It's been almost a year and half since I first discovered the Paleo "diet" and completed my first Whole30 cleanse. The article I wrote about it in January 2013 (you can read it here) described the stomach issues I've been dealing with since college and how this cleanse was a way to open my eyes to which foods trigger what in my body. While this is still very true, and it was incredibly helpful in this respect, there were other reasons for my decision to go Paleo (twice) for 30 days at a time.
I generally steer clear of any body trash talk around this blog, not to pretend like I don't have insecurities (because I most certainly have lots of them), but rather to keep this a positive place where people can read uplifting, silly and sometimes self-deprecating anecdotes, but I think body image is something people can relate to, so I think it's time to get real for a sec.
After graduating college, I moved home and had no idea what I was doing with my life. I was in crisis mode. I chopped off 17 inches of hair in an attempt to take control or something. I thought I found a path, so I started working on it while eating healthier and working out like a champ. I was in decent shape and abstaining from the self-destructive behavior that goes along with college life, but this only lasted for so long. During a dark time when posts like this and this were running rampant around here, I lost interest in eating and decided to give up on the new career path I thought I was on.
Instead of visiting the gym to run on the treadmill at 11pm, I went out drinking and inevitably ended up crying by the end of the night every time. I woke up without an appetite or a hangover (that's how you know something is really wrong). I lost about 10 pounds, which on my already-in-shape 5'4" frame was a pretty dramatic loss. I didn't hate being scrawny (although looking back, it didn't look great), but my skin was awful. I had just started working at a Japanese steakhouse, so I was surrounded by people who were down to drink the night away after we finished waiting on douchey customers and that we did. Often.
After a couple months of buying clothes that I otherwise wouldn't have been able to fit into since middle school and partying every night, I got my appetite back. I started ignoring my stomach issues again so I could indulge in free fried rice every night before work, chomp down on extra cupcakes people brought into the restaurant for birthdays and sneak sushi throughout the night. Suddenly I could no longer fit into those baby clothes I had just dropped my hard earned cash on, but I could feel my work pants I'd been wearing every night squeezing my hips. I had gained back the 10 pounds plus an extra five or so. My "What I Wore" posts were far less enjoyable for me to look at and my skin was still sucking hard, so I decided to try this Paleo thing--I told everyone it was for my stomach and my health, but it was also because I didn't like the way my body looked at all.
This was the part I avoided telling people when they asked why I couldn't drink alcohol or why I brought a salad to work instead of eating spaghetti with the rest of them. Even my stomach issues answer wasn't enough to ward off the annoyed looks and "Why are you on a diet?" comments. I knew I wasn't fat and that people wouldn't understand that even though five pounds doesn't seem like a lot, it was enough to make me unhappy with how I looked, but the bottom line was I was doing it for myself and it was none of their damn business. I wasn't cutting or counting calories, I wasn't even strenuously working out, I was just making better choices. The strict rules, however, made people skeptical and made me self conscious.
Before this point, I had experimented with a lot of vegan cooking on this blog to transition away from dairy (due to extreme lactose intolerance) and before that, I never cooked anything without a microwave ever. Pretty much everything I ate in college was awful if it didn't come from my sorority house. So during this first cleanse, I cooked meat for the first time ever. I was thoroughly disgusted by raw chicken and beef, but I did it and was ridiculously surprised to realize that it tasted good when I cooked it, too. I had my ups and downs through this cleanse, there was one particular night (around day 24) where I went back to my college town for a football game and cheated on the cleanse with jager, vodka waters and one infamous meatball sub. I felt so guilty. And while this new way of eating was a vast improvement on what I had been doing to my body prior, this extreme sense of guilt over vodka waters and a sub was not healthy either.
Thirty days of no sugar, alcohol, grains, legumes or even starchy vegetables, taught me a lot of things about myself. I gained confidence in my cooking. I learned that coffee isn't so terrible without three Equal packets. I learned that gluten bothers my stomach in addition to lactose and that even Lactaid products cause bloating and discomfort. But most of all I learned that I was addicted to sugar and that without it, my skin was clear, my sleep patterns were better, I had more energy and that it's not impossible to go without it.
After the cleanse was over, I lost a collective three pounds, which isn't much, but my body looked completely different. I felt and looked much better, healthier, more fit. But I think the strict, no cheating ever thing made it too easy to fall back into old patterns once I was done. When that extreme guilt feeling passed, I slowly started eating grains again (and implemented another, more unfortunate hair change) and while the cleanse definitely accomplished what I needed it to, it didn't stick.
Eventually I started feeling crappy about my bod again (after a particularly rowdy weekend at Harry Potter World and Senor Frog's day drinking) and I decided to try the Whole30 again (starting here). This time it was much easier to resist temptation and I didn't berate myself as much for messing up here and there. Once again I got great results and felt fabulous, but slipped into crazy eating habits after moving across the country and suddenly living in the most amazing foodie city there is (when you see a Ramen burger, you have to try a Ramen burger..).
So the most convoluted intro to a blog post ever brings me to now, eight months later. I mentioned before how my skin has been freaking out lately, and while working out pretty consistently has seemingly kept my weight under control (I don't own a scale), other health issues have been rearing their ugly heads and I know exactly why they're happening: sugar. For the past week or so, I've been semi-consciously cutting out grains and added sugars and I've already noticed an improvement in my skin and energy.
This time I'm doing it differently. I'm not giving myself a time frame and I'm not going to "lose" if I decide to leave the bun on my burger. I'm going to cut out as much sugar as possible and not worry so much about whether there's vegetable oil in my salad dressing or corn in my salsa. I'm going to have soy milk every once in a while if I want it, and I'm going to avoid even "lactose-free" dairy products. And if I want a vodka water, you can bet your arse I'm going to have one--as long as there's plenty of lime in it.
I'm doing Paleo my way. I refuse to let others make me feel like I'm some dumb girl on a fad diet who thinks she's fat. I'm making a lifestyle change so that I can feel, look and be awesome. Feel free to e-mail me (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you have any questions or just to get a high five from me for reading to this point in this novel of a blog post. Also, get ready for plenty of Paleo foods to creep back in on the Instagram feed (@mackensieg).