4: The Caveman Diet to Lose Weight

The Caveman Diet to Lose Weight
You will lose weight slowly and naturally by just eating the lean meats and fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, and healthy oils the mainstream Caveman diet advocates. But if you want to actively lose as much weight as possible on the Caveman diet, than you need to restrict your carbs to <50g a day for males, <40g  for females, and exercise. Information on the latter is covered in Section 6: Exercise.

The Caveman Diet to Lose Weight Super Quick Start Guide

No time to mess around with leaning all of the sciency stuff behind weight loss just now? Well then use this handy Super Quick Start Guide to get the ball rolling in 5 minutes!

  1. Sign up for a free online diet journal and calorie counting website like FitDay.com
  2. In your online diet journal you will be able to input your height, weight, and activity level.
  3. Next, put in your goal weight and the length of time you think you need to accomplish this goal. 1-3 pounds loss per week is sufficient–do not try and lose more than this per week through caloric deficit (you will lose more, but through through tweaking the Caveman Diet and exercise). The diet journal will spit out a number–the amount of calories you can eat a day.
  4. Tweak the basic Caveman Diet by lowering your intake of carbs to <50g a day for males, <40g  for females. This primarily means skipping the fruit.
  5. Using your journal, plan your meals based on how many calories you can eat a day and the limited <50g and <40g intake of carbs.
  6. Shop for your food.
  7. Get a hold of a measuring tape and electronic kitchen scale.
  8. Measure your starting physical stats: weight, waist, hips (for females), waist at the navel, chest, neck, bicep, thigh, wrist. Take a photo of yourself, front view, back, and side view.
  9. Eat five to six meals a day based on your caloric needs and carb requirements. Weigh your portions and input this data into your diet journal. Drink a gallon of water a day.
  10. At minimum, exercise three days a week, alternating between aerobic and strength training.
  11. Every seventh day is a free day where you go off the low-carb regime and enjoy some of the things you have been missing.
  12. Measure and log your physical stats and photograph yourself at determined scheduled intervals (once every week or two weeks).

(Measuring your progress, calculating your BMR and caloric deficit is explained in Section 3: Introduction to Weight Loss,  and using FitDay in Section 5: Menu Planning section, so we won’t cover them again.)

Carbohydrate Restriction and Ketosis
The most important element to using the Caveman diet as a weight loss tool is the reduction of carbohydrates.

You must keep your carbs under the prescribed daily limits of <50g for men and <40g for women while keeping a caloric deficit. You will have to watch what vegetables you eat, and you probably won’t be eating much, if any, fruit. This low-carb regime will put your body in a state called ketosis where it will burn fat instead of carbs, the process made famous by Dr. Atkins.

It takes about two days for ketosis to kick in. When you are in ketosis and you go over the carb limit, your body immediately reverts to using carbs as fuel and ketosis stops. It takes two more days to get into ketosis again. This is why FitDay is handy. Test drive foods in FitDay to get a grip on what vegetables are low in carbs and what 40 or 50 grams of carbs is, reducing your chances of slipping up. Carbs add up fast if you eat fruit: 1.5 apples or 1.5 bananas = 50g of carbs. However, 2.5 pounds of cauliflower = 50g of carbs. Cooked vegetables have more carbs than raw, as cooking breaks down insoluble fiber and frees up more carbs. Here’s a short list of low carb vegetables: asparagus, bamboo shoots, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, bitter greens, cucumber, eggplant, lettuce, mushrooms, radishes, salad greens, sauerkraut, spinach, sprouts, tomatoes, turnips, water chestnuts, and zucchini.

You will be eating a lot of lean protein during this period, accounting for approximately 50  t0 70% of your calories.  And this is not the time to worry about “how many grams of protein do I need a day?” type of questions–the important thing is your carb intake.

Just keep track of the carbs and calories you eat with the online diet journal. You can enter individual meals throughout the day or pre-plan and pre-portion all of your meals in advance, all explained in Section 5: Menu Planning. If you reach either 40g or 50g of carbs and still have more meals to go to meet your caloric needs, eat protein. But maxing out on carbs should not be a problem if you eat non-starchy vegetables, and you can eat sizable portions of low-carb vegetables. 1 cup of cooked broccoli, 1 cup of cooked mushrooms, 1.3 cups cooked zucchini, 1.3 cups cooked spinach, 1 cup cooked brussel sprouts, or 2 cups cooked cauliflower are 10g. They’re good-sized portions that will satiate you, versus a small 1/3 cup portion of corn or baked potato that also equals 10g.

Coffee, Tea, Salt, Vinegar, Oil and “Other”
It’s up to you how strict you want to be. There are varying degrees of strictness in the Caveman diet community. Some athletes would never consider using vinegar or even eating tomatoes, and some consume raw meat. Others eat cheese and drink diet sodas. But one thing there is no debate about is grains and starchy vegetables. If you’re cheating with grains you are not even cheating, since you are no longer on the diet.

Our paloe ancestors drank no caffeine, and I think you probably are aware of the adverse effects of caffeine. Going off coffee or tea cold turkey might compound the difficulty of your transition to the low-carb Caveman diet, so either taper off your consumption or try and quit when you’re more comfortable with the diet. We should never address every single un-healthy thing we do at once, a recipe for failure. On the lesser side of the evil coin, caffeine does boost the metabolism and has been shown to aid in weight loss.

But you should try and go cold turkey on the salt.  After a week or two you won’t miss it. You will lose a lot of water-weight when you reduce your salt intake, will feel lighter and less “puffy,” your blood pressure will drop, and you will sleep better.

Good oils and fats are healthy but add calories fast: the calories in two tablespoons of olive oil equals a 100g portion of salmon and a cup of broccoli. There is nothing wrong with healthy fats, but if you are trying to lose fat there is no reason to go out of your way to add more fats to your diet. And if you have a set amount of calories a day to eat, you will feel more satiated with a larger portion of, for instance, salmon, than a smaller portion drizzled in oil. Vinegar and vinegar-based hot sauces are an easy way to add a bit of flavor and variety to your meals with very minimum carb impact.

Eating Schedule
Studies have shown that eating six medium-sized meals a day is better than three large meals. It spreads out your caloric intake and inhibits your body from crashing, feeling deprived, or entering starvation mode. If you take a look at my sample month-long Caveman diet menu I used to lose 15 pounds in 30 days, you can see that I managed to hit six meals only half the time–it is a scheduling pain. Canned fish, protein powders, and pre-cooking in bulk helps reduce the scheduling workload. Be aware canned fish are the lesser of two evils. On one hand, you have a processed product high in sodium and possibly preservatives, and on the other hand you face cheating or going into starvation mode. Use them only when necessary. Better is pre-cooking in bulk, then portioning and storing meals in Tupperware or Ziploc bags.

Flood the System
Drink heaps of water. Like a gallon of water a day. It helps flush the system of toxins and stems off hunger by making you feel full.

Don’t snack, hold out until your next fueling, which would be from 2 to 3 hours apart at six meals a day. Drink a quart of water if you’re hungry, a short term solution to get you to your next meal. People tend to think if they snack “healthy” there are no consequences, but healthy snacks like raisins and nuts add calories and carbs fast. The only snack I would recommend would be a handful of iceburg lettuce, yum. And if you do snack, don’t forget to include it in your dietary journal.

The First Two Days
The first couple of days, when your body is switching over from burning carbs to burning fats (ketosis), you will feel a nagging hunger and cravings for carbs, even though you are getting enough calories. This is sugar withdrawal. Your body has been used to burning carbs as fuel and prefers them. Just know it’s not real hunger–it’s just a hormonal signal from your body trying to trick you into reaching for that baked potato or doughnut! Like a sugar zombie! And you will go through this same situation to varying degrees after your free day (explained below), depending on how hard you hit it.

Unfortunately, that’s not all you will experience. You will feel lethargic, tired, you might suffer from headaches, insomnia, joint pain, constipation, and depression. These are all withdrawal symptoms of getting off the sugars. But it is not a sign that what you are doing is harmful or wrong. This is one of the classic pitfalls of dieting–you feel like crap after two days and convince yourself the program is bad. You have to stick with it, and by day three you are going to start feeling amazing–fleet footed and razor sharp. It’s a wonderful, inspiring feeling. Try starting to start the diet on a Friday so you can take it easy over the weekend.

End of the First Week
If you were very strict with your carb restriction and if you limited your salt intake for the first six days, you might find you lost substantial amounts of weight at the end of your first week, three or more times what would be considered normal. This is primarily water loss from eliminating carbs and salt from your diet and should not be taken as a sign that you will be losing six or eight pounds a week on the Caveman diet. It is very easy to fall into the trap of equating the first week’s water loss with fat loss and quickly estimating that in four weeks you will have lost thirty-two pounds and will be done dieting–three months early! If you fall into this trap, and then, in week three, end up gaining one pound, you will be in for a big fall.

Free Days
Studies have shown that including a free day once a week helps people stay on their diet longer, since they have something to look forward to. You don’t need to worry about what you are eating, but at the same time realize that it will effect your weight loss—it’s not actually “free.” Buttery baked potatoes and  fatty beef ribs are better than pizza and cake, but it is up to you.

After your free day you will see a gain of 5 to 10 pounds, which is mostly water. You will return to your previous weight in about three days, and then continue going down from there—most of the time. You might lose 3 pounds for the first three weeks, and then two weeks in a row you don’t budge, or maybe you even gain back 3 pounds. Don’t get caught up in scale weight, those three pounds are probably muscle, or you plateaued for other reasons. This information I present here works, you just need to stick with it.

If you’re hitting a brick wall, if things are not working, if you’re not seeing any progress physically or mentally, than go back over your diet journal and really see if you have been on target with your calories and your carb levels. Could there be any snacking that you failed to write down? Were you really measuring your portions, or just guessing? Did you skip any exercise sessions? And also, were you going lower than your caloric limit? (which places your body in starvation mode, a reduced metabolic state). This is why you want to leave a paper trail.

The Little Details are Killers
If you have read or been a member of any dieting forum, you will see that people get caught up in a myriad of small details that paralyze them with indecision. Don’t worry about using cider vinegar versus balsamic vinegar, or if you grill your meat instead of roasting it, or if you use an exercise ball to do sit-ups or not, or if you use a stair-stepper instead of an elliptical trainer. This is what you need to worry about: You need to restrict your calories based on your daily caloric needs, restrict your carbs to <50g a day for males, <40g  for females, reduce your consumption of oils, and exercise. Oh, and you need to stick with it. Keep that promise to yourself.

Eating Out
Chances are you will find yourself in a restaurant at some point staring at a menu that doesn’t seem to have a single Caveman-diet approved dish. Most joints will have a chicken Caesar salad or something similar, or you can order a steak and side of low-carb vegetables. I don’t like to call attention to myself by being all anal about the meal, as in “hold the sauce, hold the rice, don’t salt the meat, can I have the fried chicken without the breading?” etc.  I may order my salad dressing on the side or use vinegar and oil, but as for the main, I just push the baked potato around on my plate like a kid might do and will casually remove the breading or sauce myself, maybe mumble something about having had a late breakfast. If you draw attention to yourself, you just ruin everyone else’s meal. And if you start pointing out the negative aspects of their food choices, you deserve that glass of wine in the face.

Ignore Advice from Tubby Yoda
Tubby Yoda can be a woman or a man. They’re out of shape, chubby or fat, and they seem to know everything there is to know about dieting–aside from putting it to use for themselves. They might Jedi-mind-trick you with complex questions about how many grams of pure protein you take in a day, react in horror at your answer, and begin alluding to colon cancer or some other off-topic reference they seem to speak about with authority. Their most common remark “Well, that does not sound too healthy” is only second to “You should find a balance…” These people should find a bridge to jump off of. Don’t listen to them.

That’s it. Continue this week-by-week until you reach your weight loss goal and can start on the regular Caveman diet, which is eating all the lean meats,  fruits, nuts, and non-starchy vegetables you want!

Section 1: Introduction to the Caveman Diet
Section 2: Introduction to Dieting in General
Section 3: Introduction to Weight Loss
Section 4: The Caveman Diet to Lose Weight
Section 5: Menu planning
Section 6: Exercise