The Truth About My Paleo Diet Experience.

IMG_0137.jpg

Let me first start by saying that for someone with various medical concerns, especially autoimmune conditions, eating a Paleo diet can drastically improve one's health and circumstances. For others, eating in a strict, whole foods-based manner may actually provide them freedom, and I absolutely respect this. However, for my personal wellness, being strict Paleo was one of the unhealthiest decisions I have ever made. 

 

Hey friends! Happy Monday! I hope everyone's having a good start to the week. Lunch today is brussels + oven-roasted sweet potatoes + herb-covered salmon. Topped with balsamic, duh. So yummy! I just watched @emilyschromm's great periscope about how it's important to do something for *ourselves* as soon as we wake up, instead of going right to our phones + scrolling through social media. I do the IG/Facebook thing aalll of the time in the morning, and when I don't do it, my day is always a little better (because my brain isn't filled with whatever is going on in the social world). This week, I'm going to make a plan to wake up early every day and do something for me (read, workout, write, take a walk) before checking *any* social media platforms. Looking forward to this experiment! What do you do when you wake up? #HKfinalsweek

A photo posted by Hannah (@wholesomelyhannah) on

Starting in January of my freshman year in college and continuing to December of my sophomore year, I was a dictator over my own consumption of food. I banned gluten, all gluten-free grains, highly processed oils, dairy, fried products, refined sugars, and all dessert except for 100% dark chocolate. (Yep, that type of bar actually exists. And it is bitter). I preached to anyone who would listen about why grains were “bad for me” and why I would never, ever eat them again. 

I made eggs, fruit, and spinach for breakfast just about every single day. My sister called this "leafy eggs". Eating out caused me so much stress -- not because I have legitimate allergies to tomatoes, soy, and dairy, but because I was nervous that I would not be able to find a meal that fit the bill of being grain, processed oil, and refined sugar-free. On the rare occasion that we did go out to eat, the only section of the menu that I ever spent a few seconds glancing at was the Salad portion, and I’d always order the same thing: “Can I do your Cobb salad with no tomato, peppers, or bleu cheese? I’m allergic. May I add grilled chicken, too? And instead of the dressing, can I do olive oil on the side? Oh, and no croutons, please.”

 While still living in my freshman dorm at Northeastern, I excitedly spent my Husky Card dollars on plantain chips, paleo-friendly granolas, paleo hot cereals, and nut butter jars (but definitely no peanut butter, as peanuts are legumes and legumes are not Paleo). On road trips, I’d get so frustrated that the only snacks I “could” eat were unsalted almonds, as all of the trail mixes had cranberries that contained added sugar and cashews that were roasted in soybean and safflower oils. I’d bring my own breakfast of eggs and avocado to the coffee shop when my friends wanted to go for tea and bagels. I did not drink anything aside from black coffee, tea, unsweetened almond milk, the occasional green smoothie, and lots of water. On the surface, it appeared that I was a beacon of optimal health and wellness. Dig a little deeper, though, and this was in no way the truth. 

After a dinner of grilled chicken, sweet potatoes, and salad (the usual), when no-one else was around and with a spoon in hand, more than 1/3 of the almond butter jar would be gone in 10 minutes. The dark chocolate bar that was unopened a day earlier would now be almost finished. My self-control needed an outlet where it could take a break from resisting every single temptation day in and day out. 

 

Dinner tonight on vacation was the best so far 😍 Grilled chicken + broccolini sauteed with garlic & olive oil. (This meal was originally chicken parm...but I changed it so much to accommodate my needs that it doesn't even look like the original thing on the menu 🙈). This vacation is the first real one we've been on with my (sort of) new dietary allergies & preferences, and it has been a success! We don't have a kitchen, so we're eating out for every meal; I have gotten used to explaining my allergies, and I've become comfortable asking lots of questions to make sure what I'm ordering is what I'm hoping to get. The staff here has been incredibly accommodating & kind, and for that I am very grateful!! ✈️🌞🌎☺️☺️ #hkglobetrotting

A photo posted by Hannah (@wholesomelyhannah) on

I attempted to bake paleo-friendly treats made with coconut/almond four and no sweeteners, except for a tiny bit of maple syrup. They always turned out unpleasant, but I ate them all anyways because they fit into my dietary requirements. I needed some type of release.  

I tried so hard to work for Paleo, whereas I should have made Paleo, or whatever diet I felt good with, work for me. In this year of rigidity, I lost sight of what worked for my body and made me mentally and emotionally happy. For an entire year, I cared way too much about avoiding all foods on the “not Paleo” list and finding the healthiest, most nutrient-dense meals possible. I was not nearly enough focused on establishing a well-rounded, balanced lifestyle surrounding food. 

 In January 2016, despite my fears screaming at me that oats, rice, and quinoa were “bad for me”, I began reintroducing grains into my diet. Now, as I approach almost one year of being rigid Paleo-free, I’ve found joy in eating again. Little by little, I’ve been able to let go of all dietary restrictions, aside from my legitimate allergies. I’m not as strict about sugar or refined oils, I don’t stress over eating at a restaurant anymore, and I’ll even eat the gluten-filled cupcake or cookie once in a while. 

One of the best parts? I no longer maintain the awful habit of binging on obscene amounts of almond butter -- I've gotten to a place where I can keep a jar of it in the pantry/fridge for at least a week. As soon as I allowed myself to find more balance and variety within my diet, the obsessive nut butter habit organically ceased to exist. Life is good. 

It’s become my priority to eat what I want, when I’m hungry. Most often, this results in a nutrient-dense bowl packed with protein (animal or plant now, as rice + beans are back on the table!), greens, healthy fats, and some gluten-free grains or starchy vegetables. I no longer put in so much effort to eat healthfully because the Internet or some podcaster told me that X foods have the most vitamins and are the best for us. I eat the way I do now because this intuitively makes me feel good. Healthy food nourishes my mind, body, and spirit. 

What I wish I could tell my old, Paleo self now is this: no diet, no matter how health-promising it may seem, that induces anxiety, binge-eating, or a highly restrictive/degrading mentality is not a positive approach to health. 

For anyone who’s going through a similar restrictive, stressful struggle like I did, let me tell you that it gets better. I empower you to experiment with a variety of foods — seriously, eat the entire damn rainbow. Please know that it is 100% okay to not base your diet on a set of specific guidelines that some health book or program emphasizes. I really do believe that optimal health and a healed restrictive mentality can be achieved through exploration with food, as this will lead to the creation of a highly customized eating approach that works perfectly for you. Bio-individuality, friends. This is where health lives.