Everyone who is on a health and fitness journey has their Aha moment at some point or another. I can’t say that I had a moment…more like a series of moments that culminated with a smack upside the head.
In 2007, I had been diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus, and it had definitely taken its toll on me. Not only did the disease cause me to be in constant physical pain, but it led to depression, which led to poor eating choices, which led to weight gain, self-loathing and more eating. It wasn’t a pretty cycle. So when my job became an official charity of the LA Marathon in 2010, I jumped at the opportunity to do something physical even though I was sick and out of shape. I started my marathon training with our team and also started personal training on the side. Both trainers were fabulous, and I grew strong. They gave me tons of nutritional counseling but I ignored it all. I was lazy, hated to cook, and just didn’t like the options that they offered. I would make a half-hearted attempt, but the reality is that I still ate like crap. By crap, I mean beyond the Standard American Diet – lots of processed foods, fast food, junk food, you name it. I tried to justify it by the fact that I was working out so often. But we all know that 80% of weight loss is diet, so I saw NO results other than gaining muscle. I wasn’t able to run the marathon because I tore a ligament in my ankle a month before the race, and had to stop personal training several months later when I broke my left elbow. a short amount of time, I stopped exercising, was still eating poorly, and my lupus began the worst flare I’ve had since my diagnosis. The best treatment at the time was prednisone, a steroid that causes more harm than good. The medication alone caused me to gain weight, become moody and feel lousy.
After several months of increasing doses of prednisone, my weight started fluctuating like crazy, I lost my appetite, was constantly thirsty, having hot flashes, having major changes in my vision and felt completely lousy. One day at a regularly scheduled doctor’s appointment, I said to my doctor that I was convinced I had diabetes. Alarmed, he did my blood work right away and my glucose reading was a terrifying 352. I was told that the diabetes was primarily prednisone-induced but there was a significant chance (more than 50%) that I would remain diabetic after weaning off of the prednisone. I was put on medication for the diabetes right away and handed a booklet on how to start a diabetic’s diet. This still wasn’t the smack upside the head. I was plenty scared, as diabetes runs in the family, so I got to the diet right away. I studied that little guide until my head felt like it would explode. I wanted to make sure I understood what I was doing and I was going to change my life. It was difficult, because I had to unlearn all the patterns that I had lived with for a good 30 years. But it didn’t quite seem to feel right to me.
I understood the concept of eating complex carbohydrates and eliminating simple carbohydrates as vitally important. I eliminated white flour immediately, and started to look into whole grain pastas, rice, tortillas, etc. I didn’t love the taste, but it fit the diet. Right away, it was clear that this wasn’t going to work from me. I would get violently ill after having whole grain toast, even dry. Pastas, rices, etc. also gave me a similar reaction. I then started to do some research and found that every diabetic food pyramid seemed to put the food that made me so ill at the base of the triangle. Take a minute and just google “diabetes food pyramid.” I’ll wait…
They all look the same. They all have that base of “good whole wheat/grains” and less of the things that made sense to me. So I began a process of elimination. I stopped eating the foods that made me violently ill and see what worked. Initially, I eliminated all breads, grains and starches. Within a few weeks, the headaches disappeared, my vision stabilized, and my glucose readings, while still high, were becoming steadier throughout the day. THIS was my “Aha” moment.
What the doctor prescribed, what the standard nutrition advice described DID NOT WORK. If I wanted to regain a modicum of health, I could not follow my doctor’s advice. A friend of mine had started eating clean, so I gave that a try. I also started talking to my former trainers again, and they pointed me in the direction of Mark’s Daily Apple and other Paleo resources, and it just felt right.
To be clear, let me give you my definition of a paleo diet. This is based on my readings of Mark Sisson, Robb Wolf, sites like Greatist.com, Paleo Food Online and many others. I’m not going to get into the science behind it, because I’m not a scientist. This is just what I’ve learned and what works for me.
– My paleo diet consists of unprocessed foods that include meat, eggs, fish, nuts, fruits and vegetables. I avoid most (if not all) dairy products, legumes, grains, excess sugar and vegetable oils. I drink lots of water, and occasionally nut milk such as almond milk.
Slowly, I stopped buying processed foods. I discovered the wonders of the farmers market. I learned the perimeter of the supermarket. Initially, my diet was fairly boring. I stuck with it, and saw that each month my glucose levels were getting lower and lower. My energy was getting higher, and I was starting to drop weight without much effort. Then I started to get bored with my food and tried dabbling in processed crap again. It sucked. When I ate along the Standard American Diet guidelines, I felt bloated, nauseous, achey and sick. When I was more strictly paleo, I felt more alert, clearheaded and energetic. And I lost weight – something that had been a huge struggle for me. With that newfound energy and less weigh pressing on my knees, I was able to start a new exercise regime – yoga, my new love.
That brings us to today. When I was diagnosed with diabetes, I weighed roughly 235lbs. I was sicker than I had ever been, and could barely get around. I’ve spent the last two years re-learning how to eat, understanding what my body needs, and learning how to cook. I decided one day to just give myself a clean slate and pretend that I had no idea what any food tasted like so I would be open to trying anything. I primarily shop the perimeter of the supermarket, and go to farmers markets when I can.
I’m not 100% paleo – I still have moments of weakness. But I am so cognizant of the consequences of those moments. I broke down and ordered pizza the other night, and woke up sore, bloated and feeling completely out of it. I KNOW what that food does to me and I try to avoid it. Even when I travel, it’s easy to get lean meats and veggies, and pass on the bread basket. I no longer depend on sugar to give me an energy boost – my energy levels remain consistent. I can exercise, my inflammation is down, and I’m still losing weight. As of this morning I’m 44lbs down from my highest weight, and I’m still going.
– Paleo may not be for everyone, but it was the key to me gaining control of my life and my health.