I spent years battling anorexia. I still battle disordered eating, even now. At my lightest, I weighed 103 pounds. I weighed myself multiple times per day and kept Excel spreadsheets of those numbers, which is why I can still quote the exact figures. It is a long story, how I got that low, and how I started to pull myself out, so I suppose I will start at the beginning with a brief recap.
I grew up in a home with two wonderful, loving, overweight, unhealthy, and sugar-addicted parents. My diet mirrored theirs – lots of Mac and cheese, sugary cereals, and PB&J’s at mealtimes, and lots of candy, chocolate, and homemade cookies in between. When I was a teenager I was slightly pudgy, sugar-addicted, and scared to death of becoming as overweight and unhealthy as my parents.
The loss of control I felt was terrifying; I couldn’t stop eating the crack, I couldn’t get myself healthy. So I seized control. I started my first diet when I was 16. Eventually I progressed to chronic cardio, along with fat and calorie restriction. During my college days I ran 10 miles on the treadmill. Every. Single. Morning. And I limited my calories to 1750 per day. Believe me, I know. I counted every bite that went into my mouth. When I was at social events that required me to eat more, I would purge. That’s how I succeeded in getting down to 103. I wasn’t happy, and I didn’t feel healthy – I barely had the energy for my everyday activities – but I felt in control.
My views began to change in January of 2009, when my soon-to-be husband introduced me to the wonderful community of CrossFit Oahu and to the paleo lifestyle. I started to think more about being healthy, fit, and strong, and not so much about being skinny.
Another turning point for me was learning that I was pregnant with my son. If anything ever lit a fire under me to be as healthy as possible, it was knowing that every single food, exercise, and lifestyle choice I made would affect his health. That same motivation to health has continued as I am breastfeeding him. And being a healthy example for him as he eats more and more (nutrient-dense, toxin-poor, paleo) solid foods.
So that is where I was at the beginning of the challenge: paleo, but still somewhat neurotic about food, still checking the scale every morning, still unable to stop that running calorie count in the back of my head. But I was committed to change. And I have changed.
I am now focusing on the nutrient-density of my foods like never before: grass-fed beef, wild-caught fatty fish, veggies drenched in grass-fed tallow, some fruit, an occasional sweet potato after a hard workout. I was pretty darn strict even before the challenge, but now I can see that even my occasional “treats,” like a trip to Starbucks or some dark chocolate, were crowding out some of those more nutrient-dense, nourishing foods. And not doing any favors for my digestion, or mood, or mental health.
Now, with my more nutrient-dense, cheat-free paleo lifestyle, I am feeling healthier, stronger, more vibrant, less neurotic, and more in control of my self and my health. I find it a wonderfully ironic twist. That sense of control I had been seeking for so many years in my calorie-restricted disordered eating – I never found it there, but I found it in a strict paleo challenge.
I am totally in control of what I eat and how I feel! I have spent the past 45 days taking control. I am not a slave to sugar cravings. I don’t need that mocha in the morning and I don’t need that chocolate after dinner. I can turn them down. I have been turning them down for over a month. Every morning when I wake up I can make the choice to eat nutrient-dense foods that nourish my body and my son’s. I eat as much of the good stuff as I need to feel sated, I avoid the junk, and I feel great.
And this sense of control that I have is no longer neurotic, or based on fear. It is, rather, proactive. I am making a conscious decision every morning to take care of my body and mind, to nurture them with proper nutrition and movement and rest.
I do not feel like I have “arrived,” by any stretch of the imagination. I still have lots of work to do. I do not know if I will ever be able to totally stop the calorie counts in my head or throw out the bathroom scale. But paleo has been *the* way I have found to gain positive, healthy control over my emotional and physical well-being. And every day of the past 45 I have been getting healthier.
I started eating paleo while I was still in the Navy. I have continued eating paleo after my discharge and during law school. Throughout my entire time eating paleo until I did the Paleo Challenge, I did not practice any lifestyle changes that generally compliment a paleo diet. These include: Sleeping at least 8 hours, limiting screen time before bed, reducing stress, getting sunlight during the day, moving throughout the day, and reducing caffeine. It is fair to say that I did not do any of these things. During law school, my physical condition greatly deteriorated. I enjoyed staying up late, and reading case law and other law-related things online. I drank copious amounts of coffee–up to 10 cups per day–to stay awake. And I went to school in Wisconsin, so getting sunlight and going outside in -10 degree weather did not happen often. I often had to take NyQuil to get some sleep, given the stress I was under.
Studying for the Hawaii Bar exam this summer turned out to be law school on steroids. By the time the Paleo Challege started, I realized I needed to tweak my lifestyle habits, if I would ever feel better and stop feeling so beat up.
The Paleo Challenge was an opportunity to instill better habits. I can gladly report that the Paleo Challenge has been a resounding success!
In addition to commuting on my bicycle (about 4 or 5 miles per day), I have been able to incorporate more movement into my daily routine. Instead of slouching in my Henry Miller Aeron Chair for 4 hour stretches, I now get up and move. I work on the “chinks” in my fitness armor: mainly handstand push-ups, pistols, and push-ups. Every 30-45 minutes I get up, and grease the grove on different movements. This allows me to do, for instance, around 200 push-ups per day, or 30 strict handstand push-ups. My co-workers think I’m nuts. But I’m the one who can do handstand push-ups. I’ll continue to fly the freak flag at work.
My mood has improved during the day, and I can attack complex legal problems much more effectively after a short, brisk session of greasing the groove. Better yet, I’ve gotten better at these movements. During lunch, I walk for about 45 minutes in the sun, so I get the slow movement Mark Sisson recommends and a good dose of vitamin D.
Even more important than moving, I think, is the reduction in stress and increase in sleep I’ve experienced. I am in bed every day at or before 8:30. In order to do this, I have to limit my screen time. I used to be an information addict right before bed, reading legal and news blogs. Now, I have been forced to cut this time short. The reduced screen time has given me more time to read books. It has also made my nights much more restful. I wake up much more rested, and less stressed. I have found that I do not wake up grinding my teeth any more. Best of all, I no longer feel the need to rely on any sleep aids, no matter how stressful my day was: no NyQuil or melatonin.
In a related vein, I have limited to the amount of coffee I drink to one cup before workouts, and one cup before 10 am at work. This has also helped reduce my stress. Paradoxically, by reducing caffeine, I feel less beat-up at the end of the day. I also think I’ve been sleeping better.
In sum, the second order effects of a more primal/ancestral/paleo lifestyle have eluded me for years, in spite of eating fairly cleanly for 8 years. After the Navy and law school, I was a wreck: stiff, stressed, anxious, and edgy. After almost 45 days of conscientiously incorporating second order lifestyle tweaks, I feel like a new person. Judging by Robb Wolf’s “how do you look/feel/perform test,” incorporating the second order prescriptions has been nothing short of life changing.