My journey toward Paleo
Four years ago I gained weight, and I mean rapidly. The scale skyrocketed from my already overweight 160 up to 198 in a matter of weeks. I was making terrible food choices and overeating – always a bad combination. When the scale hit 198 I was miserable and desperate, but I really wasn’t sure what to do about it. I tried all different types of dieting and calorie restriction, but I couldn’t find anything I would stick to, and after a few days I’d be right back into my destructive habits. My doctor was threatening me with blood pressure medication, said I needed to eat better and start exercising.
I did what we all do – bought a gym membership I used five times before stopping and bought a bunch of diet cookbooks that wound up collecting dust on top of my refrigerator. I tried those pre-packaged frozen meals, but one just wasn’t satisfying enough so I’d end up on a junk food bender anyway. Nothing I tried seemed to make a difference (though, I’ll admit, I really wasn’t trying all that hard, I wanted a quick fix and wasn’t getting it).
I ended up having some pretty big stressors in my life – job, money, kids, relationships, you name it – and completely lost my appetite. I would sometimes go days without eating because eating made me sick. The weight started to come off and I got all the way down to about 155. As the stressors resolved and I was able to return to a somewhat “normal” life, I bet you can guess what happened: the weight started to come back. Now, while I knew I had lost the weight in probably the most unhealthy way imaginable, I certainly didn’t want to go back to where I came from. (Note: I absolutely DO NOT endorse starvation as a weight loss tactic, not even as a springboard. What I did, albeit unintentional, was very dangerous.)
I had a friend who was doing a boot camp style fitness program, and she looked incredible. She lost a lot of weight, her muscles were toned, and I thought, I want that. So the week between Christmas and New Years I signed up. (In case you were wondering, yes, I deliberately avoided making this a New Years’ Resolution. I don’t believe in them. I think positive changes last longer when you do them with proper motivation as opposed to a passive “clean slate” approach.)
Even though the boot camp wasn’t as horrible as I expected it to be, it was still pretty darned tough! It was expensive as all get-out, so I told myself if I was going to spend this much money, I was going to do it completely. I followed their meal plans. I gave 110% for the hour every day I was there. I did not cheat. Five and a half months later I was down to a size 6 and just over 140 pounds.
I could have stopped there. But I didn’t. I was addicted. I continued following their rigorous meal plan and went to the gym for an hour or more every single day without fail. I was ripped and lean. I even hired a personal trainer to push me further when I was at the gym. I considered signing up for CrossFit classes (but finances changed and wouldn’t allow for it). I was tracking every morsel that went into my mouth, and wearing a heart rate monitor when I exercised to make sure I was burning more than I was eating to keep that calorie deficit. Some people told me I was “too skinny,” and one of my friends even went so far as to say I looked like I was on meth. I was a size 4, 125 pounds, and 18% body fat.
Well, you can’t keep up this pace forever. When I met the love of my life I slowed down my training schedule and started slipping back into some of my old eating habits. Before I knew it I wasn’t going to the gym at all, and I had put about fifteen pounds back on. At the same time, my love was allergic to wheat, so I was looking for all sorts of gluten free recipes so I could cook him treats. Not too long after I figured out I had a dairy intolerance (and several other food allergies), which made “traditional” cooking a little challenging.
I had never heard of Paleo, but when I was searching for wheat-free, dairy-free recipes, that’s exactly what popped up! Sites like Stupid Easy Paleo and PaleOMG were two of my favorites. I also came across Paleo Grubs, which had some great recipes, too. I follow many Paleo bloggers on Instagram. The point is, there is a plethora of resources out there for healthy cooking once you define what “healthy” means to you. To me, healthy and Paleo are synonymous.
To make a very long story a little shorter, I’ll suffice it to say that I fell in love with Paleo recipes. I loved all the veggies (which I didn’t do a good job of incorporating on my own). I read a lot about why grains and legumes are eliminated on a Paleo diet, and what foods are acceptable as an occasional “cheat.” Initially I did Paleo “wrong,” because my diet was more treats and meats fried in coconut oil than vegetables and fruits as it is intended (though there is a lot of focus on meat and eggs as well). I gained a couple of pounds and felt frustrated, but I knew it worked for many people so I plugged on. I read a bunch of articles on Mark’s Daily Apple, and discovered the Whole 30 – which terrified me, but I knew I would want to do it eventually.
I was eating Paleo about 80% of the time, but I couldn’t quite get to 100% because when I did, I was suffering from Carb Flu. Steph over at Stupid Easy Paleo helped me figure out what it was and how to fix it. A few tweaks to my diet, and I was in good shape. Please note here (and I learned this the hard way): just because something is made with Paleo friendly ingredients, it does NOT mean you can eat it with abandon and still be healthy. Desserts are still treats. Nuts and seeds are treats. Veggies and meats? Knock yourself out. I gradually transitioned to a diet that was pretty darned close to Whole 30. And when I say close, I mean close. I read It Starts with Food and realized my only violations were that I was still using cooking spray, liquid smoke and would have an occasional glass of wine or port. At that point, I was no longer tracking calories because you don’t need to when you’re doing Paleo the “right” way. I exercised regularly, even if it was just 30 minutes of yoga in the mornings. I went for walks, but I still hit the weights a few times per week. I went running and hiking. I stayed active and ate real food. Just as Paleo promises, the weight came off effortlessly. In 6 weeks I lost ten pounds and felt better than I ever had in my life. I know without a doubt that the Paleo diet is effective – if you follow the guiding principles.
One final thought: There is no Paleo Police out there, despite what you might think from reading comments on Paleo blogs. No one is going to hunt you down if you eat a slice of bread or indulge in white potatoes. Of note, though, white potatoes recently hit the approved list of Whole 30 foods with some caveats. The point, though, is not to make them your go-to vegetable.
Maybe you’re not even here to convert to Paleo, you’re just looking for some yummy gluten free stuff (like I was) or for some recipes containing loads of veggies. The point is, it doesn’t matter why you’re here, it just matters that you are. Thank you for making Giant Taste, Skinny Waist part of your healthy journey!