Four reasons your Paleo diet isn’t working for you…

Still not seeing results from your clean eating diet?

In the past I have spoken about the 3 types of clients:

Client 1, who has multi-system imbalances (usually some gut or auto-immune problems) and needs, initially to implement a paleo diet and lifestyle overhaul to remove the “white noise” and see what is left to deal with regarding supplements and testing.

Client 2, who eats okay but probably needs a bit more information to tighten up their diet and they need more structure generally to their diet and exercise routine

Client 3, is the what this post is about. Client 3 eats very well and trains very hard. They have a good grasp of healthy foods and they probably make good choices most of the time. They are familiar with a paleo or primal way of eating, they avoid refined sugars and processed foods. They might eat organic or grassfed and when they have a treat its some dark chocolate or paleo baking. They love to exercise and it is part of their weekly routine, sometime training up to 6 days a week and maybe even twice a day for some.

Yet, this client is still not seeing the results they want. They might lack energy in the gym or feel that their performance is stalled. They may be carrying that extra bit of body fat that just won’t shift. They might be considering adding in some extra exercise or cutting their calories a bit lower to see if that helps. This client’s is usually, but not always, female.


What is going on?

I have worked with many “client 3’s” and I there seems to be a common theme with what is going on.


Calories in vs Calories out

It may be an old model of weight loss and gain but calories are still a valid piece of the puzzle.

One of the things I find with paleo eating is that, once into the swing of things, most people tend to under eat on carbohydrate and proteins and over eat on fats to make their total calorie intake for the day. As 1g of fat gives 9 calories and 1g of protein or carbohydrates only 4, it becomes pretty easy to overeat when enjoying higher fat foods.

This is a picture of some fat I skimmed off a slow cooked beef dish I did the other day. The beef dish make 6 servings and what you can see if 100g of fat. There were two of these. That means I skimmed 1800 calories, 300 calories per portion, out of the dish (and I still left some fat behind for flavour). Paleo has been fantastic for highlighting that fats are not as bad for health as once thought BUT eat too many of them and the calories mount up.

paleo diet fart

100g of fat skimmed off a Paleo slow cooked beef stew (there were 2 of these).

Additionally, we also need to consider that balance of fats in the diet. I still do prefer my clients to get their fats from Mediterranean sources such as olive oil, avocado and oily fish and choose leaner cuts of meat. The reason for this is that these foods are supportive of inflammatory balance in the body which is a key factor for health and body composition.


Diet Stress

With the increased popularity of CrossFit, Bootcamp and HIT training a lot of paleo style eating comes hand in hand with some intensive exercise. What we know is that, the harder you exercise, the more sugars you utilise as a fuel source. Lower intensity exercises are better at utilising fat, which is why steady state cardio can be quite popular amongst figure competitors.

fat burning exercise

As exercise intensity increases sugar utilisation increase.

There is something called the cross-over concept. Without getting too technical this is when the body crosses over from utilising fats as the predominant fuel source to uses sugars as a predominant fuel source. It is true that by eating a diet which is greater in fats the point at which you crossover happens at a higher intensity, however, this may be irrelevant at high intensity.

Therefore, at higher intensities you still need sugar. Does this mean you have to eat carbohydrates all day. No. But it would make sense to raise total carbohydrate consumption across the day and probably look at some timed carbohydrate intake before, during and after training.


Under- Eating

What is also important to note is that, with an increase carbohydrate intake we get increased calorie intake. Now, for some people, this could be a good thing. Under-eating is rife is women and  long term caloric deficits can lead to increased stress hormones, loss of lean body mass and slowing of the metabolism due to decreased thyroid hormone.



However, if we suddenly throw a heap of carbohydrates into the diet suddenly without adjusting fat intake, we run the risk of a small amount of rebound weight gain. This usually causes the individual to freak out and go back to doing what they are doing before their metabolism can stabilise. This means the problem never gets dealt with.

About 75% of my client 3’s do not eat enough food. Yet, they want to further reduce carbohydrate and calorie intake because there is still a belief that this may give them the results they are after. The problem here is that this sends the body into a state of stress and negatively impacts metabolism.

Below is an example of a client who ate a pristine low-carb paleo diet for about 3 years.  By increasing her carbohydrates in a sensible way she finally saw a shift in body weight that she had been looking for all the time. Note, this client was only doing WALKING for exercise (I’ll come to this is a second).

Increasing carbohydrate and only walking for exercise increased this clients metabolism

Increasing carbohydrate and only walking for exercise increased this clients metabolism

The key here is balance. We want to eat enough carbohydrates and calories to make sure that recovery is good, that muscle growth is supported and that metabolism is kept high and the body isn’t under excessive stress. It is a sweet spot that needs to be approached in a systematic way. Very often, I will reverse diet clients back up to a sensible calorie level, aiming to just maintain body fat (although most clients actually get leaner anyway), before targeting fat loss specifically. The usual result is that clients feel stronger, more energized and have far less sugar cravings and diet slip ups.


The Other Factors Involved

Stress, exercise and recovery are all factors already mentioned. The are key, along with gut health, to creating an environment where recovery is good and metabolism is balanced.  A well known saying is that “There is no such thing as over training just under-eating”. I recently saw an updated version of this quote:


“There is no such thing as over training just under-eating and under-sleeping”


If your diet isn’t working for you and you do believe you are:


– not training too hard

– eating too little / too much

— eating the right macronutrient balance

– eating good quality food


then maybe its time to reflect on other aspects of your life like sleep, stress and gastrointestinal health. In which case, you may actually be a client 3?



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