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Looking Back on a Year of Paleo

Thursday, November 29, 2012

It's hard to believe that it's been a whole year since I changed my diet and adopted the Paleo lifestyle. It feels like just yesterday I was doing research and wondering how the hell I was going to eat my eggs without toast. I'm not a doctor, and I'm also not saying that eating this way will fix everything about your life, but I feel strongly about my experience with it and wanted to share my story with you today.

--

Not this past summer but the one before, I had a few really bad months. A friend I grew up with died unexpectedly, and although some things in my life had been spiraling out of control for a while, I look back on his death as the day that I just dropped everything and couldn't figure out how to start putting the pieces back together. A month later, Rob and I moved away. I got homesick before we even left--it was the first time I was really living on my own, I missed my parents, and I thought about my lost friend every day, almost every minute. Life felt really heavy most of the time.

I had a thesis to write, friends in Charlottesville to spend time with, and a boyfriend to love, but a lot of the time I couldn't get out of bed. I was depressed and tired and sick all the time. I couldn't sleep at night and I couldn't get up in the morning. I took naps during the day that were so deep and weird that I would wake up with some kind of sleep-induced hangover. I got a job at a coffee shop, working afternoons, and I gained fifteen pounds in like, less than a month.

I've always been athletic--in high school I swam year-round, ran cross-country, indoor track, and outdoor track. When I went to college I gained five or ten pounds, but it just went away when I came home for the summer. I feel so lucky that I've never really struggled with my weight or body image. Even when I was at my heaviest, I was still thin.

I'm 5'4". These fifteen new pounds felt like a lot on me. My clothes stopped fitting properly and I got even more tired and depressed. I'd try to go for a run and end up walking. For the first time in my life, I started feeling bad about my body. The extra weight was frustrating, but even worse was the way I felt. I had been feeling sick for a few years--always dizzy and nauseated, sometimes throwing up randomly--but being heavier than usual just made it worse. My higher-than-normal anxiety grew even more, I had migraines, and I felt sad and depressed and scared all the time. I was breaking out, and losing hair, and feeling pretty pathetic in general. I would lie in bed and cry, and I could never specifically explain why.

So in October or November, when my mom started talking to me about this thing called Paleo, I was ready to try anything. Even if it meant re-learning how to eat. Accepting the fact that "whole grain" wasn't good for me, and that neither was dairy. No more lattes or grilled cheese sandwiches or pasta--three almost daily occurrences in my diet. I was almost a vegetarian. After a sort-of Paleo Thanksgiving at home, I jumped in for real. It felt good to take control of something.

Even after a week or two, I could tell a difference. My stomach felt less bloated and I was no longer in pain. My skin started to clear up, and I lost about a pound a day for a few days. When I woke up in the morning I felt human again. The coffee shop asked me to start opening instead of closing, and I know that I wouldn't have been able to get to work by 6:30 AM if I was still eating the way I had been.

I don't blame all of my past troubles on my old diet. But my new one made me feel a lot better, and that was something.

My anxiety subsided. Sure, I still get irrational every now and again, but I didn't spend hours upon hours obsessing about death anymore. That might sound morbid and dramatic, but it had been part of my life for months, and I was glad to see it go. I started running again. My headaches and dizziness and nausea went away. I had so much energy. I was able to get in control of my life again. I was happy, deep down, for the first time in a long time. And I wrote that thesis.


When people find out that I'm Paleo, a lot of the time they say something like "Oh, wow, I just couldn't live without cheese." It is so much more than that. Maybe it's cheesy (ha!), but I'm proud of myself. Our choices matter. And cheese is awesome, but it's not that hard to give up.

Paleo changed my life.

It put me back on track. It gave me health, happiness, and a sense of control when things felt like they were too much to bear. I will never go back, because the girl who used to eat grains and dairy and sugar was also sad and tired and afraid of everything. And she's not here anymore.

--

Do you have questions or comments? I'd love to hear them. For this post, I'll reply to everything right here in the comment thread, so be sure to check back later! Or, as always, you can send me an email at megan(at)freckleditalian(dot)com and I'll write you back as soon as I can.

58 comments:

  1. You are a huge inspiration to me. I went paleo nearly 3 months ago and I've literally never felt better. I love coming here and getting motivated by your blog and your good eats. I love your honesty in this post on how changes in your diet helped in other aspects of your life. Gosh, I just really love this post. After switching to paleo for just a short time I can completley relate and understand how amazing it feels. A huge Thank you for this post today!!
    Take Care!

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    1. Thank you so much, Laura! Your words mean so much to me. I'm so glad you've had good results, too! <3

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  2. Wow, this is really interesting! Although i'm trying to gain weight rather than lose it, this sounds like something to try :)

    -Haylie

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    1. You should look into it! I've talked to several people who were able to gain weight on Paleo.

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  3. Um this just completely spoke to my heart. Thank you for writing this. I am so interested in this after hearing wonderful things about it. I want to make a change in my diet and I think I need to look into this paleo thing for real and try it out.

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    1. I hope you do! Let me know hos it goes. Thanks so much for reading!

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  4. I'm proud of you too! What an amazing feat! I think it's so great when people do things and stick to them, knowing that they make you better!

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  5. I have never heard of this diet before but after reading this I'm really interested in researching it and giving it a go. I suffer from depression, digestive issues and also fertility problems. My diet at the moment is awful and I struggle to eat, I'm actually trying to gain weight. This might be the thing for me!

    Thanks for sharing x

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    1. Give it a try! Definitely do some reading and see if it's for you. I highly recommend it!

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  6. i'm so proud of you!!! everyone has to take time to listen to their body, becuase if you do, it will tell you exactly what you need. i'm glad that in doing so, you feel better!

    btw, we both tackled the topic of lookin' good/feelin' good today--i recapped my BPC cleanse!!

    CupcakesOMG!

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    1. Thanks Melissa! I'm reading your post now!

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  7. Honestly, you look so, so beautiful in that 2012 picture, but the first day I met you (hello nametag in the corner of 2011) I thought you were beautiful then. You were just starting Paleo and I was eager to hear your results. When I saw you for the second time in June, you were bubbly and giddy and glowing. It is so much more than cheese, it's a whole mentality. It's effort. Dude. IT'S WORK. Especially for social situations because sometimes you just wannnnnnt to be part of it!!! At least I do, but then you stop crying as much, and you breathe lighter, and your skin is manageable and your body feels like your own body and.... yah, it's so much more and I'm so happy for you. p.s. what's your middle name?

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    1. I can't believe we all met a year ago! It feels like we've known each other for much longer. Paleo is work! It's hard sometimes but it's so worth it.

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    2. i just wanna get on in here and say i also can't believe it's only been a year we've known each other!! love you both lots!!!!

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  8. That is awesome! I think it's actually pretty brave of you to do! I just looked at the avoid list and my jaw dropped. How did you even get around to stopping to eat certain things that seem so typical in a diet like dairy? MILK!? Is it okay to sneak in stuff once in awhile or is it a definite no no? I'm currently in the process of changing my diet and lately all I've been eating is Fruits, Veggies, and Nuts. I'm not really sure how I could say no to some stuff but I guess it's worth a try. Moderation maybe.

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    1. Thanks! It is hard at first but it becomes normal very quickly. I know a lot of people who work dairy into a Paleo diet. It's my understanding that if it doesn't make you sick, there's no reason you can't enjoy some full-fat milk! I'm lactose intolerant, though, so it's a no go for me.

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  9. Congrats lady, one year. That's amazing! Your post came at a perfect time for me as well as I'm not going on two and a half months paleo and feeling myself tinkering on the edge. I don't know why really, but I've slipped a few times and had soy milk and some sugar. I'm breaking out and I feel crappy. After reading your post I remember why I did it in the first place. Your blog is constant inspiration and motivation to keep it up. Thanks :)

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    1. Thank you! Everyone slips up every now and again--I've been having a little too much sugar recently and I really feel it. But we can always start over anytime!

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  10. I've tried every diet/lifestyle change under the sun and Paleo is the best for me. It's changed my life. I love to hear inspirational stories. It's good to have these stored in my brain for those times when cheesy bread is calling my name ;)

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  11. Wow. Hello inspiration! I'm a super picky eater and not a huge fan of meats, so pasta always ends up almost being my diet. Everytime I've tried cutting it I struggle with what to replace it with and then I'm clueless when it comes to preparing dinner every night. I'm definitely going to have to look into this paleo thing! What do your typical meals consist of? I'm totally curious!

    You look amazing by the way, and i'm so happy I discovered your blog!

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    1. Thank you so much!

      For breakfast, I almost always eat two eggs over medium and some sausage or bacon. Lunch is either a salad with chicken on it or some soup or just leftovers from dinner, and dinner is meat (usually chicken, pork, or beef of some sort) with a big salad and another vegetable. And in between my three main meals, I snack on things like carrots and other vegetables, avocados, sweet potato chips, and/or really dark chocolate.

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  12. "You got me sayin' daaaaaaaamn girl - you're so fine." - Justin Timberlake, and myself.

    But really! This was just what I needed to read today. We got de-railed a bit from our uninterrupted month of trying it out, but we were both sold. I'm excited to have my own post like this one day.

    So much of me even knowing about this as a feasible and healthy option was because of you taking the time to explain it and share it with me.

    Thanks, boo!

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    1. You will! I'm so glad I could help you. Thank you, boo!

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  13. I've felt the same way so many times, like a loss of energy and just generally feeling off. I've tried to go vegetarian, vegan, and all that jazz, but I wind up getting vitamin deficiencies and feeling worse. I'm not super sure what Paleo is -- can you eat meat? Is it just dairy that's off limits? gracias!!

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    1. Yep! Plenty of meat. It's no dairy, grains, or sugar. No legumes, either--so that's soy and other beans.

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  14. This post meant a lot to me. I hope I can make the progress you do. Congratulations on your new lease on life :)

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  15. Beautiful then, beautiful now. But now you also have a gorgeous healthy glow that can't be faked with products and artifice.
    The summer Melissa and I did Atkins was the beginning of my diet epiphany. That epiphany led to a celiac diagnosis and a whole new world for me. A healthy world. But also a world where I couldn't eat socially with friends and family any more. I was finally healthy and just as importantly, I felt good for the first time in my life. Literally, the first time in my life. I spent my entire childhood saying "my stomach hurts" to parents who didn't believe me.
    There were a few years early on when I would walk into the grocery store and want to cry because there was almost nothing there for me to eat. Then one day I made up my mind I would find a way to do without, even if that meant cooking every single bite myself. I didn't know it then, but it was a little, maybe a lot, like Paleo. I can't decide to just take a day off, or do 80/20, I have to do it all day, every day. But these days I feel grateful that I can't eat gluten, it made getting healthy and staying healthy an easy choice. It still makes socializing difficult, but as awareness grows and your generation places such an emphasis on natural and healthy food options, my choices expand. So, thanks for spreading the Paleo lifestyle word, it helps all of us in ways perhaps you don't anticipate.

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    1. Thank you so much, Gayla! It is hard to go to parties and other social things where everything is on a cracker, but it's so worth it to not be sick, you know?

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  16. I love this post! And you look amazing! It's always nice to hear success stories.

    My husband and I are big proponents of eating free-range, organic meats. We actually just purchased 2 cows so that we can know exactly what's going into our bodies when we eat meat, and we have a chicken coop we are hoping to get some chicks in soon! I think Paleo would be a huge challenge for him though. He is seriously addicted to salty tastes and cheese. And we have a hard time eating fresh fruits and veggies because they always spoil before we can finish them :( . I hate throwing food away and feeling wasteful.

    Do you know if you can get the same nutritional values from frozen fruits and veggies?? That's usually what we buy so it doesn't spoil...

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    1. We get our beef that way, too! I'd love to have a chicken! I don't think frozen fruit and vegetables are as good, but I think a lot of the time you just have to do the best you can. Better to eat frozen green beans than to just give up on veggies altogether!

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  17. Wow! that's amazing! Congratz on 1 year, you look absolutely gorgeous.

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  18. I am so proud of you! Being a paleo beginner i know that is is tough and the fact that you have been doing it for a year is amazing.

    and people really don't get it sometimes. they think i am trying to lose weight but that isnt it. i remind them of time when i always nauseous or suffering from a headache or just plain tired.

    great post! we need to have a paleo party at some point.

    http://lachapstickfanatique.blogspot.com

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    1. Thank you! It is hard at first. We should definitely do that!

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  19. Well done. This is great to read! I may have to give this a try I always feel bloated and like you pasta/cheese ect is a daily part of my diet.
    I'm following you. interested to know more about your diet and what you eat ect.

    http://cutepandaa.blogspot.co.uk/
    xx

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    1. Yes--definitely give it a try! Let me know how it goes or if you have any questions!

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  20. YES! I love that we had very similar reasons as to why we wanted to go paleo. It's so amazing how easily it can transform your body - inside and out. I went off for about two/three weeks earlier this month because of a show and then Thanksgiving and just got back on like a week ago. And, man, I don't know how I even survived those three weeks. Paleo is the best way to just put your body on TRACK. The way it is supposed to be. And I gotta say: You are one of those people that can gain weight and still look good! I can't even tell that you have 15 more pounds (which is when I met you - yay!) So glad you still love it and so glad we can be paleo friends! I have to thank you for introduccing it to me!

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    1. Aw thank you Sarah! It's really hard when you go off! I only cheat here and there, like with snacks, not even whole meals, and I feel so sick and anxious after that I vow never to do it again. I'm so glad it's working for you! I am so happy I was able to introduce it to you!

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  21. If someone would have told me all the ways I would benefit from eating Paleo I'm not sure I would have believed them. Skin is clearer, anxiety is gone, more energy etc. I start the Whole30 in August and then did the Lurong Living Paleo/Crossfit Challenge from Sept-Nov. I went off Paleo for Thanksgiving, and went right back on. Things I use to love don't even taste good anymore. Plus I've lost 20+ inches!! I'm so much stronger & healthier than I was! Congrats on your journey!!

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    1. It's amazing! I'm so glad it's working for you!

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  22. This is so awesome girl! you are seriously my Paleo inspiration!!

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  23. Megan,
    I just emailed you but before I read this post. I haven't read any blogs in so long because I've just been... sick, apparently. This is really inspiring. I'm sorry that you were feeling so down and I'm glad you're feeling better!

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  24. This post is so inspirational to me! I've suffered from depression/anxiety/weight issues my entire life, and although the past 5 years I've made a significant change in my diet and work out often I still suffer from poor digestion/adult acne. My husband and I are definitely interested in making the change to Paleo and I was wondering if you had a good starting point? Was there a particular book/website that helped you out in the beginning?

    Thank you so much!

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    1. The best starting advice I can give you is to just get started and try your best--don't get upset if you fall short at first--it's really hard to totally change the way you think about nutrition! Just search for Paleo recipes online and when you have questions, Google them, too. You'll get there!

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  25. Thanks for sharing your story! I was just saying how it sounded cheesy, but Whole 30 totally changed my life. While I haven't stuck as closely to Paleo since whole 30, my lifestyle and eating habits have definitely shifted in a more healthy direction. And agreed, I have never felt better in my life.

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    1. It really is life-changing! I'm so glad you know!

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  26. I'm so happy that Rachel pointed me towards your blog! I have been dabbling in Paleo for a few months now and know how hard yet rewarding it can be. I'm planning on doing Whole 30 come January and can't wait to really commit to this lifestyle. I can't wait to read more..

    xo, Kenzie

    www.CaveGirlintheCity.com

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    1. Me too! Good luck with your Whole 30!

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  27. I was so touched by this post, because it can be so easy for us to diagnose and treat physical symptoms but when you are feeling a general malaise, or depression, or anxiety, it can be tough to acknowledge. I've been considering trying Paleo for a while now, and I think it will be my new years resolution. I'm wondering where you got all your information from when you were looking into it, and if you could pass along some links or resources that would be helpful??

    Thanks in advance!
    Kiera

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  29. I've been wanting so badly to take the paleo plunge for the past several months, and this post might just be the last bit of inspiration I need! Thanks so much for sharing. :)

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  30. Thank you for being so honest with your words! I am very happy for you that you have seen such positive results both emotionally and physically. I totally relate with the energy aspect and although I am only one week into my new Paleo lifestyle I am pumped with the way I feel and the effects I am seeing so far. And if I may, I just love your blog. I used you and a few other blogs as a referral during my research of Paleo before biting the bullet and deciding it's going to be what changes my life for the better! Thanks again and keep up the good work :)

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  31. I've been suffering from dehydration, nausea, and just overall tiredness for quite a while so I'm definitely going to try this out. Thanks for the informative post!!

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