StreTch is running a series of talks about Paleo over the coming weeks and asked me along to share my experiences with his keen and eager group.
Here’s a snapshot of the talk and a bit more of an insight into my thoughts on Paleo and a dark history of yo-yo dieting.
Have you given Paleo a go? Been plagued by years of yo-yo dieting? All thoughts are certainly welcome on this piece.
I lived in London for 7 years but now I find myself back where I grew up / belong. It’s safe to say life’s pretty good right now. I’m managing a freelance PR career alongside training to be a Nutritional Therapist at BCNH. I live half way between the coast and the mountains, I have a loving husband, a happy home, a wonderful family and bags of self confidence.
But life hasn’t always been this rosy. Plagued by years and years of yo-yo dieting and severely fluctuating weight, I lived a life as a slave to the scales. I hated what I saw in the mirror, ignored an ever dropping, ever increasing dress size and generally went around feeling pretty rubbish about all the big bag world was throwing at me.
Let’s back track a bit… I was a severely overweight, greedy teenager with a huge appetite for all the wrong things. At the start of the year 2000, aged 17 I joined Weight Watchers at 14 st 10 lbs. I thought nothing more than the fact I should probably lose a few pounds.
By June of that same year I weighed 9st 13lbs. I religiously counted my points, took up regular exercise, combined lower calories with high carb, low fat meals and loved the gold stars I consistently got in my membership card. I was heralded the star member on more than one occasion.
In August 2000 I wore my first ever bikini on holiday, in Greece. I spent the entire week in Corfu eating tomato & cucumber salad, not an ounce of feta cheese and spoonfuls of honey straight from the jar. I returned home from that holiday and raided the pantry of my family home. It was the start of a painful cycle of severe calorie restriction and binge eating. Some days I’d eat x 3 plums, a Muller Light toffee yogurt and x 5 cans of Diet Pepsi. Other days I’d eat £5 worth of chocolate bars and shed tears from all the associated guilt. I did 12 hours of step aerobics classes a week. My hair was falling out. My periods stopped completely.
In 2002 I was rushed into hospital for gall bladder surgery – the likely result of the pressure put on my body by these cycles of starvation, bingeing and extreme exercising.
The binges started to outweigh the starvation and after 9 months of living in France I gained 19lbs. I was at my lowest and most miserable.
But things have thankfully changed – I genuinely feel I owe Paleo everything. At a time when StreTch was balancing his then IT career with retraining as a fitness coach, we started working out in the local park together. I got a place in the Paris Marathon and a friend recommended I read Loren Cordain’s ‘Paleo Diet For Athletes’. The rest is quite literally history.
In the beginning, I did what worked for me. On first reading the book it was totally alien to me – all that high fat (good fat of course) and protein. Entirely new food groups (like tubers and wild meats) that I’d never come across before.
I attempted to make each of my meals as Paleo as possible but it took a long time to let go of tomato ketchup with nearly everything and Quaker Oats for breakfast. Part of me regrets that – had I embraced Paleo wholeheartedly I would have seen far better and quicker results. However, I learned lots in the process and started to appreciate real, whole foods. It wasn’t long before ketchup became a rare treat.
I’ve done several strict, 30 day Paleo challenges since and it’s actually far easier (and again, you’ll get better results) if you don’t blur the boundaries and go strict Paleo for a whole month. That way, once a strict challenge is over you’ll appreciate non Paleo (but still excellent healthy, whole foods like houmous, rye bread and white potatoes) far more.
One of the hardest things about Paleo has to be accessing Paleo friendly foods when you’re out of your own environment. Grabbing food on the run and eating out, whilst both still possible, can present a bit of a challenge so it pays to be organised and always carry a little something with you.
With Paleo you’re always learning. That’s the thing I both loved – and hated about it in the beginning. I went for months and months thinking I was pure Paleo eating 12 gluten free sausages a week… I don’t think cavemen had sausages, did they…? Thankfully a visit to Glen Matten helped me address that one – pronto!
So what’s so great about Paleo?
We 100% are what we eat. Food is our fuel. It controls how we feel when we wake up, how we sleep at night and everything else in between. Aside from comments relating to me being in far leaner, better shape, people started to comment on my hair, my skin, my teeth, my nails.
In 2012 I ran three marathons in 3 months. I still hold Paleo and CrossFit entirely responsible for the 44 minutes I took off my personal best.
Without being too deep and meaningful, Paleo is a great way to stand for something. In the beginning my friends thought I was a bit of a freak for having meat for breakfast but they slowly started to appreciate why I was doing it – and some even joined me. It was a real self confidence booster to believe in something so strongly, do something for yourself and feel awesome in the process.
So what’s life like now? Peachy! Especially as I’m not running any more marathons!
I attack every day head on. I feel happy, healthy and confident. I’m definitely not 100% Paleo. I’ve learned to bring whole, non Paleo foods into my diet that work for me. But Paleo provides an excellent template and is always my go-to when I need a bit of a reset if things like summers of picnics, BBQs and outdoor drinking have got the better of me. The most read post on my blog is entitled ‘why I love to hate the Paleo diet‘ which pretty much tells you everything about where I stand on Paleo these days.
There’s lots I don’t like about Paleo and that blog post outlines all the excellent foods I feel are missing from the Paleo diet. But ultimately Paleo is a superb starting point. It’s an easy way to encourage people to eat real, whole foods and start them on a journey to create a template that works best for them.