and higher protein and carbs) I could never get rid of my belly fat, which was my goal.. I still have a little pouch, not much, but it’s there, and I certainly don’t have a six pack… But anyway, I’m currently doing a program to gain weight, don’t laugh, it’s called Body Beast and it’s made by Beachbody, who made P90x and P90x2, which in my opinion are extremely high quality programs, both of which(especially X2) increased my athletic performance and strength exponentially.

        I want to not only lose this last bit of belly flab, but also just be healthy and strong to my maximum potential, and eating primally, I have felt extremely good, I don’t want to eat lots of carbs anyway. However, I guess I’m trying to bulk up a bit before getting rid of the last bit of fat, as I’m 117 lbs… and 5’7″….. Can you bulk up efficiently eating HIGH amounts of fat, and only around 150 grams of carbs on training days? Also, for my post workout, should I eat carbs and protein together, such as a protein source and a sweet potato, or a recovery drink of dextrose, maltodextrin and whey(which is suggested in the program’s nutrition guide) or just protein and fat? in Mark’s article on carb loading for muscle gain, he said a meal of protein and fat work better… is this true? I don’t want to keep having the post workout recovery drink I’ve been having if it is, because the carbs and the sugar in it probably aren’t necessary if what Mark wrote is accurate… any help would be appreciated, I’m really stressed and confused about this

        1. What I’ve noticed from experience is that carbs (certain kinds) makes me gain weight…almost instantly it seems. Wheat based products cause a big spike in blood sugar levels. Two slices of bread made with whole-wheat flour raise blood sugar higher than six teaspoons of table sugar and higher than many candy bars. (via “The Truth About Grains” Experience Life mag)

          If you want to lose that last little bit of soft stuff,
          AVOID things that spike blood sugar levels – cereals, sweets, wheat products (unless whole kernel, uncrushed), and possibly even dairy.
          DO things that don’t raise it – Most kinds of nuts, rice, sweet potatoes, lean meats, vegetables, etc.

          To explain it – when you consume food, your body needs to process it, either convert it to energy or store it as fat. Insulin is that guy that handles that task, but if too much comes in too fast, he just stores it as fat. That’s why “slow burn” carbs work better.

          I just watch my blood sugar levels to stay lean. Maybe someone else can answer you about your other questions.

    2. I agree…this is not a weight loss plan but rather a way to better health and well-being.

      Coconut milk and dairy works great if looking to add weight.

      1. Yes so many of my friends thought i was going on some crazy “weight-loss primal-diet” when i first started eating this way. Not realizing that it’s not a diet… its a lifestyle!

        People of all shapes and sizes can benefit

      2. For those that need to lose fat it is a weight loss plan or fat loss plan. At maintenance it becomes a lifestyle plan.

  5. Fitday is a wonderful tool I agree. I am trying to lose weight and did not realize how much i was eating , how many calories until I started tracking on fitday. What an eye opener!

  6. That is the beauty of this lifestyle, it is useful whether you want to lose(as I currently do) or not. I can certainly gain weight eating primally by eating more calories

    The other health benefits of the primal lifestyle are numerous.

  7. Great post.

    A few months after going primal, I started to feel increasingly fuzzy-headed, lethargic, and weak. It lasted for weeks. Once I went to the park to work-out, only to feel faint, and have to lie down — and then trudge home with my tail between my legs.

    I tried everything to fix it but I couldn’t. It was too late in the process for carb-flu (and I had already been through that in the first week). I couldn’t find any advice out there dealing with my problem. I was on the verge of giving up…

    … until I started using FitDay and checking my calories. Turns out that I was eating about 1,500 when it should have been closer to 2,500. It’s weird — once you have got rid of the grains etc, even with bacon and eggs for breakfast, tuna salad for lunch, steak and broccoli (and wine) for dinner, it’s still easy to under eat (especially when you’re getting used to not feeling hungry).

    Now I make an extra effort to eat more, including obscene globs of animal fat, and am feeling close to normal. I also take pleasure in telling people that, on this ‘diet’ the problem is how to eat more, rather than less!

    Anyone else had the same problem?

    1. Scott,

      I seem to have the same problem with respect to not eating enough. I’ve been making an effort to eat more but I’m often just not that hungry. The scale this morning read 151.8 lbs over my 6’2″ frame. I feel great and guess I’ll just have to “force” myself to eat more delicious food. I just ate 6 eggs fried in an absurd amount of butter. It’s unfortunate that this is going to keep me full for hours.:)

    2. I’ve experienced similar issues Scott. However, since we’re now in the Fall months of Northern California, I seem to be “slowing down” with my work outs, eating more squashes (specifically butternut and I know it’s higher in sugars/carbs) and sleeping more. I feel fine on my workouts. Again, I’m not a maniac as of late with “crossfit” or “p90xish” workouts. Just 25-30 minutes of pushups, pull ups, and some situps 2-3 times a week and road rides for 1 1/2 or so 1-2 times. I think what’s probably the best thing about this lifestyle is the ability to KNOW what you’re putting in your body and how it affects it. Little tweaks are fun. I’ve been Paleo/primal for about 7 months. 5-10″ 172 lbs. 43 yrs. I’ve only weighed myself once about a month ago. 🙂

      1. Thanks Chris, Craig & Matt… good to hear I’m not the only one. And yes, I think part of it is re-learning what it means to be hungry. It’s difficult to hear your body whispering, when you are used to it screaming.

        The whole thing was particularly confusing because I still had (and have) a ‘comfortable’ supply of fat round the middle — I thought that would have gone before I experienced any other symptoms. (Although, like I said, this was an accident; I wasn’t trying to crash diet or anything.) I guess this just shows that I don’t understand how fat storage / metabolism works. Does the body cling on to fat if it is being underfed? That seems perverse…

        Any pointers / links would be appreciated.

        1. There’s a lot going on when we are switching to Primal and our bodies are in transition. I’ve never been one for eating breakfast, but now, if I don’t I will not have enough energy for my ping pong lesson in the evening. I’ve had some fuzzy-headedness as well. I think that it also has to do with our bodies still burning sugar instead of fat. I don’t know how we can tell when (if?) this happens.

        2. Fat mass is absolutely conserved in a starvation scenario. You will lose muscle first. Part of the reason may be that your body can’t create proteins from glycogen or lipid stores so it steals proteins (autophagy) from “expendable” parts of your body if you aren’t consuming enough in your food, or if your food is deficient in some amino acid. This matter aside, many studies have confirmed that the body will doggedly conserve fat stores in a severe calorie deficit. Since adipose tissue now turns out to be an important organ controlling certain hormone levels this may not be so surprising.

    3. I had EXACTLY the same problem. I thought I was eating plenty, but FitDay showed I was eating 1500 cals a day max.

      I am over 6 foot tall and I dropped to 122 lbs, that’s not a typo, 122lbs. I have introduced rice and quinoa and even some wheat back into my diet because I was wasting away and I found it basically impossible to get enough calories – drowning everything in butter or cream just doesn’t seem ‘right’ to me, sorry!

      I would like to see more examples of daily food breakdowns to get more ideas of how someone can actually get 2500 calories + eating Primal.

      1. Just eat! Eggs fried in butter and bacon for breakfast, a shake with some whey protein, coconut milk, and berries for a snack, tuna salad with olive oil for lunch, some nut butter with celery for snack, meat fried in butter with veggies and avocado for dinner. berries and whipped cream for dessert. 3000 calorie day for me easy! Male 5’6 – 170lbs.

      2. I went paleo on Valentines Day this year and on that day weighed 145 pounds. Im 6’2″. Today I weigh 170 and am still gaining (though much more slowly).

        I aim for roughly 1000 calories per meal, with snacks thrown in in between. So for breakfast I might have 5 thick bacon strips (200 calories) 4 eggs (280 calories) a protein/fruit smoothie (about 350 calories) and a big handful of almonds (bout 180 calories) for a grand total of a hair over 1K.

        Lunch might be a large steak salad with guac (600) some more bacon (200)and a big honking sweet potato (180).

        Dinner comes in at two large chicken breasts (660) and another fruit/protein smoothie (350)

        So theres ~3K in a day. It’s expensive but its fairly easily doable. I honestly find that it all comes down to getting in a big, meaningful breakfast. If I hit 1K or more for breakfast, the rest of the days calorie count just seems to happen. But if breakfast is only about 5-6 hundred, making up the difference is a chore.

        It should also be mentioned that I do crossfit 4-5 times a week and firmly believe that lifting heavy is just as important as eating big. You have to move weight if you expect your body to look like its capable of moving weight 😉

        (side note: Ive recently begun the gallon-of-milk-a-day thing in an effort to bulk up. Its not primal but good lord, steak is effing expensive. I may try this dozen eggs a day thing instead. It’s cheaper and this caveman is on a budget)

      3. Wow. But when I first switched to primal, I dropped 7 lbs. in a week. I am a bit over 5’8″ and I dropped to 111 lbs. I actually freaked myself out.

        Now I’m stronger than ever and find it’s pretty easy to get enough calories if you get enough fats. Fatty meats are a good way to get more fats. I also love nuts, nut butter, and avocado. If I’m not careful, I can actually eat too many calories with those foods.

      4. The Primal diet has helped me think clearer, and I feel its helping my thyroid. But I am a very lean woman and I am getting too thin. I’ve tried eating more (4 to 5 full meals per day, plus snacking) , and that is just not working. I’ve been tempted to just order Lasagna and Pizza, but the thought of that “Grain Brain” again is not appealing. I like the suggestion above, for rice and quinoa. Today I started drinking Ensure, which has a lot of sugar. I’m trying to stay away from that. I welcome any input. I may return to milk, although I really want to cut out sugar, which milk has.

    4. Hi discovered the opposite with Fitday. I thought I was eating about 1500-1600 cals per day but I was really eating about 2500 per day, ha! Too many to lose weight. I have beeen using it to monitor my cals and weight loss every since 🙂

    5. I think I have this same problem… I’ll have to start tracking the calories to make sure. I’m 5’11” and was 120ish, now down to 117ish after going primal. The problem for me is that I generally seem to get tired if I eat too much food in one sitting. I was eating plenty of high fat dairy, but now my doc thinks I may be dairy intolerant, so no heavy whipping cream for weight gain. 🙁

  8. Excellent, helpful post! Well, not helpful for me personally, hehe, since I have always been over rather than under weight.

  9. For all those struggling to put on weight or not be too skinny – I feel your pain. But after losing 33lbs and having 100 lbs more to lose I have to just plug my ears and shout “la la la la….I can’t hear you!”
    (no animosity intended!)

  10. Thanks for the reassurance. I’m a couple of months into primal and feeling better, but I have still been fearing weight loss. Maintaining weight is the main thing my doctor looks at in terms of how well I’m doing, or not.

    I have a chronic disease that will take me to an unhealthy low weight if I don’t fight against it. My weight has stabilized on primal, not gone down. I eat plenty of fat and some fruit every day.

    Your post gave me more confidence that I’ll be able to maintain both primal and weight, and things to look at if the weight starts slipping.

    Thanks for making Primal Blueprint about more than weight loss and athletics. Both topics are important, but neither is suitable for everyone.

  11. I totally have the problem of not eating enough. I think for me, after I went Primal, I was no longer obsessed with food and eating out all the time. I cooked at home and was generally not as hungry (maybe the hunger feeling changed) as I was on the SAD diet. I, too, was fuzzy headed and lethargic until I started measuring my intake and realized I needed to eat more. I still battle that when coming off of an IF, but it’s less of a head scratcher for me now. Eggs really helped me through that period of not eating enough and losing tons of weight.

  12. Great post. My dilemma right now is that as far as body composition goes, I can’t recall seeing much of a change for the past year or so. This is after trying several different carb levels, caloric intake levels, fruit/no fruit, dairy/no dairy, etc. I’m probably holding steady in the neighborhood of 14-15% BF, so I’m wondering if a certain homeostasis has set.

    It’d be nice to have that “ripped” look in the midsection, mainly since I’ve never had that in my life and since I’m fairly well-defined most other places on my body. It’s a thorn in my side, so to speak, but I’m not going to kill myself getting there.

  13. Also me. I hit my mark at around 10% bodyfat and 139 lbs. But ribs were visible. At that point, and still am, trying to fill out a layer of muscle around all that. I’m a hardgainer so its a bit hard.
    Then I slipped, focusing on my wedding and went from primal to primalish. Which give me a belly due to fast food. Now I’m at 10% bodyfat and aiming for muscle again, eating my weight in grams in protein and lots of fat along with two heavy kettlebell workouts on Monday and Friday and PBF on Wednesday. We’ll see how this works out.

  14. Thanks for addressing this. A friend told me I was starting to get “scary skinny” recently, and it’s made me aware of this whole issue. I lost more than 15 pounds (so easily!) since beginning paleo in February, but I’m afraid I had become one of those grass-fed beef and broccoli people. Not a ton of variety. Now I’m experimenting with adding some rice back in, which is sitting quite well, thank you, and am ogling Richard’s photos at Free the Animal to get more adventurous recipe ideas. It’s a very interesting dilemma to have!

  15. I have found that as long as I lay off the wheat, I can eat anything I want, even potatoes au gratin. My satiety signals tell me when to stop. My weight in kilograms has remained the same for half a year, but I am leaner than ever and have just a bit of loose skin around my middle. And I haven’t lost any upper (or lower) body strength.

  16. I’m that skinny girl, always ate EVERYTHING I wanted and never gained a pound. Now that I have diabetes, I can’t just #3. Eat more food. I have to keep meal sizes on the low size. And carbs make me totally paranoid now. All I think about these days is food. My BMI has slipped down to 17.6. And the only thing I’ve done is reduce carbs (sugar, starches, grains, limited fruit & dairy). It seems I can eat all the meat, fat, cream and butter I want. I just can’t keep the pounds on. Very, very weird.

    1. Anna – What type of diabetes do you have? And how did you get diagnosed if you dont mind me asking, ie what were your symptoms?

      1. You do realize that 70s big refers to a website: 70sbig.com right?

        The main guy there (Justin) does advocate a paleo diet for the most part, but doesn’t treat it like a religion. The whole premise of the website is to lift heavy weights, get jacked (or swole) and to sport awesome ‘staches.

        1. I love 70sbig.com, been following it every now and then since it started.

          It’s definitely useful for those who are afraid to gain weight. And if you do want to gain strength and size efficiently you really do have to gain weight. It also tried to redefine what a good looking useful male is, preferring a strong greater than 200lb look to an emaciated Hollywood look.

  17. Thanks for thinking of us, Mark. I started the hard gainer workout a month ago and so far I’ve been able to maintain 148lbs at 5’10”. I hope to be able to up the amount I lift this month and see where that takes me over the next 30 days. Sometimes it’s rough having to eat four meals a day becuase the food is so satisfying and my hunger is dictated by the amount of energy I expend. I can always tweak it and I’m getting a charge out of the entire process. Thanks again!

  18. I’ve never weighed 150 lbs in my entire life. I have never given it enough effort to get there either. Maybe one day I’ll set out a plan to try and get there. I’ve weighed 148 but never 150.

    Maybe someday!

      1. Yup, what she said.
        I was 125-135 lbs at 5’10” my entire life. Then, in my mid 30’s I started to get heavier bones, broader shoulders and just filled out in general, becoming a man. I no longer look like a boy, thank god.
        I was a late bloomer.
        Now I weigh 145 lbs at age 40, but non of the smaller clothes fit although I’ve lost 25 lbs of flab that I’ve gained since my 30’s. I’m only 5 lbs heavier than I was since my teens, yet I have to wear larger clothes because, well, fat mightve vanished, but the bones still seem broader. Legs are thicker, too, since eating primal.
        My wrists and ankles seem stronger, too, slightly thicker than before primal.

        Bone mass? Muscle mass? Who know, but I’m not really hating it 🙂

      2. I turned 40 the other year and this metabolic slowdown is exactly what led to me eventually discovering paleo/primal. So it was a good thing!

        More importantly – now that I’ve focused on the exercise programming side of things, the supposed “slowdown” in metabolism is totally reversed and then some. Am now eating far more than any time since I was a teenager.

        Was never a gym type, but turns out the cure for me was the sort of heavy lifting programming you find at Starting Strength, Leangains, Westside etc. Add a weekly max effort sprint session and mountain biking, and I find the metabolism is just fine thank you.

  19. Timely article. I’ve been primal since Aug 9th and reached my goal weight of 205 last week. At 6’4″ I don’t want to shed any more pounds but I want to continue the primal lifestyle. Maintaining the primal fitness program and eating more food will be my solution.

  20. Great post!! I’m one of those “skinny guys” myself, so going primal didn’t really help that. In fact, I lost quite a bit of weight when going primal. But I’ve realized that most of what I lost was probably water. Eating a high carb diet makes our body store more water. I know that I could probably gain more weight by upping my caloric intake, but I’m thinking I’d just end up looking skinny fat. I think it’s better for me to focus on adding lean mass instead by doing more heavy exercies.

  21. I’m so glad you put out this article, Mark! As a breastfeeding mama, I was having an insanely difficult time taking in enough calories to keep weight on and make milk. I’ve been eating a lot of sweet potatoes, avocado, grassfed butter (on everything), coconut butter (yum!), and fattier cuts of grassfed meat. I’m losing that scary skinny look AND feeling like I can actually keep up with my 7 month old!

  22. I have a slightly different problem. I’m 66yrs, 5’5″ and weigh 130lb. I lost 57lb over the last 4 years. I don’t need to lose more weight but there is still a lot of fat and lose skin. Even though I am exercising per Mark’s book I think I left it too late to aim for a 70’s? body. Have to settle for looking good dressed instead of LGN. BUT the positive is my now oh so good health, position. I never even caught a cold this last winter, BP is normal, energy levels are higher and I feel great.

    1. You probably need to concentrate on gaining some muscle. Do you know how much of you is fat and how much is muscle?

  23. I am the first description, “The naturally lean, petite woman who’s already underweight and can’t seem to gain weight. Rather than add fat, stress makes her lose it.” to a T. I have been “failing to thrive” my entire life.

    I was so pleased to see this post! It’s definitely a reality check for me. I know I’m not eating enough food. Or enough carbs, despite the fact that I do eat some grains.

    The one thing I would add to this list would be to optimize your gut health. I plan on starting the GAPS diet after the holidays, because I know I have gut damage that’s causing me to not absorb the nutrients I take in. I would argue that this is a huge culprit of a chronically-low body composition. The vast majority of people, IMO, have poor gut health and intestinal dysbiosis. It’s a huge issue, especially for small people!

    1. I’m with you on this (not that I’ve ever been a hard gainer!) and I think it needs to be shouted loud and clear: GET YOUR GUTS IN ORDER or you won’t benefit from what you so carefully put in your mouth!

    2. Have you been treated for a parasite infection? Sometimes they are asymptomatic other than anemia/failure to thrive.

    3. I’m also the first description (“naturally lean, petite woman”), with the added bonus of having colitis.

      When I switched from a gluten free diet to a GAPS/SCD/Primal diet, I initially lost some “white rice weight,” but gradually gained it back, plus more.

      At my sickest a year ago, I was 99 lbs. I’m 5’6″, and that’s what I weighed as a freshman in high school. It was actually uncomfortable to sleep because my hips stuck out so much. Since going primal, I’m now up to about 110-112 lbs. and feel really good.

      I track my food in Fitday every once in a while, and generally I eat 1800 to 2600 calories a day. This consists of meat, fish, eggs, good fats, cooked veggies, and some cooked & pureed fruit. I eat over 2 grams of protein per pound of body weight. Hopefully now that I’ve started Crossfit I’ll put on more muscle.

      This is definitely a weight-stabilizing way to eat. My mom is eating primally and has already lost a much-needed 25 lbs.

      1. Ashley, u sound just like me! How is the GAPS/SCD/Primal diet working for u? I’m reading a lot about each of those and not sure which to follow.

        What is your typical macronutrient breakdown (% carbs, fats, protein)? That’s my biggest hang-up..I’m not sure how to structure my diet in terms of how much fat/pro/carbs to eat. I have a lot of gut issues (and food allergies), so these diets look like they’d help me.

        How long did it take u to put on the wt and was the wt “muscle?”

        Lastly, would u be able to post a “typical day” of what u eat for each meal/snack? Do u also do fermented foods?

        Thanks SO much! I hope your healing is going well!

  24. My husband is 5’10 and 130 lbs soaking wet. Has been this weight since he was 18. Long lean muscle, strong, but sooo thin it is scary. I know he doesn’t eat enough, plus it is genetic. I am sneaking in a lot more fats and meats. Hopefully it helps!

  25. Spark People is another great website for tracking your daily food/nutrients/calories.

  26. Love the article, shared on FB and everything.

    I’m defintely NOT one of the “need to gain” crowd, but my teenage daughter has switched to this WOL along with me and she keeps getting asked by her friends at school “why” since she doesn’t need to lose weight. She tells them it’s because it’s healthier!

    When I was her age I was too skinny (folks always thought I was anorexic, but I wasn’t). She currently weighs about 15-20 pounds more than I did then and looks much healthier than I did.

  27. Oftentimes the inability to gain weight, either fat or muscle, is the product of a nutritional deficiency, oftentimes the product of gastointestinal autoimmune diseases and disorders, but also possibly just too little nourishing food. A primal diet would seem to correct this.

  28. I know someone who is looking to gain weight, not maintain. How much carbs would you say is acceptable to have a day? Would you recommend eating more rice and pasta or Primal-approved starches?

    1. Its always better to eat the “safe starches” rather than wheat pasta for gaining or losing weight.

  29. To gain weight on the primal diet, you have some veggies. You have a good hunk of meat. You then have some butter, and butter, and butter, and butter, and butter 😉

  30. I used to be the type that could never seem to keep the weight off but then a life style change happened and I moved to China. I’ve been fairly lean ever since. I suppose the Chinese eat a more primal diet.

    Problem is though is that I’ve lost some muscle mass so in China I need to consume volumes of food, it seems enjoyable but sometimes it’s a chore.

    Good post tho…

  31. I’m one of those kids with the ridiculous metabolisms. I’m definitely a genetic hard-gainer. Gaining weight before going Primal was impossible for me.

    I’d first gotten interested in weightlifting about three years ago, but never made really significant progress. I gained only about five pounds within the next couple of years, and then had my wisdom teeth removed, and lost 15 pounds because of not being able to eat anything solid for a week. I think the weight loss was so dramatic for such a short period of time because normally I’d eat quite a lot, never less than 4 meals a day (snacks don’t count, I mean real meals with meat, veggies, starches, etc.).

    After switching to Primal though, I noticed that I eat fewer calories than I used to. I lift weights at about the same volume (maybe higher intensity), and I’ve finally managed to slowly increase my weight and maintain it in a normal way without having to overeat.

    I feel that the change was brought about by improvements in digestion and better regulation of metabolism. The changes are pretty obvious; my stool almost never has undigested food anymore (it used to ALL the time, I guess I wasn’t born with the best digestive system) and I’m gaining lean body mass without having to eat 5 meals every day (no protein shakes or creatine, either!). I don’t get the nasty carb highs and lows anymore either; they used to happen all the time because I play several sports. Intense exercise + inherently fast metabolism = glycogen stores disappearing really, really fast.

    So now I can eat without feeling like a foie gras duck, gain mass comfortably, and feel more energetic. All pretty good things for a skinny guy, I think. 😀

  32. Hi Mark,

    I know this may not be your specialty, but what advice can you give a lactating woman who keeps losing weight. I still have not gone fully primal because I’m using some sugar and a lot of dairy to get some empty calories. In fact, i had put off going off grains altogether until my daughter was walking so I could keep some energy stores on my body. I’m a tall mesomorph and my daughter, who is almost a year, still breastfeeds a good 5 – 10 times a day. It’d be more if I’d let her. She eats plenty of food too and is lean.

    Thanks for your help and wonderful blog and books. I’m a chiropractor and have recommended your blog and cookbooks to many patients since I found it in September. I’d attend PrimalCon if I wasn’t breastfeeding. Maybe the next year.

    1. Rebecca,

      I’m going through the exact same thing! I’m finally getting off the grains/sugar bandwagon, and now I can see what it was doing to me. I have a 7 month old mega-nurser, and all the sugar I was eating was causing me to crash and burn and not be able to keep up with her. If at all possible, try to (slowly) cut out the grains and sugar so you can still function on a day to day basis. I left in dairy and so I get a lot of my calories and fat from greek yogurt, pastured butter (kerrygold brand), hunks of cheese, and heavy cream in my coffee. I understand how hard it is to cook with a baby, but make yourself a priority and cook yourself large meals. Make more than you think you can eat. Sweet potatoes, almond butter, avocados, berries in cream, and coconut butter are good snacks. Make a big batch of primal trail mix (nuts, jerky, unsweetened coconut flakes) and keep it in your diaper bag/purse at all times. You can also make smoothies with canned coconut milk, fruit, and spinach to add additional calories. There are a lot of great websites with paleo smoothie recipes.

      Good luck, I feel your pain, and I’m rooting for your good health!

  33. I found myself GAINING weight when my carb intake was inder 100g/day. Slowly but steadily I added 6 pounds – and it wasn´t just muscle. When I made sure that my carb intake was between 100g and 150g/day (and sometimes more when I exercised intensely) I started to lose the weight. Calories didn´t change. I know this is the opposite from what everyone else experiences but very low carb seems to mess with my metabolism.

  34. I would like to add that the fat/carb combination doesn`t make me gain weight. I feel satisfied after a moderate carb/high fat meal and I do not experience any cravings after such a meal for it just seems to be what my body needs.

  35. Thanks for this post, Mark. Since going primal, I have to eat more than I used to maintain a body weight that’s 15 pounds less.

    How bout a follow up post at some point on calorically dense primal snacks for all the hard-gaining ectomorphs out there?

  36. Great point on upping the carb intake. Some people naturally deal with carbs better than others. Like Mark said, that doesn’t mean cram down the pizza, but it does mean you can up your intake of starchy carbs and see no negative effects.

  37. I love this post! I have read the other ones about “packing on muscle” and they didn’t quite fit with my lifestyle. I have always been thin. In my childhood and teen years I was really skinny, probably underweight, despite how much I ate. In my early adult years I partied too much and didn’t eat enough, and was still underweight. After I stopped partying I became “skinny fat”….. gorging on carbs and alternating between manic bouts of exercise and none at all. Then I started this Primal diet and people started to worry because I lost all my excess fat within the first two months; you could see my spine and ribs clearly. Now I have leveled off and realized that if I have a craving for carbs I need to indulge it sensibly, because my body is telling me I need them. In addition to plenty of protein, I eat sweet potatoes, squash, berries, dark chocolate, yogurt and/or lots of veggies. Over all I get around 150 grams a day; any less and I don’t feel happy or satisfied, and go straight for the “bad” carbs.

  38. I gained 10-15 pounds going Primal. I’m a 5’6″ female and went from 117lbs to around 130.

    However, I fit into my clothes BETTER and just look sexier in general. It looks like I lost weight, even though I had gained it. I just lost fat and gained muscle so I look toned and strong. 🙂

  39. At 5’3″ 106 lbs. I was afraid I would loose weight when I decided to go primal. Not only primal but I was giving up eggs, dairy and some saturated fat to see if it would help my RA. But with consuming coconut oil and coconut milk I have not lost any weight. Sometimes I am at my wits end as far as what I should eat and should not.

  40. I dropped from 150 to 135 even though I was eating 2500-2800 per day. Calories mostly coming from Eggs, sausage and steak. I don’t understand how calories in meat dont’ make me gain weight. Because when I eat 2500-2800 calories per day from rice and potatoes (and meat) I put weight back on. I’m 5’11.5.

  41. Now the big question: in this day and age of warped body images and stick-thin portrayals on TV, how many people who need to gain know they need to gain? Are we talking about people who are in medical danger because of their size, or the merely scrawny who would probably look (and feel) better with an extra 5-10 lbs?

  42. 70s Big, I pronounce thee UGH. 40s Big was so much more interesting–those thick ropey muscles that Kirk Douglas and friends got from tossing around medicine balls. Bring that look back and I’ll thank you.

  43. I have been a fairly primal living crossfitter for the past 3-4 years, but REALLY locked down my diet and got my work/sleep cycles down in the past 3 months, and have finally peeled off the last 3-5% BF I have been yearning for, and have NOT LOST A POUND. Its totally possible!

  44. “The naturally lean, petite woman who’s already underweight and can’t seem to gain weight. Rather than add fat, stress makes her lose it.”

    You just perfectly described me!
    I’m 25 and 5 ft tall. My problem has always been no appetite. After going through a difficult time, my weight actually dropped under 40kg (that’s 88lbs.), much to the concern of my Dad who constantly tried to ply me with food.

    What really helped me was stumbling on eating primal a couple of years ago. Eating more fat (sometimes I just slice a piece of butter like cheese and munch on it), eggs cheese and a banana for breakfast, adding a potato and carrots swimming in butter to those veggies and protein. Dairy too, mostly cottage cheese with raisins and plain yogurt!
    After doing a few experiments, I discovered that sugary things (read: cookies, candy, etc.) actually completely kill my appetite, so I stay away from those.

    I also recently started doing some bodyweight training, which I am loving. It’s added a nice bit of toned muscle.

    I’ll probably never be quite as curvy as I’d like, but I am very proud of gaining those 10 lbs, and an appetite with it to boot!

  45. Yay, that I found this. Was about to email Mark 🙂

    I view my weight loss as a side effect of feeling great. I would like to put on a teeny bit more weight. Really I lost most of it on an anti-candida diet first – which is SO restricting.

    I am just tired of people commenting on me being thin. Why is it ok to comment on someone’s weight if they’re thin, but so rude to say ‘yeah ya look a little chubbier than normal’. Drives me insane!

  46. Hey there. I just read the article and I will really try to follow most of the stuff written . I’m underweight as long as I can remember I’m 53kg and 1.76meter high . I’m 21 years old now. Lately I started eating everything I saw which was a big mistake because I think I kind of develope a Gastritis or something because my stomache hurts as hell now. I will follow everything you say because I really really want to gain some weight. If you can give me an addition advice I’ll be very happy!

  47. Thanks Mark for being so prompt at returning my question. It was very good info.It was for my son who is getting very thin on your diet. I am sure it will help. I have just started, but wondered what I should do when I reached my goal. Thanks again. Alice

  48. Love this post!! I’m totally that petite woman who can’t gain weight. It’s been kind of a bane of my existence for most of my adult life. I never worried about it much as a kid, but…well as a Junior in college I developed pretty severe anxiety disorders, and one of my biggest fears was “wasting away,” or fainting due to low blood sugar. So I constantly snacked (very tiny amounts of actual food though,) on granola bars. But stress/anxiety also absolutely killed my appetite. So it was this tortuous state of wanting to eat more but stressing out so much about it that I just couldn’t. Anyway that was kind of a long time ago, but I’ve always had a very rocky relationship with food.

    Anyway I’m 24 now, I don’t have anxiety anymore, (actually the primal lifestyle has me feeling more relaxed than ever,) I went primal about…4 weeks ago I think? Anyway, it’s the best relationship I’ve had with food in years. I am 5’6” and weigh 112lbs. I would LOVE to weigh 120 or even 125, by putting on some muscle and fat in the “right places.” 😉 I’m very hopeful, given others’ successes. I’m doing a good bit of strength training, and actually since going primal I have way more energy even eating less–I’ve even challenged myself sometimes to go for a while without eating, just to face that fear…but since reading this I think maybe I’ll just go to town and EAT MORE!! 😀

  49. I am a weird case because I got diagnosed with type 2 diabetes when I have always been underweight. Chris kresser wrote an article on why this happens, but I find its harder for me to gain weight because starchy carbs just spike my blood sugar instead of storing as needed fat. I have also been working on healing my stomach and I cannot eat nuts without feeling bad the next day. I have gained a small amount since eating starch after exercise, but I don’t think I will ever gain much more until my blood sugar is less reactive. I would like to gain more “womanly” weight in my hips but it seems like I am stuck basically looking the same for now.

  50. I’m SO glad I found this. I’ve always been slim and petite, but have been on a strict gut-healing protocol to reverse numerous food allergies. So far it seems to have worked, but it involved a lot of dietary restrictions. I dropped about ten pounds doing it – and I didn’t really have weight to lose. In combination with ditching grains/legumes this year, I’ve gotten much thinner – to the point where every time someone hugs me or sees me for the first time in awhile, the first comment is along the lines of “OMG, you’re SO skinny.” (Rude? I think so.) Sometimes people actually lecture me for working out or going to the gym, saying I don’t “need” to. Uh, doesn’t everyone need exercise? I’m not going to become totally sedentary, thanks.

    I’m getting self-conscious about it, so I’m very glad to have stumbled on these suggestions. I like being trim and tiny, but if I could make my ribs a bit less visible, that would be glorious. TO THE COCONUT OIL. (Got a gallon under the sink!)

  51. Hi all,

    I’m a 24 year old female and very lean but need to gain weight – fat and muscle – I have been eating fairly primal for the past two months and have lost weight but this was not my intention! I have always been quite small framed, but I weigh 51kg now so have lost half a stone, and I am 5ft 7 so this is too low for my height, but I can’t seem to gain any weight. I have had blood tests recently beceause I have had women problems (too low hormone levels to have my monthly flow – sorry guys!) So just trying to gain weight to make my body run normally again.

    Once a week I do an “intensity” workout class – (an hour of intense exercises like squat jumps, pressups, lunges, burpees, mountain climbers, sprinting on the spot, high knees etc.) Then I try and do another 3 workouts, where I run for 25 minutes (sprinting then slower jog), and lift 8kg weights with squats, lunges etc, use the TRX and do bodyweight exercises – totalling an hour 10 minutes per workout.

    Eating wise, a typical day for me is avocado with smoked salmon and a couple of oatcakes for breakfast, or on a carby day a bowl of oats with kefir milk (sorry not primal!) and berries and nuts, lunch usually consists of a big salad with steamed veg – on a carby day sweet potato included, otherwise just greens and tomatoes, peppers etc, with about 100g protein such as sardines, chicken etc. drizzled with olive oil, sometimes I have lentils or rice in my salads depending on whether I think I need the carbs.
    Snacks – handful nuts, oatcakes spread with avocado, chicken breast slices, fruit.
    Dinner – usually a sweet potato and carrots/green beans, with lamb, chicken, or fish cooked in coconut or olive oil. Sometimes brown rice when I’ve worked out quite hard.
    Protein shake after workouts using sunwarrior protein (17g protein per scoop)
    I put coconut oil in my tea daily to try and gain weight but no luck so far!
    I am very good with eating healthily and never really have a cheat meal or desert – desert for me is generally full fat yoghurt with dark chocolate pieces and fruit with honey! So nothing “bad”.

    I track my diet on fit day to make sure I’m getting enough protein and fat, and on a general day I get about 60-70g protein, 55- 60g fat, and 120-150g carbs.

    Any suggestions? I feel quite tired the day after a workout and just feel zonked and low energy, also irritable. I had thought I was doing fine with the carbs but maybe I need to start eating more and doing 1 day of carb refeeding per week? I want to build lean muscle and gain fat and look more shapely! Thanks appreciate any advice.

  52. Hi Mark,
    I’ve been a long time paleo-er. I just recently ran into this problem. I am 5’1′ and was usually 135 before primal and after primal, I leaned down to a nice weight, which is what I think my what my body should have been at some point, but now Ive lost too much. Im at 105. In a panic, I’ve began eating whatever I can, totally veering off the primal path, with no avail! Burgers, pizza, bread, whatever isn’t helping me gain anything. If anything, like another post said, it curbed my hunger for a short while, but it will come back 10 fold after, there is no satisfaction!
    Tonight I said, calm down self, go back to the blog, I’m sure Mark has a post on this somewhere… and sure enough. I know exactly what I’ve done wrong, cutting out all starches! I haven’t been eating fruits or veggies or potatoes! Silly me! I was panicking and stuffing my face with processed food! Ugh. Anyways, thanks again Mark, I’ll be back on track when I wake up tomorrow. As a mexican woman, I need my curves. Can’t wait to get started.

  53. I’m one of those people who eats a ton and never gains anything. I’m 5’3 and weigh about 106 pounds, I am not underweight but just to feel more confident and sexy I have always wanted to gain more or less 10 pounds. I live in a paleo house but am very guilty of eating a little carbs on the daily (mostly tortillas), I have a very high metabolism and exercise at least four times a week…but I can never seem to gain weight! In fact I lose weight like crazy if I miss meals. This has been a problem for years with me, and I have only recently managed to get to a weight I’m pretty satisfied with, but I still want to gain a little more. I also forgot to mention when I do eat I usually eat large portions….so I’m doing everything I can, but I never see any changes. Do you have any suggestions for this?

  54. This was soooo helpful. In april i was 5ft 6″and weighed about 140. This is when I started to eat very low carb. Now i am about 100lbs and my body fat percentage is 4% which is really bad for girls i was told. So now i am trying to pack on the weight but keep on losing weight. I think it is because i would not eat any carbs. I cut out all fruit, tubers, roots or any starchy foods (i wouldnt even eat carrots). But this article really helps and shows me that i need to some carbs. I do find it very difficult though to get in enough calories in a day with just eating 3 meals. I find i feel full way to fast and then I end up not eating enough. Also I am training to become a professional circus performer so I train many hours a day and cant always eat big meals or else i will puke while on my apparatus or in contortion. Any tips on just eating 3 meals a day? is it really bad to have smaller meals and some snacks throughout the day?

  55. I am 5.9″ and 125 lbs and one of those people who can eat a ton and still not gain much weight, and I feel confused about this topic. A primal diet should make the body regulate itself and find optimal weight, assuming I eat when I am hungry. If this is true, then why do I need to eat more in order not to lose weight, even though I am satisfied? How would this work from an evolutionary perspective? Am I simply one with genetic traits that would not survive if I faced the selection pressures of our ancestors?

  56. I’ve been placed on a no carb diet, greens, chicken, fish Salmon , Tuna only because of a health issue right now. I’m very thin and have lost weight since this health problem started . I would like to gain the weight that I lost not lose more. Is it possible?

  57. I forgot to say-no sugar is allowed as well, just greens, tuna, salmon, chicken and turkey. I need help to gain weight and not lose any more, thanks!