I have been on a diet since I was 16. In 4 months, I’ll be 30. I can’t keep doing this.
My first experience with dieting was with a Weight Watchers book I borrowed from a family friend. I was a sophomore in high school, had never been “skinny”, and that year the costumes for my studio’s annual dance concert were skin tight. Next to all the other skinny girls, I feared I was going to look like a walrus in a silver leotard and bedazzled black pants. To make matters worse, I had to have foot surgery that spring and could essentially not work out for 6 weeks. The end results from the Weight Watcher’s book? I lost 17 lbs in 20 days. I looked distinctly different, I went down almost a pants size, and felt pretty good when I stepped on that stage in May.
However, for those 20 days, I was miserable. I would deal with a headache all day, saving my points to have a big meal after school. I thought about nothing but food, how hungry I was, what I couldn’t eat, that I just had to get through this misery and then I would look the way I wanted to look. It changed the way I looked at food; there became two categories: food I didn’t really like and food I felt guilty about eating.
That guilt-ladden relationship became worse when I went to college. Throughout my childhood, my mom had subscribed to the low-fat, low calorie style of eating, that was common in the 1990’s. Every single dairy product we bought was reduced fat or fat free – cheese, milk, margarine (cringe), mayonnaise. We didn’t have potato chips or Oreos; we had Snack-well’s reduced fat Devil’s Food cookies and pretzels. She never cooked with salt, because it was “bad for us.” We ate chicken and lean ground beef, wheat bread, rice, and pasta. None of the ‘fun cereal’ – only grape nuts (with sugar) and flavored oatmeal. You would think that with all of this restriction, I wouldn’t have had a weight problem. Yet there I was – tall for my age, and not thin like most of the other girls. When I went to college, I quickly figured out that my mom was not around anymore. No one would say anything if I bought a package of Oreos. Or potato chips. Or both. Or a box of cheese breadsticks covered in a garlic butter. I started to eat alone, because then I wouldn’t feel ‘judged’ by other people. I would binge, and then resolve to diet for 4 or 5 days, then binge again, all the while making half-baked attempts at exercising, trying to justify that I had burned calories and had earned that plate of nachos grande which is still healthy because of the lettuce and tomatoes. And this went on for years.
(And then the drinking… there is nothing like a state college in the Midwest to help launch a love affair with alcohol. But that’s a whole ‘nother post!)
Of course the scale ticked slowly upward for years, until those 17 lbs I had lost were back on my hips and thighs, along with 15 more. And there I stayed, until I left school and got two desk jobs working 50 hours a week for 7 months. Then I gained 10 or 15 more. I’m not really sure because at this point I wasn’t weighing myself. I just know that in February 2007, while vacationing at a relatives house, I stepped on a scale and saw a number that terrified me: 234 lbs.
So I resolved to change. I was living in New York at the time, which was helpful because I walked a lot, and I didn’t have a lot of money, which was also helpful because I couldn’t spend a lot of it on the fatty foods I loved. Over the years, I’ve listened to tv gurus, doctors and read articles on strategies for ‘getting healthy’. I tried to let myself eat the foods I loved, but in moderation. I tried running, and completed 2 half marathons. I hired a personal trainer, who looked at my food journals and told me to drink two protein shakes a day and count carbs (torture). I tried juice fasting. I tried prayer. I lost and gained the same 10-12 lbs over and over again.
And I wasn’t happy. Not at all.
And then, last fall, I decided I had had enough. I was tired of feeling guilty every time I ate something I enjoyed. Starting in October, fueled in part by some romantic angst, I decided, nothing was off limits. I was just going to eat – pasta, bread, cheese, chocolate – whatever I wanted, because heck – what if the world really did end in December of 2012? And so I ate. Whatever I wanted, with no remorse, because I couldn’t remember a time in my life when I had had that kind of freedom. I had been on some form of a diet since I was 16, and I was done. So donuts, cupcakes, and peanut butter cups – yes, yes, yes!
And I ate but I wasn’t any happier. In fact, I knew I had gained more weight, and was more uncomfortable than ever. My stomach hurt, my skin awful and most trips to the bathroom were unpleasant.
And if the world didn’t end, I was going to have to deal with the fact that most of my clothes didn’t fit… and I was going to have to participate in my company’s weight loss challenge, starting in January. Well, the Mayans were wrong, 2012 wasn’t ‘the end’, and it was time for me to deal with what I had done to myself…
I have read about the Paleo diet for about 6 months at various blogs, (Nerd Fitness, Everyday Paleo, Wellness Mama – all great!). And I wanted to try it, mostly because I love grains, but they don’t necessarily make me feel good. I always thought that uncomfortable, rock in your stomach feeling after eating was normal, because I’ve experienced it my whole life – after sandwiches and pasta bowls. But maybe I’m wrong, maybe that’s not normal. And I already felt like total crap and am no happier after a 3 month carb bonanza. The main Paleo point that appealed to me was that I could eat whenever I wanted, and as much as I wanted. Any diet that involved counting or measuring had never worked for me.
So January 3rd, I weighed in for the launch of my office “Get Healthy Challenge”: 246 lbs.
I will admit, the number didn’t shock me. But my lack of shock didn’t make that number any less horrifying.
Using what I had learned about the Paleo lifestyle, I got to work. I cooked my meals for the week over the weekend and stuck to it. I went to the movies without a box of candy and popcorn. I did have headaches those first few days, but by the time Monday rolled around, I felt like I had more energy. I even skipped my morning coffee. Weird. I did some mild exercise, mostly walking, yoga, and dancing around my apartment to pop music. I wasn’t hungry all the time. Nor was I constantly thinking about food.
So when I stepped on the scale for our first weekly weigh in the morning of the January 11th, I thought – I feel good, and my pants don’t feel as tight. Maybe 6 or 7 lbs down – which would be awesome, because that would mean I lost weight and this doesn’t feel like torture!
And the number was: 235.5. 10.5 lbs. In seven days. The most in my office.
I’ll take it, I thought. Along with my free-range eggs, bacon and mountains of vegetables. And the world can keep it’s wheat, rice and beans.
***Update*** I had no idea when I wrote this post that it would be possible for me to lose the amount of weight I have, without starving myself, while still enjoying the food I eat. Using the Paleo lifestyle as a template for the food I eat, has truly been a revelation in my life. I would encourage anyone to try it for 30 days. If your mind isn’t blown by how good you feel – then go back to your fast food and microwave meals. But I doubt that’s what will happen… Paleo changed my life. And if you commit to it, I bet it can change yours.