Home meals Weight loss on the paleo diet – a guide to portion control

Weight loss on the paleo diet – a guide to portion control


Is there a need to control portions on the paleo diet? 

There are a number of ways paleo eating is taught with respect to weight loss, and most are successful, but what if you aren’t getting the fat loss you would like?

How paleo for weight loss is taught:

1. Eat clean (i.e. paleo food) and weight loss will take care of itself

2. Eat low carb paleo and weight loss will care for itself – i.e. eat along the carbohydrate curve proposed by Mark Sisson, essentially low carb paleo

3. Follow some sort of guideline for portions: E.g. Robb Wolf’s Guidelines

Why I think more accurate guidelines are needed for some if they want to lose weight

I’ve worked with a lot of people now, both in consultations, and through answering questions on Robb Wolf’s Forum (as a forum moderator) and see that while these guidelines work for many – some do not get desired results. Why is this? Well weight loss is complicated and there are so many factors at play, individual metabolic differences, appetite control mechanisms, gut bacteria, and many more factors.

However what I do see are a number of people who have come to paleo with really disregulated appetite sensors from years of overeating, so despite eating well, do not eat little enough or in a way that controls appetite, nor have they learnt to listen to their body signals for satiety and hunger. The plan I propose has come from years of teaching Zone Diet principles and teaching portion control based on your body size and exercise level.

View this guide as a place to start. Each person is individual. Try this for a few weeks, and then experiment with portions and balance of foods to figure out what makes you feel best. Most people go through an adjustment period when they change diets, so you may feel tired, out of sorts, and get headaches while you adjust. This should not take longer than 3 weeks.

How often should you eat?

I recommend 3 meals a day, if you have a heavy physical work schedule or training – add an extra meal. You should not need to snack – meals should provide 4 – 6 hours of satiety. Learn to eat and get used to feeling somewhat – but not too hungry before you eat again. If you are a grazer or constant eater, actually getting hungry before your next meal might be a new feeling.

What should your meal look like?

For maximum satiety and blood sugar regulation – I recommend all your meals have each food group and follow the following outline for portion control. That is – EVERY meal has a portion of protein, some carbs and some fat. Do not ever eat carbohydrates alone, or fat alone until you have adjusted to the satiety of balanced meals.

Here is picture of what I mean:

meal templateProtein – amount needed is approx 1.5 – 2 grams per kilo ideal body weight per day. For most people following this rule: 1 – 2 palms of protein food (more than 1 palm if you exercise more or are a heavier build) per meal just happens to work out very closely to this. (If you want to be more precise – use this as a guideline: Protein amounts in seafood, meat and dairy) I recommend ‘leanish’ protein as I’ve sometimes noticed excess fat in protein foods can keep fat cells topped up rather than allowing them to empty. Make one meal a day a seafood meal (for omega 3 and minerals). Eggs, 2 – 3 per meal for most females, 3 – 5 for males.

Eat protein sources of omega 3

Omega 3 enhances fat loss – use seafood at one meal every day – fish, and shellfish, crustaceans, etc. The bonus is you get a lot of minerals in seafood as well, many of these are low in land based animals, e.g zinc, selenium, iodine, and trace minerals.

Carbohydrate: for adequate carbohydrate – at around 100 grams per day, this is the amount that most people need for physiological functions. My observation is that most people feel better on a moderate low carb diet versus very low carb.  If you are doing high intensity exercise like CrossFit or Boot camp, you may need more -150 – 200 grams a day. A fist of starch at each meal and one post workout usually supplies enough. I’ve seen a number of CrossFitters who are trying to lose weight on a low carb paleo diet, and suffer fatigue, poor sleep and no weight loss. (For a more accurate guide to carb amounts use this: Paleo diet carb list and carb counter.)

For most people – add a 1/2 to one fist of starch (or occassionally fruit instead) to each meal, plus unlimited non starch vegetables

What is your carbohydrate tolerance?

Lean, pear shaped women, or slightly overweight people doing a lot of exercise usually tolerate more carbohydrates than sedentary, apple-shaped and insulin resistant folks. Leaner men on high exercise volumes tolerate more, up to 400 grams a day.

The amount needed if you are exercising and insulin sensitive is from 2 – 6 grams/kg/day. Play around with this and see what makes you feel best.

Those who are insulin resistant, prediabetic, who tend to store fat in the abdomen, who do little or low intensity exercise may find a lower carb and higher fat diet works better.

Non starch vegetables: Eat a lot for nutrient content, prebiotic fibre and polyphenols. At least one cup per meal in addition to starch. Try to get two cups per day from each of the sulphur group, green vegetables, and  bright colours. Also add some sea vegetables for minerals.

Fruit: Fruit contains both glucose and fructose. Fructose is useful for topping up liver glycogen after exercise. Have 1 – 3 serves a day, primarily highly coloured fruit like berries.

Vegetables and fruit have a lot of fibre that encourages the growth of good gut bacteria, and your health.

What about fat? Eat about a thumb size at each meal. 2 – 3 teaspoons of added oil or fat, if nuts about 2 – 3 tablespoons, if avocado; 1/4 to 1/2. Make sure you eat low omega 6 fats and foods high in omega 3 (Use this as a guide: Omega 3 and 6 in fats, oils, meats and seafood) If you are lean and need the extra fuel – don’t be afraid to add more healthy fats to your meals. If you need to lose fat, eat mainly leaner cuts of meat and add only a small amount of fat to meals.

(Note: Some people will thrive on a moderate protein, high fat, low carbohydrate diet, however I recommend you try this method first. Folks who may do better on high fat, low carb, moderate protein are those who are insulin resistant or have type 2 diabetes.)

Food reactions:

When changing your diet you might have a sudden increase in some foods and develop problems, you may have been unaware that these foods impacted your health e.g. foods high in histamines or FODMAPS


Try not to snack, in fact don’t snack – if your meals are well balanced, and your plate is full as per the template, your meals should be satisfying and high in nutrients. A meal should last 4 – 6 hours, so snacking should be unnecessary.

Other food recommendations:

Eat organ meats for their high nutrient value once a week (liver, kidneys etc)

Make bone broth and drink a small cup most days, or use bony meats like ox tail and lamb necks in slow cooked casseroles. These are rich in collagen and glucosamine, good for joints and gut.

Probiotic foods: kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut etc. for healthy gut bacteria


Get sun at midday to keep vitamin D levels high. In the winter you may need to supplement, 2000iu per day is safe amount. Vitamin D is needed for immunity, insulin sensitivity, fat loss and strength.

Magnesium is useful for helping sleep improve. The more exercise you do the higher your magnesium requirement.

I also recommend a good quality multivitamin initially as it can help weight loss and reduce cravings linked to nutrient deficiencies.

Diet drinks, Alcohol and Caffeine

Diet drinks

People assume because diet drinks are calorie free they wont contribute to weight gain. Research is showing that det drinks are linked with a number of problems. They increase your risk of type 2 diabetes and being overweight.


Alcohol interferes with sleep quality.

Alcohol decreases self-control and increases impulsiveness. So you go out for a meal, decide to eat well, and a couple of glasses later:  I’ll eat the triple scoop ice-cream sundae, to hell with it – I’ve been good all week.

Alcohol is fuel. Once detoxified by your liver it goes into the cells where it is converted into ATP (the energy for your cells). (Alcohol metabolism) If cells have all the energy they need that ice-cream sundae is shunted into your fat cells.

My recommendation – cut down on alcohol, save it for social nights and when you do drink – drink a small amount (1 – 2 glasses), earlier in the evening, so it is less likely to interfere with sleep, OR cut alcohol out for a few weeks to reduce reliance on it. (If you can’t do this – you have an alcohol problem in my opinion)


People’s responses to caffeine vary, however for some even one cup a day can affect sleep. If sleep does not improve with dietary changes I recommend removing all caffeine for a trial of 2 – 3 weeks.

Caffeine free coffee can increase PYY the satiety hormone so help with appetite control



Many people vastly underestimate the importance of sleep for weight loss and performance. Lack of sleep increases insulin resistance, increases hunger hormones, gives poorer appetite controlincreases muscle loss and decreases fat loss. When college athletes slept more – their performances; both strength and fitness improved in this study. I recommend every one gets 8 – 9 hours sleep per night.


Both physical (overtraining, illness, inflammation, lack of sleep) and psychological (work, life, money, relationship) stresses play havoc on your body. Do your best to minimise these and destress in a way that works for you – nature walks, meditation etc.

So – those are the basics. Try this template out for a few weeks, if you perform, feel, and look your best – you’ve got it right for you. If not experiment. Some people do well with intermittent fasting for example.



  1. This is so very good. Everything I would have said, except that I’m still a bit nervous about mercury (and other heavy metals) in fish and prefer to use fish oil supplements, keeping actual fish consumption to about twice a week. What do you think about that? Maybe I’m just paranoid?

  2. Excellent info. My Husband was diag. borderline diabetic ~ 6 weeks ago,+ some scary low HDL, w/ his LDL of the small dense also scary type. High triglycerides too. (Also, ~ 70 lbs. to lose). Though we had been easing into Paleo before this diagnosis, he then chose very low carb (in ketosis) that otherwise, is strict Paleo. It took him 4 weeks to turn the keto “carb flu” corner, & even during that crappy time, he made himself exercise despite little time, very high stress job. He’s feeling much better now, & the weight is coming off. I know that some people say that keto/ very low carb isn’t necessary in his situation & can hamper the energy to exercise. For him, keto was the only way in the past that he had ever been able to lose weight, & to do so without feeling hungry makes it all doable. We know that hydration/ keeping electrolytes up in keto is of critical importance. Any other thoughts about this? I know that there are Many people out there with type 2 diabetes & scary lab results Thanks Julianne!

    • I’d suggest you watch his cholesterol, in some people LDL can go up quite high, and saturated fat may need to be limited. Paul Jaminet talks about this in his blog posts on very low carb diets. Take vit C and supplements as per Perfect Health diet:
      In studies done using the paleo diet to treat type 2 diabetes, a standard paleo diet was very successful, without going very low carb.
      Also some with diabetes have reversed it by using a very low calorie diet for a few weeks.
      I’ll post more links soon and might do a blog post. I have meetings now.

      • Julianne, I am SO greatful for your reply. Great info. In fact, I had just ordered the Jaminet’s book on Amazon. Thanks again. I Love your site!

  3. Hi Julianne,

    Great advice very well explained thank you! I will adhere to your advice above as I’m currently 27% bodyfat and would like to reduce this, I’ll will let you know how it goes after the first few weeks.

    Where you say ‘Eggs, 2 – 3 per meal for most females’ does this substitute both the protein and fat portion? And would I be safe to have 2 for my first meal every day? We have chickens that lay about 2 a day so it would be convenient to eat these everyday but won’t consume as many if this is something I shouldn’t do so often for fat loss and health.

    Thanks 🙂

  4. Julianne, I know that you are very busy. I had commented about my borderline diabetic…, low HDL, high small particle LDL Husband who needs to lose a lot of weight, & I’m So worried. The other posters received a response from you. Please, when you get a chance, would you read my original post & share your thoughts? Thank you SO much!

  5. Julianne

    I have just discovered your posts and I am enjoying the read…thanks heaps. After many years of low carb my gut [instincts] told me to re-feed on the starchy carbs about the same time I started reading about it on different blogs. I am now re-feeding with fruit and adjusting my fat intake to ‘to taste’ rather than ‘to fill the gap left by no carbs’.

    To be pedantic I googled “diet” and About 153,000,000 results (0.24 seconds) came up but not one definition and of course I had to delve further because the original meaning is so far from common sense and is lost to the altar of weight loss ‘diets’.

    ~ Diet: the kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats ~ or from Old French diete, from Latin diaeta, from Greek diaita mode of living, from diaitan to direct one’s own life…I have listened to the experts and allowed them authority over ‘my mode of living and to direct my life’……..shame on me.

    Listening to ones body is something we must all remember, after all we did it when we were babies and we must look to them to teach us what we’ve lost…be fearless and don’t have an ‘alarm’ to tell you to eat, eat when hungry, don’t eat when we’re not, ask for more it you want more, if it tastes good eat it, don’t eat it if it tastes ‘not good’, take little bites, share with your friend, take time to eat, play with it and leave some on your plate…or face or table or floor or the person trying to force feed you….LOL…I know I know….dream on.

    I like the visual explanation of portion control plate because calories and blocks and points and micro and macro nutrients are starting to get old…fast. As you’ve mentioned the hand has it….

    I do like and use Nature’s Measure best of all because that is what I take to the table wherever that table, or however up-sized that plate, may be. To be pedantic again I would like the measurement of the plate to be included in the explanation as well because I am sure you have seen the multitude of dinner plate sizes out there in consumer land. Again, to listen the the hand I measure one hand span and the food has to fit within that circle and I’ve also measured my two cupped hands….an empty stomach is the size of a fist.

    When we were running around naked whatever we had in our hands was all we could take back to a safe place away from predators or greedy tribesmen…..well that’s as viable as any other theory…isn’t it.

  6. Hi, I have followed Zone principles (on and off I confess for about 10 years) and it works very well for me. Always felt good and lost weight consistently with it. The reasons I go off the boil are varied (kick me, because I know it works).
    Earlier this year, I was heavy again (put on weight rapidly with carbs) and a friend talked about Paleo so I did some reading (Wolf and Kresser) as well as lots on the web. My husband and I embraced it early January and to date I have lost 10kg but this actually has been fairly stalled over the last month (around 20 to go). I have (finally) added some exercise over the last couple of weeks but still stuck on scales. So I read with interest, the discussions about LC for women and wonder if this could be me. My sleep is not so sound and I think my mood is not great. I estimate my carb intake to be around 50-70g, I always ate 10 -11 blocks of each macronutirent on the Zone. I want to just go back on the Zone (this time without grains – I still eat probiotic yoghurt and, (as a dressing really,) small amounts of parmesan and feta cheese occasionally).
    But I am confused. If you are promoting Zone principles/portions, based on paleo foods, where did the 2 snacks go? I felt these were an integral part of my day in terms of feeling level – or in the zone I guess.

    • Strictly speaking you should have 2 snacks, but i usually have 1. I find with slightly bigger meals, I dont get hungry for 5 hours and the snacks aren’t needed. Do what works for you. Zone diet meals with paleo food choices work for me for satiety and keeping my weight down.

Leave a Reply