I am Primal Kitchen’s Family Grokumentarian, and I’ve been blogging about my family’s path in the paleo lifestyle since our transition to it in June of 2010. I am 28 years old, a wife, and a mother of two girls, 4 and almost 2 years old. This is my story so far.
I was a normal-but-maybe-a-tiny-bit-chubby weight-wise until about age 8, when I had my school physical. I distinctly remember the day because I weighed in at 88 lb. The doctor explained to my mom (in front of me), “Mrs. So-and-so, you must avoid feeding your daughter hamburgers, cheeseburgers, Lucky Charms…” I actually had the thought, “But, what am I going to eat?”
Of course at that point the zeitgeist was all about low-fat, low-cholesterol. My dad suffered from high cholesterol, and my dad’s side of the family has a history of multiple heart issues, we were suddenly eating so many low-fat and fat-free foods, which happened to include high-fructose-corn-syrup-laden salad dressings, SnackWell’s cookies, and so on. I actually remember my mom sitting my brother and me down for a talk – and telling us that for the sake of my dad’s heart and our health, we were going to have not so many meat-based meals, but instead more pasta meals.
And would you believe it? I became fatter. (It’s like those foods were doing the opposite of what was intended.) We moved at the end of the summer before I started sixth grade, and because there was a while where we were surviving on restaurant foods while in traction before finding a permanent home, by the time I weighed in during the school weigh-in, I was around 155 lb., which could be a great weight for a tall and fit adult female, but I was decidedly stout, wearing junior size 15 jeans. Life was not fun.
One thing my parents did rightly recognize: I needed exercise in my life. Despite my lack of enthusiasm, they had me join the local swim team wherever we lived, and so by middle school I was swimming several hours a week. My growing self-awareness about my body had me packing my own lunches. They were very low-calorie, albeit nutritionally bereft: maybe an applesauce and a couple of fun size candy bars. By 8th or 9th grade I was in the 130s, wearing junior size 7 jeans.
By college, I wasn’t quite so active, and the dreck served at the cafeteria didn’t help. I gained some weight, and suddenly decided my sophomore year that I wasn’t going to eat “dairy or carbs” – bizarrely shorthand for paleo, though I had no concept of that at the time! I got back into the 140s for a time, before the call of sugar was back in my life, and I was in the 160s by the time I graduated.
I married my sweetheart right out of college at a size 10 or so, and decided to do Atkins with lots of cardio and free weight work. I was eating soy-based frankenfoods a lot of the time, but it worked. I got down to about 159 lb., but fairly toned, wearing size 8 pants and size 4/6 tops. (A far cry from the 150s shape I was in as a sixth grader…) Definitely the best shape of my adult life.
Then, I was pregnant! My doctor wisely advised that I lay off so much soy in my diet (phytoestrogens and all…). I started eating carbs again, and surprise! I gained just over 40 lb. at the peak of that pregnancy. My daughter arrived, turning our universe (in that wonderful, crazy way) inside out. I struggled mightily to lose the weight, but truthfully the stresses of parenthood, being a working mom, and my evening grad classes took a major toll, and soon certain snacks (especially sugary carbs like chocolate covered pretzels) were comfort food extraordinaire. No surprise, I hovered generally in the 180s, until shortly after weaning my daughter at 18 months, my second daughter was conceived. I was elated, but also internally stressing out, because I knew that it meant another swell of weight gain.
I was right; though I lost some the first trimester from nausea, soon I topped that pregnancy at 208 lb. At my six week postpartum checkup I weighed in at 191. But the stresses sure didn’t dissipate; they only increased! I was miserable and still eating for comfort. Meanwhile, my oldest daughter had always – since I could remember – been interested in eating more food than seemed logical for her age and nutritional needs.
By the time daughter #2 was about 6 months old, my brother-in-law and sister-in-law came for a visit with their two kids. My nephew has always had the appetite of a bird. I remarked something to the effect that it had never been the case for my daughter, and that she was seemingly always hungry. My brother-in-law, a family practice physician, made a remark that eventually changed my life: he said that in some people the leptin hormonal pathways differ, so satiation doesn’t comes into play the way it should. He also said offhandedly (in a later conversation the same visit) that if anybody were to eat only what the cavemen had access to eat, that person would lose weight.
I ruminated on that for a couple of weeks. I knew that I had eating issues. I also knew that I was always. SO. hungry. — and so was my oldest daughter! I dreaded her having to go through the pain that I had as a child – being constantly teased about weight, self-depriving with ridiculous dieting to fit the image of skinny that society was demanding, etc. I wanted a long-term, sane solution.
I started Googling. Soon I found Loren Cordain’s web page, which somehow led to me to Mark Sisson’s site. I was reading more on biochemistry pathways that I had since my college years. It all made lots of sense, and yet was still blowing my mind. You want me to add how much fat?!
So I started eating primally in June of 2010, around 198 lb. I suddenly experienced great things: mental clarity, sustained energy, etc. – and weight loss! But then I got cocky last fall…all of this talk of people still managing to eat potatoes or even white rice with little detriment. I was making allowances for honey and eating a lot of Clementines. My carb count wasn’t managed at all. The holidays came and went with a vengeance.
Any time I manage to keep my carb count down with careful food journaling, I do much better, both emotionally (without sugar spikes) and in terms of weight loss. The last time that I did this, keeping less than 30 grams of carbohydrates per day (through March 2011), I lost about 15 pounds – and left my appetite steady and low. The problem is – when you’re in charge of feeding a preschooler and toddler every day (and that means preparing and feeding their growing bodies and brains carbs!), managing, counting, and journaling one’s own carb counts can be exceedingly tedious.
After March, I was loosey goosey with my carb count in the spring – until July 2011 when I did my first whole30, which was strict paleo, no dairy, no added sweeteners. While I was fairly whole30 compliant, I still noticed how much my diet’s fat content relied on pastured dairy prior to that point. I was also very hungry during the whole30 due to my sudden drop in fat consumed – I compensated with increased legal carbs like fruit and sweet pototoes. By the month’s end I had lost 3 or 4 pounds, but my digestion was thoroughly out of whack. That much sugar (even natural sugar) and fiber does not agree with me! Knowing what I learned from the July whole30 experience, I’m considering doing a modified version in January – one that includes butter and heavy cream, but generally avoids fruits and foods that are full of both carbs and fiber. Our family also recently made its first bulk pastured beef purchase in the form of a half cow, so I can now rely on tallow from a quality animal source as part of my fat intake.
I also knew that I needed to exercise – I hadn’t had regular exercise since my prebaby days of chronic cardio. I’d been yearning to try Crossfit for months, when this last summer my husband and I finally found a way to make committing to Crossfit work financially – but only with the help of a generous gift from my parents. I finally made it to my first rampup intro course at the end of September.
Going paleo was hard, but starting Crossfit was harder. Of course it was tremendously physically challenging, but for me, the hump was mostly mental. Would my local Crossfit box work with an atrophied cream puff like me? Luckily for me, I soon saw that my local Crossfit box is full of a wide range of folks – different ages, personalities, many parents, including lots of inspiring and capable women of varying fitness levels who push themselves to new standards every time they work out. I’ve been heartened thus far to find in my instructors and fellow Crossfitters a welcoming and congenial community which pursues individual goals while also encouraging camaraderie and teamwork. I’ve come a long way even in two months, and though almost every single workout of mine remains scaled in one way or another, I can observe my strength and capabilities increasing in little ways every week.
My greatest current struggle is adapting to the energy required to Crossfit weekday mornings before my girls wake up – I’ve had to add some carbohydrate in the form of a small meal of a pre-workout banana (along with some boiled egg or meat), and I’m still tinkering with figuring out what macronutrient ratios (and when!) will work best for me. It may well take me months or even years to find my stride nutritionally and fitness-wise, but I’m starting to become OK with the notion that my story won’t be an instant-fix one.