Stephanie has been an enthusiastic and encouraging participant during the whole Wellness Challenge. Her upbeat attitude has been an inspiration to others on the forum, and her husband has recently decided to join her on this new way of eating! She blogs at No Grain, No Pain.
I started my personal wellness/Paleo journey just before the challenge began, so I’ve been doing this since mid-July. It has been a wild month and a half, but for the most part, very successful! Forgive me, there is a lot here.
So, here’s where I was prior to starting the challenge:
-gluten free due to Celiac disease
-dairy free due to allergy
-potato, coconut, onion, peppers, cabbage, popcorn free due to self-diagnosed intolerance
-low sugar intake (due to hypoglycemia, possible gut irritation)
-working on reducing grain intake (due to suspected corn/rice/other intolerance)
-eating mostly lean meats/low fat foods (due to a dubious diagnosis of IBS…sometimes meat/fat seemed to bother me, sometimes it didn’t. GI doc said to just stop eating it)
-something was bothering my gut still, but I hadn’t been able to pinpoint it
-I’d also been dealing w/ some other health issues. Since last November, I’ve had severe pain in my low back/buttocks. I was put on steroids, pain meds, muscle relaxers (with no obvious relief), did MRI/x-rays (that showed no abnormalities), was sent to physical therapy (which did not help after 3 months), decided to go to a different physical therapist (which did help some, but the pain has remained).
I stopped working with the second therapist after a few months, and was just doing home care. Then my OBGYN found a rectocele (my colon’s all jacked up, crowding into where it didn’t belong) that made her think my back pain may be related. I started taking additional fiber supplements at the suggestion of a colorectal surgeon, who said this condition was not related to my pain. I have an appointment with another specialist in October, but in the meantime, I’m just dealing with the pain (though it has been dramatically reduced from my second round of PT).
This brings us to July.
I had been studying the primal/Paleo way of life for about a year before I decided I was going to actually do it (blog post about it here). I’d read the books, the blogs, listened to podcasts, etc. I’d been building a repertoire of go-to meals and snacks that I could use as the foundation of my diet. I was really excited to see how it affected me, but kept stalling. I don’t like change, and each dietary change I’ve made in the past has been stressful and traumatic.
The past few months were already pretty overwhelming, what with full-time work as office manager at a TMJ/Craniofacial pain clinic, being an involved wife to a husband working full-time and going to school full-time (and trying to get into grad school), trying to stay in shape, juggle healthy eating and food intolerances (as well as a somewhat picky eating husband), housework, gardening, blogging, part-time photography, social life, and ME time!
I have a very laid back personality, and don’t like a lot going on in my life. So I kept putting off making the change, even though I wasn’t feeling great, and knew something needed to change.
However, I finally decided that enough was enough. I just needed to take the plunge, and see how it went. So, I figured I’d give the diet a go, for at least the 30 days.
The good: I discovered so much good about this lifestyle change!
I love the food! It’s so easy for me to eat Paleo, because it is all delicious, nutritious food, a lot of which I had already been eating. I loved the day my husband came home from work and was jealous of my steak and bacon! I am able to enjoy eating real foods and knowing that it is helping my body become something better.
There is a wealth of information out there that got me through my first 30 days on this diet. I have relied heavily on…
- Mark Sisson’s website and cookbook (BEAT – Bacon, Egg, Avocado, & Tomato – Salad, Grok-A-Mole, and from The Paleo Blueprint Quick and Easy Meals – Berry Pancake, Spaghetti Squash Omelet, Pizza Frittata, BLTA w/ Chicken Breast “bun,” Espresso-Rubbed Steak, and my new favorite, Steak and Turnip Risotto),Sarah Fragoso’s recipes (Avocado Goodness, Crockpot Chicken and Root Veggies, Stuffed Zucchini, Egg Cupcakes, Sweet Potato and Zucchini Frittata, Squash Bake, and NUTTY COOKIES!),
- and so many other great recipes from other websites!
I feel like my life has become better on this diet. Part of it may be psychological. Part of it could be that we are in the middle of summer, which is my favorite season, and I have made an effort to spend as much free time as I can spare in the sun (soaking up my D vitamins). But, I feel like my attitude toward food and eating has become more positive. This was not the stressful restrictive diet I had anticipated. Whatever the reason, I feel like life is so good, and I am striving daily to enjoy it to the fullest!
Losing weight…was not expecting that. Inches maybe, but not actual weight loss. Thanks to a low thyroid problem, I’ve had some weight issues over the years. About 8 years ago, I started packing on the pounds, for the first time in my skinny life. I attributed it to dealing with being newly married, having just gone through serious wedding/family drama, watching my parents separate shortly thereafter, and being on birth control, antidepressants, anti-anxiety, and sleeping meds.
After a couple years, and a 50 lb gain, I finally decided to do something about it. Religious exercise and dieting for almost a year, and getting off all my meds did nothing. Then my GP asked me about my thyroid levels after looking at some blood work. I said they’d been borderline low for years, former GP had not been concerned. New GP said, Meds! Stat! He put me on the lowest of Synthroid, and the 50 lbs was gone within 6 months!
In the 3 years since then, my actual weight has not changed more than a couple pounds, other than one month where my pharmacy switched me over to generic meds. My size has fluctuated a tiny bit, but overall, I felt like my body had stabilized. So losing 4 lbs on the Paleo diet (which so far has stayed off) was surprising. To me, my weight is not as important as how I look and feel. But it was a nice bonus!
I also did not run into as much resistance to the idea behind eating Paleo as I’d expected. Within the first week, my best friend was bugging me for more info and recipes because everything I made and brought for lunch smelled so good! So we talked a lot, and she started cutting back on her grains. She’s going to take her time getting used to the idea, but the Paleo seeds have been planted
My boss also mentioned that I looked healthier after several weeks of eating Paleo (and he is male, and therefore not always super-observant), and expressed interest in learning more about my diet.
The coolest part of all was my husband coming to me last week, telling me he wanted to go Paleo, starting that day, that meal, and try it for 30 days! My sandwich/taco/waffle/bagel-eating husband! It has called for a lot more work on my part, since his grain-based staple foods have always been faster and easier to make than mine. But, I’m excited to have him on board, and to see how this affects his body and his goals (especially once he’s out of the carb flu phase!!).
One of the biggest issues I’ve had over the years is a lot of digestive/intestinal discomfort. In fact, my diagnosis of Celiac disease was prompted by my husband begging me to go see a doctor about my incapacitating cramping/pain (as well as horrible, potent flatulence and bloating). That was the start of my 9 month journey to my diagnosis 5 years ago.
Throughout the last 5 years, as I’ve discovered foods I cannot tolerate, and have eliminated them from my diet, I’ve seen an improvement in my symptoms…to an extent.
However, the turmoil my body often goes through after eating has never completely subsided, which has left me to try and play detective in my own health mystery (thanks to a lack of help from my GP, GI specialist, and a completely ignorant dietitian). I started looking into grain/corn/sugar intolerances about a year ago, which then led me to the Paleo diet. And the rest is history!
While eating Paleo has helped me in so many ways, the one thing that has still remained is the cramping/bloating/gas. I don’t experience it every day, and some days are not as bad as others. This has been a little frustrating, as I was expecting to feel better all-around on the diet. But, I think there are still things I need to be looking at. I’m working on incorporating more fermented foods into my diet (thanks to your suggestion!), thinking of changing up my probiotic (got some great feedback on the forums), and just being patient. And drinking lots of tea in the meantime!
*Note: I mentioned earlier that I’ve suspected red meat/fat to be a problem for me, but it hasn’t been consistent enough to confirm. One other theory I’ve explored a bit is grain-fed versus grass-fed meat. I haven’t noticed a significant difference when eating one over the other, as far as gut response. But it hasn’t been ruled out yet. We are starting a grass-fed/organic-only meat challenge this upcoming week. I’m curious to see how that goes.
My biggest struggle in life has always been preparedness. I love food, and I love cooking, but I am busy, and when I’m not busy I want to be lazy. Not the best combination for me. When I have not prepared adequately, I can usually manage to feed myself, but it’s not so much a culinary experience, as it is a refueling session. And it often leaves me unsatisfied and grumpy. So does not having food when I need it. I’ve dealt with severe hypoglycemia my whole life, and react pretty strongly to not eating on a regular basis. So, dealing with these two factors, I’ve really struggled over the past month to have food prepared in advance, have enough snacks around that I’m not feeling deprived, and also having occasional treats (dark chocolate, Paleo cookies) available for when I need them.
Another struggle I’ve had is eating less carbs. I wanted to do that for the first month to jump-start this change in my body. It’s been so hard (as I’ve recorded on the forum!)! The numbers just seem to sneak up on me, very easily. Not super challenging, but still something that I have had to monitor closely. Once I reach my optimal body composition, I will worry less about this (never been one to count calories, and I’m not a fan of it), but I’ll keep it up until I get there.
Robb Wolf says that we should gauge our progress on how we look, feel and perform when doing a certain thing. I would say that overall, the wellness/Paleo challenge has been a success!!
I’m seeing small improvements in my looks when comparing my before and after pics. I lost those 4 lbs in the process. Even though I don’t really feel like my body looks the way I want it to yet (especially when I look at my bikini Day 1 and Day 30 pics), I am hopeful that I can get there soon (will be working on strength training during Month 2). I have had a couple of people comment that something about me looks different these days, so that has been a bit of a bolster, even if I don’t see it.
How I feel digestively is different than how I feel overall physically (as mentioned before, in “the bad” section). Again, I am hopeful that this will improve as I continue along this path.
My physical performance has been off the charts! I seem to have more energy, less of the afternoon carb slump, and more endurance. The biggest testament of this was a 14 mile hike I did 1 1/2 weeks ago. Before going Paleo, and the first week I started on the diet, I did a couple of steep 4 mile hikes, and both about killed me (during the second one, I was still going through a minor bout of carb flu, and hadn’t quite fine-tuned my ratio of fats/proteins/carbs properly)! I spent the next 3 weeks dreading the upcoming 14 miler (and procrastinating working out a bit more than I should have. Yikes!).
Suffice it to say, I was not feeling prepared when the big day arrived. But, incredibly, I rocked it! The hike was hard, it was a lot of work, and my body definitely felt it (especially after getting clocked in the face with a large falling rock). But I didn’t feel like I was about to die at the end of the day. I watched the other, more fit people in my group drag their feet the last couple of hours. I wasn’t ready to run or anything, but I easily kept pace. I marveled at my own ability as my friend fought back tears the last hour of hiking because her body was completely spent (at almost the exact same spot on the trail where I’d had a similar meltdown the previous year).
I’ve done this hike several times, and have never felt so alive before! It was mind-blowing! I was able to enjoy more of the beauty around me, and the company I was with. We got to the top of the mountain, and I couldn’t even finish my BLTA sandwich (w/ a chicken breast “bun” – blogged about here) because my I was listening to my body, and it was not starving. I really did not eat a lot of calories on the hike, but I didn’t feel like I needed to (not until we went to dinner at our favorite Brazilian MEAT buffet!). I couldn’t help but pat myself on the back at the end of the day, when I didn’t feel the overwhelming desire to collapse into the car like everyone else. Not that it didn’t feel good to do so
Anyway, long story short, I really do feel like the only significant change in my life as I did the hike this year versus previous years is that I was fueling my body with the right foods! I wasn’t even as in shape this year as I’ve been in years past. So there is no other explanation. This experience has rocked my world! I am so thankful to have such an incredible body that can take me to the places I want to go, and the knowledge of this way of eating that has helped me to achieve my goals!
Now that the challenge is over: The next step for me to progress further into living my best life ever is to up the strength training! Now that I know my body is up to it, I just have to get over my insecurities of being weak, and start working!
I also want to get more creative in the kitchen. Hopefully I will be able to come up with some more delicious, blog-worthy recipes! Including some more variations to my new favorite one-ingredient ice cream!
Again, thanks for all your support, advice, and the chance to get involved with other people working toward the same goals. This whole experience has been such a blessing to me.
(Check out Stephanie’s full Wellness Journal here)