In our modern fast-paced, instant-gratification society, everyone is searching for the “quick-fix”. The miracle weight-loss pill. The miracle cabbage soup or cayenne pepper lemon water detox cleanses. And in 2011, I was just the same. I had found myself in a place where I was unhappy with my body. I had an idea of what I needed to do to change it, but really and truly lacked the energy. I learned I would have to completely change my philosophy and daily choices about food and exercise to truly make a sustainable transformation. To understand my journey, I feel like I have to share a bit about the history of my health.
Growing up, I constantly played team sports and competed in gymnastics. When TCU accepted me in 2004, I weighed 120 pounds soaking wet, perfectly content with my body and how my clothes fit. College was a weird time for me. No mom to cook or dictate what I ate (you mean I can have all-you-can-eat Fruit Loops at any time during the day?!), no coach or team to get me off my butt to move around. I took my studies very seriously but at the expense of my health. I wrote A+ papers and read giant textbooks all while stuffing my face with greasy grilled cheese sandwiches or powdered sugar donuts. Just like that, I gained the dreaded “freshman 15” and much more and sadly, I didn’t even notice. In retrospect, I realize that I never really recovered from the first year of college.
Fast forward to age 25. I was married to a man with a freakishly fast-acting metabolism, so we went out to eat all the time and lived on Hamburger Helper. I had a job teaching fourth grade, and I swear, there is an unspoken goal amongst well-meaning school staff and PTA to fatten up teachers with a constant stream of baked goods and candy. Diet Coke became my best friend. I slowly became aware of my struggling weight issues. A friend convinced me to try out her CrossFit, so grudgingly I dragged my overweight self to a metal box in the height of Texas summer heat. I literally thought I would die, lying on the floor gasping for air after what should have been a short and simple workout. Despite this initial feeling of despair, I was hooked and grew to love this new sport. My gymnastics background helped, and I learned I was actually capable of quite a bit. I quickly dropped a few pounds and people started to notice and comment. I felt great about myself… for a while. I lifted heavier and moved faster. Then I hit a brick wall. No more gains at the gym. No more weight loss.
Furthermore, it was time for my annual physical appointment. I sat in a cold, sterile exam room, listening to the doctor explain, “Your cholesterol is too high with triglycerides in the 300s. That could end up causing you a lot of problems in the future.” Inside, I was shocked that I had turned a blind eye to my deterioration. My physician had no expression on her face as she prescribed some triglyceride-lowering medication and told me to eat a “low-cholesterol” diet. WHAT?! I am 25, lady! It disturbed me that she didn’t even have a reaction– was this normal? I left her office and never went to the pharmacy. I refused to take the meds.
It was time to get in gear. I had heard people dropping the word “Paleo” around the CrossFit box. Every single time, I rolled my eyes and scoffed. No dairy? No grains? How could one live without those two MAJOR food groups according to the Food Pyramid?
Knowing I had to do something, though, I began to listen. Hesitantly, I read Robb Wolf’s The Paleo Solution and it just made SO. MUCH. SENSE. Our bodies were simply not designed to deal with all of these inflammatory grains and legumes. I never thought about or put much stock into the science of food before. So, I told my husband we were “going Paleo”. He, innocent because he hadn’t read about it, agreed and we began this crazy journey. I decided to do it for 30 days as strict as possible. We removed all grains, processed sugar, dairy, and legumes from our diet. The first thing I noticed was that, holy crap, our grocery bill skyrocketed! I was semi-prepared for this knowing that fruits, vegetables, and high-quality meat cost more than boxed dinners and frozen pizzas. But the second and most important thing I noticed was that I had more energy. I no longer felt bloated or heavy after every meal. I ate until I was full and it took less for me to feel full. My performance at CrossFit improved, I quickly dropped 10 pounds, and I felt great! I began to see food differently. Instead of a source of enjoyment, for stress-relief, or comfort, I started to view food more as fuel for my body, something I used to be productive in my job and my workouts. Eventually, I learned to appreciate the “cheat meal” and we slipped into a steady rhythm of about 80% Paleo, and 20% not.
A few months after this Paleo light bulb had gone off, my nutrition coach issued me another challenge. This time, I went through a “Whole 30” as described in Dallas and Melissa Hartwig’s It Starts with Food and their website. It basically follows Paleo guidelines, but also removed all caffeine, natural sources of sugar, alcohol, and allowed for very little fruit. Determined to complete this challenge, I was successful, and learned a whole lot about my body in the process. Upon completion of a Whole 30, you slowly add back in food groups to study how they affect your body. Grains and gluten definitely lead to discomfort and bloating within minutes of consumption. High amounts of sugar, whether processed or natural, cause my blood sugar to spike noticeably and then later crash. Legumes just make me sick. I was overjoyed to learn that certain dairy products, mostly butter, some cheeses, and whole milk from organic or grass-fed sources do not bother me much, so I continue to enjoy those in moderation.
Before I knew it, time for my annual physical appointment came. Let me give you a run-down of my conversation with my doctor:
Doctor: (checking computer records) Ok, Katherine (because she really didn’t know my name), it says here that I prescribed you a cholesterol medication for your triglycerides. How is that going?
Me: I never took them.
Doctor: What?! But your numbers were in the 300s. That could be very dangerous and lead to other problems.
Me: Well, I changed up my diet and really got into CrossFit to see if I could fix it on my own. What do my current labs look like?
Doctor: (huffing) Well, I’m sure not much has changed, but we will look. (Click, click). Wait…..what? (silence) Well….you did fix it on your own. I can’t believe this really, but your triglycerides are now in the low 100s. You lowered it by 200 whole points. What did you say that you did?
Then I launched into a quick overview and she sat back listening. Shaking her head, she said, “Well I have never seen someone change their numbers so much in one year without medication. Just one question: how do you live without Activia?” Rolling my eyes, I assured her that my digestion was perfectly in order thank you very much, and she sent me on my way with no prescription, just an enthusiastic “keep it up!” and a smile.
Since then, I’ve worked hard to find a balance for my family. After two pregnancies (during which I was not so Paleo), you can imagine I have a whole slew of new body issues, but slowly getting back to this clean way of eating is helping a lot. My 3 year old LOVES to eat kale and cabbage. She likes to help me cook (from my kind of ridiculous collection of Paleo cookbooks), measuring ingredients and stirring whatever we are making. I try to keep baked goods gluten-free and low sugar but still tasty (minus those dang red velvet cupcakes-I haven’t found a good alternative, nor will I because you gotta live a little). To be fair, we still eat out and enjoy food. We still have ice cream occasionally and I still love a good pizza, but we have managed to stay out of doctor’s offices minus occasional sinus infections. Our seasonal allergies are less severe. My cholesterol numbers continue to stay within a normal range, I feel great, and I am finally in a place where I can appreciate my body even if it’s not up to Victoria’s Secret standards. In all honesty, I wrote most of this post two years ago as part of a writing workshop, but I wanted to share it this week (with a few tweaks) to remind myself where I came from, refocus as I work hard to get back into cleaner eating, and to share with you as well. It’s challenging, but doable, and I hope if you are looking for a different way to eat that you are encouraged. I do not believe that Paleo is the end-all, be-all lifestyle to follow for everyone. Each person has to discover what works for them, but this way of thinking about food has helped me feel so much better.
Currently Reading: Still making my way through The Zookeeper’s Wife. I’m not usually one to abandon books, but this one is written in such a weird style. I so appreciate the thorough research, but non-fiction isn’t my favorite genre. I’m going to give it a few more chapters.
Currently Baking: Apple-Cinnamon-Carrot Muffins, adapted from this recipe from one of my favorite Paleo bloggers, Diane Sanfilippo. I didn’t have pumpkin, so I used unsweetened applesauce, and just straight cinnamon instead of pumpkin pie spice. Plus, I used a ripe banana and added raisins, because YUM! (And also, I’m in no place to complete a 21 Day Sugar Detox at the moment haha.) The 3 year old LOVES them and doesn’t even realize she’s kind of eating vegetables 😉
Thanks for reading and until next time, peace and love from my household to yours.