Paleo Pusher: My Experience with the Diet Vortex
The first thing I saw when I logged on Facebook today was a girl’s status stating, “Going fully raw tomorrow! Thanks to [so and so] for introducing me to it!” So, most people are thinking, “Wow, good for her, taking control of her health” and whatnot. But I for one was concerned. As someone who has dabbled with every diet in the book, I fear for her downfall. You might be wondering how I can immediately doubt this girl and be so judgmental, but I’m not concerned about that, because this issue is so much bigger than any of us realize.
As I stated before, I’ve tried everything in the book. Me and health and fitness have a bit of a past. Growing up, I was always playing a sport, running around, or doing something active, and never did I ever care about what I put in my body. Cosmic brownies and Swiss Cake Rolls filled my lunch bag every day, pizza on Wednesday’s for dinner because my mom wasn’t home that night, and ice cream with my dad after dinner every. single. night. for eight years. It was routine. I didn’t care because I never saw an ounce of fat on my body because I was young, active, and had a fast metabolism. And because NO 5th grader should care about being fat. I did this until I was a junior in high school and was still wearing a size 2. Nothing caught up with me. When I was a junior, I took a specific interest in fitness and health. I was strictly training, eating well (but not restrictively), and educating myself about the best way I could eat to improve my performance. This was the last time I actually had a healthy relationship with food.
Lent rolled around that year, and I decided, just for the hell of it, that I would try the paleo diet. After hearing my uncle talk about it because he was into cross fit and hearing my world history teacher talk about the caveman diet, I did some research to figure out what it was. Upon trying it, I had no intention for weight loss. All I wanted was to fuel my body with the least amount of processed foods so I strictly ate meat, vegetables, fruit, and nuts. At first, I wasn’t properly educated on it so I would eat lunchmeat (obviously processed), put salt on a lot of stuff, and have soy sauce (which contains wheat). But like I said, I was just trying it out. After lent was done, I found that I liked how I felt eating this way and definitely noticed changes in my body, and right before prom season, what 16 year old girl wouldn’t like that? My parents told me I didn’t need to but it was what I wanted, so they supported me in funding me basically for expensive things like almonds, special flours, and restocking the fruit and veggie drawer every two days. By this point, I had lost around 9 lbs. going from 132 to 123 and fit into a 2P dress for prom. I was strong, lean, and glowing. And when I say glowing, I mean literally glowing. I had taken in so much beta-carotene that my palms and the bottoms of my feet turned slightly orange. After getting a flu virus in late May, I was forced by my mom to eat some crackers because nothing else stayed down, and then took about a two week break from paleo and ate grains but still stayed dairy free. School ended and I had more time to dedicate to cooking my own meals, so I restarted paleo.
This time, I “properly” educated myself. When I say properly, I mean I read books on it and tried to find out as much information as possible. But, I only read pro-paleo sources. Robb Wolf was basically a second coming of Jesus in my mind and paleo was my new religion (Literally. I wouldn’t take communion at church because it contained gluten). I was working out twice a day. I discovered that the diet was protein based and eat protein I did. I could basically out eat my dad in chicken and steak and upped my calorie intake where before I was subsiding more on fruits. I was strong, had a killer body, and was in better shape than ever. But I was obsessive and still didn’t think I was good enough. Friends would go out to eat, and I would stay home because the restaurant wouldn’t have something I could eat. I would leave hanging out with people or turn them down because I needed to workout. This was lonely and exhausting to say the least but like I said, I was a blind sheep of the masses following Robb Wolf and Loren Cordain in their quest to becoming the fittest people on the planet.
School started, and my senior year of volleyball was underway and I was busy. Between practice and games, my intensive writing class, and trying to keep up with being 100% paleo all the time, I suffered. For this writing class, I pulled all-nighters, and my sleep schedule was destroyed. One day, I broke down to my mom about how I was just so sick of it and I think she was thankful to hear me say that I wanted to be done with this “lifestyle” I had created for myself. So I stopped. But what I convinced myself being done was was staying gluten-free and dairy-free. So I ate grains again! But, you can hardly considering adding rice into the mix a big change. Everything else was still the same and I was still sucked into the diet vortex and my life was taken over. Because I was still deprived, the way I ate was all out of whack. I had bingeing tendencies because when I got a hold of some sort of dessert I could actually eat, I would eat six times the normal serving. Or I would go through a bottle of honey in two days and a tub of almonds in a week. I could eat five bowls of Rice Chex with almond milk, but would only do so when no one was watching, because God forbid, I wasn’t the perfectly healthy girl I made myself out to be. I shamed others for eating normal and tried to convince them that grains were evil. But what was evil was my mind. I was so caught up in my facade that I regularly had issues with anxiety and binge eating. Some days, I would get mad at myself and restrict all day, and then end up eating 1,000 calories in one sitting. It was a vicious cycle.
When Christmas rolled around, I weighed about 135 lbs. So not only had I gained back everything I lost on paleo, I actually weighed more than I did before starting any of this non-sense diet BS. Looking at pictures of myself then, I was convinced I looked fat. But when I look at them now, I’m upset that I couldn’t have just been happy with myself. New Years rolled around, and like everyone else in the world, my resolution was to get my body back (What? Was I trying to lose baby weight or something? It was stupid). I did kickboxing. I tried cross fit. I tried doing paleo again. I tried raw. I tried fasting. Nothing worked. I felt that I lost all sense of self-discipline and lost myself. It was my religion and now that it was gone, I didn’t know what to do. I was still around 135 lbs. and because I was traveling to Europe soon, decided to integrate dairy back into my diet because I was wanted to be able to eat the chocolate there, and was afraid I would get sick if I didn’t wean back onto it. So, I started eating it. And didn’t stop. It had been almost a year since I had dairy, and I apparently tried to make up for that in two weeks. Chocolate on ice cream on cheese and anything else I could get my hands on. My trip rolled around and I think I ate about 3 Kinder bars a day. It was like having chocolate again for the first time. Weeks after coming home, I had noticeably gained weight (around 20 lbs. total since prom of my junior year) whereas before I was just kind of avoiding that it ever happened. I was upset. Always. This was the beginning of a very dark time for me. I had anxiety about food, then restricted, then binged. Then had anxiety about how I thought I was fat. And on, and on, and on. I had quit the softball team two days after our first game. I still wasn’t into MSU (which was a cause for a lot of anxiety in the first place). Prom was coming. Everything fun was happening with second semester senior year. There was so much going on around me, and I was crying every single day. I had outbursts, screamed at my parents, retreated to my room, had problems with my boyfriend, and the list went on. I felt like no one understood and I bottled everything up and felt worthless all because I wasn’t as skinny as a used to be. I specifically remember breaking down in the middle of my writing class while we were having a discussion about women and food while a fellow classmate (male) ranted about how it was stupid and I got up and walked out of the classroom and cried in the bathroom across the hall. Just fathom that for a second. I could not even compose myself enough to stay in a classroom because I was so upset about food. It was just food for Christ’s sake. And it was ruling my life.
I knew things had gotten too far. I was late for school every single morning because every time I put on an outfit, I looked in the mirror and couldn’t even accept myself. None of my clothes fit. My anxiety was through the roof. I couldn’t do daily functions normally and I was crashing and burning. I went to my mom and finally confessed about what I had been struggling with but still never really got myself together, but at least someone knew what was going on.
Prom was rolling around, and shopping was my worst nightmare. I vividly remember going to the mall by myself and sitting on the floors of dressing rooms in hysterics. I hated myself and my body and anything I put on. Once I found a dress that was decently okay, I settled because I couldn’t stand to zip, or not be able to zip, one more dress. I was still unhappy and my mom knew, so she made me try one more time to try to find something I felt good in. The shopping trip that day is one that will forever stand out in my mind as one of the most terrifying things to ever happen to me. And writing this, I know it sounds stupid that a shopping trip could be so tragic, but when I think about my worst experiences in my life, this is up there. We were at a mall not so close to home to try and find a different selection, and she had me try on anything and everything. Just explore options. Time after time, I would cry in the dressing room, take it off, and walk out. After 15+ dresses I was done. I couldn’t pull myself together and had tears streaming down my face in the middle of Lord and Taylor and ran out. My mom, furious, thinking I was making a scene of dramatics yelled at me in the atrium, but I was no longer breathing. I couldn’t catch my breath and mid-anxiety attack, ran out of the mall, put my head between my knees, gasping for air. Realizing it was real, my mom rubbed my back on that bench outside of Twelve Oaks for a solid half and hour before I could even get my words out. We were on the opposite side of the building, and I wasn’t able to walk back inside even to walk to our car. We walked around the entire mall just to get back to our vehicle. Looking back now, I’m upset that I could ever be so traumatized by a dress when senior prom was supposed to be the height of my high school career. Once the actual dance came, I was still stuck with the same dress and cried all through the day. I hated my hair, my dress, myself. I was late for pictures leaving my ever-patient date alone once again, and by the time I got there, had to take a walk around the block in my five inch heels because I was crying so hard. I was supposed to be taking pictures to remember this forever, but I didn’t even want to look and them or be tagged on Facebook, because I thought I was fat.
Graduation came along with summer and the case was the same. I went swimming one whole time this summer because I didn’t want to wear a bikini. I was depressed and went two weeks barely leaving my house before my parents sat me down and addressed some serious concern for my mental state. In an effort to change something, I picked up yoga (thank you Annie and Liz) and this saved me for the time being. I found myself a lot happier and more relaxed and enjoying the company of my friends and was able to continue on like this besides the occasional bad day. But instead of hiding away in my room for a week straight, it was maybe just once every two weeks, which was a huge deal for me.
Although I felt good for a while there, moving away to school proved to be extremely tough for me. I started to sink again and found myself back in a cycle of restrict-binge and took on the infamous “last supper” style of eating where I thought “oh, I’ll start paleo again tomorrow” and binged out, thinking I would never eat these foods again, so I might as well get them while I can. But when you do this night after night, it becomes destructive. So put this food anxiety with school anxiety, homesickness, and loneliness, and it’s a recipe for disaster. I had considered seeing a counselor in the past but always thought that because I had a good day, I didn’t need it anymore. But soon, it was time to face the music and try to get some help. Upon visiting the counseling center here at MSU, I was referred to the nutritionist, Ronda Bokram (MS RD), and she led me to a book called Intuitive Eating which has given me more solace than any person ever could. This book wasn’t like the other dieting books I had read (quite a few). It was comforting, told me it was okay, and gave me permission to do the one thing that caused all of these problems in the first place: eat. It’s based around the principle that as babies and toddlers, we were hungry, we cried, we ate, and we were satisfied. We ate intuitively. It’s all about training yourself to eat when you’re hungry and satisfy you needs without restriction until it becomes a habit. It has been a few months since visiting with Ronda, and the one line that I remember her saying to me was, “Isn’t this crazy? I have a masters degree and all I do is tell people to eat.” It was profound. Before, I was convinced that I had a gluten allergy and eating it made me sick, but so much of that was mental. And isn’t it scary that we can trick ourselves into thinking someone to the point where it becomes true? That’s more terrifying than any fear I can think of. Since finishing the book and visiting with Ronda, I’m currently eating what I went when I’m hungry and this is the first time since 2011 that I’m not preoccupied by food 24/7 and that mental release is more important to me than any weight loss.
In a society where thigh gaps, bikini bridges, and whatever else the current thinspiration business is, this is the reality for far to many females (and males) from elementary aged, to people old enough to retire. Hell, my grandma has a sticky note on her kitchen cabinet for “flat belly foods”. Will it ever end? I cried the whole way through writing this, and posting it makes me feel quite vulnerable, but it I can change anyone’s perception of crash diets and body image, or just let them know that it happened to me, too, then that’s worth it to me. Maybe it’ll even explain to some people why I acted pretty strange for a while there. Let this also be an apology to anyone I ever shamed for eating, tried to convince that paleo or gluten-free was great, or thought I was better than because I was skinnier. I am so sorry. I was in the wrong and only contributed to the problem that I’m trying to address here.
I’ve since signed up for a half-marathon, haven’t stepped on a scale, and am getting excited about good things coming my way.
Thanks for reading.