It’s funny. I was always the skinny kid. The kind of skinny that had people asking my parents things like, “don’t you feed her?” and “is she sick?” on a regular basis. In high school and even in my 20s, after the birth of my two children, I was still slim. I could eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, and never gained an ounce.
I was 112 lbs (and 8 weeks pregnant) at the age of 20 on my wedding day. I was 115 lbs a year after my daughter was born. I was 120 lbs a year after my son was born 5 years later. Throughout my 20s my weight seemed to stay in the 120-125lb range without worrying about what I ate. I was lazy, lived a very sedentary life so I can’t attribute it to exercise. I just had “good genes” and a “fast metabolism”.
Then around my 30th birthday I gained 10 lbs bringing my weight to around 135 lbs. At 5’4″ that was still a reasonable weight and I was unconcerned about it.
By my 40th birthday I’d gained another 10 lbs and while it’s bigger than I’d ever been, it was still a reasonable weight so I was still unconcerned about it.
The photo above is of me at my daughter’s college graduation lunch in June, 2011. I was 42 years old and my weight had jumped up to 168 lbs and somehow I didn’t really notice. Until I saw this photo. Most of my clothes no longer fit me but I’d just ignored that fact, hoping it would go away. I bought some new summer clothes that were baggy and lose so I could hide my saggy, flabby belly. I’d never had to deal with weight problems before and I wasn’t about to acknowledge I had a weight problem now. Until July, 2011 when during a routine physical when my doctor said my liver felt enlarged and decided to send me for a bunch of blood tests and an ultrasound of not only my liver but all of my organs.
The good news is that my liver was not enlarged and my blood tests all came back within normal levels. But the whole experience was enough to throw a good scare into me and make me stop and reassess my lifestyle. Maybe eating pizza 2 or 3 nights a week and pasta daily wasn’t a good idea. Maybe sitting all day wasn’t such a good idea either. Maybe it was time for some changes.
I’d first heard about the Paleo diet (also known as the Caveman diet and primal diet) in 2009 from my friends Chris Brogan and Julien Smith. Julien had tweeted about it, blogged about it and we’d even spoken briefly about it in person a couple of times. The diet made sense on a logical level but at the time I really couldn’t see myself cutting out things like pasta, bread and pizza. Pasta in particular had been the mainstay of my diet since I was 9 years old and learned to cook Kraft Dinner for myself! I had eaten pasta daily, sometimes for 2 or 3 meals a day, for over 30 years. To not have pasta was unthinkable.
Yet here I was, 2 years later, nearly 25 lbs heavier. Feeling tired, sick, depressed, fat and not a little freaked out by the whole enlarged liver scare. In October, 2011 I decided it was time to take things seriously and read up a bit on this whole Paleo, Caveman thing. I first visited Mark’s Daily Apple and spent several hours reading the blog and the forums. Mark Sisson the creator of Mark’s Daily Apple had just published The Primal Blueprint: 21 Day Total Body Transformation which seemed like a good place to start. I bought the book, figuring even I, pasta addict extraordinaire, could muster enough willpower to try this whole Paleo thing for 3 weeks.
I told myself, it’s only 3 weeks, if you can make this work for 3 weeks you should be fine.
I set a start date of November 1, 2011 for my 21 Day Paleo diet test, although I had started to eliminate grain and sugar a week or so before that, a little at a time. The more I read about the Paleo diet and the whole Caveman/Primal living thing, the more the idea of grains, sugars and additives turned me off. I also decided that November 1 would be the day I began “moving around” more. Instead of sitting all day long and doing absolutely nothing active, I decided that I’d go out for a minimum 1 hour walk, every other day to start. I set up a playlist for my iPod and off I went. I don’t have my exact weight on starting out but I’m guessing it was around the 170-172 lb range. I’d last been weighed in June and was 168 lbs and by November my clothes were even tighter. I did take some measurements of my upper thigh, upper arm, hips and waist at the start.
By the end of the first week I’d noticed that my clothes were actually starting to feel loose and I had more energy. My mood was improved. Digestive issues I’d had for years that were chalked up as IBS had subsided. Headaches, which I’d had daily since I was a teenager, were gone.
10 days into this “experiment” with Paleo I visited my doctor’s office to get weighed. I was 154 lbs. I had lost over 10 lbs. I couldn’t believe it. I did my measurements and found I’d lost an inch each off my hips and waist and 1/2 inch from my thighs. I tried a slim, tailored dress and a pair of jeans that hadn’t fit me for over 2 years. Both fit nicely. I couldn’t believe it. And did I mention that I was feeling better as well?
By mid-December, now 6 weeks into the whole Paleo thing I did measurements again and I’d lost a total of 3.5 inches from my waist and 3 inches from my hips and 1.5 inches from my thighs. I didn’t step on a scale again but I’m guessing I’d lost at least another 10-15 lbs. People were commenting on how good I looked (even my kids who never never notice anything!) and I was feeling fit and healthy. Everything was going great.
Until Christmas. Then everything went off the rails.
I told myself that I could “cheat” for a couple of days during the holidays and get right back onto the Paleo thing again without any problems. At first I told myself, I’ll cheat on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and everything will be fine. Some cookies. Some french bread with brie. Some crackers and cheese. It’s just two days. It’s fine.
Then the day after Christmas I said to myself “well it’s your daughter’s birthday this week, plus New Year’s, plus there’s all this food left over from Christmas. A few more days won’t hurt. I’ll start back on the Paleo thing on January 2nd.” This despite the fact that I was having digestive issues, headaches and sleep disruptions for the first time in nearly 2 months.
By January 2, 2012 I was feeling heavy, slow, tired and generally unwell. I knew I had to get back to living “clean” but I got lazy. I didn’t feel good so I wanted easy things. I ordered some pizza and told myself, “Your birthday is January 14th. You know people always want to go out for dinner around your birthday. Wait until your birthday is over with and then you can start back on Paleo for real.” By the time my birthday rolled around I had gained some of the weight back and things were starting to feel snug. I was feeling tired, depressed, and had no energy at all. I started having to nap during the day. I was getting aches and pains and my joints had all started to hurt. My headaches were nearly constant.
It took several more weeks from this point for me to get back on track with Paleo living. Wheat addiction is harder to kick than you might imagine and when you’re feeling tired, cranky and unmotivated to cook, it’s all too easy to order a pizza and say, I’ll start that diet tomorrow.
What this whole adventure, from November 1 until now has taught me, is that it does take commitment to stay Paleo. But it’s also shown me just how bad I feel when I eat wheat and sugar and processed foods vs. how happy, light, energetic and healthy I feel when I keep Paleo. It’s not an easy journey but the results, not just weight-loss, but the overall health improvement are worth it.
I’ll be updating the Merlene’s Journal section of Fridge Foragers regularly with my personal successes (and failures although I hope those are few) and my personal experiences with the Paleo lifestyle.