Paleo diet for weight loss: How it works and what to eat

Paleo diet effective for weight loss

The paleo diet is inspired by the eating habits of our hunter-gatherer ancestors, becoming a popular diet in recent years for weight loss and a more natural way of eating. Using the paleo diet for weight loss is effective mostly because of the unprocessed nature of the foods it encourages you to consume, which are often naturally low in sugar, salt and saturated fat. 

The diet cuts out most grains, legumes, potatoes and dairy products, relying heavily on fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds and lean meat and fish. As a result, the paleo diet is fairly low-carb and has a slightly higher risk of calcium deficiency, due to the lack of dairy products. 

While it may seem a good idea to ‘return to our roots’ and eat in the way early humans did, how practical is the paleo diet for weight loss in a modern sense? With a wider range of foods available to us than our ancestors had, what benefits might we gain by restricting ourselves to a diet based on ancient practices? We asked the experts.

What is the paleo diet?

The paleo diet shifts focus from starchy foods such as grains, legumes, potatoes and foods made from these ingredients (pasta, bread, potato chips) and encourages you to base your meals around a lean protein source instead.

Dr Nurisa Kumaran, medical director and founder of Elemental Health Clinic (opens in new tab), tells us that the paleo diet puts a heavy focus on eating ‘natural’ foods. “The paleo diet, also known as ‘the caveman diet,’ focuses on eating lean grass-fed meat, fish, fruit and vegetables,” she says. “This means that you should eliminate processed foods and most dairy products, and instead eat a diet rich in nuts, seeds, fruit, lean meat – such as lamb and chicken – and omega 3 containing fish, such as salmon and mackerel.”

The paleo diet can be helpful  for those with obesity or diabetes, due to the reduction of heavily processed foods and reliance on lean meats and vegetables. A study from the International Association for the Study of Obesity (opens in new tab) indicates that the hunter-gatherer lifestyle and diet contributes to excellent cardiovascular and metabolic health.  

  • Related: Keto diet vs low carb: what’s the difference?
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Does a paleo diet help with weight loss?

Due to the protein-rich nature of the paleo diet, those who eat paleo for weight loss may find they have a higher success rate due to the feelings of satiety associated with eating protein, according to one study by the British Journal of Nutrition (opens in new tab). 

As well as protein, the paleo diet is full of high-fiber foods, such as nuts, seeds and vegetables, which are also great for an increased sense of satiety according to a study in Nutrition Reviews (opens in new tab). Fiber is a bulking agent that slows stomach emptying, which helps you to feel fuller for longer, as well as taking longer to break down in the digestive system than low-fiber foods. Feeling full is important when keeping people motivated to stick to eating habits, so the paleo diet might be good for weight loss due to its ability to keep you feeling full and satisfied.

Read more  15 High Carb Foods to Take Your Training to the next Level

(Image credit: Getty 1293479617)

However, one review in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (opens in new tab) indicates that while there was a downward trend in weight and other positive metabolic markers, without the intensive dietary support of a clinical trial, many participants lapsed and stopped following it. This might indicate that the carbohydrate-restricted nature of the paleo diet isn’t as sustainable without proper nutritional support. 

Dr Kumaran agrees with the benefits of using the paleo diet for weight loss. “There has been research so far to show that the paleo diet can produce greater benefits compared to other diets for weight loss and other associated metabolic health conditions,” she says. Additionally, a study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (opens in new tab) indicated that the paleo diet can be useful in supporting those with type 2 diabetes, increasing their insulin sensitivity over time. As diabetes is often a secondary condition to obesity, the research in this area is promising. 

Paleo diet for weight loss: What to eat and tips for success

The paleo diet requires you to eat lots of fresh foods and lean meats, so there is often a little more prep involved in eating paleo than a traditional western diet that relies on ready meals and processed foods. Many of us are used to building our meals around starchy foods, as advised by the USDA government dietary guidelines (opens in new tab), so there may be a learning curve in making your meals paleo-friendly. 

Paleo appropriate foods include:

  • Oily fish: salmon, mackerel, sardines – rich in brain-supporting fatty acids and lean protein. 
  • Lean meat: lamb, chicken, turkey – low fat, high protein and a good base for lots of paleo meals. 
  • Cruciferous vegetables: broccoli, cabbage, radishes – high in fiber and rich in vitamins and minerals.
  • Nuts and seeds: chia seeds, cashews, pine nuts – high in calcium to make up for the low dairy nature of paleo and good to snack on.

Kumaran also advises caution when undertaking restrictive diets, such as paleo or keto, despite evidence of positive weight loss trends. “As with all diets that can be restrictive such as the paleo diet, it is important to work with a qualified health professional to ensure you do not risk nutritional deficiencies,” she says.

This article is for informational purposes only and is not meant to offer medical advice.

— Update: 17-03-2023 — found an additional article ‘I Tried the Paleo Diet for 30 Days to Lose Weight—Here’s What Happened’ from the website for the keyword paleo diet effective for weight loss.

I’m a huge fan of food. Pizza, watermelon, and craft beer are a few of my favorites.

I’ve also been known to complain about being overweight. I’m 5’7” and wear a size 10 to 12 depending on the brand, but even when I’m at my happiest weight, I comfortably wear a 10. I’ve got hips; what can I say?

But no month-long pizza binge goes unpunished. In September, I purchased a pair of size 10 jeans from my favorite store online that were ~perfect~ for fall.

When they arrived, I realized that I’d either picked the wrong size or I’d officially downed enough beer and pizza to make putting on my go-to size nearly impossible. (Spoiler alert: It was the pizza.)

So, I decided that for 30-straight days, I would dive into the Paleo diet, which bans all forms of dairy, grains, soy, and legumes. I also pledged to drink less and avoid added sugars and artificial sweeteners.

This wasn’t my first clean eating endeavor. I’ve made two attempts at the Whole30 diet (which is basically the Paleo diet with stricter rules). My first trial lasted 10 days and the second attempt lasted 30 (minus eight cheat meals). So I figured 30 days of Paleo would be a walk in the park.

But I invite you to close your eyes and visualize Donald Trump leaning into the mic because boy oh boy was I WRONG!

Read more  What To Eat During Intermittent Fasting: A Full Guide

Here’s what I learned during my month-long journey:

Check out how the host of The Biggest Loser makes the perfect healthy sandwich:

1. Getting all of the facts straight was tough.

The rules for Paleo can be super confusing. I’ll explain more later, but there are a lot of blurred lines on what you can and can’t eat on Paleo. This is probably because there’s no official Paleo authority who defines the guidelines. When I tried the Whole30 diet, I really appreciated that the program had super-rigid rules. If I was ever uncertain about being able to eat a specific food, I could use their guidelines to determine if the food was compliant or not. With Paleo, bloggers and Paleo followers on social media seem to like to make up their own rules, which leads me to my next problem…

RELATED: Gone Paleo? Here’s a Shopping List for Beginners

2. Paleo doesn’t necessarily translate to weight loss.

One Pinterest search for “Paleo desserts” had me scrolling through photos of Paleo cakes and fudge that were technically in line with the diet. But they were also loaded with natural sweeteners, like coconut sugar and maple syrup. I ultimately decided to skip baking Paleo treats.

RELATED: Should You Try ‘The Virgin Diet’ to Lose Weight?

3. Meal prep is my best friend.

I’m already a fan of making my meals ahead of time since it makes planning what I’m going to eat for the week so easy. So I spent my first Sunday researching recipes, grocery shopping, and cooking meals I knew and loved from my rounds of Whole30. One meal I found myself coming back to throughout the month was this one-pan pesto chicken and veggies recipe that I prepared with a Paleo-friendly pesto. It was a great lunch or dinner option.

After learning that Paleo bacon is a thing (it’s just sugar-free bacon) I made lots of Paleo bacon and asparagus egg cups for weekday breakfasts. It was a nice change from not eating breakfast, ever.

4. You’re on your own when it comes to portion sizes.

I was surprised that the Paleo diet offered no set recommendation for portions. As long as I stuck to the basic outline, I was free to eat as much as I wanted. This felt kind of like a trap. It didn’t take me long to realize that I was bound to overeat without portion recommendations in place. I tried to keep myself from overdoing it by dividing up Paleo blog recipes into the servings they was supposed to make and stowing the rest away. But when it came to snacking, I often went back for a second apple in the afternoon or an extra serving of veggies and guac.

RELATED: ‘The 4 Mistakes That Sabotaged My Weight-Loss Journey for Years’

5. There’s a blurred line with booze.

From what I can tell, Paleo die-hards don’t want to tell you not to drink. Some sources say it’s fine while others leave the decision up to you entirely. Since no Paleo guru insisted I quit booze, I still ordered cocktails at dinner and said yes to beers with friends after work as usual.

RELATED: 7 No-B.S. Weight Loss Tips That Will Actually Help You Lose Weight

But while my healthy meals left me with more energy and fewer stomachaches, I still hadn’t kicked any bloat by the day 10. So at that point, since my goal was weight loss, not just healthier eating, I decided to stash my corkscrew and banish alcohol in all of its forms for the remaining 20 days.

Looking for more tips and tricks? Conquer the paleo diet with ease with the help ofThe Ultimate Paleo Diet



6. Eating out was really frustrating.

Like, really frustrating. Before date nights with my boyfriend or dinners out with friends, I’d obsessively comb through restaurant menus looking for Paleo options. More often than not I had to plan some substitutions like asking for a different side or to hold the parmesan sprinkle. And even with all of that preparation, the reality of not knowing every single ingredient in my food started driving me crazy. Was the chicken cooked with canola oil? Did my veggies contain any soy? By the time I hit day 15, I’d decided to stick to eating only the food I’d prepared at home for the rest of my experiment.

Read more  55 Diet Drinks On Keto: Best Drinks On The Ketogenic Diet

(Torch fat, get fit, and look and feel great with Women’s Health’s All in 18 DVD!)

7. Saying no to friends got much easier over time.

Sticking to food I’d prepared for myself meant turning down brunch invitations and staying in on Saturday nights to avoid temptation. It was kind of a bummer, but I started getting used to eating all of my meals at home and grew confident in my ability to make better choices and avoid alcohol. Toward the end of the month, I allowed myself a couple of nights out, but I stuck with drinking seltzer and lime.

RELATED: This One-Day Plan Will Help Jump-Start Your Weight Loss

8. Finding replacements for my favorite foods was possible.

Part of my nightly routine was a snack after dinner. I’d chow down on Pop-Tarts, chips, cheese—you name it, I craved it before bed. I didn’t want to change every part of my daily routine, so I kept myself stocked up on green apples and bananas and snacked on them with a side of almond butter. I was expecting to miss the crazy sugar rush, but was actually surprised to find that my pre-bedtime ritual was a completely mindless process. I could have gotten the same satisfaction from grazing on apples all along. For my post-workout snack, which was usually a protein bar or sugary sports drink, I was able to find a Paleo-friendly protein bar that quickly became a staple on my weekly shopping list.

9. I started seeing results fairly quickly.

Once I finally stopped drinking, it only took about three days for my waistline to start looking smaller (right around day 13). Toward the end of the experiment my roommate said, “Your face looks skinnier.” Win!

RELATED: 9 Questions That Reveal Whether a Diet Will Work for You

10. My cravings started to disappear.

After a couple of weeks of nixing cheese and grains, I actually got to a point where I wasn’t craving pizza constantly. (Seriously, I craved pizza every day.) I also didn’t miss other junk foods that I’d mindlessly toss into my shopping cart, like bags of chips or blocks of cheese. I’m not saying that I didn’t complain when I could smell free pizza in my office or when I checked my boyfriend’s fridge for snacks and found half a leftover pie from the night before, but I consider the disappearance of my urge for ‘za to be a major accomplishment.

11. My favorite food did not taste quite as amazing after 30 days.

When I finally made it past 30 full days, I knew my victory meal would be a pepperoni pizza (obviously), plus some pasta to split with my roommate, and a bottle of wine. But even with all the hype, I have to admit that the first bite didn’t taste as amazing as I remembered. I still ate and enjoyed three slices, but the flavor didn’t seem as strong as it had in the past.

RELATED: Exactly How to Use Cheat Days to Lose More Weight

The bottom line: I don’t think that Paleo is an easy fix for losing weight or a lifestyle change that anyone can make quickly, but at the end of my experiment, I lost 3.2 pounds and was able to pull on my jeans without having to shimmy around my room. They were still a smidge tight, but I was happy to see that the waistband wasn’t cutting into my sides. And my roommate seems to be right. If I look in the mirror at the perfect angle, my face does in fact seem to be a bit trimmer.

Since I discovered that I can easily change my eating habits and that it is possible for my tastes to change, I would consider going Paleo again. But I’m not sure this is a realistic way for me to eat every meal (I can’t quit you, cheese). Instead, I’m going to keep up my meal prepping habits so I’ll always have healthy options on hand. I’ve also upped my exercise game (my nemesis) from precisely zero trips to the gym per week to at least four. Oh, and I’m also proud to say that my bed has been and shall remain Pop-Tart-free.