Too Skinny?

While weight loss is a very common goal of many who opt to try the Paleo lifestyle, some actually find themselves reaching their goal weight, and then continuing to drop the pounds even after that.

Losing too much weight, however, doesn’t mean we have to resort to adding back in the grains, beans and other fillers.

It may sound like an odd issue to deal with for many readers, as over two-thirds of our population struggle with the exact opposite problem- being overweight.   For anyone dealing with a lifetime of yo-yo dieting and never ending battle with the scale, it may even feel annoying to think of someone concerned with being too thin.

I am happy to share my own experience on this front.  

I went Paleo in search of relief from years of GI distress, which I found, to the nth degree.  

A nice little side bonus was finally being able to achieve the lean body I’d wanted, and it honestly felt effortless because I was eating plenty of fresh veggies, wild proteins and healthy fats, not weighing and measuring every last calorie (from the wrong sources).   My energy increased tremendously, my sleep improved and my training and recovery reached all new highs.

I reached the lean body weight I’d wanted in a healthy, slow but steady manner and have maintained this same weight ever since.

But what if it gets to be too much?   If one goes beyond lean and healthy and begins to take on an appearance more akin to  ‘skin and bones’, that’s not the goal of the Paleo Lifestyle, but it can be remedied.

Recently, I received an inquiry from a gentleman to write a post about a reader’s wife, who’d gone Paleo and lost weight, but not just some weight, enough weight to make her fit that exact ‘skin and bones’ description.    He’d written in to Dr. Cordain’s website,  wanting to know what his wife could do, not only because she’d gotten too thin, but also because they wanted to start a family.  In addition, as his business is based in Japan, where he lives and works, he asked, “Can it be that the genetics of Asians have changed in that they aren’t used to having zero grains and their bodies cannot adapt?

For the first part of his question, without knowing what his wife was eating, it was a bit difficult to give blanket suggestions, but generally speaking, if  you’ve found yourself too thin, be sure to check the following to get yourself back to a healthy and lean, rather than skinny, weight:

  • For women, if your menstrual cycle remains normal (whatever your normal is; I have a hard time thinking every single woman is meant to get her period every 28 days, regardless of age, where she lives in the world and what her family history is), this is a very important sign that you are likely in balance.   If it becomes irregular, this is a sign that things need to be looked at.  Even in this case, however, it’s not a generic ‘eat grains, put on some weight and things will regulate’.   There are so many factors that contribute to amenorrhea and varying types of treatment.  Personally, I’d prefer to go the natural route and investigate acupuncture and homeopathic treatments, rather than heading straight for the synthetic estrogens.
  • Make sure you’re balancing your macro nutrients.   Don’t make your meals mostly veggies with a tiny bit of fat and protein.  This is not the ideal balance of roughly 40/30/30 (unrefined carbs from veggies and some fruit/wild protein/natural fat) and it’s not likely enough calories.
  • Make sure you’re eating enough.  Each meal should leave you feeling satisfied, not stuffed and when you’re body tells you it’s time to eat the next meal, it’s time.   For many, that means eating several smaller meals evenly spaced throughout the day.
  • Don’t judge or try to power through your hunger.  If you’re hungry at 9:30 am after eating a healthy Paleo breakfast at 7am, guess what?  Eat the next small meal!  Don’t say to yourself , “I shouldn’t be hungry yet” any more than you’d tell yourself “I shouldn’t be thirsty” and please don’t try to abuse caffeine in order to ignore your body’s cues to avoid eating until lunch.  Neither are healthy habits to have.
  • Fuel according to what the day brings.  If you’ve got a particularly active day, whether you’re an athlete in heavy training or a busy mom squeezing in a power yoga class between carting the kids around, grocery shopping, going to the office and cooking dinner, know that you’re going to need to eat more compared to a lazy Sunday afternoon spent reading magazines, and give your body the fuel it needs.
  • Be sure you’re eating enough healthy fat.  Again,  five cups of steamed broccoli does not a meal make. Yes, your belly will be full from the volume for a little while, but there is simply not enough calories to make a full lunch or snack.  No protein, no fat, no good.
  • It’s also worth it to check out your hormonal profile and rule out hyperthyroid conditions.
  • Give your body time to regulate itself; also factor in current stress levels and sleeping conditions, both of which play a part in one’s weight.
  • Finally, take ownership of how you look and whether or not you’re happy with your weight.      If there are any previous emotional issues playing a role, such as anorexia, seek help in whichever way feels comfortable to you, whether it’s with a private therapist or group setting.   In this case, far more is at play than simply not eating enough.   If this isn’t an issue, be sure you’re not letting other people’s pressure and judgement supersede your own.

In terms of his question asking about whether one’s genetics would play a role in their ability to, in his words, “not be able to adapt to having zero grains“, as there are no nutrients present in grain-based foods that are not found in other, higher quality foods, foods without anti nutrients, I’d be very hesitant to attribute one’s higher rate of weight loss simply to their family tree.

Like with anything new, there is a bit of a learning curve to be expected, but you can rest assured that leaving Paleo behind is not the only solution.