I came across Tara Grant last fall when she was featured in Mark Sisson’s then-new book ‘The Primal Blueprint 21-Day Transformation’ She is featured as one of the success stories. I liked her look (I love retro fashion) and she’d experienced endometriosis, IVF and had twin boys. My story and hers were almost identical in many ways…except for the little matter of the fact she’s achieved a weight loss of 115lbs. And kept it off.
She’s outspoken, feisty and passionate about spreading the primal/paleo word. She writes about her experiences over on her blog Primal Girl. She also has tons of energy and doesn’t seem to sit still for a minute!
I thought you’d be interested in hearing her paleo weight loss secrets so I asked her if she’d be kind enough to agree to answer a few (okay, a zillion) questions and she said yes! Her replies were charming and sassy and thoughtful – it was like having her over for coffee so grab a beverage of your choice and read her story…
When did your health problems start?
Looking back, I think problems started when I was around 9 years old. That was the year I put on a couple of pounds and my eyesight started deteriorating. We didn’t think anything of it at the time as my dad also needed glasses, but after reading Loren Cordain’s work, I found out that nearsightedness in childhood can be caused by insulin resistance. My eyesight has actually improved since going Primal.
What were your symptoms and how did they affect your life?
It started with a little weight gain and the glasses. Then, when I hit puberty my hormones were out of control. I had irregular periods, which we were told would “figure themselves out.” The pendulum-like mood swings were the worst. I also experienced depression. Again, we thought all these things were a normal part of being a teenaged girl. Hidradenitis suppurativa started right around my 14th birthday. I was put on the pill when I was 15, so that masked a lot of the symptoms I would have been experiencing otherwise.
How do you feel about the sick, unhealthy years you had?
I didn’t realize I was sick when I was growing up. I didn’t realize how bad things were until I went Primal and found out how good they could be. I thought I was healthy and normal.
When you decided to lose weight did you expect to resolve your health issues at the same time? What was your primary focus – health or weight loss?
Honestly, it was both. I wanted to be a healthy, vibrant example for my kids of what a woman should be. I wanted to be able to play with them and get down on the floor. I also wanted to look good and turn heads. As I started to feel better, I started to look better and vice versa.
What was the trigger that finally set you off on losing the weight and not looking back?
After I had my kids, I started to lose a little of the baby weight. I went down to 245. Then, the scale started moving in the opposite direction. THAT was when I got scared.
How did you go about losing 115lbs? Cold turkey? Gradually phasing certain foods out?
I simply went primal the day I received Mark Sisson’s book, The Primal Blueprint. At first I had a lot of fruit and nuts to help with the transition and when I eventually plateaued I tweaked my diet and ate less of those things. It took almost three years to get to where I am now. I just put one foot in front of the other and didn’t look back.
What changes in your family have you seen since you’ve changed your diets?
We all had autoimmune skin issues and IBS before we went paleo. Those are gone. We feel better and have more energy.
What do you do now that you couldn’t do before you lost the weight and resolved your health issues?
Drive on the freeway. I know it sounds weird, but I was so anxious before that I couldn’t drive on the freeway without having panic attacks. When I went to PrimalCon, I actually drove down a day early to stay with Orleatha and Chris Smith, an amazing couple I met at PaleoFX. I had had a ride all lined up for the following day, but I decided to leave early and go all the way to LA by myself. As I was merging from one LA freeway to another, singing along to the radio and changing lanes, I realized I was like, “WHAT’S UP, LA?! WOTCHA GOT?! BRING IT ON!!!!” It was incredibly empowering.
How did people around you react to your huge weight loss?
Aah. Good question. No one ever talks about this one. Honestly, I lost a lot of friends. I’m sure my mother-in-law thought I had an eating disorder at the time and I know some of my girlfriends were talking about me behind my back, saying that I was compulsively exercising and anorexic. Since they had never been able to sustain any type of healthy weight loss themselves, I had to be doing something illicit. When someone has amazing success in an area that you yourself have not, it can highlight your failures and make you feel bad about yourself. A lot of people – okay a lot of women (let’s be honest) – will revert to subversive measures, i.e. gossip and backstabbing, to make themselves feel better about themselves. It was hard, but I lost a lot of friends. Also, those people who were happy for me now found me to be a huge pain in the ass when it came to outings, like going out for dinner. I can’t just grab a burger anymore. There needs to be attention paid to what restaurants I frequent and that requires planning. A lot of people stopped calling and asking me out places because I was no longer convenient to be around.
Have you changed your circle of friends or the types of people you hang out with since then?
Most definitely. I can’t stand people who play the victim or who feel that they have no power over their own decisions. At first I try to empower them. If it’s an abject failure, I cut my losses and move on.
How did your husband react to your dieting changes – was he supportive, is he paleo?
Of course he’s happy that I am no longer anxious and depressed, and it really helps when your wife is hot and you can be proud to show her off. But, honestly, he came kicking and screaming. At first, he was happy to eat whatever I cooked at home but he would eat whatever he wanted when he went out for lunch. He started feeling sick after he did this and came to the conclusion that he was intolerant to wheat. But that was a realization he needed to make on his own. Me nagging him and talking incessantly about nutrition makes his eyes glaze over. He’s now mostly paleo but as a family we still eat dairy, rice and on occasion, corn.
Who were your supporters when you were losing the weight and who are your support team now?
My immediate family: my Mom and Dad, my brother and my husband. It’s still the same.
What does a typical day look like for you and how to you prep food for yourself and your family?
I’m not going to lie. I spend a hell of a lot of time in the kitchen. So much so that I have set my laptop up on the kitchen counter so I can watch episodes of The Voice while I cook. I try to do as much work ahead of time as possible, for example, when I make dinner I usually make enough for 4 meals. Then I freeze the rest and can pull it out and defrost it another time.
What exercise do you do?
Not much really. When I first went Primal, I walked everywhere. I just strapped the kids in the stroller and hit the road. I did CrossFit for about a year, and that was a lot of fun. Frankly, I exercised more before I went Primal, when I thought it was the key to weight loss. Now that I know it isn’t, going to the gym for the sheer fun of it doesn’t happen very often.
What are your food demons? Which foods set you off and you fall off the paleo wagon?
I’ve always loved sweets. I’ve come up with paleo versions of my favorites and will make things like gluten-free shortbread cookies from scratch, using rice flour and tapioca. I still have sugar occasionally. I just don’t buy prepackaged garbage or chocolate bars anymore. I eat 85% Green & Black’s Organic Chocolate almost every day and on days I’m feeling indulgent, I’ll have some 70%. I even ate some milk chocolate over Christmas and Easter. I don’t consider it falling off the paleo wagon. My treats are planned out. I indulge.
What do you do to beat your food demons – when they are calling your name?
The trick is to just buy enough so that you indulge and it’s gone. If you buy enough to feed a small village, it will be there when you wake up the next day, and you’re going to have trouble saying no. If you have some left over, throw it out before you go to bed. Put it underneath something slimy and disgusting in the garbage can so you’re not tempted to dig it out. Trust me, this is important.
What is your treat philosophy?
For the love of God, if you are going to have a treat, enjoy every freakin’ bite. Look at it when you eat it. Eat slowly. Don’t unconsciously shovel it into your mouth. And don’t consider it “falling off the wagon.” Just because you ate something that isn’t paleo, doesn’t mean you are no longer paleo. It’s all about what you do over the long haul, not something you did last Wednesday, that is going to determine your health.
How do you stay on the wagon? What tips and strategies do you use?
If I eat wheat or an overload of fructose, I get anxious and depressed. I don’t want to be anxious and depressed. It’s as easy as that. That being said, with the exception of wheat products, if there is crap in the house, I will eat it. So, I go grocery shopping first thing in the morning when my “willpower” is at its highest and I don’t buy any junk food or treats. That way it’s not in the house. Makes things so much easier. I’m also lucky that my kids are young enough that they aren’t buying things yet and my husband also has a wheat intolerance, so he doesn’t bring stuff into the house either.
What three things do you do, no matter what?
I never eat wheat. Ever. Or anything with wheat in it. I don’t care if it’s sprouted, fermented, fried in tallow or surrounded by cheese. That is the only hard and fast rule I have. You’d be amazed at how many unhealthy options are off the table if I stick to this. I don’t need to have any other rules.
Our stories are so similar – I say I saw 5 different doctors on three different continents during my endo journey – how did you get to see so many doctors in different countries?
My father and husband are military and we were stationed overseas in Germany, right on the border of Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium. I am Canadian and I grew up there. Now I live in the States. I’ve seen American, Canadian, German and Dutch doctors. None were of any help. I think I’ve seen over 50 doctors for all the different symptoms I’ve had over the years.
What would you say to young women suffering from endometriosis, PCOS or other hormonal imbalance health issues?
Don’t believe the conventional wisdom that says you will have to suffer from this for your entire life OR that these issues can be solved by taking a pill. There is a very simple solution to these medical issues and that is get your hormones in balance. And you do that by changing your diet. If the issue is severe enough or impacts your life in a negative way, for instance not being able to get pregnant or being in constant pain, you will be fairly motivated to do something about it. A nutritional intervention is going to work way better than any pill. Plus it’s free and doesn’t have any negative side effects. I tried all the pills, trust me. They just don’t work. There is no easy way out of this one, you’re going to have to take a long, hard look at your diet and your life and make some changes.
Was IVF successful right away or did you go through the painful journey of IF first?
I tried to get pregnant for almost 10 years. It wasn’t until they finally referred me to a fertility specialist that anyone considered testing to see if my fallopian tubes were viable. Which they were not. Before I saw the fertility specialist, they tried to get me to ovulate by using Metformin. When that didn’t work, they tried Clomid. The Clomid made me so hormonal that my husband and I almost got divorced. Oh, it made me ovulate, but since no one had checked to see if my fallopian tubes were clear, it was fucking useless. The doctors instantly turned to pharmaceuticals to try and get me pregnant instead of looking at why I wasn’t getting pregnant. Thankfully, Dr. Zeringue at the Davis Fertility Clinic in Davis, California knows what he’s doing. Since my tubes were 100% filled with scar tissue, IVF was my only option. It worked the first time.
How did you feel about having twins?
I didn’t care. I was just ecstatic about finally being pregnant. It wasn’t until I was about 4 months pregnant that the reality of being pregnant with twins hit me. I was on bedrest most of the pregnancy and experienced every single problem you can have while you’re pregnant, with the exception of miscarriage.
How did you feel about having them preemie?
No mother wants to have her children prematurely. No mother wants to have to visit her newborn in the hospital, in an incubator, connected to tubes. It was devastating not being able to hold them or breastfeed. It was horrible seeing their eyes, which were still black when they were born, being exposed to light that they shouldn’t be. Seeing their skin hanging off them in folds as they hadn’t filled out with fat yet. Their nipples hadn’t formed yet, either. I thought they were going to be reproductively damaged. The nurses fed them formula through tubes. It was a horrible, horrible time. I know I still have some anger I’m harboring over the incompetence of the hospital staff and we also went through all the physical therapy madness you did with your preemie twins; thankfully I realized my boys were “normal” early on and I could relax and just let them develop at their own pace. I know a lot of guilt I feel at not being able to produce enough milk and having to feed them formula they were allergic to is something that will take me years to get over, but knowing I’m doing the right thing now and feeding them properly makes me feel better.
Your boys are now three. How do you plan on giving your boys the paleo vibe? How will you bring them up paleo? What is your family paleo philosophy – are you strict or flexible?
We all have autoimmune issues with our skin and digestive tracts, so being flexible with the paleo diet really isn’t an option, unless we all want to be sick. We eat rice daily and dairy and corn on occasion, but we stick to a very strict no wheat policy and no nightshades. The kids are too young to understand that they can’t eat certain things, so things like birthday parties and celebrations at their daycare haven’t really been an option. As they get older, we’ll tell them that certain foods are going to cause a reaction in them and leave it up to them to decide, but we won’t have those foods in the house. We also don’t eat out at restaurants at all. It’s incredibly difficult not having the luxury of just ordering pizza on nights when I’m exhausted, but we feel so much better having gluten-free pizza that we make ourselves once every couple of months and it becomes a celebration for us.
How do you handle food outside your family?
I’m really lucky that both my parents and my husband’s parents have switched to a primal diet. They all ate real whole foods before the switch, so it wasn’t too hard for them. Learning that those “healthy whole grains” they had been eating weren’t so healthy after all was really the only thing they had to contend with. They all respect our dietary choices, which is something that I’m coming to realize I’m incredibly lucky to have. Until now, we’ve been skipping things like birthday parties, but the kids are at an age now where we don’t want to do that anymore. We’ll bring something for them to eat and talk to the parents before we go to see what they’re going to have there. So many kids have allergies to foods these days that we don’t really stand out as “the weirdos” if I phrase it properly. I just tell people the kids and I are allergic to certain things and it seems to placate them. As for restaurants, well, we don’t eat out. If we have to (and we’re leaving on a 3-day road trip to New Mexico tomorrow morning, so we’ll have to) I tell the waiters that we’re allergic as well. I honestly don’t care about spreading the word of our wonderful diet and lifestyle during those occasions, because 1) the waiter doesn’t give a shit and 2) they won’t take us seriously. However, if I say that I have a raging wheat allergy, they will make sure to clean the grill before cooking my meat. We also pack a lot of food to take with us on occasions such as these. It’s cheaper and the boys enjoy having a picnic much more than going to a restaurant.
How do you manage to be a military wife, SAHM mom to twin boys, Etsy store owner, model, blogger, speaker?
How do you juggle it all? Do you like juggling or does it cause you stress?
I’ve had to give up a few things. I own an ETSY store, but I don’t have anything listed on it. Friends know that they can commission me to make things for them, but sewing is a hobby of mine. I like to make clothes for myself. I don’t blog very often but I do enjoy it. I have priorities, and right now they are my family. I find if I am stressed out, I am juggling too much. Then I let something go. Like modelling. It was getting too time consuming and I was on the road a lot. I’m going to take some of the time I spend blogging and concentrate on writing a book instead. I have a lot of juicy things to share, some of which I can’t go into here, you’ll have to read the book when it comes out. I also may become a speaker for Mark Sisson’s company, doing Primal Transformation Seminars. We’ll see how that pans out. It’s definitely something I’m interested in and willing to spend time on. It’s all about priorites. Some things are more important than others.
What did you learn from attending Paleo F(x) and PrimalCon that those who didn’t attend might like to know?
Most of what I learned can also be found on the Internet. Being paleo or primal is such a personal thing – it’s different for every single person out there. I can’t eat potatoes, you might be able to tolerate wheat, others have severe soy issues. We all exercise differently, and different things work for different people. You have to find your own path. The experts are there to help guide you, but it is up to you to find it. It’s the sense of community and meeting others like you at events like PrimalCon and PaleoFX that you won’t find online. A lot of us feel alone and isolated.
I saw you went to the AGT Auditions – are your family fans? (We are – huge!)
A friend of mine is a producer for the show and got us tickets for the San Francisco auditions. We went to see how different these shows are in reality, as opposed to what you see in the final, edited show. Best part of that was having Sharon Osborne tell me that she liked my outfit. I was wearing something I had made myself, so I was incredibly proud.
Cool, huh? I love how Tara’s physical transformation made her whole world open up and she’s now juggling so many exciting balls. I was particularly interested in her ‘secrets:’
- She had a goal: she wanted to be a great role model for her kids and too look hot and turn heads.
- She didn’t look back: she simply kept putting one step in front of the other towards her goal.
- She took a long term view: it took her three years to look and feel the way she wanted.
- She put her needs first: Tara lost a lot of friends in the process but carried on regardless knowing that this was best for her.
- She got her husband on board: looking hot helped a lot with that. 😉
- She focused on the benefits: losing her anxiety and depression and gaining confidence.
- She collected a support team around her: in her case, this was her family but it can comprise of anyone.
- She was a smart paleo cookie: cooking in batches and shopping in the morning are great practical tips.
- She indulges regularly and savors every bite to keep the sugar demons away.
- She found her own way to health and weight-loss: Tara’s story shows how far experimentation and consistency can get us.
What were your take-aways from her story? What can you apply to your own? Let us know in the comments! And don’t forget to check out Tara’s blog: Primal Girl for more expansion on the above topics.
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