When you start to eat paleo, a magical thing usually happens: weight loss. The Paleolithic diet (or the caveman diet, the Paleo Diet, or eating paleo) takes you back to your dietary roots, and it can help you get back to your optimal weight. Here’s how paleo works.
We all know that eating too much makes you gain weight. Well, it’s easy to eat way too many calories when refined carbohydrates like bread, rice, crackers, tortilla chips, cake, and cookies are calorie dense but don’t fill you up. Have you ever eaten a big bowl of pasta and then been hungry 30 minutes later? Even though you ate a lot of calories, all those refined carbohydrates spiked your blood sugar, causing a blood sugar crash soon after, making you hungry—often for sweets.
It’s been shown in study after study that protein and fat are way more satiating than refined carbohydrates like pasta, bread, rice, and candy. In other words, meat and fat will keep you feeling full for longer than a piece of bread, calorie for calorie.
When you eat paleo, you’re not snacking on empty calories that don’t fill you up. Your meals aren’t made up of carbohydrates that will only leave you hungry for more carbohydrates. Breakfast, lunch, snack, and dinner are usually comprised of satiating high-protein and high-fat foods like meat, fish, eggs, and nuts, and accompanied by nutrient dense vegetables and fruits. There’s natural fat in the animal foods and nuts, and you can add more fat in the form of coconut oil, palm oil, tallow, nut oils, or olive oil.
Satisfying paleo meals fill you up so you won’t be hungry for hours at a time. That means you won’t be as tempted by sweets at the office, and you won’t need to get that caffeinated, sugary soda or coffee to keep you awake. Your food will give you enough energy to fuel your day without that caffeine jolt.
Speaking of caffeine, it can cause weight gain. Caffeine is in some delicious drinks, like coffee, espresso, and black and green tea. The caffeine creates a bitter, delicious taste that people crave. But it’s also a stimulant drug that makes your body feel as though it’s in a really stressful state. And too much stress can definitely make you gain weight. In fact, caffeine stimulates your body to release cortisol, which not only can shut down your digestive and reproductive systems, but it directly contributes to belly fat.
You drink caffeine to wake you up. Sometimes it’s because you didn’t get enough sleep the night before, but it’s often after high carbohydrate meals, or high grain meals. That’s because grains, and in particular gluten grains, can have an opioid effect, making you very tired. And the high amount of refined carbohydrates in bread, pasta, wraps, etc. cause that blood sugar crash, which makes you want to take a nap.
But if you’re consistently eating foods that don’t spike your blood sugar, like you do when you eat paleo, you don’t get as tired through the day. There are no blood sugar crashes, and there are no grains to make you feel drugged. Therefore, there’s less of a need for caffeine.
There was a reason that people didn’t eat much in the way of grains and beans before the days of agriculture: they’re very difficult to digest and assimilate. Some argue that we only started eating those foods in a time of drought and desperation, when there was nothing better to eat. Wheat, soy, and other grains and beans contain things called anti-nutrients. They’re parts of the plant that try to keep predators (us) away, and they do that by causing digestive distress. It’s accepted in Western society that having gas, diarrhea, bloating, and worse, are all just a part of life. You just need a few pharmaceuticals or over-the-counter drugs to get rid of the symptoms, right? It doesn’t have to be that way.
In fact, the effects of grains and beans go way beyond just stinky gas. Some of those anti-nutrients, like gluten, glom onto your intestinal wall and start to break it down. What happens then is that food particles infiltrate your blood stream and cause immune responses. Your body does not want food in your blood, so it will attack those food particles with all its might. And when your immune system gets involved, bad things can happen. When you get stung by a bee, your immune system releases histamine to the area, causing swelling, itching, etc. Similarly, histamine and other parts of your immune system are called on to attack these rogue food particles and symptoms can arise like eczema, headaches, and water retention.
Water retention can make your whole body puffy. It often shows up in people’s legs and face, and it can make you feel bloated in your belly. Water weighs a lot, too, so it can definitely add a significant number of pounds.
Remember, the immune response comes from the breakdown of the intestinal lining, which can be caused by those anti-nutrients in grains and legumes. When you don’t eat those foods—when you eat paleo—your intestines have a chance to heal up and the immune response will subside. And that means you’ll stop retaining water. You may find that when you first switch to eating paleo, you have to use the bathroom a whole lot more often. That’s just all those extra pounds of water working their way out!
Overall, eating paleo can help you lose weight. The foods you eat satisfy hunger so you’re not constantly snacking on extra empty calories. It helps decrease your need for caffeine, a substance that can directly contribute to extra fat. And it allows your digestive system to heal up so you can lose that extra water weight. You may have to say goodbye to your bread and pasta, but you’ll be opening the door to a slimmer, healthier you.
by Neely Quinn, ICNT, CLT, and Jason Glaspey, authors of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Eating Paleo