If you think you’re following the Paleo diet but aren’t seeing the results or improved health benefits you’d expected, you may have fallen into one of several very common not-so-Paleo habits. Take a look at these mistakes people often make when they go Paleo.
Too Many Treats
Eating foods like ‘Paleo pancakes’ or ‘Paleo banana bread’ on a regular basis? Yes, they contain only products derived from Paleo-foods, but they’re completely out of balance. One of the most important principles with Paleo eating is balance, in terms of macronutrients (Paleo is roughly 40/30/30 in favor of complex carbs obtained mostly through veggies and some fruit) as well as eating frequency.
Remember, a dessert is still dessert, a brownie is still a brownie, and we do not need to be eating things like that with any regularity whatsoever. Once in a while, on a rare occasion, it’s OK (similar to what cavemen did when they may have stumbled upon a beehive and subsequently indulged on the sweet nectar).
Please don’t kid yourself that you’re following the Paleo diet properly if you’re eating these sugary concoctions with any regularity. Are they more favorable than regular ice cream and cookies? Probably, but neither are good things to eat on a regular basis. Go grab some kale and some raw salmon and let your balanced energy level flow!
Not Eating Enough Veggies
Most people eat far too little veggies. One piece of kale does not a portion make! We’re consumed with thinking of calories over volume, so the idea of eating two cups of kale seems gigantic when one compares it to the thought of two cups of pasta. But aren’t volume and calories the same? Isn’t a portion a portion? Either a lot of food or a little food? Not at all. The type of food we choose to eat makes all the difference. Here’s an example of what I’ll eat on an off day from training:
First, an entire bunch of chard, steamed, along with a free range baked chicken breast, a spoonful of coconut oil and some blueberries. Then, about three and a half hours later, an entire bunch of kale, shredded, with half an avocado, an apple and some raw salmon. I will eat three more meals of similar composition before the day is over.
Yes, I repeat: I will eat that many veggies. Sound like a lot? In comparison to what I’ve seen on many clients’ diet logs, as well as observing people on a daily basis around me, yes, it is probably a hundred fold more times the veg, considering so many eat one handful of spinach or a few broccoli spears, if that.
This is the very essence of one of the most fundamental tenets of Paleo that I see clients handling erroneously when they’re newly Paleo. Take out the grains, check. Remove legumes, check, check. Nix the dairy and go. Often, though, it stops there, and they’re left with an empty looking plate of a boring, poached chicken breast, too much fruit and far too many nuts as an attempt to stave of hunger cues that came forth once the body naturally responded to not begin given enough calories at any given meal.
Paleo is not just about taking away grains, dairy and legumes, it’s about adding in literally copious amounts of veggies to each and every meal and yes, that includes breakfast. Throw out the idea that veggies are a side dish; they’re the MAIN dish! I love my meat and fish and all proteins, but without incorporating enough veg, one can easily run into problems, and this I see as one of the most common reasons why people make comments about “not being regular after cutting grains” (actually, veg has about seven times the amount of fiber), or “being worried about eating too much fruit” (well, you won’t want to eat five pieces of fruit if you’re eating your veg!).
Bottom line: eat veg, a lot of it, and often. Get all the colors of the rainbow on your plate by week’s end and you’ll be in great shape!
Confusion Over Snacking
The way I see it, a snack is a meal and a meal is a snack. They should both consist of:
- Real food and a balanced, Paleo macro nutrient ratio (which is roughly 40/30/30, in favor of unprocessed carbohydrate coming from loads of fresh veg, along with some fruit)
- Appropriate portion sizes
Why would eating three perfect Paleo meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) and then having something in a wrapper that was too low in calories to consist of a meal or imbalanced in its macro nutrient profile make any sense?
Of course, some find that they prefer not to snack and eat three (or less) larger meals per day, and I’m a fan of trying different Paleo approaches and seeing what works best for you.
However, I will say that most clients (as well as me!) report feeling much higher, steady levels of energy, better results at losing and maintaining fat loss and feeling healthier overall when they follow the most balanced of all approaches. Keep eating real food, keep it balanced and keep it Paleo!
Not Eating Enough Food
It’s not too uncommon for those new to Paleo to report feeling hungry in the beginning. Yes, there is a brief transitional phase during which our bodies are adapting to the new regime of pure, unadulterated food. However, this does not mean that we need to go around hungry while we wait for some magical transformation.
On the contrary, feeling hungry is not something that we just have to deal with and ignore while we’re at the start of being Paleo. So what should be done if you’re hungry? EAT! And eat a balanced meal. A lone carrot on its own does not a snack make, unless you’re a three-pound bunny.
Not too complicated, but for many, the idea of needing to eat more frequently is uncomfortable. Often, clients will say things like, “I felt hungry only two and a half hours after breakfast, and I didn’t think I should be hungry yet, so I waited to eat.” Not the right approach.Yes, you may have eaten a breakfast of chicken, broccoli and avocado at 7:30 a.m. but that doesn’t mean there is anything unreasonable about feeling hungry for your next meal at around 10 a.m.
The caloric content and density of that meal will sustain you and provide even blood sugar levels, but since you’re no longer eating fillers (i.e. grains, legumes and all their derivative products) don’t be surprised if you’re hungry sooner than in the old days when you’d add rice, pasta or bread to every meal.
Listen your body and fuel it when it tells you to. If you’re worried about gaining weight in this manner, keep in mind that not eating enough is actually far more detrimental in that process than eating a nice balance of healthy fats, natural proteins and complex carbs via veg and fruit. In fact, if Paleo is followed properly in its intended balance, it’s very difficult to not reach one’s ideal weight in a healthy and sustainable manner.
Getting the timing or balance wrong
No, I am not about to suggest something along the lines of some of those crazy diets out there that profess that you should ‘not eat carbs after noon…ever’ or ‘only eat fruit on an empty stomach.’
I’m referring to paying attention to the glycemic load of a meal.
We don’t need to overthink it, so don’t worry that you’ve got to memorize the entire glycemic index chart; rather, just be aware of which Paleo foods are more (naturally) sweet and which help to balance it out. Not really rocket science!
For example, while a banana after a run is a perfectly Paleo choice, and well indicated in that situation, it would not be a great idea to eat three bananas as a snack while you’re sitting at your desk at work!
On the flip side, a meal consisting of wild mixed greens, fresh berries, raw salmon and some avocado would be a great idea. In this example, we see a good representation of natural, complex carbohydrates, rich protein and unrefined fats. The perfect balance!
Make all your meals, with the exception of those you eat before or after exercise, fit this bill, and eat regular, small meals throughout the day, and your blood sugar will remain stable, you’ll stead energy and you’ll be far less likely to crash, burn and head to the coffee shop for a milkshake and a piece of cake!
Nell Stephenson, the original “Paleoista,” is the author of Paleoista, Gain Energy, Get Lean and Feel Fabulous with the Diet You Were Born to Eat (Touchstone, 2012) and co-author of The Paleo Diet Cookbook with Dr. Loren Cordain, PhD (Wiley & Sons, 2010). In addition to her work as nutrition consultant and trained chef, Stephenson is a personal trainer and competitive endurance athlete who credits the Paleo diet for her transformed health and athletic success. Visit her blog at www.paleoista.com.