I am really excited to write this post, and I have been wanting to do it for a long time. But before I start, I want to say that I am writing my ‘paleo success story’ not because I want you to be impressed of the before and after pictures, or that you will think highly of me, but because I want people to understand that eating real food works. It is what your body needs. And many so-called ‘incurable’ health issues can be reversed or eliminated completely just through the food that you eat.
In high school, I was average-sized. I was relatively active with musical theater productions that kept me mostly in shape. My diet wasn’t the best – my daily breakfast in high school was a toasted English muffin slathered in butter and Nutella – but it didn’t show too much, at least on the outside. On the inside, however, it was another story. All throughout my childhood and teen years, I experienced digestive distress. I had frequent stomachaches and I often needed to go to the bathroom urgently, especially when I became stressed. My stomach was always bloated. I went to the doctor and they told me I had IBS. I had horrible periods and headaches and relied heavily on anti-inflammatory painkillers to get through them. There were times when I called my mom from school crying, asking her to pick me up because the pain was so bad. Towards the end of high school, my poor diet began to catch up with me and I gradually started putting on weight.
At the age of 20, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, I packed up my things and moved to New Zealand with stars in my eyes (or maybe love hearts. I was moving there to study at university, but also for a Kiwi boy who lived there). Living as a university student on my own, I never particularly paid attention to what I was eating; I just ate food that was cheap and convenient. I loved sweet foods and often ate candy bars and sugary coffees. When I was 22, I went to the doctor for a physical examination. She told me that at 68 kg (150 pounds) and 162 cm (5’4), I was ‘slightly overweight’. I was completely shocked. I knew I had gained some weight, but I didn’t think of myself as overweight. I thought I was normal. I was completely in denial.
During a trip back home to the United States in November 2010, everything changed in an instant. I found an old high school photo from when I was sixteen. I saw how small my waist had been and I saw the muscle definition I had had in my legs. It was then when I realized how much weight I had gained, because I was definitely not that small anymore. There was no denying it anymore. I decided right then and there that I needed to do something to lose the weight. I told my mom about the photo and what I wanted to do. She told me matter-of-factly, ‘Well, you know what to do.’ Everyone knows ‘calories in, calories out’, right? She told me about a website that she used to help track calories throughout the day. I signed up and began my 1200-calorie-a-day diet.
It was the worst.
Sure enough, I lost weight, but I was starving all the time. None of my meals left me feeling satiated longer than an hour. I found myself always thinking about the next time I could eat and what I would eat. I would only have food that wouldn’t eat through too much of my calorie allowance, so my meals were only about 300 or 400 calories at most. I ate a lot of breads and non-fat foods. At the same time, I was running and doing cardio exercise classes.
With the severe calorie restriction, I managed to lose about 15 or 20 pounds in just a couple of months from November to January.
But, all the annoying little problems that had been bothering me for years were still bothering me, and seemed to get even worse. For the past couple of years, I had been dealing with all kinds of health problems. I had digestive distress nearly daily and often needed to use the toilet urgently, at the most inconvenient of times. My mom told me that I just had ‘the Sewart velvet stomach’, like my father and grandmother also had. I would often wake up in the middle of the night around 2 AM and be awake for an hour before I could fall back asleep. Sometimes I would wake up in a panic and have to turn on the light because I was so afraid — of what, I wasn’t really sure. I had experienced a couple of panic attacks that left me in heaving sobs. My skin was red with rosacea and I often had pimples. My stomach was permanently bloated and pooched out like I was pregnant. I was mortified of my stomach. I wore only dresses and skirts so that I could cover it up. And I had major mood swings. I would get ‘hangry’ (hungry and angry) if I went too long without eating. I remember not long after I first started the calorie restriction, I was suffering badly from sugar withdrawal and I had a meltdown while I was at the supermarket with my mother. I was filled with an irrational raging, burning jealousy as I saw tempting foods in other peoples’ carts: gorgeous cakes and cookies and ice-creams and Pop-Tarts. I suddenly started angrily complaining about how ‘everyone got to eat all these amazing foods and I can’t!’ I was literally shaking. I couldn’t remember the last time I was that angry. (For anyone who doesn’t believe by this point that sugar is a drug: it is. Try to quit it and you will see.) The sugar withdrawal was bad enough, but I was also completely exhausted a lot of the time. My body was crying out for more energy and nutrients.