Why I Gave Up Paleo and “Dieting” in General

Diet is such an ugly word, isn’t it? It’s pretty strange when you consider that the word is really just a straightforward expression of your overall eating habits. We’ve attributed so many negative characteristics to it, that upon hearing the word, there’s an immediate and almost knee-jerk reaction in protest to the very idea of following a ‘diet.’

The word diet is synonymous with a kind of self-torture where you’re either not eating enough or eating too much of foods that you can’t stand all in the effort to slim down. People want to lose weight but dieting to lose weight is perceived as a grueling, mental and physical exercise that weeds out the weak. But really, once you strip away all of that negativity, it’s just a summation of what we eat, isn’t it?

Well, I wont be so naive as to say that I’m immune to that knee-jerk response when the word is thrown around. I hear diet and I think ‘fad’ as if it’s just a short-term solution with no real sustainability. And I also think of suffering. Unfathomable human suffering.

I’ve never been one for fad dieting. I didn’t try Atkins when that was the craze or buy all the South Beach books. In fact I was pretty lazy in the food department and just gave myself a pat on the back if I managed to downgrade my milk from whole to 2%.

That all changed four years ago when I got back from living in Prague where I was drinking beer by the liter and eating whatever went with said beer, and I stepped on the scale and saw that I had reached my highest weight ever. This is what I looked like. That wasn’t a good time.

my before picture

It took a lot of discipline and sacrifice, but I slowly started changing my habits and yes, my diet, to lose weight. Eventually I incorporated more rigorous exercise and taught myself as much as I could about food so that I could make lasting changes. It took a long time and a LOT of hard work, but I did it, mostly on my own and with a steadfast determination to reach my goals. And now?

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Thirty pounds lighter and a realized passion for nutrition and health led me to this blog last year. And so we come full circle. Why this little walk down memory lane?

Well, I think back to about this time a year ago when I started joining groups on Facebook and Twitter that catered to this Paleo diet. The first time I’d heard about the diet from a friend, I thought it was a joke.

“You eat like cavemen? That makes absolutely NO sense!”, I exclaimed. I laughed it off as a fad and went about my day. 

Another friend and I both agreed that it seemed extreme and kind of fringe and beyond what either one of us thought was sound. I was pretty vehement about it actually. There was no way in hell I was going to do this to myself and anyone who does is crazy.

And this is why you never say never.

Around the beginning of fall last year, I wanted to take my fitness regiment to the next level. I’d done most of my working out alone and I wanted something that would really challenge me to do more. I became enamored with Crossfit. I mean, look at these women!

Courtesy: Reebok Crossfit Games
Courtesy: Reebok Crossfit Games

How could I not want to be at the top of my game by doing what these people are doing? I wanted to throw tires and lift 150lbs over my head. And yes, I’d even adopt the paleo lifestyle if that’s what it would take to get me there.

I thought about the premise of my blog as a judgement-free zone where I could explore food and nutrition in public view with the intention of encouraging others to share their thoughts with me. I set out to determine what works for me and that remains my mission statement. I also made a promise to approach life with my eyes open, without judgement, and with a dedication to explore. So I thought it was time to stop putting the hate on paleo and do my due diligence to figure out what the fuss was all about.

I’d experimented with several gluten-free recipes and spent time researching how that diet evolved into the mega-popular phenomenon that it is now. Cutting out breads and all grains didn’t seem like such a huge leap, although no pasta would take some adjustment. Going without peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and big pasta plates seemed minor compared to the results I was hoping to get from paleo and eventually crossfit.

Courtesy: Balanced Bites
Courtesy: Balanced Bites

And the more I read about paleo, the more I started to see the advantages. The diet calls for a total elimination of processed foods which I was already doing because of my clean-eating philosophy. I felt that I wasn’t eating enough meat so following paleo seemed like a good incentive to get more meat protein in my diet. All of this and a commitment to eating the highest quality foods produced organically and GMO-free seemed like a major win. After considering those benefits, I decided it seemed like an easy transition, and I made up my mind that I was going to do this.

It was amazing. I felt like I had more energy. My stomach appeared flatter and I didn’t have any problems with snacking or being hungry between meals. I also had a creative streak in the kitchen where I got to experiment with food in a different way. You can see some of those recipes here on this blog last fall. All of that was genuine fun and I didn’t foresee any changes to the plan.

Then Hurricane Sandy happened.

Initially I thought it’d be good to try to maintain paleo throughout the week and then blog about it afterward. That lasted for one day.

After day three of no power and no hot water and then an exhausting hunt for food and supplies that took me all the way to the upper east side of Manhattan (a three-hour roundtrip that day from there and home), I stood in the bread aisle at Fairway and shrugged by tired shoulders. I just couldn’t care at that point. Not when I knew I didn’t have a refrigerator to preserve the meat and vegetables. And not while my city was falling apart. I had bigger concerns in that moment and none of them involved worrying about “cheating” on a diet. I snagged the rugelach cookies and went home with whatever wouldn’t go bad to get us through the week, processed or not.

I was off the bandwagon from that week on. Maybe it was just the overwhelming power of sugar and it’s ability to get you hooked like a drug addict. Or maybe I’m just not strong-willed enough to join the ranks of the paleo devotees. Whatever it was, I started to punch big holes through the diet and the tide shifted. I was no longer held captive by the allure of primal eating. Life felt too short and too precious to me at the time. I didn’t want to spend any of it obsessing over what I was eating.

Which, by the way, is exactly what I was doing. Obsessing. Nitpicking. Over-analyzing. I realized a lot about myself during that strange week immediately after Sandy. There are aspects to my relationship with food that are ugly and the roots of that dysfunction are buried very deep. While I’ve managed to dig out some of that nastiness, I find that my past comes back to haunt me every now and then, and usually when my guard is down.

My experiment with paleo caused a few of those ghosts to come back which was a shock on several levels. I thought I’d shut the door on this kind of disordered eating. Hell, I’m a grown woman writing a blog about this for crying out loud. I’m over it…aren’t I?

The truth is, no, I wasn’t. I can’t blame the founders of paleo for this and it’d be ridiculous to start pointing fingers. It was a trigger that I guess I was primed for at that particular moment. All of that emphasis on food and diet was like an overload on my system.

Following a diet, paleo or gluten free or anything with a strict guideline of do’s and don’ts, switches on my obsessive compulsion and then turns the knob to max. I’d read articles where people would claim how paleo was the easiest diet to follow and it didn’t require a whole lot of thought to maintain. I always found that so confusing because for me it was far from easy.

I said earlier how I felt great physically and had more energy. A lot of that energy went towards stressing out over what my next meal was going to be. I became obsessed with the black and white nature of the “rules” and what I was allowed to eat. I started feeling panic or anxiety if I was invited to go out and I couldn’t find something to eat that was paleo. Food was always on my mind, especially while writing a blog centered on food and health.

What forced me to realize that something was off were several comments made from close friends. These people know of my past issues with food and they sniffed out something was wrong pretty quickly. The comments were lighthearted initially and I’d reassure them that everything was all right and that I was happy with the change.

After some time their patience faded and one friend told me outright that she thought this was becoming an unhealthy obsession and she was worried. It felt like I’d been gutted. I was upset at being confronted so directly and for something that I didn’t agree with, but I realized that was all bullshit because really I was just embarrassed, and moreover terrified.

What’s happening? I thought.

What I was doing secretly and hadn’t told anyone at that point was that I started binge eating again. And really, it’s less about what you’re eating, and more the behavior that gets to you. It’s the sneakiness of the act and the shame associated with it that made me just want to ignore what was going on. Once my friends stepped in, I couldn’t avoid it anymore. Everything crumbled. I sat there and cried, completely torn apart because I realized that she was right. This was wrong. I’d known it all along but I had reverted to old patterns and ignored it because I didn’t want to deal with the fact that I was back there again.

And that was where I broke. I took some time off from the blog and walked away from this world for a little while because I needed to figure out what I was going to do to put myself back together. I had to confront why this diet had triggered this behavior and where my obsessiveness comes from. In some ways, I’m still doing that to this day. Something I had to admit to myself is that I’ll be figuring that out in some way for the rest of my life.

See, the thing is that dieting and all the inherent meaning behind it is really only as meaningful as we make it. Since this happened last fall, I’ve thought a lot about etymology and the meaning we give words. We’re conditioned by our families and our environments to attribute values with various moral implications to words and go about our lives using them with those biases.

I constantly think about how I perceive myself when I look in the mirror and the words I choose to describe my reflection. More often than not, those words are harsh and critical. I repeat past offenses in my head. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I went into paleo for the wrong reason. It was never about me. It was always about correcting that distorted reflection at whatever cost.

With meditation and my affirmation-based life coaching programs, I’ve made a concerted effort to take those biases down piece by piece in order to reshape the meaning of those words to better fit a philosophy based on love and peace. This includes the word “diet” and “beautiful” and “healthy” and all of the associated meanings that go with, especially with my recent episode of a lifelong dysfunctional relationship with food. More importantly, I had to learn to forgive myself first. So much of this rides on a deep-seeded insecurity that strips more than just confidence. I blamed myself for being weak and for not being enough, and in some ways, this was how I punished myself too. Without forgiving myself for the thought and for my actions, I can’t hope to get beyond this point.  Now, this is a priority and it’s something I’ve devoted myself to entirely.

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I still believe in clean-eating and there are many foods that I don’t eat because I’m striving to keep my healthy lifestyle intact for a long time. You’ll find me posting recipes that cater to paleo, gluten-free, vegan, or vegetarian simply because I don’t find fault with experimenting with different diets to try and find delicious recipes that are wholesome and nutritious. The difference now is that I’m not choosing to obsess over just one path. Besides, I enjoy a lot of that food!

And yes, there are times when I second-guess what I ordered at a restaurant or experience regret hours after I’ve eaten my meal. I don’t expect that to go away anytime soon.

What’s made the difference to me with all of this has been the practice of meditation and a new openness that I have with myself. Each time I begin to experience that anxiety with food, I stop and breathe. I write it down if I can. I keep affirmations on my phone. I talk about it with a friend. I let the anxiety out so that I don’t have to hide behind anything or pretend.

It’s not easy. There are good days and bad days. I walk a fine line between a healthy lifestyle that encompasses both mind and body and a desire to be stronger and fitter which requires a close eye on my diet. I often struggle with balancing both ideals and it’s something I work at every single day. I needed to realize that I was worth more than what I was giving myself credit for and I settle way too often for less than the best in almost everything. It’s the giver in me. Seems a shame that it’s easier for me to give to others and not give equal attention to myself.

All of this is to reinforce what I’ve said from the beginning. There is no single plan that works for everyone. I’ve met plenty of people who are on a paleo diet and loving life. And the same goes for other diet plans. But you have to listen to yourself to decide what works for you. You want to lose weight? Awesome. Why? Get honest with yourself about what your intentions and priorities are before you dive headfirst into a major lifestyle change. Stay true to what makes you unique and don’t settle for anything less.

Have a similar story you want to share? Drop me a line and let me know. Keep paying it forward, now and always. ♥

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24 thoughts on “Why I Gave Up Paleo and “Dieting” in General

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    1. Wow, Heidi thanks for your feedback and for your support! It’s amazing how many people I speak to who express the same struggles in some way. Talking about it is definitely part of the healing process, so this post was definitely a step towards that goal. Thanks again! 🙂

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  1. You are so wise – and once again, tell part of my story with your words. I had a similar experience with going vegan about 5 years back. I have been a lifelong vegetarian and have not eaten meat since high school. That’s easy for me because it’s for ethical reasons. However, vegan was more for the “skinny.” It was after I had my 3rd child and wanted to get my body back. I stayed vegan for a year and a half and often drove myself crazy over what the next meal would be – thus setting up a very unhealthy pattern for myself. In the end it was too restricting. I still eat 70 – 80% vegan but I have learned that it does not have to be all or nothing. Especially for someone like me, who has a former toxic relationship with food – all or nothing is a bad place for me to be – always.

    Thank you for your honesty and your awesome perspective as always. xo.

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    1. You’re so right Ilene. It’s the all or nothing thing that makes the scale tip towards unhealthy for me. I had a long conversation with a close friend yesterday who LOVES paleo and it was interesting for me to note how differently we approach the diet and food in general. Hearing her talk about it only reinforced my belief that food and diets are so personal and unique to each of us. I loved that she was so amped up about paleo and what it’s done for her lifestyle! But what I loved even more was that I could sit there and not judge myself because I wasn’t in the same boat with her. We’re just different and different things will work for each of us. I think this is something I really want to explore in both my writing and work. It’s amazing how this story just came out of my mind and through my fingers because it certainly wasn’t what I planned to write. Anywho, thanks SO much for all the support Ilene and for sharing your story with me as well. Happy Monday! 🙂

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    1. Thanks so much for your comments and for reblogging the post! It’s strange what comes out when you start writing, but this was a story I needed to tell one way or another. Thanks again! 🙂

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  2. I totally understand where you are coming from. I started paleo a few months ago and typically stick to it but I also realize that obsessing isn’t healthy and that if I am in a pinch it isn’t the end of the world if I eat something that isn’t green lighted in the paleo community. Through educating myself I think that I make great decisions most the time about healthy options and still embrace my ability to indulge when I want! Looks like you have your head on right and that you are headed in a great direction!

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    1. Thanks Megan! I like your philosophy as well and I admire your flexibility. It’s a lot of hard work to dedicate yourself to a lifestyle change like paleo, and it’s necessary to allow yourself some room to breathe. I mean, you have to life your life right? It looks like you’ve also found your niche and I applaud that. Thanks for reading and and for your support! Happy Healthy Monday! 🙂

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  3. Story of my life Maribel! I am in the same boat. The past few months I have been going crazy trying “diet” after diet. It seems the more I try the more obsessed with food I become. I have gotten to the point where even with all my nutrition training, my head spins at the right “diet” for me. I have never given any particular one enough time to see the results as going in full force always backfires on me. Everything has been out of sorts during this super long winter and I have not had the desire for the gym or any diet. I have eaten whatever I wanted and now I feel the regret of the extra pounds. That’s okay. I have to accept that my all or nothing personality will take me to the gym 6-7 days to going zero for the past few weeks. I have been out of touch with you for awhile and I hope that you are doing well. Hugs 🙂

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    1. Hi Eve! I know, I’ve missed chatting with you. Yeah, I agree, this winter has been challenging for me for all of the same reasons and then some. My blogging is also out of sorts and I think a lot of what I’ve posted reflects that confusion. I’m all over the damn map right now, but I guess I just have to have faith that I’ll figure out what works best for me. What’s funny is that my friend who brought my attention to the unhealthy habits I picked up during paleo is absolutely in love with paleo! We spoke about it the other day and it clicked in my brain then that we’re all built so differently. What’s hard for you and me with food is not hard for others. Part of me wants to beat myself up for it (bc that’ll never go away) but part of me is open to accepting that truth. I think the more and more we talk about it, the better it’ll be for us to find balance. I hope Toronto is getting warmer because it sure as hell isn’t feeling like Spring here in NYC!! Great to hear from you Eve- I hope everything else is going well! 🙂

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  4. this is a brave post. i think dogmas are dangerous no matter what they are. sometimes when they center around eating, and *especially* when it comes to eating, because we can’t get around THAT…. it becomes so stressful and tense. i have been down the path where i attach a lot to body image and what i put in my mouth, and it’s difficult to just let go, and decide that you will make good choices and not PRESCRIBED ones. it’s a real awakening to get there. good for you for getting there. no matter how it happened or when. 🙂

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    1. Thank you so much for your insight and for your encouragement. Sometimes we get so locked into our own heads and all of the expectations we place on ourselves that we forget to listen to what our hearts are telling us. I know this has definitely been (and sometimes still is) a major challenge for me. But it helps that I can clue into those negative triggers and their origins more quickly now than I have in the past. It’s progress. I really appreciate your views and I’m grateful that you stopped by the blog to share your thoughts. Thanks again! 🙂

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  5. Hi Maribel!
    I’m really enjoying your blog. Your writing is strong, honest and so vulnerable! Thank you. I think you have something great to offer which will only be enhanced by coaching and nutrition. And I enjoyed our practice coaching session tonight. I’m looking forward to getting to know you!

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    1. Thanks so much for checking out the site and for your words of encouragement. It’s truly appreciated! I too enjoyed the practice session and already I feel like I’m learning a ton with the smaller group practices. Again, thanks for your insight and I look forward to working together again soon!

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  6. Oh man, can I ever relate to that! I dieted for years and years and got crazier and crazier, and even now when I don’t diet, if any dieting behaviors sneak in without me noticing, I feel the ramifications pretty quickly. It’s a work in progress kind of thing: I want to be healthy, and mental health is just as important and physical health. When I’m obsessing over food I might be making healthy food choices (until a binge), but I’m not mentally healthy. Good luck to you!

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    1. You’re so right! Mental health is just as important as physical health, although we often overlook that part in favor of what we see in the mirror. Thank you for stopping by and sharing your thoughts! 🙂

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    2. @ Jen…
      I choose to call it a “RE-FEED” rather than binge….I give you permission to go for it because your body is SCREAMING for it. Would you not feed your new born when it’s hungry so treat yourself with as much care.

      Our children can teach us a thing or two…..they eat when hungry, stop when full, spit it out if they don’t like it or throw it on the table or floor or the person trying to FORCE feed them….Shame on them….That same person that will, in a decade or so, tell them they eat too much….

      @ food4thoughtnyc…
      I have just re-fed for two or more months on white potato [some days just eating only potato with lashings of butter and salt…freaky, I can tell you] after avoiding it for over a decade because of the Eat Right 4 Your Blood Type, then Paleo. Now I am re-feeding on fruit, rice and dairy…..and strangely enough I haven’t put on any weight but I do feel lighter….go figure.

      I don’t Want to finish my usual portion of protein or eat as much fat as I used to now that I have ‘topped’ the carbs up….and you know what….that fine by me. My hands have warmed up and I am not craving sugar nearly as much however if I feel like some lollies or chocolate or ice cream or cake or or or…..I indulge because my body is needing something only that food can deliver.

      Last week, for the first time in decades if ever, I couldn’t finish my ice cream…..YEAH! And……I just have to remember to serve myself smaller portions because I am satisfied/happy with less. Of course I am sensible most of the time…

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