Energy Crisis: Why Some People Experience Low Energy on the Paleo Diet

So, you’ve made the leap. You’ve decided to go Paleo. You have your pantry stocked. You’re excited. You’re ready to go. But, less than a week in, you have a problem.

You have no energy.

You’re sure you’re doing this diet properly. So why should you be dragging around like you’ve been drinking NyQuil?

There are actually a few reasons, and they are easily dealt with.

You’re in Transition

You have just made the decision to change your entire way of eating. Even if you’re moving from an unhealthy lifestyle to a healthy one, your entire body is in transition. It takes a lot of energy for your body to adjust the way it processes the food it’s receiving. Insulin levels, acid levels, the digestive process — all of it is going to change.

When you make a change like this, it can take an easy week for you to adjust to the change. Your body is not going to be taking incremental steps but large ones, and it’s going to wear on you. Stick with it, though. It’s going to get better.

The other part of this transition is mental. This is a lifestyle change. Part of it is going to be a change of the mind, and that also can be exhausting. You are going to second guess yourself. You are going to worry about social gatherings, restaurants. Paleo is a fairly forgiving, very relaxed way of eating, but we have been taught that dieting is a stressful situation. You are going to have to work to change your mindset. It’s a lot of work. You’re going to be tired.

Don’t worry. This will pass. Give it a week, then another. If you’re still low on energy, then there’s a different issue will try touching on. But, most likely, you’re merely adjusting to the changes that you’re putting yourself through.

You’re Not Eating Enough Fat

Did I say that right? Believe it or not, I did. I know that I touched on this in my article There are no rules in Paleo. This is not a low fat diet. Throw out what you’ve been taught about healthy eating and dieting over the years. There are fats that are good for you, and you’ve been somewhat misled by which fats those may be. Believe it or not saturated animal fats are much better for you than you realize. If you’re getting your meats and then trimming every once of fat from them as per other diets, you’re throwing away your energy.

The body gets fat to burn from different things, usually things like sugars and carbohydrates such as breads, cereals and pastas. The body breaks these down but cannot store them, so it turns them into fat that it can burn. On Paleo, though, you’re not eating these things. You need the fat — yes, they are healthy fats — to burn for energy instead. If you aren’t taking in those fats, then you’re not fueling your body with the energy it needs.

Stop trimming your steaks. Just enjoy them they way they are. And coconut oil is a great energy pick-me-up.

You Are Not Drinking Enough Water

I’ll confess to this being a problem for me. I need to keep up with my water. Because even if you don’t feel dehydrated, you very well may be, and that’s going to cause an energy crisis.

You should be drinking eight cups of water a day. That’s cups. Not glasses. Not bottles. Cups. That’s not a lot of water. But most of us don’t get that, even though we think we do. Stop thinking of black coffee or tea as “just like water.” They aren’t. All you need to do is find yourself with kidney problems once, and you’ll get off that idea that calorie-free beverages can be considered water.

If you’ve been drinking part of your water as water and part as calorie-free beverages, then you’re not getting enough water. You may feel healthy. You may feel like you’re hydrated. But between the transition to a new dietary lifestyle and only drinking part of your daily requirement of water, you may very well be dehydrating, and that’s putting just enough stress on your body to cause a problem.

I drink my water in bottles. Four 16 oz bottles a day is all it takes to get your water down, and it’s amazingly easy. And I’m never depriving myself of my morning coffee or and afternoon juice to drink all that water. There’s no measuring with bottles and you know you’re getting what you need, because, let’s face it, you ever actually put a full 16 ounces of water into a drinking glass. You might fill it to twelve and then leave half of it on the counter. I know I’m not the only one who does this.

Drink more water. It’s good for you. On the flip side of that coin, though, watch your salt intake. A lot of water but too little salt can also cause fatigue.

You’re Eating Too Many Meal Replacements

Paleo is a diet of food, not shakes. It focuses on whole, non-processed, real food. I have my favorite food bars and I’ve made my share of smoothies, but those have always been snacks to get me to the next meal if I find it’s going to be later than I’d planned. They are not meant to replace meals. If you find you’re going to actually miss a meal, you’re better off running into a grocery store and grabbing a couple of hard-boiled eggs and a banana than go grab a quick food bar. Take stock of how many of these things you’re eating and decide whether or not you’re eating too many. Then get back to real food.

You’re Not Eating Enough Carbs

Say what? Yep, this is a high protein, low-carb diet, but you do still need some of those carbs. In addition to all that meat and those eggs, you need veggies, and you need some Paleo-approved starches in the absence of the sugar and grains your body was accustomed to getting.

Make sure you’re getting plenty of starchy carbs like sweet potatoes, pumpkin, butternut squash, bananas and chestnuts. These are the items that will take the place of breads and rices. A little sweetness like bananas or dates are great, and I even occasionally have a honey stick for a quick energy pick-me-up.

You’re Not Getting Enough Sleep

We are a busy people. Even when we’re not working, we’re busy with something. Very few of us rest the way we’re supposed to. We don’t have set bedtime or set times to rise. We read or watch TV in bed, work on projects until ungodly hours and get up early for other busy things we want to do.

I’m not suggesting you give up things you like doing to stay in bed. I’m a very busy person, and I like it that way. What I’m suggesting is that you learn to schedule your time better. Somethings can be multi-tasked. Some things can’t. Figure it out. But start going to bed at set time and getting up at a set time. Straying from this on occasion isn’t the end of the world. But it can only be on occasion.

Your alarm shouldn’t have to get you up. I’m not going to advocate not setting it, but it shouldn’t HAVE to get you up. If you get the sleep you need and follow your body’s lead, you’ll find that you naturally want to go to bed when you’re at a certain point of tired, and you will naturally wake up where your body has the rest it needs.

Don’t fall prey to being told how many hours you need to sleep. Some of us sleep six or seven hours a night. Some sleep eight. If you are naturally up after six and a half hours of sleep every day, then that’s all your body needs. If you are low on energy or your body needs to conserve for some reason, you are naturally going to start sleeping longer or


Paleo is just like anything else. If you’re not doing it right, you’re going to feel it. Pay attention to your diet and see what you may be missing. Or just wait out that transition. It only takes a few weeks, and it will be over before you know it.

Apple Pear Sauce

Some of the little treats Mom and I like are fruit spreads/sauces. They are so sweet and delicious and can be made perfectly Paleo instead of just “practically paleo.” Just like my Pumpkin Apple Butter, which you can find here, this sauce can be eaten on toast, over (shhhhh….) ice cream, on pancakes (Paleo, of course) or just in a dish. The recipe is simple if slightly time consuming with the prep, but the end game is totally worth it.

2 lbs. Gala apples, peeled and cubed
1 lb. ripe Bartlett pears, peeled and cubed
¼- ½ cup unsweetened Gala apple juice

1. Place apples, pears and juice in large sauce or soup pan.

2. Bring to a quick boil.

3. Cover and turn down to simmer. Check and stir occasionally until fruit is soft.

4. Using a potato masher, mash fruit to your desired consistency. If looking for that fine store-bought consistency, wait until fruit is cool and run it through a food processor in batches.

5. Place in jars or other containers and keep refrigerated. This can be served warm or cold.

6. Enjoy.

What’s really incredible about this sauce is that the pears are what provides the sweetening. There are no added sugars of any kind.

The Problems with the Paleo Diet

Let’s be honest. A “diet,” basically without rules? That’s got to be too good to be true. This is just another one of those scams that sucks you in with promises and then disappoints you in the end. Right?

No, it’s not, but let’s face it. Most things that sound too good to be true are. I will be the first to admit there are some problems with the Paleo diet. I would be less and honest if I didn’t. 

It’s Restrictive

Say what? Didn’t we just go through an entire article on how “not restrictive” this diet was? No rules, remember? 

That’s not entirely true. I said there were a few rules. Check it out. Here’s a handy link so you can go back and see for yourself. 

It is a restrictive diet, just not in the same sense most people view restrictive diets. There are things you aren’t supposed to eat if you’re going to live Paleo. Bread, dairy, sugar, legumes. All of them off limits. 

The restrictions is just one of the reasons I don’t recommend going into Paleo cold turkey. You’re giving up a lot. Once you get going, you won’t miss it all that much, but you still have to get past that “giving it up” point. What do you give up first? What is going to be the hardest?

Picture from Wikipedia Commons

The hardest for me was the dairy. Despite the fact I’m allergic to milk, I love cheese, and I have a serious weakness for ice cream. Cheese is one of things that makes me Paleoish, though I don’t eat anywhere near as much as I used to. And, if I walk into a Starbucks and order a latte or mocha, I get it fat free (I still go whole milk with Frappuccinos, and then I can’t breathe for the next two days). I also find that depression is best medicated with a pint of ice cream. If my misery wants an almond milk flavor I’ll get it, but Ben and Jerry’s is a huge pharmacy, and the almond milk selections are too few.

Get rid of one at a time. Get rid of the easiest one. Legumes? How many beans do you really eat? Or is it breads? Whichever it is, get rid of it first. And after you’ve been a week, maybe two, and you’re comfortable with that decision, get rid of the next easiest thing to give up. 

It’s Time Consuming

One of the complaints I have on a fairly regular basis is that it seems like I’m always cooking. Always. Cooking. And, until I can talk myself into being one of those meal prep people, I just don’t see that changing. 

Picture from Wikipedia Commons

When you eat Paleo, the bulk of your diet is fresh foods. As in, they need to be prepared before you can eat them. When I get up in the morning, I cook breakfast. Sometime around 1 p.m., I cook lunch, and I am often simultaneously cooking my dinner. There is a reason for the two meals together. I go to work at 5 p.m., and I need to take something with me. I don’t seem to be as slammed on my days off — yes, I’m still cooking three meals, but I don’t have to cut my day short to get to work. 

If you love to cook, great! I’m pretty ambivilent. But, once in a while, it will occur to me that I cook a lot. 

One of the benefits of this is that you can season your foods or cook them to YOUR preference. What spices? What herbs? How hot? How rare? The world is your oyster, which I hate and don’t eat, cooked or raw (Seriously, what’s up with that?).

It Can Get Expensive

When I was a young wife, I was often encourage to buy in bulk. What I always heard was, “It’s cheaper in the long run.” I hear the same thing about healthy living (of all kinds. We’re not just talking diet here). “Yes, it’s expensive,” they’ll say. “But you’ll be healthier in the long run, and you won’t have health problems when you’re a senior.” That fact doesn’t put money on the budget for groceries. 

A steak and sweet potato is going to cost more than a box of macaroni and cheese. Trout fillets and baby spinach is going to set you back more than Stouffer’s frozen lasagne, and it’s going to feed fewer people. Any time you choose to eat clean and not go with the processed stuff, it’s going to cost you. I’m not going to lie. One of the biggest benefits I have is that I’m single and not trying to feed a family. The fact is, though, there are families that eat this way. It can be done. 

The cost will change the way you eat. One of the things I have done in the way I set up my breakfasts is that I have two proteins. I have whatever meat (bacon, sausage, left-over chicken) and a secondary protein, which would be my eggs. It stays with me longer and I eat less at my other meals. For those who go the whole five or six small meals route, you’ll probably have better luck with eating less food over the course of the day than those of us who do three squares. 

Yeah, it’s a lot of money, but waking up day-to-day and realizing I’m pain-free makes it priceless. 

Why Am I Telling You This?

I know this all seems contrary to what I’ve talked about in my past articles. There’s a reason I’m doing this, though. 

All of my life people have showed me something good, something I wanted or wanted to do. The offering was there, and all the benefits were being echoed back and forth. 

Then there was the moment of truth. No one told me there was great chasm between me and the prize, and all of hell filled it. And here I had the people who talked me into whatever I was going to get or do handing me a Super Soaker and telling me to go for it. That chasm of hell was always the one thing they left out. 

I’m not going to tell you it won’t be hard. For some, it will be harder than others. There will be those who are fireproof. Some will try and fail and try again. That was me. And there will be some who try and fail and decide it’s just not for them. 

It’s Worth It

If a “diet” with no rules sounds too good to be true, rest assured, it is not. I’m letting you know know that you can see it on the other side of this little valley full of sacrifice and inconvenience, and all you have to do is figure out the best way through it. 

Here’s your Super Soaker. 

There Are No Stinkin’ Rules…okay, there’s a few.

The question I’ve been seeing a lot is “What are the Paleo diet rules?” I think it’s a valid question. After all, doesn’t every diet have rules? Aren’t there things you are NOT supposed to eat if you follow a paleo diet?

Well, yes. That’s the short answer. Even with its restriction, Paleo is not very restrictive, and particularly not the way I do it because I am, after all, just “practically Paleo.”

Yes, Paleo has some restrictions, but really, they only set the parameters so you know what it is. After that, there is really not much in the way of rules when it comes to the Paleo lifestyle.

The Rules

Paleo is grain, dairy and sugar free.

There. That’s it. Those are the rules, and even those can be bent to a certain degree.

This is not a “gluten-free” diet, although, just by virtue of the fact you aren’t eating grains you are gluten-free. No, this is grain-free. So, those non-glutenous grains that people eat instead are no-nos. This is hard for us. We, as a pretty agrarian society, eat a lot of bread. We eat a lot of rice. We think corn is a vegetable. You want to see what I’m talking about? Walk into any restaurant and try to order something that does not have grain. It’s not easy. Everything has bread. The salad has croutons. The side dishes are corn. Every breakfast comes with muffins, toast or pancakes. Dinner meats sit on beds of rice pilaf. We use these things as fillers to keep us from getting hungry too soon. It’s everywhere. And by grains, I’m including pseudo and ancient grains like amaranth and quinoa.

Legumes. Say what? Yep. No beans. No peanuts. No lentils. No chickpeas. No soy. There are a few things we call legumes that are okay. Peas. Nuts other than peanuts. It has to do with phytic acid. It’s not that they have it. Other foods permitted by Paleo have phytic acid. In this case, though it has more to do with how the phytic acid in legumes affect the body. That’s why some legumes (sugar snap peas, nut, green beans) are allowed, but most are not.

Dairy is out. Same restaurants. How many cream sauces or gravies are there? Think about how much food we coat in cheese. How much is swimming in butter (We’ll be talking about butter.)? Coffee comes with a side of cream whether you use it or not. We are not a diary-free society. We have even found ways around lactose intolerance. I’m not one of those people who think milk is bad (I’m allergic to it, but that’s totally beside the point), it’s just not Paleo.

If you thought we used a lot of grain and dairy, you haven’t yet considered how much sugar we, as a society, use. I’m talking anything processed — sugar, brown sugar, powdered sugar, corn syrup — and that includes artificial sweeteners. The best rule of thumb is this: If it’s processed, don’t use it. That doesn’t leave much. Honey. Maple Syrup (The real stuff. Don’t be thinking Aunt Jemimah and Log Cabin). Bananas are a great sweetener.

What’s Left?

What does that leave? Everything else, and that’s a lot. Any meat. Yep, any. Fish, bird, pig, cow, sheep, rabbit, deer, bear, crustacean. I’m not kidding. If it has meat that you can eat, it’s fair game. Is it lean? Eat it. Fatty? Have a ball. Organ rather than muscle meat? Yep, it’a all good.

Then there are vegetables. All of them. Real veggies, I mean (Corn is not a vegetable. See the grain rule). Squash, leafy greens, sweet potatoes, peppers. They’re all good.

Then there are fruits. Yep. Eat them up. Like berries? Have them. Peaches? Go for it. Like munching apples? Have at it.

Eggs are Paleo. Not egg whites. The whole egg. Stop separating them and throwing away the yolks. This is good food!

Nuts. This is one of those things that breaks the legume rule. Nuts are good for you. They make a great snack, and almond flour and almond milk are your friends.

Chocolate. Do I have your attention? Chocolate is good for you, but it’s got to be specific. Good dark chocolate. Not semi-sweet. Dark. The darker the better. I try never to go below 70% cocoa, but I have had chocolate chips that are only 60% cocoa. I tend to hang out around 90% cocoa.

When Do You Eat?

Another short answer. You eat when you’re hungry. Do you like breakfast at 10 a.m. Have it then. Are you hungry two hours later? Great! Eat! Starving? Eat a lot. Not so hungry? Don’t eat so much. The rule here is that you eat when you’re hungry, and you stop eating when you’re full. There is no trying to stuff down a meal or snack when you don’t feel like eating because you have a plan to stick with. There is no starving between meals because it’s not time to eat yet.

People who know me know I like to eat big breakfasts. Not big, HUGE. I may not eat again until 1:30 p.m. or 2 p.m. That’s okay. It’s just how I do things. But I’ve had days when I’ve gotten up and decided I just wasn’t hungry. I munched down a hard-boiled egg and a banana and went on my merry way. How do I quantify that? How do I keep up with my calories? I don’t. There is no measuring in Paleo unless you’re following a recipe, and there is no counting calories. There is only eating when you’re hungry and not eating when you’re not.

Cheat days? I don’t have them. I eat my Paleo meals and go about my life. Party at work? They’re serving cake? Have a piece. No. Seriously. Have a piece of cake. You haven’t cheated. Don’t forget, this isn’t a diet. When you’ve enjoyed your cake, go back to your regular Paleo lifestyle. There is complete freedom here.

Organically Speaking…

There is a lot of talk about where our food comes from. Should we only be eating organic food? What about GMOs? What if I don’t have a Sprouts or Whole Foods near me?

I shop at Walmart.

My life is topsy-turvy crazy. I have been homeless. I have lived in a hotel. I have worked mostly entry level jobs, and, when I have a decent paycheck, my bills take all my money. I can’t afford organic. I can’t afford Whole Foods. But I can afford Walmart. And with Paleo becoming more and more mainstream, even places like Walmart are carrying Paleo-friendly foods. The fact is, though, if you’re eating just food and not a lot of processing, you can get your food pretty much anywhere.

I may one day be able to shop organic at Whole Foods. The fact I can’t now, though, doesn’t stop me from eating Paleo.

A little bit at a time.

Don’t go home and throw away all the food in your cabinets. Like anything else, you have to ease into this. Some manage it faster than others. As you run out of something, replace the food with good, clean foods and just move forward. There’s no plan. There’s no rules…well, almost no rules.

Just live.