trying Paleo and feeling miserable

by 15 · December 29, 2011 at 07:30 PM

Hi, I m 46 y.o. Female, overweight, almost obese. Trying to lose weight on Paleo diet but still eat about 2,500 cal/day, otherwise too hungry. Since I started Paleo, i have heartburn after each meal, and have lots of acne, a new one comes out every 2nd week. I eat very little carbs, high fat, may be a cup of greens a day and one apple. In addition, I am having cold symptoms once or twice a month, like a sore throat, runny nose, etc. Usually, I would have one cold per year, now every month. These symptoms really bother me. It's like my body disagrees with Paleo eating big time. Anyone had similar experience? Any advice?

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12 Replies

12405 · December 29, 2011 at 02:45 PM

[Warning... long post!]

Hi, Alex. Here's my bit of sage advice: Leave out the worst stuff (grains, legumes, and seed/commercial oils), and fiddle around with everything else until you feel better... then good... and eventually, probably something pretty close to 'great'. This way of eating/living is very personal. Everyone is going to be in a different position to tolerate things, not tolerate things, and regulate their bodies in the way that works best for them. Books and "plans" are guideposts, and GREAT for getting started... they can take away that sense of hesitation about doing something -wrong-... but eventually, I believe that to get past the hump, we have to break away from "the book" and start listening to our own bodies.

I'm 48 years old, and went "paleo/primal" about 2 years ago. I have a damaged heart from chemotherapy (bone and uterine cancer), multiple sclerosis (spastic), and a congenital autoimmune disorder, so I'm not really the "picture" of health -- I also weighed over 450 lbs... 450 was as high as the scale would go!

The first couple of months trying to eliminate grains and "go paleo"... which, for me, meant low-carb paleo -- were a holy terror -- my body couldn't figure out which way was up, and because of health issues, I wasn't very mobile. My skin broke out, my dermatitis flared, I got yeast infections in my fat folds, was in a lot of pain in my joints -- especially where I'd had previous damage, and my MS, which happens to be a form of spastic MS, kept causing huge muscle spasms that drove me out of my ever lovin' mind... but I also knew it had taken me 40 years to get INTO that shape, so I wasn't expecting things to change over night. I knew that the foundation of my nutrition was sound... maybe for the first time in my entire life... so I promised myself a year, and if things weren't looking up in a year, I'd re-evaluate.

It took TIME to get myself out of the hole, and patience with myself and my body. It also took a lot of tweaking of my diet. Once I'd been gluten-free for a while, and had trimmed my processed seed oils and legumes to the bare minimum, I started getting a better picture of what my body liked, and what it hated. I learned that I have a sensitivity to nuts and seed grains (even gentle seed grains like rice and oats) that I never knew I had -- and might never have known if I hadn't gotten some of the things I was even MORE sensitive to out of my diet.

Moving my body played a big role in getting healthier. However, Exercise was hard --in fact, near impossible-- at first, between my size and the MS... so I just made myself walk a few more steps every day, and when it warmed up, I started swimming, and making a habit of it. That -- especially getting out in the sunshine every day -- took care of a lot of the residual issues I had and substantially reduced my pain... but it didn't happen in days or weeks. It took me six months before I noticed a profound change in my body, and things got easier.

Here's a picture of what my day's meals look like (at 48 yrs old, and 275 lbs -- down from 450+)

  • 2 eggs or 2 eggs + 2 yolks or 5 yolks, scrambled in a tablespoon of raw butter
    • 3-4 slices of bacon or 3 oz of ham
    • 2 cups leafy greens and roasted roots (usually beets and carrots)
    • 4-5 oz chopped meat (shrimp, stewed pork, chicken, tuna, liver, heart, tongue)
    • whole avocado, chopped or mashed
    • 1 quart bone or oxtail broth, with 2-3 tablespoons of rendered fat melted in
    • 2x per week, I puree a bunch of cilantro with creme fraiche and garlic, and use 1/4 cup on leafy greens
    • 4-5 oz of grass-fed meat (usually ground meat), cooked with butter from pasture-raised animals, or ghee, or rendered tallow/lard or coconut oil or (rarely) avocado oil
    • roasted or stewed roots - taro or yuca root, sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, kohlrabi, celery root, onions, garlic, etc.
    • coconut milk
    • peppers, spinach/kale, butternut/pumpkin/acorn/spaghetti squash
    • curry powders or chili powder (tumeric and chili)
    • 2 oz or so of 70-90% dark chocolate
    • 3-4 bottles a week of KyVita probiotic beverage

I treat myself on occasion with:

  • Chebe-crust (made from tapioca flour) pizza loaded with 3-4 oz of homemade sausage, peppers, mushrooms, and CHEESE... shredded asiago and romano
  • Smoothies of heavy cream, egg yolks, stevia, vanilla, and sometimes banana

I supplement with:

  • 8000 IU per day of vitamin D (winter maintenance dose in the south, with 1 hr of noon-time sun) [Summer dose is 4000 IU, because older people have more difficulty in creating vitD through the skin, even if they get a lot of sun exposure)
  • 2 capsules of Professional Formulas ThyroComplex (dessicated spleen/thyroid/adrenal/pituitary/thymus/hypothalamus)
  • Probiotic supplement

508 · December 29, 2011 at 03:17 AM

Alex, the body is self healing. When you no longer feed yourself the things that made you overweight and there for out of balance your body gets the opportunity to eliminate toxic waste. Colds, acne, runny nose, even fever are your body's way of cleansing. That being said, fruit is still sugar. And any kind of sugar impairs the immune system. Try eating meat and fish on the bone, bone broths for their minerals, eggs, pastured butter and leafy greens. It took you awhile to get in the condition you are in. It takes time to heal. When I first went paleo I was gifted with a rash on my face and for three months I felt like a leper. Just continue to feed yourself real food. The kind your great great great grandmother might have served her family. And be gentle with yourself.

16813 · December 29, 2011 at 02:37 PM

Before starting paleo back in January, I had only a few attacks of GERD, and had to take Zantac at night and avoid dinner, etc.

As I started, within the first month, things got really bad in terms of GERD and would have huge attacks every night, and only went away after also getting rid of all dairy. For me it wasn't just the grains.

As I had my gallbladder removed 10 years ago, I was careful as to what I ate, but didn't know I should take bile enzymes (Now SuperEnzymes + Betaine HCL) until someone on Robb Wolf's forums mentioned it as well as removing all dairy.

A few weeks later, I also had other weird effects during that time. For example, I had developed an inability to eat egg whites. I was able to eat yolks without issue, but the whites just sat in my stomach.

All of this was a transition period that went away. What happened with the GERD attacks and the egg whites was that as I took out wheat and other grains, my gut healed and my stomach was now adjusting to be able to produce the right amount of acid (though bile was still an issue, hence the enzymes are still needed even today.) This was probably due to being able to properly get at the magnesium and potassium in foods as well as supplements.

But once I past this period, which was 2 months after the initial start, I was able to eat eggs again, and all acid reflux symptoms went away. Over time, I tried to reintroduce dairy to see what effect it had. So far, I still have an issue. I can do goat dairy just fine (kefir, cheese, yogurt), but if I try cheese from cow's milk, even from raw milk, or even whey protein, I get mild acid reflux.

About at the third month, I introduced Intermittent Fasting (IF), and the extra pounds just melted right off. (I was already Very Low Carb, around 50g/day.) It was difficult to adjust to low carb, had tons of cravings during the first weeks, but was able to get through it. Before you try this, you might want to first do a leptin reset as per Jack Kruse.

The easiest IF plan to try is simply to skip breakfast and eat only lunch and dinner. Eat lunch no earlier than 12pm and eat dinner no later than 8pm, so that you have a 16 hour fasting window. This idea comes from the leangains site and has very beneficial effects, not just fat loss but also autophagy which removes junk proteins from inside out cells and kills off marginal cells as well as malfunctioning mitochondria. We were evolved to have periods of fasts (where we didn't catch that buffalo or mammoth) and only during those periods do our bodies start cleaning up the junk. Don't do this until you're adapted to eat fats and don't crave carbs anymore.

A few things help. Extra Virgin Coconut oil does several things. It helps cure our guts, it suppresses appetite because it's Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs) are readily converted to ketones, and this kicks off the transition to burning fat. More over, it slightly raises our heart rate, and this too helps burn calories. I mix in a tablespoon of coconut oil with cocoa powder, then pour hot coffee over this. Maybe add a bit of vanilla extract over it. I have this 2-3x a day. Try a little bit of coconut oil at first and work your way up. If you over do it, you'll get the runs, so go easy at first.

If you still feel huge sugar cravings, purchase a small can of L-Glutamine powder. Our brains can use this instead of glycogen (aka glucose), and this will immediately quiet our craving for sugar. A very small amount is needed, say 1/4 to 1/8th of a teaspoon. L-Glutamine is one of the few amino acids that can pass the blood-brain barrier. (Although when we're on a SAD diet, some of us develop not just leaky gut, but also leaky blood-brain barriers, though that's a different topic.)

L-Glutamine is only unsafe for those that have been diagnosed with cancer and are doing zero carb diets in an attempt to starve out cancer cells, as some kinds of cancers can consume Glutamine as well as sugar, but not ketones. (I'm only adding this in, incase someone reads this later on and it applies to them, don't worry about it if it doesn't apply to you - it's no different than just eating sugar or fructose, except there's no insulin spike.)

You'll probably want to get some supplements such as Magnesium (stay away from Magnesium Oxide as most of it is not absorbable), Potassium, Vitamin D3, Vitamin K2, fish oil (or at least several fish/shellfish meals per week to balance out the omega 6's), and possibly Iodine if you need it. I'd also add Selenium, and Alpha Lipoic Acid.

These will help kick start healing, and you might not need them after a while as you get healed and are able to get these nutrients from food itself. Some things you should continue to supplement as they're not readily available from foods: magnesium, K2 especially.

Stick to foods such as grass fed bison or beef, home made bone broths made from the bones of these, wild caught fish, pastured/oragnic eggs, kale, spinach, home made fermented foods such as sour kraut, berries (instead of other fruits, and not at first), yams/sweet potatos (only after you're at the weight you want and find you need safe carbs.) Note that bone broths are high in gelatin, which is high in glycine, and this is very healing to leaky gut.

Avoid chicken, or if you have it, balance it out with more fish (as chicken fat is high in PUFA omega 6's.)

If you find that eating meat just sits in your stomach like a brick, consider taking some digestive enzymes or Betaine HCL before meals, as it means you're not producing enough stomach acid.

Be careful to be 100% free of grains and legumes, things like peanuts are legumes so avoid those. There are some foods that are hidden sources of gluten, or soy. Avoid all dairy, and nightshades (tomato, peppers, eggplants). You can reintroduce dairy and nightshades, one at a time, after you've eliminated them for a month or two, and see if you have a reaction or not. If you don't, they're probably going to be safe to eat. If you do, avoid them.

Avoid all industrial oils. Use only coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil (and make sure it's not the fake stuff), palm oil, butter/ghee/lard/tallow from grassfed/pastured animals.

So please, stick with it, and take your time, it's going to be a rough ride at first, but in about 2-3 months you'll be much healthier. For most people it takes only a month, but for some of us it takes longer. It did for me due to the complications with dairy and the lack of a gallbladder.

565 · December 29, 2011 at 03:28 AM

How unhealthy was your diet prior to paleo? How long have you been eating Paleo? Fat stores a lot of toxins in your body. It's not uncommon for fat burning to cause flu or cold like symptoms. Stick with it. Increase your water consumption by a lot. Try increasing carbs a little bit if you just stopped them cold turkey. Eat some berries, squash, and/or sweet potatoes. Increase your veggie consumption. You need a lot of good vitamins to combat the toxins being released. One cup of greens isn't enough. Don't worry about the calorie count. Worry more about the nutritional power of what your eating right now. To simplify things, eat a lot of different colors.

The acne, runny nose, and sore throat really sounds like detox symptoms. Especially, if they keep reoccurring.

393 · December 29, 2011 at 02:50 AM

My first interpretation of heartburn is too much food in the stomach at one time. I recently read of the concept of eating until the stomach is about 80% full. I like that idea.

If that is not the case, my next guess is that there is either too much acid or not enough acid in the stomach. A simple test for this is a) if you feel better after ingesting a bit of raw vinegar or worse after ingesting antacids, you might have not enough stomach acid, or b) if you feel worse after the vinegar or better after antacids, you might have too much stomach acid. You can do an Internet search on body pH if you want more information.

I also wonder if you are eating enough non-starchy vegetables. I "second" the request to share what you eat in a typical day.

3127 · December 29, 2011 at 02:50 PM

i suspect your blod sugar levels are all over the place because of paleo cheats and so is your hunger. eat more fat for awhile and stop cheating

2746 · December 29, 2011 at 01:22 PM

You probably feel like shit because you went immediately to very low carb. Either fix that or stick through the withdrawal symptoms or whatever and hope your body gets used to it. I don't think very low carb is necessary though. Eat some sweet potatoes or something. Eat more vegetables also, they'll fill you up.

Also, are you positive you're eating paleo? And really not cheating significantly? What's a days worth of food?

6043 · December 29, 2011 at 04:26 AM

Moar carbs .

118 · December 29, 2011 at 03:06 AM

One diet isn't the right fit for everyone, I feel great on the paleo diet, however I am a high protein body type. It's important to eat according to your metabolic type. This is similar to the blood type or genotype diet in the sense that it recognizes that we thrive on certain foods based on our genetic make-up and ancesteral lineage. It explains why some people feel best on a macrobiotic diet, while others are believers in the paleo diet. Only you know what is best for your body. I encourage you to research metabolic typing, as well as the blood type and genotype diet to determine what foods your body is designed to digest. The high fat may be causing your acne. I've found when I exceed about 30% of my daily calories from fat I start getting acne. Also, acne is a sign of inflammation which means your digestive system may be in distress. When you are eating the right foods for your body type you should easily be able to go 4-5 hrs between meals without snacking. If the high fat diet is leaving you unsatisfied then you may need to incorporate more carbs or protein and cut down on the fat.

946 · December 29, 2011 at 07:30 PM

how long have you been paleo?

1498 · December 29, 2011 at 07:05 PM

Apples have always made me hungry and still do - a whole one every day would give me sugar/carb cravings.

I know from experience (friends have shared this too) that when we get to our late 40s we ladies need a lot fewer calories to maintain our weight. I'm 54 - I've lost about 43lb over the last year and I would put the weight back on if I had 2500 calories per day. I say this a bit sadly, as I do love food, but my improved health and energy levels more than compensate.

Getting into fat-burning mode is the challenge. I do find alpha-lipoic acid very helpful when I get hungry - it seems to enable my body to burn up stored fat (and the hunger goes away for at least a couple of hours). Glucose tolerance factor has been excellent for me, as well.

IF has been a big help as well. Perhaps it's a fancy way of saying I skip breakfast (except for decaff real coffee with cream), but two meals a day really are enough for me and the longer I delay eating, the less hunger I have.

607 · December 29, 2011 at 02:24 PM

Are you exercising? Losing weight is more than just taking in less calories. I've been eating Paleo for 3 monthes and have never felt nothing but outstanding. The only time I feel like crap is when I eat something I know isn't Paleo.

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