my crazy theory on weight gain when starting paleo

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created April 28, 2012 at 5:39 AM

hear me out. do you think the minnesota starvation study has anything to do with why people gain weight when going paleo.


basically, they starved these people. but what's interesting to me is the refeeding portion of the study. it seems as though the subjects gained their weight back plus 10% then eventually, they lost weight while keeping their calories the same.

i guess what i am trying to say is, do you think people who go from SAD diet to paleo and aren't losing weight going through some sort of refeeding phase where there micronutrients are being replenished and if they stuck with the diet, without lowering calories, they would lose weight?



on April 29, 2012
at 08:07 AM

@ April - Do you mean - how much time it takes for the weight to go down?

Medium avatar


on April 28, 2012
at 09:05 PM

@VB how much time?



on April 28, 2012
at 11:40 AM

@ Sunny Beaches Some people gain weight (initially) when they go Paleo. Some people do not lose weight (initially) when they switch to Paleo (like me). With time your weight will go down for most people.



on April 28, 2012
at 06:37 AM

But I don't understand the link between paleo and the starvation study. I'm not trying to be snarky, just really trying to understand. @VB how does being fed an SAD diet (which is probably more than adequate in calories) make you gain weight when you switch to paleo? Most people find that eliminating grains and processed carbs, along with adding healthy fats makes them more satisfied because it gives their bodies what they need. The binging at post-feeding from the starvation study is from a rebound effect from calorie restriction.



on April 28, 2012
at 06:28 AM

I kind of agree. It makes perfect sense. This is how Terry Wahls explains obesity. Your body is craving micronutrients on SAD. So after the initial micro-nutrient "filling up" eventually your body will become your ideal weight on Paleo. Great observation! But being Paleo is not about weigh loss. It is about being healthy.

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5 Answers



on May 12, 2012
at 09:28 AM

Bodyweight is dictated primarily by total food energy consumed, rather than micronutrient sufficiency (presuming one isn't blatantly deficient in something metabolically crucial like the B-vitamin complex).

If anything, initial bodyweight increase on Paleo might be attributable to the stress caused by overhauling one's diet. Stress can lead to water retention. Furthermore, it seems perfectly possible that one might be used to eating a crappy 1500 calorie SAD diet based on granola bars and soymilk, and upon switching to a 2500 calorie ground-beef-coconut-oil extravaganza began to pack on some pounds.

While health and weight are correlated in some key ways, they hardly exist on the same linear spectrum. I can undereat on SAD and overeat on paleo.


on April 28, 2012
at 06:09 AM

What? No. I know about this study, and there are very key differences.

The Minnesota Starvation study's participants were given a controlled intake far below what was necessary to maintain a healthy weight. The subjects lost nearly a quarter of their body weight, and they had started at healthy weights. The binging after re-feeding happens because of malnutrition and the body tries to compensate for the period of starvation. They gained weight because of lowered basal metabolic rate because of again, severe restriction below what was required to sustain healthy body weight.

Paleo is not necessarily about dramatic weight loss and it does NOT advocate for severe restriction of calories. It emphasizes adequate nutrition and health.

I'm not exactly sure what you're asking in the last few sentences about micronutrients, though. Clarify?



on May 12, 2012
at 02:07 PM

No, I don't, because I don't think most people adopting a paleo diet have been, in actual fact, starving before adopting a paleo diet.

If I had to guess, although there's probably not one reason, I'd suspect it's most often caused by an initial lack of adequate attention to satiety cues and hunger cues while increasing the consumption of energy-dense foods (i.e. fats), leading to an overall excess intake of energy. There have been some good studies suggesting that people have a preferred volume of food (the preference varying by individual) regardless of its energy density. If you increase the amount of fat you eat, while keeping the volume of what you eat steady, you'll be consuming a LOT more calories.* While "calories in, calories out" is an oversimplification, overall caloric consumption is, ultimately, relevant.

People with a "broken" satiety meter, if they pay attention, will find that it can be "fixed" while eating optimally for them over time. Weight will then trend down.

*The converse, that if you decrease the amount of fat you eat, while keeping the volume steady, you'll be consuming fewer calories, led to the enthusiastic consumption of many low-fat products before the role of fat in satiety for some people was understood.



on May 12, 2012
at 11:07 AM

Why is it assumed that the 'refeeding phase' is about replenishing micronutrients? Seems that it might just be about taking in lots of (excess) calories as a buffer against further starvation. The idea that hunger is (often) a drive for micronutrients seems to get repeated a lot and I can see the appeal (of thinking that you just need to be well-nourished and that hunger is appropriate and helpful) but is there much/any evidence for the idea?

That said, I think I agree with part of your main conclusion: I think a lot of people gaining after a switch to paleo can be explained by the fact that they were consciously calorie restricting or eating very low calorie density diets before switching to paleo and more intuitive non-calorie restricted eating.

I'm not sure if/where it says that the subjects of the study returned to a normal weight without calorie restriction after having regained more weight after ending the study. It sounded to me, more like they get fatter (and less muscular) after refeeding, while still feeling hungry and have to work uncomfortably hard to return to a healthy state.



on May 12, 2012
at 02:23 PM

I've watched it happen in several stray cats that had worms.

I treated the worms, gave then a high quality food, plus raw meat and they chunked up for about a year, and then slowly tapered back down to normal weight once their deficiencies were addressed, and they no longer feared that there wouldn't be enough food.

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