An issue that seems to pop up with some regularity is that some people (especially women) experience a puzzling weight gain on paleo, and now the same has happened to me.
I started paleo at the beginning of September. For the first two months I maintained my normal weight (120 lbs) with about 2000 calories a day. And since then my weight has gradually crept up to 126. This might not seem like a lot, but my weight has been around 120 lbs for the last 30 years, give or take a pound or two. And this is not just random fluctuation. My clothes are tight, and the scale shows 126 day after day. This is not fat into muscle - my waistline has expanded and my body fat percentage increased. I don't feel fitter, just fatter.
I keep records of my caloric intake and energy burned through exercise for ever day, and this is what appears to have happened: I now only need 1600 calories a day to maintain my weight, and anything more leads to weight gain.
My carb to fat to protein ratios haven't changed significantly. The amount of calories I burn through exercise hasn't changed. The type of exercise I do has changed only marginally. (I keep daily records through Fitbit and Cron-o-meter, so this isn't just guessing).
In other words, I seem to now need 400 calories less per day to maintain my weight. Maybe forever?
Any thoughts on why this might be?
UPDATE: As per some of the recommendations I upped my net carbs to around 120g a day, via sweet potatoes and bananas. I've also continued to eat 300 cals less than before, and the weight gain has stopped and is gradually reversing. I do think I now need need around 250 fewer daily calories than before. My theory is that meat, coconut oil and oily fish are completely digested, whereas I used to eat a lot of high-fiber carbs which probably don't get fully digested, and perhaps even lower the absorption of fat and protein. Oh well.
I think it is probably a combination of (a) going too low-carb which lowers energy expenditure to conserve glucose, reducing calorie needs; (b) being deficient in some nutrient -- possibly glucose, possibly others -- which impairs tissue quality and upregulates appetite a bit; leading to (c) a new equilibrium in which you need higher fat mass and higher leptin, which upregulate fat burning and energy expenditure, to "balance the books" and reach weight stability (calories in = calories out).
So I would supplement micronutrients, increase carbs toward 400 calories a day preferably from starches, reduce omega-6 if you haven't already, and your weight should go back.
I have read accounts from others who have described this (including men.)
I never counted calories before going Primal, so I have no numerical comparison, but I have noticed that I am definitely eating less food after being Primal for just over a year. I eat to hunger.
Given that the nutrient density of Paleo foods is higher than the SAD diet, it makes sense that I get "more bang for my buck" and thus need fewer calories. Also, without grains & legumes messing up my digestion, it makes sense that I am absorbing more of what I'm eating.
Low carb diets basically trick your body into thinking its starving which lowers your metabolism. Eating more carbohydrates typically raises the metabolism and allows more calories to be eaten.
I've had fast days where eating too much coconut oil and almost no carbs or protein triggered thermogenesis. I've also had days where eating a lot of meat triggered thermogenesis. YMMV, but I'd tend to doubt that you've got lowered metabolism due to a Paleo diet.
Remember, a Paleo diet is not necessarily low carb/high fat, though that's what I do. If you're trying to burn off fat, getting most of your calories from fat, then some protein, and very little carbs 50-100g tends to work, but not for everyone. If you go to low carb, you could kick in cortisol, which may stall fat loss.
You might also be burning your own fat reserves for the rest of the calories. Also fat does strange things, you could go for weeks at the same exact weight, and overnight drop 3-4LBS of fat. It seems to hold on to water, probably to maintain the same structure, before it decides to let go. You might notice the fat becoming softer when this happens, but otherwise, there's no signs.
You should look at other factors as well, such as the amount of sleep you're getting, if you're drinking alcohol, or are stressed.
Your metabolism typically runs faster to burn off excess carbohydrates, which is great if you need to keep warm and die young, but for the most part unnecessary. The diet you describe is more efficient and yes, you would expect your intake to go down as you adapt more to it. I assume you've not had issues of hunger? Your brain and body will happily take on food when available, and store it as fat, that's normal behaviour. If you never restrict food availability then you'll never use up that store. So you do have to think about how you're going to achieve that balance. It's not easy to try and match the exact calories you need every day. It can also be hard for some people to adjust to this new idea of what 'normal' wakefulness is without being on a permanent sugar high.
Hi Sigrid! I hope that you are a female (and that you haven't been through menopause) or else this answer will not pertain to you. I checked your age. If you haven't gone through menopause yet, there may be a chance that you are going through what is known as perimenopause weight gain. The weight gain is caused by low levels of estrogen in the body. Because the production of estrogen in the ovaries begin to fall, your body will turn to other sources of estrogen to combat the hormonal imbalance. One of the sources of estrogen is fat cells. It may be your body is holding onto your fat to keep your estrogen levels balanced. Because you are on a diet, your body will hold onto your fat even more.
Stress? Sleeping patterns? There may be something else other than diet and exercising that is causing your weight to fluctuate. If you are looking towards your diet what are your carb levels like? Whats your fruit intake? Do you sweeten with honey etc? Could this be caused by a blow-out at Christmas? These are the things i usually look for when i start filling out again.
Your metabolism may have lowered over the last 30 years (at which you weighed 120lbs)
If you have gained fat, 6lbs, while eating low carb paleo, it most certainly occurred due to your fat intake. If you consume more calories especially in fat than your Total Energy Expenditure over a period of time, you'll gain fat. Contrary to popular belief, eating fat does not increase fat burning in human beings, like carbohydrates do. In the presence of carbohydrate, your body will use that for fuel and glycogen restocking while storing dietary fat, as fat.
Once a person eats more than their TEE, whether that is 800,1200,2400, or 4000 calories, the body will lay down fat especially in the presence of fat.
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