Is a Paleo Diet the BEST Way to Lose Weight for PCOS?
I am going to shatter your hopes and dreams today.
You see…today I was cruising around my favorite place (besides my blog) in the internet world: Pinterest!
As I scrolled, there seemed to be a reoccurring theme being promoted as the healthiest choice for women with PCOS: Paleo!
There were loads of Paleo articles and even more “Paleo-Friendly” recipes. There were lots of cheat sheets and “eat this-not that” infographics.
But…is Paleo truly the answer for PCOS?
That is the question Kristie had for me this week:
“Hi Amber. My story is similar to the other Cysters. I have a no dairy, no sugar, no grains diet that I follow religiously. I have lot 10 pounds but have not been able to lose more. I take Metformin 1000 mg daily. The most frustrating part is seeing other women lose weight so much quicker and easier while I work so hard to just stay the same or even gain weight. My question is ‘is this the way I need to keep eating or is there something better’? I see the Paleo Diet is recommended for PCOS. Would this diet help me lose the weight?”
Kristie is not the only one confused about all the diet recommendations floating around for us Cysters.
So, let’s start wading through all this diet drama.
Let’s talk about the Paleo Diet today.
Can I Lose Weight eating Paleo for my PCOS? YES!
Is a Paleo Diet the BEST Way for me to Lose Weight for PCOS? Not so much!
What is a Paleo Diet?
The Paleo Diet is based on what our ancestors supposedly ate…before all the processed food and preservatives used in the current Standard American Diet. It focuses on high nutrient dense food such as veggies, fruits, meats, fish, certain fats, nuts, and seeds. It also removes grains (breads, pastas, rice), beans, soy, dairy, certain vegetable oils, and refined sugar from your diet.
To get started eating Paleo…
- Eat a variety of meats, vegetables, fruits, nuts, eggs, and healthy fats.
- Skip the processed food. If it comes in a box, most likely you shouldn’t eat it.
- Skip the added sugars. No cookies, cakes, soda, etc.
- Skip the grains and beans such as soy, rice, corn, wheat, pasta, breads, cereals, white potatoes, and beans.
- Skip the processed oils such as canola, corn, soybean, peanut, etc.
- Eat dairy only if it comes from grass-fed cows and you digest it well.
- Followers of a Paleo diet also promote many healthy lifestyle behaviors such as regular exercise, rest, full night’s sleep, drinking lots of water, and cutting down on caffeine and alcohol intake.
Sounds pretty structured…I like structure…but the real question:
Can you Lose Weight on a Paleo Diet?
Simple answer: YES!
It is always a good idea to drop the processed food in favor of whole foods rich in nutrients and fiber. By cutting out all the junk foods that make up the typical American diets, you will most likely notice some big changes on the scale.
This can help you lose weight and just by dropping your weight 5-10% you may notice these same improvements in your PCOS.
It may or help balance your insulin which in turn can curb your weight gain but it doesn’t really address the importance of low glycemic foods which are needed to control your insulin levels.
You will naturally consume less calories without feeling like you are depriving yourself. Typical diets focus on cutting calories but you most often feel hungry throughout the day.
With the Paleo diet, you are eating a LOT of high nutrient dense foods that are also lower in calories leading to some serious pound shedding going on.
Overall, the Paleo diet may be a good option for short term weight loss in women with PCOS…but that’s where it ends.
Is Paleo a Long-Term Solution for PCOS Weight Loss?
While it does a have a lot of good principles for a healthy diet, it is based on faulty logic.
First, there is no strong research evidence supporting our Paleolithic hunter-gatherers had ultimate health.
Seconds, I have THREE main concerns when it comes to a Paleo Diet for PCOS:
- Cuts out all Grains.
- Cuts out all Legumes.
- Promotes Animal Protein.
When it comes to Grains…
Why do they recommend cutting out all grains?
The grains we typically consume today compared to our ancestors are heavily processed. Most grain products are made of refined grains which don’t use the entire grain.
It is these refined grains that increase inflammation, mess with your blood sugar control, and interfere with your insulin.
However, when you look at the evidence of 100% whole grains, you see the opposite. They actually decrease inflammation, improve blood sugar/insulin control, and decrease the risk for heart disease.
Avoiding grains does not all of a sudden make a diet healthy. There really is NO evidence that excluding grains improves your overall health unless you have been diagnosed with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.
Grains, when combined with a full plant based diet, actually will improve your insulin resistance, help with weight loss, and may even help decrease your other PCOS symptoms.
When you consume grains, focus on 100% whole grains. Skip anything that does not have whole grain as the main ingredient. Wheat, even 100% whole wheat, can be heavily manipulated and a GMO. A good rule of thumb is to focus on other grains.
Brown rice, oats, quinoa, etc. are all awesome sources of vitamins, minerals, and fiber that your body needs to thrive.
When it comes to Legumes…
The leaders of the Paleo diet ban legumes or beans based on what they say are anti-nutrients in the beans.
On a surface level, that may appear to ring true, but if you dig into the research about beans, you will see a whole other story.
You may hear the term “lectins” when someone is talking about “anti-nutrients” found in beans. Cooking eliminates most anti-nutrients and recent research indicates they may actually be healthy for us.
Legumes are high in fiber, antioxidants, protein, B vitamins, iron, magnesium, copper, and zinc. They have been shown to decrease heart disease, diabetes, and aid in weight loss.
Please don’t cut out legumes from your diet, especially if you are struggling with weight gain related to PCOS.
When it comes to Animal Protein…
The Paleo diet promotes a dramatic increase in animal based protein. The research has shown conclusively how the more you increase animal protein, the higher your death by any cause increases. A diet high in animal protein like meat and eggs increases your risk of heart disease, cancer, and kidney disease.
One landmark study was conducted on high-protein, low-carb diets and how they affect the flow of blood through your coronary arteries. This looks at your risk of heart disease and stroke. The findings showed significant changes. There was an decrease of 40% in the blood vessels. Those on a whole foods vegetable based diet showed the opposite: a clearing away of any blockages and increased blood flow.
I don’t want to get in the animal based vs. vegan debate. I don’t prescribe to either because of the overwhelming evidence that both can be detrimental to your health.
However, the research supports a whole food plant based diet and leading health organizations such as Kaiser Permanente, the World Health Organization, and even the UN are adopting this diet to pave the way to a healthier YOU.
You don’t see this with any of these “fad” diets like Paleo or Keto. They just don’t have the research to support their claims.
Short story is: Your body will NOT thrive if you base your meals around animal products.
Related to our insulin resistance…
Researchers have found for every 5% increase in the amount of calories you consume of animal based products, your risk of developing diabetes increases 30%. How can a high-protein diet be healthy for insulin based issues if your risk of it increases the higher in intake is?
A side note: The 2007 Nurses’ Health Study (largest and longest running women’s health study in the world) showed that women who ate less meat and more vegetables improved their fertility for cases where there were ovulatory problems (which accounts for most of those with PCOS related infertility).
This is anecdotal, but in my own coaching and training practice, the women who eat LESS meat instead of more, like in the Paleo Diet, actually see greater weight loss, get pregnant, and have more energy than their high-protein eating counterparts.
The Paleo Verdict
There is so much more I could say on this topic.
Overall, the Paleo diet offers a lot of benefits, especially for us cysters looking to lose weight.
It does a great job of cutting out the garbage that makes up the standard American diet such as processed foods, sweets, baked goods, and dairy.
Because it promotes whole food with lots of vegetables, fruit, nuts, and seeds, it can have huge health benefits.
Where it comes up short is in all the animal protein it recommends as well as eliminating grains and beans completely from your diet.
By following this, you may notice improvement in your PCOS symptoms, get pregnant, and even lose weight, but long term, you are putting your health at risk. The risks outweigh the benefits of this diet.
It’s not worth it to increase your chances of diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and kidney failure.
I talk more about a high-protein diet in this article (including how to get more energy with your food).
What should you eat?
Instead, take the principles you have learned from the Paleo diet and create a healthier PCOS-Friendly lifestyle.
Eat a nutrient rich diet full of whole, plant based food such as whole grains, vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, and beans.
Cut out anything processed such as soda, cookies, sugar, and white flour products like bread and pasta.
If it isn’t similar to how you would find it in nature, don’t eat it.
Drink lots of water and get plenty of exercise (here’s how I exercise).
For more details, grab my PCOS diet cheat sheet free by clicking here.
Fleming RM. The effect of high-protein diets on coronary blood flow. Angiology 2000; 51(10): 817-26.
Sluijs I, Beulens JWJ, Van Der A DL, et al. Dietary intake of total animal and vegetable protein and risk of type 2 diabetes in the European prospective investigation into cancer and nutrition (EPIC)-NL study. Diabetes Care 2010; 33: 43-48.