(Photo credit: NickNguyen)
So, for the past few months (beginning August 1), I’ve been undergoing a radical change in the way I eat, and the way I relate to food. It was something that needed to happen for a very long time.
Let me give a little background first. When I was younger, I kind of just ate whatever I wanted to (like most younger people do). Our family ate ok – meat, veggies and starches usually made up dinner, but I had (had? Ok, have) a raging sweet tooth, so sweets were always around. We also ate like most typical Americans: breakfast cereals, flavored yogurts, packaged snacks and sodas were typical. Maybe we didn’t consider them healthy, exactly, but these things also weren’t off-limits.
As an adult, my metabolism did start to slow down (as most do) and I started to gain weight. I would restrict my sweets, like cookies and brownies, but they had a death grip on me. My cravings would get out of control and I would binge. Nothing outrageous – at my heaviest, I was probably 10 lbs. overweight.
Then, I got pregnant with Baby I. After the horrible, horrible nausea passed, I was excited to be able to eat my “normal” diet again. But that didn’t last the entire pregnancy, because I got diagnosed with Gestational Diabetes. I was devastated and scared. The nutritionist at my OB’s office helped design a strict diet I had to follow. GD is a lot like Type 2 diabetes, but the difference is that there really isn’t any time to waste getting your blood sugar under control with GD. The longer your blood sugar is high, the longer it affects the baby you’re carrying, so there’s really no room for cheating on your diet.
So, here I was, 7 months pregnant, faced with a VERY abrupt change in my diet. I did it for my baby’s health, and never had one high reading after I changed the way I ate (whew). But I felt deprived. I hated every minute of it. And when I delivered Baby I and got the GD all-clear, I went back to my old “normal” diet – extra heavy on the sweets. I had just missed them so much!
About a year and a half later, I was heavier than I had ever been (except while pregnant), tired all the time and beginning to feel sick. I knew I had to do something, even though part of me didn’t want to. A friend of mine was reading Practical Paleo and suggested it for me.
I was skeptical; I had heard so much about how the Paleo diet can be not-so-good for you. And I had also tried other diets before with limited success. I thought: even if Paleo works for me, it’ll probably just be a temporary thing and then I’ll gain all the weight back when I revert back to my “normal” diet.
It’s been three months, and I think it’s safe to say that Paleo has been radically different from anything else I’ve ever done. Dear readers, I don’t want you to think I’m trying to be a Paleo evangelist or asking everyone to eat Paleo. That’s not the case at all. I know it’s not right for everyone, and actually, I don’t even eat strictly Paleo all the time. But I do want to share what I’ve learned while changing my relationship with food over the last three months:
First, protein is king. I don’t think my old diet contained nearly enough protein, and now I make sure I have at least a serving of the cleanest protein I can afford at every meal. This is almost always an animal protein, because I think that makes me feel the best.
Fat is prince. I used to feel like I had to have a LOT of starch to round out a meal. Ever since I started making sure I get enough fat in my meal, my need to eat starch has dropped off considerably. I don’t think I was eating nearly enough fat in my old diet, and my body was screaming for “something more,” which I usually interpreted as sugar or starch. My favorite good fats to include in my meals are butter, avocado, and yummy olive oil.
Eating can sometimes actually make me feel worse. Before I took an honest look at my relationship with food, I often ate when I had a headache, when I had a stomach ache, when I felt tired, etc. But the problem with that was I was actually on a path to feeling sicker, not better. So logic would dictate that, at best, food wasn’t helping with my ailments, and at worst, food could actually be contributing to or causing my ailments.
Insulin is the key. One thing that most Paleo diet experts agree on is that keeping your blood sugar stable is one of the most important things you can do. As a (former, and temporary) diabetic, I knew the dangers of having high blood sugar, and I also knew that the likely cause of my sudden, intense sugar cravings was unstable blood sugar. I also knew that it was imperitave for me to get my blood sugar under control, because women who have had Gestational Diabetes are at risk for developing Type 2 Diabetes for the rest of their lives. What I learned is that keeping my blood sugar stable would also help my mood, my weight, and even prevent gout attacks.
Most of all, I was finally able to believe that (a.) getting healthy has little to do with weight and the numbers on the scale, and (b.) healing my relationship with food did not have to mean writing down everything I eat, slavishly counting calories and measuring portions, or worrying over labels. In fact, the best way to eat is to eat things that don’t have labels, and to just eat them until I’m full. This way, I’ve found that I actually think about food a whole lot less, and even when I veer off from the strict Paleo diet I started out with, I find that I’m able to maintain my weight without much effort at all.
So that’s what’s been going on in my belly the last few months. Have you heard about/tried the Paleo diet? Have you ever had to change your relationship with your food and/or your scale?