I’ve been asked many times to share my paleo story. What I’m about to tell you goes beyond how I found paleo or how I got started. To tell you the truth, it’s probably way more information than you want to know about me. But I’ve dealt with a lot of hooey the last couple years and I feel like now is a good time to share some of my successes (and struggles) in case some of you can benefit from my experiences.
My paleo journey has been exactly that: a journey. As far as I’m concerned, there’s no end until I die. And that’s one reason why I’ve never written a “Success Story” about my paleo successes—because to me, health is ongoing and should be approached as an ever evolving whole. There are ups and downs. When you read a “success story,” you should understand that it’s a snapshot of a person’s life that has been frozen in time. It’s hard to quantify a beginning and an end when it comes to health, since the story is continuous. When people share their before and after photos, my first thought is, “What about a ‘now’ photo? And what about tomorrow’s?”
That said, here’s my story, in a series of snapshots, that got me where I am today.
I was always an active kid with many interests, which, come high school, included health and fitness. By the time I was in college, I would take study breaks in Barnes and Noble to read articles in Women’s Health or FitnessRX. I read the newest, best-selling health books as they came on the market, but always with a healthy dose of skepticism.
But when Jeff came across MarksDailyApple.com and The Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson, we both connected with what Mark had to say. He had a lot of solid, scientifically supported points that eroded our doubts. So we continued to read more about the primal/paleo diet and together we put his words into action.
Way back in 2010 when I started my blog, PaleoPorn.com, I had reaped the benefits of maintaining a regular fitness regimen of X-biking, weight training, and playing recreational coed indoor volleyball for fun. At the same time, Jeff and I were also transitioning from a Standard American Diet to eating 80/20 primal (read: paleo + dairy, 80% of the time, allowing for Sunday’s when I still ate pasta and bread along with the occasional—gasp!—flour-based chocolate chip cookie.)
When we first went paleo, there were no such things as paleo crackers, paleo bread, paleo snacks, or bottled alternative milks or jerky that weren’t made with crappy ingredients. If we wanted to have those things, I had to make them. Plus, none of our friends and family felt the same way we did about food and fitness, which was isolating. The only community support we had was from those we could find online.
Back when I first went paleo, being paleo was tougher to maintain.
With increased awareness about gluten, cross-contamination, etc., and with so many more companies providing paleo-friendly products, going paleo today is infinitely easier than it was when I first transitioned years ago. When I started out, it was much more of a fend-for-yourself, labor intensive endeavor.
During my transition into the paleo lifestyle, I was teaching math at a high-performing high school (read: high stress environment) and turning the new lifestyle changes into habits. Low and behold, I was able to lose a whopping 60lbs in the process. The lifestyle seemed to work big time.
While teaching, however, I was losing sleep stressing over how to best help my students and achieve all the goals I had set for both myself and them. All that stress had me ruminating. Instead of thinking about how to best help my students understand how to graph a quadratic function, I wanted to travel more and see the world. In my last year teaching I would come home at least once a week crying because of how overwhelmed I was. I would have nightmares about work and wake up yelling. With encouragement from Jeff, I reluctantly quit teaching at the end of the 2010 school year. I didn’t realize how much stress I was putting on myself until after I quit teaching. And once I quit, much of the stress went away.
I had devoted the majority of my mind and body to teaching from the moment I left college through May of 2010. And after I quit, I had SO MUCH FREE TIME. With Jeff supporting both of us, I was able to explore other hobbies and interests to find what else I enjoyed.
We had been following the paleo lifestyle with great success for over a year at that point, and that inspired me to start blogging on Paleo Porn. I dove into teaching myself more about health and cooking and I spent hours upon hours in my kitchen. I started sharing my recipes on social media, then the blog, and occasionally in person. I couldn’t help it. I was just super excited to help others after I had reaped the benefits.
I experimented with new fitness activities and found an absolute love for HIIT thanks to Zuzka Light’s YouTube channel. No longer having a double income, I removed as many excess expenses as possible from our lives, including paying for a gym membership. We expanded our home gym with minimal equipment that we picked up on Craigslist. We had already embraced the minimalist movement by this time, but now I directed that knowledge toward our finances, to make having a single income work for the two of us.
Six months prior to quitting my teaching job, Jeff was fired from his job. So around the same time I quit teaching, Jeff was working hard to grow our web branding business, SPYR. We learned how to use DSLR cameras and took on freelance photography work. We built our entrepreneurial lifestyle through sweat equity over the course of the next few years. And because we were location independent, we were able to spend more time traveling while working.
During some client down time in the summer of 2012, we were able to crank out and produce the first version of my first cookbook, Pigskin Paleo. We designed, developed, photographed, and published every single piece of our paleo cookbook, all in one month!
Life was good. And in 2012 I felt the best I had ever felt in my entire life.
I had set a goal that by my 30th birthday I would weigh 130 pounds, which I hadn’t achieved in my entire adult life. I worked really hard to get there, busting through plateaus left and right.
I was experimenting with removing all paleo-friendly sweeteners (honey, maple syrup, etc.) since going paleo already removed all refined sugar. I also removed all fruit and caffeine (coffee, tea, chocolate, etc.) and went low-carb paleo (cutting out potatoes, squash, etc.) to get my body into ketosis. I was doing daily (and sometimes twice-a-day) high intensity interval training. I felt strong. And confident. And capable.
But after reintroducing some of the foods I cut out for the short period of time that helped me reach my goal weight, my weight slowly started creeping up.
Over the next year-and-a-half I was able to hold and maintain my weight between 135-140lbs. I felt good, but I still wanted more fat gone. Because I was having such difficulty losing more weight, I kept digging for more nutritional information. I read fitness and health books looking to learn what I could possibly be missing.
One book I read was Ashley Tudor’s Perfecting Paleo, all about testing, tracking, and adjusting based on specific test results. Many things she laid out in her book were also mentioned in Tim Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Body. I essentially went from 80/20 primal, to 100% paleo, to 100% paleo + biohacker.
Newly armed with information, I decided to get a DEXA scan to gain some very specific information about my body. I thought the information from the scan could be used as a “starting point” reference because I planned to lose another 10-30lbs.
But what happened next was the opposite of what I wanted or expected.
Instead of losing weight, I started gaining it—a lot of it.
And right in the middle of this spike in weight, I spiraled into the worst depression I’ve ever experienced in my entire life. And it lasted 2.5 straight years!
Something clearly wasn’t working.
Over the last 2.5 years, I haven’t felt capable of communicating with anyone, let alone sharing what was happening with me, because I flat out didn’t know what was wrong. I was following a 100% paleo diet. I was working out. I was making changes and adjusting based on those changes. And I was gaining weight, no matter what, while living a paleo lifestyle.
I felt like I didn’t have a voice. I felt trapped. I felt like a fraud. I was sharing paleo recipes while gaining weight and that just made me feel guilty. And that was a heavy weight to bare (both physically and emotionally).
Up until now I have been incapable of sharing this information with you. But things are different now, and the story of how I got here is a valuable one.
Now that I feel like I have found my voice again—now that I’m healing—I want to explain what went wrong and what I did to fix it.
In my next post I’ll tell you about how I found the missing pieces to getting back on track. In the meantime, if you have questions for me, feel free to reach out.