CAUTION: Can the Paleo Diet Make You Fat?

paleo food plateFor those of you who follow me, you probably know by now that Steve and I are trying the Paleo Diet. We are on a 10 day “detox”, where we are eating strict paleo which includes no rice, potatoes, sugar, sweetener (EEK!), bread, oatmeal, milk products, beans, peanuts (yes, no peanut butter!) and many other things we love.

Although that may seem scary to some of you, the truth is, we don’t eat much of those things anyway, but to go TOTALLY without – now that’s a whole different story. But, as I go Paleo, I am learning a lot along the way. When I try knew things, I’m always thinking about my client and members. I think of what they will like about it, what they will struggle with, and how they could mess it up – to the point the diet doesn’t work well at all for them. Here’s what I mean…

Red Flag #1: Paleo doesn’t count calories

loseitpremiumNot everyone needs to count calories, HOWEVER, if you have a problem with your weight, you should be managing calories – just like if you had a problem spending money, you should closely manage your bank account. Just because I tell you to shop at K-Mart instead of Macy’s doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll spend less money. The same goes for diet. Just because the Paleo diet is healthy and it doesn’t allow for a lot of high-calorie carbs doesn’t necessarily mean you’d lose weight on the diet if you aren’t purposeful about where you are getting your calories. It’s one thing to eat Paleo because it’s healthy, and it’s another thing to go Paleo and eat all the Paleo approved foods you want and expect to lose weight.

The reason I’m waving the red flag on calories, is to remind you that just because something is healthy doesn’t mean you can’t eat too much of it. I would suggest counting calories while on the Paleo Diet if you are trying to lose weight. Once you learn what Paleo items are higher in calories, and which ones are not, you’ll be able to snack better and eat smarter.

Red Flag #2: Paleo allows for a lot of fat

nuts & berriesUnlike the Adkins Diet, Paleo fats are super healthy and energizing. They aren’t the kind of clog-your-artery fats that kills people. The problem with this is there are more calories in fat than there are in carbs and protein. And, if something is high in fat (even if it’s good fat), it high in calories. Now, to an athlete, those calories are likely burned up in hours of practice and/or intense CrossFit training. BUT, the common person who dabbles in training (like most gym members), and aren’t training for your best FRAN, heaviest Dead Lift or a marathon, high-calorie fats need to be rationed.

For instance, pumpkin seeds, cashews and almonds are all allowed on the Paleo Diet – BUT, if you are a heavy snacker this could be setting you up for a big FAT failure if you aren’t careful. 1 cup of Cashews (which is NOT a lot!) is a whopping 786 calories and 63 grams of fat, so you can see how easy it would be to rack up the calories. (Read my article on Beware of Going Nuts for Nuts) I’m raising the red flag to bring your attention to the dangers of not limiting your fats. Healthy fats are fantastic – in moderation.

Red Flag #3: Paleo doesn’t allow for food alternatives

Artificial sweetener100-calorie snack packs and artificially sweetened drinks are not allowed on a Paleo Diet. This is a good thing when it comes to your health, but can be a bad thing if you don’t have a go-to snack to satisfy cravings. After just 2 days on the diet, I was craving sweets like a Diabetic  – and I don’t even normally care about sweets! I tried eating fruit, but that didn’t cut it. Knowing this was trouble in the making if I didn’t find a solution, I went straight to the health food store and bought all the ingredients I needed to make some Paleo snack bars. I also bought other approved foods, like plantains and sweet potato, which I knew would help satisfy my cravings for sweet carbs. After I ate my sweet potato last night I was golden.

We are so used to being able to grab a snack in a pinch, or enjoy a sweet flavored drink to fight a sweet tooth. Whether it’s a bar or a pack of pretzels, when those items aren’t there we freak. The red flag I’m waving here is to remind you that if you don’t find a solution to your craving you will fail, or quit, this diet – or any diet for that matter. It’s crucial you keep troubleshooting until you find the solution for you. Just because your favorite item is not on the list, like I’m totally crushed I can’t have corn (and POPCORN!), doesn’t mean I can’t find something else I like equally. It just may take some time to find them, and adjust my habits.

Red Flag #4: Paleo cult members can lead you astray

CrossFit Games FemaleLike many diets groups and fitness organizations, it forms a cult-like following – and they LOVE to tell you what to do. And, if they are completely ripped and have a body of a greek god, it’s easy to want to do everything they say. I watch some of my Paleo friends woof down tons of food while still maintaining a six-pack, but is that realistic for me? We can’t all expect our bodies to respond like someone else. I know some of my friends train 3 times harder than me. Some of them have already biked 12 miles, ran 4 miles and hit a WOD before I even woke up. I also realize some people are naturally gifted with beautifully shaped physiques even before they made them more beautiful with intense training. You have to know your own body. You have to know your own cravings and weaknesses. So, the next time someone decides to tell you what to eat (even if you don’t think it’s best for you) notice the red flag, listen to them, and then do the appropriate research needed to make an intelligent decision for your body.

The Verdict

To sum it up, my answer to the question “Can the Paleo Diet Make You Fat?” is “Yes, BUT…“.

YES, you can get fat on almost any diet IF you aren’t eating in moderation. It would be very hard to get fat on the Paleo Diet because it limits starchy carbs and sugar, but it would be irresponsible of me to not warn you to watch your overall calories if you are trying to lose weight until you get the hang of things. So far, I am really liking eating Paleo. It’s forcing me to avoid things I know I eat too much of, so it’s good for me. It’s also hard to argue that it’s not super healthy. It totally is very healthy, improves performance, promotes recovery, balances hormone levels, reduces tissue inflammation, lowers body acidity, and increases energy. Just don’t get excited about the whole “Paleo people don’t count calories” thing, because that doesn’t mean YOU don’t need to. It just depends on your goal. If you only care about performance and health, don’t worry about it. BUT, if you care what you look like, you gotta do what you gotta do to get you closer to your goal.

About Bonnie Pfiester

Fitness Columnist and Lifestyle Coach, Resident Trainer for Designer Whey, Fitness Advisor for FitStudio, powered by Sears, FitFluential Ambassador and Owner of Max Fitness Club, home of BCx Boot Camp in Vero Beach, Florida.

Posted on December 5, 2012, in Diet & Nutrition Tips, PFIT TIPS, PFOODIE and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 34 Comments.

  1. Great post I do a lot of carb cycling and I half to watch my nut intake; because I can eat a lot of them without thinking… Which I worry about packing on calories very quick!!

  2. Great article, Bonnie – it’s so true that any style of eating, if done in excess, can lead to weight gain! I’ve had to cut nut butters out of my diet for periods of time because I just go too overboard on them – and yet they’re healthy! So knowing your own body and how you work is so important. Great thoughts!

    • Thanks so much for the positive feedback. I am glad my info came across clear. I like the diet a lot, I just want people to proceed with caution. Great tips on your end too! So smart to cut things out that you know you can’t control!!

  3. I have been doing #Whole30 for 10 days now to beat my sugar addiction, I ate mainly paleo before with almost 0 processed foods due to allergies. I gave up counting calories on day 3 as I have the opposite issue. No weight to loose but I need to learn to trust my body to make sure I eat enough. I could totally see how this diet could be an issue for someone who transitioned from a SAD to this with nuts, etc. Great article!

    • Thank you so much! It’s a touchy subject because I’m warning people about something I actually like and agree with – but like someone said on twitter today, with any approach there is always caution. And, just because we do great at something, doesn’t mean someone else may have trouble. Nothing is one size fits all. Even if it SHOULD fit all…it doesn’t mean the other people like the way it fits. ha 🙂

  4. Most paleo-ites will agree you can’t be willy-nilly about what you eat entirely if u are trying to lose FAT. There ARE rules as to how much of certain things that one could have, but no matter what your fitness intensity or duration, (not a crossfitter, or marathoner) the purpose of paleo in addition to detox from the standard american diet, is to start listening to your body. You don’t “count”. You do however LIMIT sugars of all varieties, and you change the way your body utilizes fats. You become more efficient. You fill your plate with lean meats and veggies, which fill you better and longer than those starches. So you don’t feel mistakenly hungry 2 hours later. I think where the biggest variation in results is improperly blamed (besides adherence) is in that it is gradual…no one promises you x amount of pounds in record time…but they will promise losses that don’t UNdo quite so easily either.

  5. Bonnie, there is a ton of information out there. In large from unreliable source or conflicting source. Is there a website or book that you have found to be helpful in your clean quest? I appreciate your candor and realistic message! You & Steve are awesome.

  6. “YES, you can get fat on almost any diet IF you aren’t eating in moderation.” What a spot-on statement! I once did some heavy research on Paleo and almost went with it but didn’t in the end. Now I just use conscience and lots of disciplines to stop eating whenever I am not feeling hungry. Working great with regular workout. 🙂

  7. Great article Bonnie! I really have to watch my nuts/seed intake – I get addicted to those things! I have tried doing paleo a little bit, but I have found that I have to have plenty of complex carbs in the morning with less fat and protein because of my morning exercise routine. It just works for me that way!

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  9. Wow–thank you so much for such an honest break down! We have been doing Paleo with moderate cheese for over a year and have packed on 20 pounds!!!! No—we don’t do Crossfit and aren’t in our 20’s anymore and are now realizing that portion and calorie control is essential even with paleo—YES–eating too much fat still makes you fat if you eat more calories per day than you burn, whether grain free calories or not. And nut flour baked goods made with only banana as the sweetener? yep—you CAN eat enough in one meal that contains an entire day’s worth of calories! Thankfully, your blog here came up whilst I was searching for others who have gained weight on Paleo. Back to the drawing board and the Richard Simmons Foodmover program to shed the fat—-modified for lower carb/paleo of course. We can’t do grains or sugars or much starch at all, so Paleo is it—but I’m going to be counting calories now and set reasonable portions.

  10. Great article. I’d never heard of the diet before. This was very informative, thank you. I don’t know if I could stick to it. I work nights and rely on caffeine too much..and I have sugar with my caffeine. :// You’re a rock star!

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  18. Great Post!!!

    The Zone was the missing piece to the puzzle for me and a pinnacle discovery in my training. I started feeling better both mentally and physically, which allowed me to push harder within my training and performance, thus resulting in a leaner, stronger, happier, and fitter me!!!

    My thoughts and experience on the Zone Diet and Paleo Diet below:

    Take Care,


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