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Why People Fail On A Paleo Diet

Tired man

You may have just embarked on your Paleo journey and find it a never ending challenge to transition from your old lifestyle to your new. You could also be a veteran to the diet, but still find yourself picking away at a fresh loaf of bread, or nibbling on some sweets. Or, even worse, you’re feeling like you’re doing everything right, yet you fail to see the results in weight loss, increased energy or improved general health. These are stories I hear often; thus, I write this article in hopes of making your life just a little easier, or in the very least help you kick those bad habits to the curb.

I guess you could say that I was fortunate not to experience too many of these trials and tribulations when I made my lifestyle changes. Perhaps the fact that I was in a rapid downward spiral, willing to try anything to feel better and that I armed myself with a wealth of information, would be the reason why. That being said, like any new adjustment to your life, there will almost always be some obstacle knocking at your door and waiting around every corner you turn. Unfortunately, change is not often something easy to achieve, otherwise, I have a feeling the Paleo community would be a lot bigger than it is today. This transition in your life will certainly test your abilities to stay committed and determined. It is no easy feat, but I can assure you that the rewards are like none other.

So why do so many individuals fail to stick to the diet or stick to it but fail to see the great results? It can be different for everyone, but when we consider the Paleo community, there are certainly some common reasons for failure.

The technical reasons

These “technical reasons” are usually reasons why some people fail to¬†achieve¬†the proper health results on the diet even though they stick to it and feel like they do it correctly. There’s a lot of conflicting information out there when it comes to Paleo and some people are led to make changes based on some wrong information that aren’t good for them in the long term.

Nuts and seedsToo much nuts or nut butter

As I explained on my article on nuts and seeds, while they are natural and were most probably eaten by most of our ancestors to some extend, nuts and seeds can still be irritating to the gut and most of them have a bad fatty-acid profile. If you are struggling with your health or weight, I recommend limiting your consumption of most nuts and seeds and maybe even avoid them entirely until your health is under control and your digestion is perfect. If you remove them from your diet and add them back a little later on, you should be able to see if they affect you in a negative way or not.

Not enough salt

There’s no denying that excess salt can be a problem, but removing salt completely can certainly lead to issues as well. I’ve seen accounts of people who started having issues with low blood pressure on a Paleo diet that have be resolved easily by adding a little natural sea salt here and there in their food. Some people try to¬†imitate¬†our¬†ancestors¬†too much and forget that our ancestors probably went out of their way to get a little extra sodium in their diet. There’s a reason, after all, why salty is one of the main tastes we can discern.

Not enough carbs

Sweet potatoA whole lot of people who embark on a Paleo diet become very carb-phobic and associate carbohydrates with instant fat gain. We have to keep in mind that fat gain is much more complicated than that and that we are well adapted to function on carbs or fat for energy. For this reason a lot of people limit their carbohydrate intake to very low amounts. Even when adequate amounts of fat are consumed to make up for the lesser amount of carbohydrates, limiting the amounts of carbs consumed by too much can lead to intense cravings and binging on unhealthy foods.

Sources of starchy carbohydrates are especially feared because they are concentrated sources of carbs. If we start with the belief that carbohydrates are not bad per se we can then see why it doesn’t make sense to fear concentrated sources like starchy vegetables. Read up on Paleo 2.0 for the complete¬†demystification¬†of starchy vegetables.

Also, while this is getting into an entire other discussion, being in ketogenic a state from time to time is a healthy thing, but being there all the time can lead to problems in the long run. I talk about that issue  in more details on my article on the perfect macro-nutrient ratio.

Carbohydrates in general shouldn’t be feared, carbohydrates from toxic sources like grains, legumes and refined sugar should.

Coconut oilNot enough fat

Again in trying to¬†imitate¬†our¬†Palaeolithic¬†ancestors, some people still believe that fat in general should be consumed in limited quantity. Those people suggest that wild animals are very lean and that our ancestors were not used to consume much fat. What’s often overlooked though is that even very lean animals have plenty of fat tissues around their organs or between their skin and their muscles. Modern science also shows us that saturated fat is a great source of clean and non-toxic energy while too much lean protein can certainly be a problem.

Some people limit both fat and carbohydrate consumption, our two primary fuel sources, and either consume much more lean protein or consume less calories overall. For those who end up consuming too few calories, constant hunger is often felt and the energy levels usually plummet.

Eat away at that healthy natural saturated fat and those sources of non-toxic carbohydrates.

Not enough nutritious foods (nutrient deficiencies)

This problem is not seen very often, but it can still happen. In our modern world eating a non-toxic diet is not enough and many vitamins and minerals are needed to deal with all the stress and bad environmental factors that surround us. This simply means that chicken and vegetables day in and day out is not going to cut it. You should strive to frequently eat foods such as meat from grass-fed ruminants, fresh wild-caught fish, homemade stock, fermented vegetables, seafood, organs like liver and bone marrow and a good variety of fresh vegetables.

StrawberryToo much fruits

Fruits are certainly natural, but most of them are loaded with fructose, which becomes toxic when consumed in high amounts. Just because many fruits are loaded with vitamin C, potassium, fiber and many natural anti-oxidant doesn’t mean that the fructose in them is less toxic. A few pieces of fruit per day shouldn’t be a problem at all, but over-doing it could be the reason why so many fail to lose the desired weight even on a Paleo diet.

Here is also yet another reason why starchy vegetables should be the carbohydrate source of choice. Starchy vegetables are converted to glucose only when digested so they are the healthier choice for most.

Forgetting about the other aspects of the lifestyle

While diet is the main focus of this website and is certain the central point of Paleo lifestyle, other lifestyle factors play a very important role on health and shouldn’t be forgotten. The three main other lifestyle factors to keep in mind other than diet are exercise, stress and sleep.

Failure to have healthy habits in one or more of those other lifestyle factors can greatly limit or hinder your results. Bad sleep quality or lack of sleep can be especially harmful and no amount of healthy food is going to make up for it.

Any lifestyle change is a challenge

Some people thrive on challenges, while many others choose to run away from them. For those of us who have experienced great success on Paleo, it can be difficult to comprehend why one would do anything less, but this can be understood quite simply: It is easier to keep doing the same thing, and a lifestyle change is rarely easy.

For someone who hasn’t put a lot of thought into what it means to be Paleo, it can be quite stressful. The idea of eliminating foods that you have consumed your whole life on a very frequent basis and not fully understanding what will fill that gap is scary. Furthermore, without enough information, how is one to comprehend that eating grains, refined sugar and vegetable seed oils are so toxic to your health while they often don’t seem to be causing any issues. Without taking it one step further and learning about what being Paleo means to your overall health, it seems much easier to just bail out. And unfortunately, this is what happens plenty of times.

Not fully committing

Doing the diet only to some extend is something that a lot of people seem to be doing. I hear from plenty of followers daily who say they are not noticing a difference after making the switch, but then again, they also have not committed themselves all the way. A friend of mine decided to give the diet a shot. She took the challenge head-on and committed herself 100% from the beginning. A few weeks into it, temptation got the better of her, what was one bowl of pasta going to do? It’s hard to believe, but she felt the repercussions of this for the whole following week. Fatigue, stomach aches, nausea, you name it. But it all makes sense, if you eliminate all of the unwanted toxins from your diet and flush your body clean, but then dabble with something toxic, bad reactions are to be expected.

Someone that cheats frequently has not even allowed their body to dispose of all toxins; thus, they have yet to achieve their optimal state. So for those of you still questioning how you are feeling on the diet, if the results aren’t at their best it could well be because you are preventing that from happening by not fully committing to the diet changes.

Cheating and eating less desirable foods can be perfectly fine when done from on an infrequent basis, but I strongly recommend to people who first commit to the diet to do it fully for at least the first 30 days to let their body a chance to get rid of the bulk of the toxins and get nourished by the much more nutritious foods of Paleo.

Paleo orthorexia

This reason happens to be the polar opposite of the above. We have all encountered extremists in our life and we know what they are like: latching on to something and there is absolutely no other way, so don’t even try to convince them otherwise. I don’t believe that there is anything wrong with this, in fact, there was a time in my life when I was exactly like this. That being said, it’s a problem when the extremist is not well informed. It is one thing to follow something because you believe it is the right thing to do, but it’s another when you don’t know why it’s the right thing. Perhaps just because someone with a voice said so?

When being a part of the Paleo community, there are two things we have to keep in mind; we are not Cavemen anymore and we don’t know for sure what our ancestors ate anyway. Society has evolved and we have to evolve too. At the click of a button I can share this article with you, I can share recipe ideas, I can even keep you informed on my every move via various social media outlets. With evolution, we have gained access to something that our ancestors did not have, like modern science for example. Perhaps hundreds of centuries ago, no one knew what butter was, or a white potato¬†was not something consumed in most parts of the world, but nowadays, we can prove that these things aren’t bad for us on a fundamental and structural level. Just because they were not consumed then does not necessarily mean we need to continue running from them now. If we fail to make these somewhat harmless additions to our diets, our eating habits will become much more difficult to maintain over time, leading to the inevitable collapse.

Another part of Paleo orthorexia is trying to do things too perfectly. I still see people counting their calorie intake or trying to calculate the amount of each vitamin or mineral they consume. This amount of attention to details is often a recipe for failure because it comes from the wrong assumption that the amount of calories consumed should be consciously controlled.

Strong cravings

We have already touched on this topic in the previous heading ‚ÄúNot fully¬†committing‚ÄĚ, but it certainly goes deeper than just nibbling on something you shouldn’t. A common struggle when making any diet change in one’s life is to leave the old behind. This could happen for various reasons, but mostly because our bodies crave the things we used to love that we can no longer have. That, or our minds convince our bodies that we need what we are missing, when in fact, your body is not even craving it at all. Either way, it is something difficult to get a handle on, especially when the things we are craving are things that we are actually addicted to.

It can sometimes seem hard to¬†believe, but with bad food we consume things that are physically addictive. Two of the most common would have to be gluten-containing foods and sugar. Perhaps this explains to you why you were experiencing head-aches during your transition period, or episodes of extreme hunger. For some, it becomes so difficult to manage that they either drop the diet completely, or end up slotting themselves into the ‚ÄúNot fully¬†committing‚Ä̬†category. So how do you manage fighting the temptations? Well, when it comes to food, stopping cold turkey seems to be the easiest option in the long run. Just like jumping into cold water, it’s much easier to just jump right in than to get into the water gradually. The longer you keep on consuming foods that you are addicted to, the harder it will be to move away from them. You are also not doing your body any favor by continuing to ingest such toxic foods. If you are committed, it will pass in time.

Pricey lifestyle

Sometimes I think it’s kind of crazy that we would ever consider putting a price on our health. In fact, when I began following a Paleo Diet, I had a small food budget and I feared that I would not be able to afford the best quality of food for myself. But at that time, my health was my number one priority, so I had to make some compromises in other aspects of my life to ensure it stayed this way. In no way am I denying that it doesn’t cost more to lead a healthier lifestyle, but the cost difference is so minimal compared to what it means for your future.

There are various ways around the higher costs associated with being Paleo, but you certainly will have to work a little harder to save here and there. One great way is to plant your own herb and vegetable garden during the growing season. If you don’t have the ability to do so, consider joining a Farmer’s Co-op. You should also consider following a set meal plan. This helps a lot, because when all meals are planned, you are just purchasing what you need and do not have to worry about over-spending on things that will go to waste. Be open to spending a bit more time in the kitchen preparing your meals. It always costs more when you purchase something pre-made, although this is not a luxury often available to the Paleo community anyways. Finally, get connected with a local butcher or farmer. I frequent a few and I am always lucky to get my hands on a great variety at very reasonable prices. If I’m lucky and someone has excess of something, I buy it all up at a low price and stock up my freezer! I also have one butcher who has no use for some organ meats, as he doesn’t have a large enough market for it, so he just throws it my way at no cost. You can always read up my money saving tips article for more ideas on how to save money with healthy food.

As I said, there is always more work involved when you want to cut corners and spend less. In my mind, there is no extent that I wouldn’t go to ensure I live an optimal healthy life, and in the case of being Paleo, I really don’t think that extent is far from being attainable.

The convenience factor

This is something that people who are not fully committed really struggle with. As already mentioned, following a Paleo Diet means more time dedicated to food and food preparation. Not only this, but for those who are concerned with the origin of their meat, fruits and vegetables, there can be a great deal of work involved in setting up connections with local farmers and butchers. Once this is established, you may have to cope with traveling a short distance to collect your fresh produce and meats. All this considered, is it really enough to pull the plug on such a healthy alternative lifestyle? It sure isn’t for me! I quite enjoy the relationships I have made through various suppliers. Believe it or not, I have also built much greater bonds with people over food preparation. Sure you can’t always whip up a huge meal in minimal time, but why not make the food a central part of your life. It’s something that we all encounter on a frequent basis throughout our daily lives, so no matter how much someone likes the topic of food, at least you know that you can relate on some level about it. What I am really trying to do here is give you ways to turn something that seems really inconvenient into something that is not that big of a burden after all.


If you currently struggle with either achieving the desired health results or simply with sticking to the diet and lifestyle, I hope this article was helpful in giving you pointers on what habits to change or in giving you a motivational boost to stick to your guns and battling through the harder parts. While the journey can sometimes seems long and hard, changes always seems easier when looking back.

Photo of Ashley No√ęl

Hi I’m Ashley, I’m an ADAPT Certified Functional Health Coach

Get coaching around:

  • transitioning to a Paleo diet
  • reaching your fitness goals
  • getting through those hurdles
    • limiting sugar, gluten, carbs
    • eating out
  • overall life satisfaction

I can’t wait to help you make lasting lifestyle changes