Perhaps a good way to start out with my blog is to share my past. This should demonstrate why Paleo eating and living is so important to me. And perhaps, if you’re new to all of this, it will convince you to give it a shot, too. That would be wonderful. I’d be happy to help you get started.
And finally, please, as always, take everything I have to say with a NorCal ™ margarita full of salt. I try my best to be fair and to make sense of life. But that’s a giant challenge we all struggle with, so use your judgment as best you can.
My story began in adolescence. I was…not quite fit. Perhaps 30 pounds overweight. Cute enough. Clean enough. Happy enough. And certainly productive enough. But I loathed myself. I loathed my body, and I loathed it even more because I should have been able to control it, but I couldn’t. What I lacked, I thought, was willpower. I ate as healthfully as absolutely possible (with the occasional binge thrown in) but it didn’t make a difference. Special K cereal in the morning with skim milk, grapes and yogurt and a bagel for lunch, and salad or pasta for dinner. Seemed like a good idea at the time. But I was always grazing, never satisfied, and perpetually deprived. I hated myself for eating that much. Clearly, I lacked the control necessary to be truly beautiful.
So passed the years of 2002-2006.
I got to college in 2006 and my friends told me to love my body. Okay. I was a bit too busy running all over the world and getting pissed in fraternity basements to really be disgusted anyway, but still I lumbered on with my loathing. Moreover, for environmental, ethical, and health reasons, I became a vegetarian. (More wrath re: vegetarianism later). I needed to be stricter to be healthier. And I was. I ate virtually zero fat, with an avocado perhaps once per week and an egg white omelet perhaps once per week. I ate tofu. And I ate oatmeal, and I ate salad, and I ate approximately my weight in dried fruit. Also, continuing my habit from adolescence, I killed myself on cardio machines at least once per day (I was a college student and went to the gym at six AM: wtf?). Today I am appalled at the kind of damage I was doing to my adrenal system, to my liver, and to my brain.
Three years later, I wasn’t any smaller. I’m 5’2, and at the time I wore sizes seven and nine. And in September, miracle of miracles, I got a stomach flu. In my opinion at that time, this was the greatest thing that could have happened to me. It gave me momentum to keep losing weight. And now I’m really strict, but it’s working. I was eating perhaps 1300 calories of carbohydrates and cycling at least an hour each day. I dropped weight FAST. 30 pounds in three months. And I loved it. Of course it was hard as hell, and of course I craved food every second of every day, and of course I felt monstrously deprived, but at least I didn’t hate myself anymore. I had control. My friends were terrified. Everyone was voicing disordered eating concerns. They convinced me I Had A Problem, and I panicked even more. How do I be healthy? How do I maintain weight? How fucked up am I really? Will I ever stop being hungry?
That winter I suffered a number of anxiety attacks. Have you ever gone an entire seven days without sleeping? I can’t explain to you how horrific it was. I wasn’t in control of my emotions at all, and I was barely functional. My hands never stopped shaking. There were some other hard things going on in my life, aside from the food issue, but clearly something wasn’t working. I remember one night when I couldn’t sleep, going downstairs and eating an entire carrot cake. It was blissful, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.
My mom finally got concerned, catching wind of the whole disordered eating deal even though she was seven hundred miles away. She had been eating Paleo for about six months, and she voiced her opinion to me. “Stef,” she said, “I don’t want you to take this the wrong way, but I want you to read this book.” It was Nora Gedgaudas’s Primal Body, Primal Mind. I was a scientist, and it was a principle of mine to be as open minded as possible. Fine. I’d do it. But I was not happy. “Mom,” I choked out on the phone, trying to get some privacy in a packed student commons “even if it turns out that it’s healthier for me to eat animals, I won’t do it. It’s not right, and I’m not willing to make that sacrifice.”
Well, I did. I read Nora’s book and marked with sticky notes where I thought she was wrong. But by page 60 I stopped that hyper-sensitive, unfair nitpicking. I had studied evolutionary biology. I had read popular science books. And I had common sense. My life became a series of Duhs. I lived in a house full of vegetarians, and I began trying to get them to read Mark Sisson’s Primal Blueprint, which I had also read, and loved fiercely. One of my roommates suffered anxiety issues the same way I did, and I thought that fat imbalances and nutrient deficiencies might be messing with her brain like mine. I didn’t really know, but it was possible. All the sudden, I had all these changes I needed to make. Fast.
Immediately I jumped into eating “Paleo.” Admittedly, I didn’t quite make it. I was still afraid of fat. If I, someone who was feeling hugely deprived, wanted to enjoy food, and to eat a lot of food, conventional wisdom told me to eschew the foods with the greatest caloric density. And of course I knew that one grape has two calories and one teaspoon of oil had one hundred and five. But my efforts were better than nothing. I cut the dried fruit I loved so dearly; I cut the cereals that had been a pillar in my life since I was five years old; I added in the animals. Thus, I stopped obsessing over food. The sugar cloud floated away. I breathed freely. I thought clearly. My shoulders drooped. I fell asleep each night with a degree of peace I hadn’t known before.
Since that day in March, I have eaten a huge variety patterns within the parameters of paleolithic diets, including a few weeks in Europe when all of my calories came from canned tuna and cheese. Today, I eat a lot of eggs, seafood, organ meats, seaweed, cruciferous veggies, and whatever interesting tidbits Taiwanese night markets have to throw my way. I have maintained weight without hating myself. (Well, for the most part. More on that later). I still struggle with sugar. I still struggle with binge eating. Sure, these days it might be a whole head of cabbage instead of a whole box of cereal, but that still isn’t ideally healthy. And I do still struggle from time to time with body image. Someone once told me that you can never condemn a disordered eater for their habits, because the actions they are taking are the best ways they know how to deal with the demons inside them. Wise. I like being (need to be?) thin because it’s the best way to keep out the loathing. But MOST importantly: the degree of my neuroticism is perhaps 10 percent of what it used to be. Cool!
Eating paleo is a weapon against demons. Mine are practically vanquished. I feel like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Be gone, soul-suckers! Paleo works, And it works brilliantly. I am satiated when I eat, now, and I have better memory. I sleep seven hours a night for the first time since I was a young child. My hair has stopped falling out in frightening chunks. It grows faster. My skin is brighter. I work out less often, and when I do I enjoy it more. I forgive myself for my lapses because I know that all of the foods I am putting in my body are healthful. I no longer have excruciating pain in my knees and hips. I never feel the need to take naps. I have energy, and it fucking rocks. I can work for hours at a time without stopping. Did I say this rocks? It rocks.
There are other aspects of the Paleolithic perspective that have also altered my life. I have a different understanding of technology and of relationships, and as a result of reading the fantastic book Sex at Dawn, I think more benevolently of mankind. I think community is important, now, and I think more openly about sexual relationships and fidelity. I have read books such as Meat: A Benign Extravagance and realized that vegetarianism is not a catchall solution. I have identified the ways in which our modern world is at particularly strong odds with some of my natural inclinations, and I have done my best to manage those desires (eg: I will watch one EPISODE of House on my laptop, not one MARATHON of America’s Next Top Model on a TV.) I recognize the importance of play. And, while a lifelong workaholic, I try my best to live slowly and deliberately.
I like stopping. And I like smelling flowers.
I have never worn shoes. And I never will.
Paleo is for me, therefore, all about liberation. It is about the healthfulness of my body, the freedom of my mind, and, because of those two things, the peace in my soul. I love this life like it’s my job, and while there are elements of my life and the paleo world that I still struggle with, it’s a beautiful, evolving journey. I have nothing but whole heaps of adventure and vitality to look forward to.