How to: Troubleshooting Paleo


When I started eating paleo, I was disappointed. Sure, I was eating healthier, but I didn’t feel all that great.

The blogs I read said the authors felt amazing when they went paleo, full of energy, vim, and vigor. Fat was literally falling off of their bodies (in chunks, one imagines), as were their clothes. Stomachaches, headaches and body aches disappeared. In short, everything was hunky-dory.

I didn’t feel this way. I was grouchy and basically heinous for two weeks due to lack of sugar. I was exhausted all the time. I was eating everything in sight. I still had headaches that felt like they were pushing out of my eyes, and my skin looked terrible. My stomach still hated me — which eliminated the whole reason I was going paleo in the first place.

Eventually, these things went away and I started feeling better. But nothing online helped when I felt like paleo wasn’t working. It’s not easy to figure out how such a radically different lifestyle will affect you, especially if you were eating nothing but burgers and fries before.

Here, I’ve compiled a little list of some of the problems I ran into when I started. I’m not a doctor or any sort of medical professional, so if you are seriously concerned, call your doctor before taking any of this advice. Thankfully, most problems seem to be somewhat short-lived, and hopefully soon you’ll be feeling much, much better.

I can’t…go.

First, make sure you are drinking a ton of water. More than you think you need. Think at least two liters a day, but maybe more like three, depending on your elevation and the climate you live in. This will help keep your body from re-absorbing too much water in the digestive process, and thereby make everything move a little smoother.

Second, eat some fat. Make sure you are getting good fats from avocados and nuts. If things get too awful, take a spoonful of coconut oil, drink 16 ounces of water and have a couple of prunes. If things aren’t that bad, drink some water and have a big bowl of kale sauteed with onions, mushrooms, bacon and cherry tomatoes. That should start things moving.

Third, go for a walk. Sometimes, that’s all it takes.

Oh, I’m going…all the time.

That’s your body reacting to the total lack of grains in your diet. It’s miserable, I know, but it should pass. Keep drinking water and try to wait it out. Not to get too graphic, but if you are going three times a day, that’s pretty normal. But, um. You’ll know what’s not.

I’d stay away from the Metamucil because of the sugar and potential gluten. If you have IBS or an otherwise sensitive stomach, try adding a little white rice into your diet. White rice is not encouraged for paleo, but it’s considered an “empty carb” and pretty much harmless.

If your problem persists for more than a week, see your doctor.

I’m so tired.

Yep. That’s a giant sugar crash you’re experiencing. Even if you didn’t eat that much sugar to begin with, the natural sugar found in most grains is now gone from your body, and your body is slowly re-adjusting to its new way of getting energy. Eventually, this will pass, and you’ll notice more energy and more endurance during your workouts as your body re-learns to turn fat into glucose. That, incidentally, is why paleo eaters don’t worry too much about fat consumption — our bodies burn it and need it and will turn it into glucose if glucose is required.

Of course, if it persists, go see a doctor.

I am ravenous.

See above. Keep feeding your body healthy, nutrient-dense food. I find that a sweet potato, if I really need one, can fill me up pretty well. Again, your body is getting used to not having all of that starch around. You also might want to up your fat intake a little bit — an apple with almond butter can fill that fat/sugar craving you’re getting, but in a healthy, satisfying way.

I’m not losing any weight.

Paleo is not going to make you skinny quick. It’s going to make you healthy. With everything else going on with your body in the first month or two, you might not lose a ton of weight. You might not lose any. But that’s okay, because you’re getting healthier and your body is catching up with you.

If you’ve waited months and there is no weight loss (and you have weight to lose), make sure that EVERYTHING you are eating is paleo-compliant. Check everything on every label. Dark chocolate can contain soy lecithin; salad dressings are not as harmless as you think; condiments are pretty scary and mostly not paleo. Really pare everything down to meat and plants, no legumes or dairy. Remember that peas, peanuts, soy and even quinoa are out.

If you are completely paleo-compliant, try cutting out paleo-friendly baked goods. Sure, they’re paleo, but that doesn’t mean they are healthy. A muffin is a muffin, paleo or not. Try limiting your “paleo” treats to once a month. Remember, the idea is to change the way you eat, not to find a different way to eat the same old stuff.

You can also cut down on nuts and dried fruit — if you need to, portion them out in little baggies. Other problem foods could be winter squashes (butternut, acorn, etc), sweet potatoes, bananas or other very sugary fruit. While technically all of these items are paleo, they are not going to make you skinny fast.

If you have done all of this and nothing helps, see a doctor. You could have a serious medical condition.

I keep getting headaches, even if I didn’t before

That’s partly the sugar crash, partly dehydration, I imagine. Keep on drinking at least two liters a day at sea level, more if you are at elevation. If they persist and are migraine-like in severity, go see a doctor.

Stomachaches are harshing my buzz.

Your tummy is trying to get used to digesting different things. So much of what we eat when we go paleo feels just hard to digest, and heartburn and stomach pain can result.

If you are having a lot of heartburn or pain, you might have a serious medical condition and you should go see a doctor.

If it’s just annoying and fades, try cooking more of your vegetables before you eat them. When your gut is more healed, you can start introducing more raw vegetables into your diet. If nothing else, bananas and avocados are good tummy-ache foods.


5 thoughts on “How to: Troubleshooting Paleo

  1. This is a very informative write up and summed up so well. Thanks for sharing! Its usually the first 2 weeks that are really difficult and soon it become a habit.

  2. Pingback: How to: Troubleshooting Paleo, story from Almond Butter Binger | sassyandpaleoish

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