Yeah, you can get too much of a good thing. Sure, some foods are great for fat loss but that doesn’t mean you can enjoy them without limitation. I got into trouble along my fat loss journey by eating too much of a fat loss food. I slowed my progress way down until I figured out the mistake I was making. I was eating too much protein. I would say to myself, “surely I won’t get into trouble by having too much protein powder/salmon/chicken…” And then I did. Haha. But it was a very powerful lesson for me and one I wanted to share with you guys!
(I mean, I drank my protein shakes out of a freaking flower vase! hahaha)
Protein is a critical part of a healthy, fat loss diet. Your body cannot manufacture protein therefore you need to consume it daily to ensure you have what you need. Protein helps to satisfy your hunger and reduce cravings. It helps to build and repair muscle. However, there is such thing as too much of a good thing! I went through a phase where I was eating probably 6-10 servings of protein every day. I didn’t really think too much about what your body does with that excess….
Excess protein can be stored as body fat. Excess protein can be broken down and converted to glucose, yielding a similar type of metabolic response we see with carbohydrates: fat storage, insulin and blood sugar increases, hunger and cravings.
Excessive protein intake can also be very taxing on your body. To metabolize protein, your kidneys need to remove the nitrogen from the amino acids (building blocks of all protein). This creates ammonia as a byproduct, which must be turned into waste by the liver and excreted in your urine. In moderate amounts its no problem – your body is equipped to handle that process efficiently. In excess, however, it can be burdensome.
Consuming too much protein can also lead to dehydration because the process of protein metabolism requires more water than carbohydrate or fat metabolism.
Finally, if you’re consuming excessive amounts of protein, you’re probably doing so at the expense of other important nutrients like dietary fat. You always want to work towards balance. An excess of any one macronutrient can create problems for your health and your weight loss efforts.
So how can you ensure that you aren’t eating too much protein while also making sure that you’re getting enough? Be sure to include a serving of protein with each meal. Eggs are a great combination of fat and protein for breakfast. Chicken, fish and beef are fantastic protein sources for the rest of the day. Don’t worry that consuming protein at each meal will lead to “excessive intake” – it wont – so long as you keep your portions to about the size of the palm of your hand. There’s no need to double or triple up on your protein servings. If you’re still hungry go for more non-starchy vegetables or increase your fat intake.
Looking back over my 20+ years of yo-yo dieting, restricting, bingeing, rapid weight loss and compensatory weight gain, I think there is one thing that can sum up why I kept failing: the approaches I was trying weren’t sustainable.
There’s no question that I dropped weight super fast when I did the HCG diet. But the last day of the diet was the last day I’d ever eat that way – 2 apples and 2 pieces of fish for a total of less than 500 calories for the day. What did I expect to happen when it was over? I trained my body to operate on soooo little fuel. In order to survive, my metabolism slowed down. When I went back to what I thought was a healthy, moderate approach to maintaining the weight loss, I ballooned back to bigger than I was before – in record time.
I spent months on crash diets where all I ate was chicken broth and protein shakes. Same story. Is that sustainable? Good Lord no!!! Not even close.
Being the analytical type that I am, I spent a lot of time looking back over my failed diet attempts to find common themes. Was it me? Was I just too weak? Did I have no self control? Actually, I’d argue that with the severity of some of the diets I adhered to, I had pretty impressive self control! But I wasn’t adopting an approach that I could follow for the rest of my life.
That’s why I chose a Primal diet. It is now my lifestyle and honestly, it always will be. I was tired of traditional diets. I was tired of following someone else’s set of rules. I wanted a common sense approach to eating that would help me lose fat and get healthy but also something that I could easily maintain indefinitely. I didn’t want to sign on for anything that was going to result in compensatory weight gain. That would make all my efforts completely a waste of time and energy! No thanks! Been there, done that. 20 different pant sizes in my closet to prove it.
The Primal approach made sense to me. You eat foods in their natural form. You don’t eat processed junk. You eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full. You choose foods that satisfy your hunger, increase your energy and minimize cravings. I won’t tell you that I made the transition overnight – I didn’t. I knew I needed to take a gradual approach. I didn’t rush myself. I just worked on it slowly. First I cut out processed foods every day except my one cheat day. Then I got rid of the cheat day but incorporated a few healthy-ish buffer foods (not Primal at this point) like protein bars and shakes. Then I cleaned up my buffer foods, only using shakes and bars when needed for convenience and travel.
I made these changes over a series of months. And in 18 months I had lost just under 140 lbs. I will eat this way for the rest of my life. I will continue to emphasize fat, protein and vegetables. I’ll avoid processed foods except for occasional indulgences. I’ll avoid wheat and grains. I’ll buy organic meat and produce to reduce my exposure to toxins. I’ll walk often. I’ll push my body through high intensity workouts and I’ll lift a few times each week.
Is what you’re doing sustainable? Have you tried unsustainable approaches? What happens when you go “off” the diet? It might be time to try a new approach…
Protein is a critical component of the Primal lifestyle. Every meal should be built around clean protein and non-starchy vegetables.
Protein can be a powerful tool along your fat loss journey. It will keep you feeling fuller for longer when compared to carbohydrates or fat. It also helps to balance blood sugar (keeping your energy and mood more stable) and control cravings. Let’s compare 200 calories of each of the three macronutrients and you can quickly see how protein plays such an important part in managing your hunger!
- 6 oz boneless, skinless chicken breast (protein) is approximately 213 calories
- 1 cup of plain spaghetti (carbohydrate) is approximately 220 calories
- 2 tablespoons of butter (fat) is approximately 204 calories
Let’s think about it. If I sat down and ate a cup of spaghetti, plain, I’d be hungry again in 20 minutes – max. It wouldn’t fill me up – really – it wouldn’t even come close. And I’d probably be exhausted within an hour after the carbohydrate surge and subsequent crash. And 2 tablespoons of butter? There’s nothing filling about that. A 6-ounce chicken breast on the other hand, that’s a HUGE chicken breast. That’s not a small little pattie. Weigh it out. Six ounces is massive. It’s going to fill you up, it’s going to keep your blood sugar steady and that will help sustain your energy and reduce any subsequent cravings. Win, win, win.
If you have seen my pictures on Instagram, you know that salmon is one of my favorite proteins. Not only do I really enjoy the flavor, it’s also extremely versatile and delivers a ton of health benefits. Salmon is an excellent source of protein and healthy fats. It is rich in omega 3 fatty acids, which promote heart health, skin health and have been shown to decrease inflammation. Salmon delivers ample amounts of vitamins including fat-soluble vitamins A, D and E and water-soluble, energy boosting B vitamins.
Back to salmon being so versatile….for a powerhouse breakfast I’ll make an egg scramble with salmon and avocado. This fat and protein based breakfast keeps me full, keeps my blood sugar steady and maintains my energy for hours.
Other times, I’ll take a salmon filet and pan sear or grill it to enjoy along side Brussels sprouts or a large salad.
My favorite way to enjoy salmon is as salmon cakes. Not only do they taste amazing, but I utilize canned salmon for the salmon cakes. The canned salmon includes the skin and bones (no, you can’t taste them) so you are getting additional minerals like calcium and magnesium. My absolute favorite salmon cake recipe is from Diane Sanfilippo’s 21 Day Sugar Detox. They are absolutely amazing. I enjoy these a couple times a week, easily. I love to make them ahead and freeze whatever I’m not ready to cook.
Are you a salmon lover? What’s your favorite clean protein? Find me on facebook or Instagram and let me know! While you’re at it, check out my instagram pictures for lots of examples of how I incorporate protein into every meal. Have fun with it and try new things! Remember, not only is protein essential for overall health and optimal function of your body but its going to help you stay fuller longer while managing your energy and cravings!
I’ve written here about the Primal lifestyle philosophy and the types of foods I eat for fat loss. I’ve read a lot about different Primal and Paleo guidelines and, combined with my own personal and educational experiences, I’ve put together my own list of Primal Principles for fat loss. It’s important to remember that the most effective plan is the one YOU will follow. This is not a challenge to over-commit yourself and bite off more than you can chew. You don’t need to dive headfirst into this lifestyle. You can start small and work on one thing at a time. Identify your low hanging fruit areas of opportunity and start there. Build some momentum then take on more once you feel comfortable.
Elizabeth’s Primal Principles for Fat Loss
- Focus on plants and animals
Build your meals around lean proteins, healthy fats, and non-starchy vegetables. If you do this, you shouldn’t need to worry about counting calories. Eat until your satisfied with your plate made up of plants and animals.
- Cut out grains
I know people don’t like to hear this but it is as much for health as it is for fat loss. If lasting fat loss is your goal, just do it. I promise that over time you’ll hardly miss them. It’s a tough transition but it’s necessary. It’s ok to start small and work on removing them one meal at a time.
- Minimize starchy vegetables
There is a time and a place for starchy vegetables like potatoes and squash and it can be different for everyone. When your goal is fat loss, you’ll want to pay close attention to how your fat loss results vary with your intake of starchy vegetables. For me, I’ve found that it works best to have my starchy vegetables either post-workout or at the end of the day. It’s important to remember that there is a difference between healthy eating and eating for optimal, healthy fat loss. Just because you consider something “healthy” does not mean it’s going to help you reach your goals. Throughout my fat loss journey I have emphasized non-starchy vegetables like cabbage, brussels sprouts, broccoli, peppers and mixed greens.
- Limit processed foods – even “healthy” ones
If it has an ingredient list, it shouldn’t be a part of your daily diet when fat loss is your goal. Keep it as clean and simple as possible. If it’s in a box or a bag, proceed with caution. Protein bars are great convenience foods in a pinch and there are some good options other there – shakes are the same way. However, cleaner is leaner so keep that in mind.
- Walk as much as you can. Slowly.
Walking helps with fat loss, stress management and much more. Just do it. You don’t need to sweat or even get winded, just relax and go for a walk. Most of us spend far too much time sitting on our butts.
- Build muscle
Lift heavy things. If you want your body to be an efficient, fat burning machine that will require MUSCLE. Losing weight is hard on your body and you definitely don’t want to end up looking like a mushy bag of skin! Build a strong base. Lift stuff. I know women can be a little nervous about lifting but it’s SUCH an important part of fat loss and having a tight, fit body.
- Sleep more
I know it’s hard. None of us sleep enough. Find a way. I cut my TV time at night and started working less. Sleep impacts my mood, motivation and cravings in a major way. When you start getting more sleep you’ll find that eating clean gets easier.
- Make stress reduction a priority
Start small. Five minutes a day of quiet time or a bath before bed every night. Identify small changes you can make and do them consistently.
- Sweets are occasional treats – healthy or not
There are lots of recipes out there for paleo cookies and every sweet under the sun using whole foods like almond flour, coconut butter, etc. You can walk down the aisle at almost any grocery store and see shelves of gluten free cookies and brownies – heck, I think even Snickers is marketing a high protein Snickers bar. Do not fall into that trap. Eat foods in their original form. Sweets are treats – they are not daily staples when you are looking for fat loss. Limit them to special occasions.
- Avoid toxins
When you can, buy the highest quality produce available. When it comes to meat and poultry look for local, pasture-raised options. If that is not available, look for certified organic. Look for wild caught, sustainable seafood. Buy organic fruits and vegetables. This is important. Your health is worth it. If you don’t choose the cleanest options you can, you’re introducing hormones, toxins, pesticides and antibiotics into your body.
I know this might be a long, daunting list. It’s OK to start small! I started small. I gradually cleaned up my diet and lifestyle over time. Which of these 10 things seems the most achievable for you? Start there! Spend a month practicing that one item and then move on to another. This is not a race and there is no right or wrong way – only the way that works best for you!
The typical American diet has changed. Drastically. In fact, in wellness circles it’s referred to as “SAD” – the Standard American Diet. Quite fitting, really, when you consider the way we have replaced nutritious, whole foods with processed, chemical-laden convenience foods. If you compared the “Standard American Diet” 150 years ago to that of today it would be like comparing apples to orangutans. Think back on what you ate over the last 24 hours: what percentage of your food came with a label (in a box, bag, can, package, etc)? As our reliance on convenience foods has increased, our overall wellness has plummeted. As a society, we no longer think of food as fuel for our bodies and the cornerstone of our health – but it is!
The Primal philosophy is based on embracing a lifestyle that largely mimics the way our Paleolithic ancestors ate, moved and lived. From a nutrition standpoint, it focuses on the types of foods that were available at that time – not man made frankenfoods but whole foods like vegetables, fruits, meat, nuts and seeds.
When I tell people that I follow a Primal way of eating, their first question after I briefly explain it is “So what can you eat?” as if to imply that my options are seriously limited. They’re not! Here’s a quick glance at what types of foods fall into the “Primal” category and which do not. It’s important to note that I avoid or limit some foods which are in fact Primal but don’t help me reach my fat loss goals. This is meant to be a quick overview, not an exhaustive list.
Primal Green Light Foods
- Meat (ideally grass fed/free range)
- Eggs (ideally highest quality available)
- Vegetables (I limit my selection for optimal fat loss)
- Fruits (I tend to avoid for optimal fat loss)
- Nuts (this does not include peanuts. Peanuts are legumes)
- Fats and Oils (items like EVOO, coconut oil, avocado, ghee)
- Coffee and Tea
Primal Yellow Light Foods – Enjoy on Occasion
- Dairy (Ideally full fat, raw, highest quality available)
- Some alcohol (primarily red wine)
Primal Red Light Foods – Avoid
- Grains and oats
- Beans and legumes
- Processed foods
So what does a day in the life of a Primal eater look like? Pretty delicious, if you ask me! I’ll admit that it took a while to find my groove but I certainly have and I look forward to every meal and don’t spend hours in the kitchen!
Breakfast: Coffee with almond milk and a veggie/turkey frittata
Lunch: Salad from Chipotle (hold the rice and beans) with chicken, pico and guacamole
Snack: Dry roasted almonds
Dinner: Homemade sweet potato chip and ground bison nachos
Dessert: Mocha Gelatin Snacks
Ultimately, following Primal principles is about improving my health but one of my primary goals is fat loss. I make my food choices based on a couple of key factors:
- I eat foods I love. I’ve spent years choking down crap I hate in an attempt to lose or maintain weight. No more. I enjoy every meal. If I don’t like it, I don’t eat it. Food is a wonderful source of pleasure and to adopt a new lifestyle, you have to enjoy what you eat. Take the time to try new things and find foods you love that also help you reach your goals.
- I eat foods that make me feel satisfied. I’ll talk a lot about managing hunger, energy and cravings. This is a practice I learned from Metabolic Effect and it has been one of the most important parts of my fat loss journey. Hunger, energy and cravings are powerful tools – they are a few easily observable ways that your body lets you know whether or not your hormones are in balance. Managing hunger, energy and cravings will not only keep you happy, it helps keep you in fat-burning mode. I continuously tweak my diet to ensure that I never feel deprived and always feel satisfied.
- I eat foods that don’t require hours in the kitchen. Sure, there are tons of Paleo and Primal recipes that look amazing but I know myself and I can’t follow a plan that requires lots of prep time. I keep my meals simple but satisfying.
For people who have grown up on the Standard American Diet I’m sure Primal can look pretty daunting but no one said you have to dive right in. Pick one meal at a time or eliminate one processed food item at a time. There is no right or wrong way to get started, only the way that works best for you!