The first memory I have of being acutely aware of my body is from my freshman year in high school. My friend and I decided to wear short jean shorts to school. I spent the day squirming in my seat to prevent my legs from looking fat (despite being quite thin).
In college I gained 20 pounds during my first semester and 30 by the end of the year thanks to unlimited cafeteria food and late night pizza deliveries. I had always been interested in nutrition but decided to major in Finance instead because I didn’t think I could make any money with a Nutrition degree. (Not to mention Chemistry was hard.) I spent the next few years bouncing up and down within about a 10 pound range. I never felt happy with my body but I also never felt “fat”. By Midwest standards I was still thin.
By the time I was 25 I was 20 pounds overweight, inactive, addicted to fast food and soda, and probably heading down a road of yo-yo dieting for life. I had reached 160 pounds at 5’8″, which is no where near obese, but I was pushing the limits of non-plus-size pants and my BMI was flirting with the obese category. I was unhappy with my body and found myself having to take great care with my wardrobe to hide a growing number of body parts. No shorts or short skirts because I hate my legs. No tight tops without a jacket because I have a tummy roll. No tight pants because my thighs are lumpy. No tank tops because my upper arms are flabby. This wasn’t just poor body image. I really did have a tummy roll, flabby arms, thick calves and no muscle tone anywhere. I lived this way for 5 more years.
When I turned 30 I decided to try the P90X workout program on a whim. I had never worked out consistently for more than a week in my life. I knew I needed something structured and varied to keep me on target. I did two 3-month cycles of P90X and tracked what I ate. I lost 10 pounds and was motivated to do more. I moved on to the Insanity workout program and restricted my calories to around 1200 a day. Over the course of a year I lost a total of 25 pounds. I looked great but I was hungry and tired the entire time, and had such strong emotions tied to food that I was known to cry if I didn’t get to eat something I was craving.
Throughout my calorie restriction phase I didn’t change what I was eating, just how much of it. I would still have a bowl of pasta, it was just a smaller bowl. I would play what I call calorie games; I would go to Taco Bell and get fresco tacos because they have a whopping 20 calories less than regular tacos. I convinced myself that as long as I didn’t eat too many calories, I was being healthy. Despite continuing to restrict my calorie consumption, I wasn’t losing any more weight and found that I put it back on quite easily if I slipped up at all.
In December 2010 I read Tim Ferris’ book The 4-Hour Body and decided to give his approach a try while beginning to read anything and everything I could about the effect of consumption of refined carbohydrates. One of the books that had the biggest impact on me was Why We Get Fat and What to do About it by Gary Taubes. This was really the first time I had given insulin much thought. I wasn’t diabetic so why should I care about insulin? The information Taubes presented was eye-opening and lead me down a path to eating strictly low carb. I was still counting macronutrients but I was no longer as worried about calories.
While eating “low carb” I didn’t see any progress on the scale and continued to see big swings up in weight if I really overate or had any refined carbs. I was happy with my weight and how I looked in clothes for the first time in my life. But, I felt like there had to be more to the equation. I had heard the word “paleo” thrown around a lot and considered it another fad diet that would fade as quickly as it had gained popularity. But, the more research I did, the more I realized that paleo (or “primal”) isn’t a fad at all. Rather it’s a sound, traditional nutrition approach that only made more sense as I learned more. Thanks to amazing bloggers and podcasters I quickly learned as much as I could and decided that this was the right lifestyle for me.
Now I live what I call a “practically primal” life because I am as primal as I can be without being impractical. I don’t eat any processed foods. I only eat animal products if they are from properly raised animals. When I do use dairy, it’s raw (unpasteurized). I use natural beauty and cleaning products. I no longer do chronic cardio. I enjoy long walks a few times a week and lift weights to build muscle. I practice daily 14-20 hour fasts rather than eating multiple small meals per day*. I eat large amounts of leafy greens, moderate amounts of protein and a virtually unlimited amount of healthy fats. I sleep at least 8 hours every night (though sleep was never a problem for me!).
I now rarely crave any foods, much less the processed food I used to crave. I have a consistent energy level throughout the day rather than a crash mid-afternoon. Stress barely affects me anymore and I don’t experience any unwanted emotional swings (such as PMS). I couldn’t tell you the last time I had a headache. The rare times I catch a cold it lasts a day and is so minor I hardly notice it’s there. I also no longer suffer from the terrible seasonal allergies I used to have, menstrual cramps or joint pain.
I easily maintain a body weight that I am happy with, have definition in muscles I never knew existed, and pay less attention to food than I ever have in my life. It sounds too good to be true and I wouldn’t believe it if I wasn’t experiencing it myself. But I am. And I’ve been so amazed at the changes I’ve seen in my own life that I want to help educate those who need and want to learn how to be healthy and happy. I am now enrolled in the Dietetics program at Kansas State and will have my degree in 2014. I believe education is the root of all positive change so my goal is to educate you as I educate myself.
*Note this is not a foundation of a paleo lifestyle but I believe that it is how our bodies are designed to work.