An overview and a happy story--big changes! Or, raw vegan to Paleo
Warning: if this stuff (health, body image, lifestyle) doesn't interest you, feel free to skip this post. I'm often hesitant to share content like this, but I'm passionate about it now and I hope my story can help others--so I'm writing for those of you who this will really speak to.
I've posted about my shift from raw vegan to Paleo, but a lot has changed since then, and I often get questions from people asking if I feel better now, or why I like one better. And I have a hard time answering. I'm very conscious of how much I talk about food and health, since not everyone likes to hear about it. I don't want to be the cheerleader no one wants to listen to, rah-rah-rahing about how great my new trend diet is. BUT, there's so much to say. So many things I want you to know if you are interested. My way of eating has dramatically improved my health, alleviated or removed many of my physical and mental heath issues, and given me a new passion for lifelong health. I know there are people out there who struggle with ongoing issues and may someday find the diet that works best for them. If hearing my story helps them explore the massive world of internet knowledge and find their solution, that'd be awesome.
So I'll start in the middle.
Pre-Phase 1: 10-Year Vegetarian, then Mostly Raw Vegan
Hope these graphics are helpful! I thought they'd be easier than a paragraph explaining all my symptoms and changes.
But then... my husband changed everything. Sure, I thought I was fine, but he was struggling with health problems, too, and he started learning about leaders in the Paleo and Bulletproof Diet trends. (He ate mostly vegan, also very low fat, with more cooked foods than I did but very rarely meat or dairy.) He wasn't sure how to talk to me about this, but he basically said he wanted to start eating a lot of grassfed beef and butter. Turns out a high fat (30-50% of calories from healthy, unprocessed fats) diet makes people lose weight and feel better, he was learning. I was very uncomfortable with his new interests.
I'll skip over my reaction to this shocking development from my until-then compliant mostly vegan husband. (He now has a blog, Grassfed Geek.)
As I did research of my own and began to learn more about high fat, grassfed beef- and butter-filled diets, I realized I couldn't argue. I had never felt solid in my reasons behind being vegan, and I realized there was a lot of science on both sides, but I felt much more confident in the science on the ancestral, human diet side (omnivorous diet).
So, I began transitioning to eat a higher fat, less raw vegan diet.
Phase 1: More fat, cooked veggies
Amazing what a difference FAT makes! Energy is good.
So, as I continued to research (listened to lots of podcasts and read lots of blogs and books), I got excited about making the leap to eating meat again! (Husband was excited. He started eating meat regularly, too.)
Phase 2: Meat, & no longer fruit/raw sugar at every meal
The weight loss was surprising at the time (I didn't realize how much muscle and bone mass I'd lost). Skipping Phase 1, since it was pretty short, but compare these photos from the summer before (Pre-Phase 1) and three months into eating meat (March 2013, Phase 2).
I look at that first photo now and feel shocked. Look at the bags under my eyes. Look at the tiny arms that don't look like they could hold much up without collapsing. I won't go into body image much in this post since it's a huge topic, but at the point in this photo I thought that I was pretty small but still could lose some body fat. (!) When I look at the Phase 2 photo, I remember that I was a little self-conscious that I was getting heavier--but those jeans are minuscule. My butt is tiny. My face looks much fuller, though. I still wore the same clothes, although my bras fit more snugly! Those 10 pounds went to my muscles and boobs.
Side note: While there's no photo of it, pre-pre-phase 1 (high school, college, grad school) I was never such a low weight. I wasn't built skinny--no one in my family has the Taylor Swift genes, more the ScarJo genes--and I was never as small as I was in my raw vegan years. Hence why the Pre-Phase 1 photo is so scary to me now.
Phase 3: Complicated! With a happy ending.
Things were going really well. I felt energized and healthy eating meat from local sources, and no longer drinking smoothies and juices all the time and not feeling any more satisfied. (My husband lost about 40 pounds eating meat and fat and cutting out grains and sugars.) I was so excited to have found Paleo, and loved learning more about humans, diet, history, health, modern medicine pitfalls, the food industry, local food, sustainable food, movement, training, and all those topics I still love.
These photos show the end of Phase 2 to the beginning of Phase 3. As you can see, they were taken about a month apart. This was the beginning of my weight gain, and while I could still wear some of the same clothes, my face and arms were fuller (and the dress fit more snugly).
And then, the post-medication weight gain was very difficult. I look at photos taken a month apart and I remember the struggle I had having to buy all new jeans and shorts in that short period, gaining 20 pounds and not knowing when it would end.
But, it did end eventually. The weight gain continued for another month or so, but slower. There's a warning, folks--don't get on ADHD medication unless you absolutely have to. So crazy to gain that much weight so fast after getting off it.
So I learned:
But that's not really part of this story. What the whole "Paleo" thing has taught me is 1) which foods irritate me and which work for me (almost everyone who eats "Paleo" defines their own parameters based on trial and error, eliminating foods) and 2) Why are we modeling diet after our ancestors, again? There are so many things in our modern lives that don't make us happier. Hunching over our desks all day. Medicating ourselves (in my case, anyway) before addressing the root of my hormone, neurotransmitter, and gut issues. Getting flat feet from wearing positive-heeled shoes. Irritating our skin with industrial beauty products. (Speaking for myself about all these things, no judgment to others.) Eating "Paleo" to me means taking care of my body with what is natural and easy for me.
Being on that medication was not right for me--I knew it at the time but denied it. Eating only fruit and salad was not right for me. Now, I eat incredible, high quality food and I feel good almost all the time. Those are two huge wins for me. I've also learned that I feel great when I lift heavy weights regularly, and stand at my desk at work big parts of the day. If all those positive things mean I weigh more than I did when I was unhealthy, well... so what??
Today: Health is the goal.
I'll skip ahead a few sub-phases to some images taken in the past few months. Again, I can't really go into body image today, but if you read my post the other week you know I'm very excited to celebrate physical strength as a goal, and (as evidenced above!) you can imagine that I don't believe being skinny at any cost is a good thing. I like these photos of me because I look happy, strong, and HEALTHY.
That's what this journey has taught me so far. Oh, and how we eat today? I am SO totally tired of the word "Paleo," but we do still eat what can easily be defined as The Paleo Diet, although I think of it as "real food" more than anything else. Husband can tolerate dairy, I can't. He can also do white rice, which I only eat occasionally. As much as we're all human and there are foods that our bodies have evolved to eat, we also all have our individual tolerances and once we cut out the processed foods, we can identify which foods make us feel best. That's part of why it feels so great to eat what seems like a limited diet.
But I didn't want to talk about our diet as much in this post as I wanted to share the incredible positive changes that I can't believe I've experienced through changing my food! (If you want to learn more about Paleo, I shared some more in this post along with a couple short lists of resources.)
Here's to health!
I wish I could say I felt 100% comfortable in my body no matter what size it was when I'm in good health. But, I didn't always feel good about the size and weight I had arrived at despite other successes. In 2016 I played with the macronutrient ratios in my diet and increased carbs while reducing fat and increasing protein, and lost and kept off several pounds, though tracking felt too restrictive after a few months. I continued to work out about 3x/week until we moved into our fixer upper in October 2016 and our lives (and home gym) have been turned upside down by house projects for a while! Now I get in 1-2 workouts per week and maybe yoga.
I've also found I can tolerate white rice, some dairy, and some legumes better than I did early into my healing Paleo diet days. Eating Paleo for me was a path to learning about my body and healing my relationship with food, and while it was a fantastic template, my diet some days includes non-strict Paleo things at multiple meals.
I should probably post a more recent photo of myself post-intentional weight loss. But it's winter and I'm wearing tons of layers in all the recent photos. I'll try to add one sometime soon!