My Relationship with the Paleo Diet
My first experience with the paleo diet came shortly after the birth of my first daughter. It had been a fairly traumatic labor and delivery for a first-timer, and because my arrival at the hospital and the actual birthing happened so fast, my mom hadn’t made it in time to be a part of it. I was an emotional wreck in the weeks following, during which I suffered an awful, undiagnosed rash that covered me nearly head to toe and left me in tears daily from the pain caused by so much itching. My return to work was depressing enough, but my breasts were still engorged and my poor infant had to be brought to me on my half-hour breaks so I could nurse her, or else Stephen King-caliber shit would go down and scar my co-workers for life.
In short: I had zero control over anything at this point, especially in regards to my body. It was literally in shock from all the physical changes and emotional arrows being shot at it from all sides. Here I was with this beautiful newborn, overwhelmed with love and contentment, yet already feeling unqualified to be her mother. I harbored residual guilt from almost not making it to the hospital in time, guilt about going back to work, and I found it difficult to heal and be productive at the same time (shocking, right?).
But what has this got to do with the paleo diet?
Elizabeth Miles (owner of the White Lion Baking Company) was my neighbor when all this was happening. We connected often over coffee in the morning or we’d meet at the garden in the afternoon with our kids. Even before Abby was born, I would go next-door once a week to play with Liz’s son and put him to bed, then pore over her library of cookbooks (sorry, Liz) while waiting for her to walk through the door. I would observe in awe as this woman who worked from sunup to sundown, ran her errands, was a dedicated Crossfit member, and raised her child alone still returned home at 9:00pm and proceeded to ask me how I was doing while putting her groceries away and whipping together a delicious, healthy meal for herself. Two things you’ll notice about Liz right away should you ever have the opportunity to meet her: she makes everything look effortless, and is genuinely engaging. Especially in the kitchen.
It is in Liz’s kitchen that I was introduced to things like coconut oil and almond butter, and it’s where I became aware of the paleo diet. She didn’t try to sell it to me; I asked. For a long time I had admired her bright eyes and glowing skin, not to mention her seemingly bottomless energy levels. One day I just had to know where it all came from.
In a nutshell, that is how I would describe the Paleolithic way of eating. It’s eliminating all the crap that man slowly began filtering into our diet thousands of years ago, and just consuming what our ancestors ate thousands of years before that. When we ate to live and didn’t live to eat. When we had to hunt for our food, and therefore appreciated every morsel, and knew exactly where it came from.
I started the paleo diet to gain control over some aspect of my life. And then I continued it because I felt amazing. I had energy, a clear mind, more patience and knowing that my baby was getting the best nutrients from me eating so well was the most motivating part of all. I felt good about myself, and not half as overwhelmed as I had been.
My husband at the time did not buy into the theories of this new eating regime, however – which is fine; to each their own. But it was difficult and confusing (not to mention expensive and isolating) to cook meals catering to two different diets, and eventually I slid back into eating the way I did in the past.
Three years later, I was re-inspired to change my eating habits. I can’t recall exactly what sparked the decision, but I do remember feeling particularly deficient of vegetables. If our bodies were capable of audibly voicing their needs (scary thought, isn’t it?), I’m certain that mine at the time would have been screaming at me: “For God’s sake, eat something green!!!” Thus began my second personal crusade against dairy, gluten, refined sugar, and even meat for the most part. I compromised a bit when it came to dinner, because my husband and I shared this meal and I’m not very good at alienating people for my own benefit. But my breakfasts and lunches and everything inbetween were beautiful and vibrant, my skin cleared up, and I had the energy I needed to be a working, thriving mother of two. Along with these changes to my diet, I began studying and practicing yoga. I can honestly say that this is the only time in my adult life when I truly felt that I was taking care of myself, and not just everyone else around me. My mind, my body, my soul, were all working together and it felt great.
The downfall of my marriage ended much of the mindfulness I had acquired for my well-being. It set off a chain of nightmares that left me once more feeling entirely out of control, only this time under tragic circumstances. I went into survival mode, and fought each day to appear strong and confident, exactly the opposite of how I felt, for the sake of my children. I had neither the time nor energy to concern myself with my body’s physical state. I lived in permanent exhaustion and fear, and continued to lose pounds from both of my pregnancies until I weighed less than my underweight numbers.
Fast-forward to now. I’m still working on piecing our life back together, but we’re in a good place. I still worry about my children’s upbringing and how I’m mothering them, but they keep me motivated to make the best of it and work harder. I still could stand to fatten up a bit, but I’ve gained a few pounds back and I’m not concerning myself with numbers anymore.
But I’m tired, you guys. I am so. Freaking. Tired. And my day job is Starbucks, so you’d think that all that caffeine at my expense would be doing the trick. Not anymore. I feel sluggish and spaced out, I can’t focus, I wake up miserable and dying for that moment at the end of the day when I can crawl right back into bed. Not that I sleep once I’m there, because I don’t; my average is 4-5 hours a night. My skin looks awful and my patience is thin, and I know that all of this is due to the fact that I stopped caring about what I consume months ago.
To be honest, I don’t really feel bad about it. Life gets in the way of our goals sometimes. Other times, it throws massive grenades and everything gets blown to pieces. We fall apart, we grieve, we overcome, and we start again. Each of these stages is equally important. Right now, I am starting again. I am choosing to make myself a priority so that I can better myself and be a good example for my daughters.
I’m not sure that I will ever eat strictly paleo, as I’m not a person of extremes. I like my treats (helloooo ice cream and beer). But the theories behind the paleo diet make sense to me, and if you do a little research, you might find that they make sense to you too. One question that I’ve been asked about the paleo diet (aside from What is it?) is How does one transition from a “regular” American diet to paleo? The answers to these questions are far too detailed for this type of forum, but I went ahead and investigated a few websites and found the following to be my favorite for two reasons:
1. It gets straight to the point, and in a casual, easy-to-grasp format.
2. Lego illustrations. Enough said.
So check it out for yourself:
Please keep in mind, picking SOME of the guidelines to follow is better than picking NO guidelines. Guilt should never be a part of anyone’s diet! Whether you make a few changes to your eating habits or go full-on paleo, feel good about your decision to be a healthier, more energetic and happier version of yourself. Once in a while, you will probably eat something not paleo-approved. This is not an accident, or a slip-up. It’s called cheating. Cheating is the spice of life (did I just say that? Yes I did. Feel free to quote me). You will eat your grandma’s out-of-this world traditional spaghetti dinner, because yolo. And you will suffer the consequences, but you will survive. And you’ll be fine. You should never feel guilty when this happens. Enjoy your food, own your decisions, and continue on your way.
This Valentine’s Day, I hope you join me in this lesson on self-care. I hope you choose to make yourself a priority, because if you don’t, then who will?
It starts with food.