A lot of people I meet want to know more about Paleo and why I made the decision to eat this way, but I think the bigger question is why have I stuck to it? It’s been over a year now since I made the best change to my life I ever made and I thought I’d write about the benefits I have had from eating real food, day in day out.
First up, let me tell you about what I eat and don’t eat. Hopefully you’ve seen some of the recipes I’ve posted around this site, so you’ll have an idea of what I cook. As per most paleo eaters, I have cut out all grains, all sugar (apart from a small amount of natural occurring sugars in fruit), white potatoes, legumes (peas, beans and weirdly peanuts) and I have also completely removed dairy. Day to day, my diet consists of eggs, fish, meat, a whole ton of broccoli, lots of vegetables, nuts and the occasional bit of fruit.
In my pre-paleo life, my diet consisted mostly of bread, pasta and milk. No joke, I would happily eat a mixing bowl full of pasta with half a loaf of bread on the side and used to joke that I have no “off switch” with food. The same applied with potatoes. I never had much of a sweet tooth, but savoury was my achilles heel. I would drink pints of milk per day too and absolutely loved the stuff. I used to cry as a child when I went to bed because I was hungry and the thing I always wanted was bread. Man, I could eat a whole loaf in one sitting without even thinking about it. My diet, in retrospect, was ridiculous and I really don’t know how I wasn’t morbidly obese. I’m a big girl though – I’m 5’10″ (or just over) and while I never looked too fat, I was mostly made of fat when I started eating paleo.
So here’s the low down on what I have gained from eating paleo:
1. My IBS is vastly improved
When I was still in love with bread, pasta and milk, I was genuinely concerned about getting a job because it meant sharing an office and my IBS was so bad, I didn’t think that was possible. I would be so bloated and full of wind that I would be doubled over in pain at the end of a day. These days, it’s not even a concern.
I find now that if I have dairy, the problem immediately returns, so I guess I was lactose intolerant (like a massive proportion of people) but never had what I consider the classic symptoms of lactose intolerance, so it never occurred to me to stop drinking it. Milk was my go-to drink and I drank it every day. At least a pint a day, usually more in my younger days. In fact, if I have anything non-paleo these days (and yes it happens) I feel terrible within an hour. I get nauseous, I feel agitated and grumpy and I realise how it so wasn’t worth it.
2. I get ill less
In my pre-paleo life, I was a pretty sickly kinda dudette. If there was a virus going round, I would get it and I would get it worse than everyone else (or so it felt). I remember spending weeks and weeks in bed in my twenties with stomach bugs, to the point where I consulted my doctor about it because it seemed unusual that I was ill so often. I was convinced people shouldn’t feel that way and that something wasn’t right.
I’m not saying I never get ill now. I do of course, I’m human. But I have definitely noticed that I am ill so much less that pre-paleo. I now get ill less than most people, not more.
3. I got muscly…and I like it
As a teenager, I was in every sports team going. I was a fast runner, did gymnastics, could hit a ball well and I also threw the javelin for county. I was built to be sporty. As I grew older, I forgot how important it was to feel strong. Actually, that’s not true, I still wanted to feel strong, but it was too much like hard work and it seemed easier not to be. As a teenager, I often worried that I wasn’t “womanly” enough because I was muscular and tall. As a kind of response to that, I cut my hair short and made myself look more masculine. But I still worried that my physique made me unattractive. In my twenties, I grew my hair long, started putting on a bit of weight, stopped doing any sport at all and wore dresses a lot! I wanted to be “womanly”. And it was kind of fun, being “womanly”.
As I reached my thirties and looked in the mirror, I didn’t like what I saw as much. I’ve always been one for loving your body and I’ve never disliked my body, in any of the many varied stages it has been through. I took a very objective view of myself in that way. My body was pretty good and I knew I was quite lucky, but for me, something was missing. I felt disconnected from my body. It was soft and round and felt like it was at times hindering not helping me. I wanted to reconnect with that strength I had enjoyed so much as a teenager, and these days, I knew that didn’t make me less “womanly” at all. Because I am a woman! And being strong and in shape has nothing to do with my femininity. No one gets to decide what a “woman” should look like. People who say things like “oh I liked you before, you look too manly now” (and this is women more than men) are totally missing the point. How many men do you know who are muscular and in shape anyway? Why is a strong body, ready for anything, built of muscle not fat, seen as a “manly” body. Who the hell decided that?! I can promise you, I am still very much female, but I get to feel like I can take on the world and my body will be there to help me out. That is an incredible feeling.
As a bonus, the cellulite that I had always had on my butt improved vastly. In fact, before paleo, my cellulite had spread onto the front of my thighs and now my legs look better than when I was twenty!
4. I’m improving my future, not just my present
I would like to say at this point, that I am going only on the limited research that I have been able to do myself, and I am not an expert or nutritionist. In my understanding, high glucose diets fuel cancer growth. According to this article:
Cancer cells depend almost exclusively on glucose. The mitochondria of cancer cells are dysfunctioning (because of UCP2), which prevents them from metabolizing ketone bodies or free fatty acids. Chronically elevated glucose levels feed tumors and cancer cells. Elevated insulin levels also promote the growth of tumors.
The paleo diet is focused on keeping your insulin levels steady. Without the spikes of carbohydrate, you don’t get the spikes of insulin and the problems that come with them.
There has also been a study into the paleo diet and cancer by a German University, the conclusions of which can be seen here: http://www.nutritionandmetabolism.com/content/pdf/1743-7075-8-75.pdf
Not only that, by controlling my weight, I am massively reducing my chances of becoming diabetic (pretty much to nil), and avoiding inflammatory foods such as grains can help prevent arthritis symptoms, which is something my mother suffered with.
5. It helped me with my anxiety issues
I have always suffered with depression and anxiety related issues, ever since I can remember. Throughout my twenties, I was often very depressed and was treated with anti depressants. I often felt hopeless and exhausted by life. In my late twenties, this came to a crescendo after the death of my mother from a brain tumour, and I started to have terrible, debilitating panic attacks that stopped me from leaving my flat for a few months. Luckily I knew that I had to do something about it, and with CBT I managed to get back to a pretty stable state. For me though, the “normal” state was still someone prone to mood swings, bouts of depression and anxiety. This would often manifest as stomach problems, or bouts of complete exhaustion (which I will come to again later on).
Since eating paleo, I have felt a marked improvement in my mental state. I imagine this also has a lot to do with the exercise that I now regularly take, but this should not be seen separately. Both are about reconnecting with myself physically and feeling like my body is my own. I know what goes into it, I decide how it looks. And it feels incredible.
I first noticed how much I had improved when I had a slip. I got lazy and I stopped working out, stopped eating right. And suddenly, I felt bad again and I realised how long it had been since I had felt that way. I had gone almost six months without feeling like I was struggling mentally. So, I started again and I felt better again and I tried to make sure I always remembered how much it affected me.
6. I have more energy
Pre-paleo, I could never understand why I was so bloody knackered all the time. I used to have these terrible crashes that I called “zombie attacks” where I would just collapse and my heart rate would drop to a number in the 40s, which I knew wasn’t right. Sometimes going up a flight of stairs felt like the hardest thing in the world. This confused me so much – I was in my twenties, not really fat…I knew I shouldn’t feel like that. My doctor didn’t know what was wrong with me and I had pretty much given up.
Eating paleo has changed my energy levels significantly. I no longer worry that I am going to collapse into a heap and I certainly don’t worry about a flight of stairs! My energy levels remain constant throughout the day and I know I will have enough energy to deal with whatever life throws at me.
At the age of 32, I can honestly say I’ve never felt better about myself. I love my body, I feel healthier than ever and I’m stronger than I ever have been. These days I work out between one and three times per week, and my work out is all about weights. I do bench presses, curls, crunches, planking, squats and interval bike sprints as my core items and try to change it up with other items as much as possible to keep things fresh.