I often get emails from readers who are doing all the “right things” but are finding that they are not losing weight. They are usually doing Whole30’s, exercising every day, and have, as Teresa Tapp would call it, “less to lose”. Usually, the writer of the email wants a timescale in which I tell them when they will start to lose weight.
They are emails that are impossible to answer satisfactorily. I simply don’t know.
And so I was pleased to read the last paragraph of this awesome story from Carmen; she is speaking from experience.
Carmen is an ex-vegetarian who found paleo by accident three years ago. Since then, her family have gradually come on board so that now her father, adult children and grandchild are all paleo! She has a lot of sage advice as well as being a great storyteller, including a lesson about weight-loss.
Please remember that those who share their stories do so to help others find success (really, they are saving lives), so please share this story via your preferred social media outlet. Trust me, your friends will thank you! Sharing buttons are to the left and below.
I live in Bloomington, Indiana with my husband, Greg. We have two grown daughters, Megan (30) and Jillian (27). We also have a granddaughter, Cora, who was born August 13, 2012. I’m a former university teacher, now writing full time. My husband and I are very involved with our running group at the local YMCA. Greg recently completed his first marathon; I hope to complete a half marathon this spring.
What was your health/dieting/workout experience *before* paleo?
Before going paleo, we were vegetarian. I don’t think that’s too unusual—a lot of people who are “seekers” are trying to find a way of eating to heal themselves or a way of eating that is compatible with their beliefs. For me, I wanted to eat in a way that was environmentally sustainable and healthy. I thought being a vegetarian was the answer. But I was fat and unhealthy. We ate a lot of processed foods (a lot of vegetarians do—think of all the processed soy that is marketed to vegetarians!) and grains, as well as a lot of sugar. I would go through periods of exercising, but nothing consistent. In the five years preceding going Paleo, I hadn’t had a consistent exercise program of any kind.
What was the “clincher” that persuaded you to jump on the paleo bandwagon?
At the end of 2010, I was visiting my daughter Jill in Denver and I was getting ready to begin my annual New Year’s diet, because every year I needed to lose weight. I had decided to try the South Beach Diet, even though it was going to be a little difficult to do as a vegetarian. While I was in the airport I picked up a copy of Reader’s Digest and in it was an article on Gary Taubes’ book Why We Get Fat and What to Do About It. I read it and really started thinking about the science behind his ideas. I started the South Beach Diet as planned, but while I was on it, I started doing a lot of Internet research on Taubes’ ideas. Soon, I found Mark’s Daily Apple and my whole life changed.
How did you approach going paleo – gradually or dive right in?
When I was ready to reintroduce grains after the induction phase of the South Beach Diet, I had some oatmeal. What a disaster! I felt like I had the flu! I asked my doctor about it and she said it was an inflammatory response. I asked her if she should run some tests and she suggested that’s what I had just done. Instead of her running expensive tests, she told me to reintroduce foods and see what happened. What I found out was I couldn’t eat oats—or any grains beyond rice or corn. So I just jumped right in to Paleo, cutting out legumes, most grains, and processed foods. I would have to say I was more reluctant to give up dairy, so I started sourcing grass-fed, organic dairy. Soon, we had a local source of raw milk, as well as pastured eggs, meat, and poultry.
How did your family feel about that? What was their response then? What is their response now?
At first my husband wouldn’t let me cook meat in our cast iron skillets—he was still a vegetarian! But I was doing a lot of research and I kept reading things to him, so eventually he gave in and started sampling some of the meat I was cooking. He was still eating grains and beans, though. In fact, he didn’t transition to Paleo until the last year or so, and even now he will eat wheat on a rare occasion. The fact is, I didn’t convince him; he had to experience things on his own. I offered him information and then let him find out through trial and error what worked and didn’t work for him. The truth was in how his own body reacted. What he found out was he felt better when he ate “clean” and he felt worse when he ate grains, beans, and other SAD foods.
As for my adult children, it was really interesting to see their responses:
My youngest daughter, Jill, was very interested in the diet and has done a lot of research on it. Before going Paleo, her diet was whatever was quick and easy—ramen, macaroni and cheese, pasta, cereal. What really convinced her to go Paleo was her lack of energy and knowing a lot of it had to do with her diet. She did about 20 days without any sugar or grains and was amazed at how much better she felt, so she started incorporating more paleo and less dairy and grains into her diet. She tells me she is about 80/20 Paleo now and found the transition relatively easy once she realized that dairy and grains made her feel sick. This is a quote from her: “To me it is very easy due to the fact that my body rejects non-paleo food.” She’s very practical about the whole thing, stating that her advice to people struggling would be “Just stick with it! Ignore non-paleo food and move on with your day.” I couldn’t have said it better myself!
My older daughter, Megan, has suffered from mysterious intestinal ailments that were finally chalked up to Irritable Bowel Syndrome — kind of a catchall for whatever the medical community can’t diagnose. She and her husband, Jeff, decided to do a Whole 30 and just a few days into the program she remarked that she never realized you could eat a meal and just get on with your day—no cramping, nausea, or other stomach upsets. So the diet has been a real blessing for her in particular. She’s been paleo for about 6 months now, has lost 15 pounds (which is hard to do as a new mom!), and says she feels “much better, better energy levels, sleeps better, feel full after normal portion sizes of food.” Her advice: “Power through the first week or two of paleo. ‘Carb flu’ is real and if you can get through it you will feel AMAZING after you have been on paleo for 2-3 weeks!” She says she is 90/10 paleo. She is also raising my granddaughter, Cora, who just turned 1 in August 2013, as a paleo kid!
Finally, my dad, Clyde, who will be 79 in March, has also gone paleo, though he didn’t know it. As a retired engineer, Dad likes to keep track of things. He’s a diabetic and he tracks his blood sugar in a tiny notebook. He writes down what he ate, then he notes his blood sugar levels. Using this trial and error method, along with doing a lot of reading, he began refining his diet a couple of years ago. He found was that when he ate legumes, grains, and other carbohydrate-rich foods, his blood sugar spiked. He decided to cut those foods out. With those foods eliminated, he is keeping his blood sugar under control and is having an easier time managing his weight.
What’s interesting is that while I have talked to him frequently about my diet over the past three years, it wasn’t until my youngest daughter told him he was eating a paleo diet that he put it all together and realized that we were doing pretty much the same thing, though for different reasons. Now I have him reading some of the books in my paleo/Primal library and he is enjoying learning the science behind “his” diet, and becoming more interested in the paleo lifestyle too.
My mom, Faye, has been cooking the same way her entire life, so it is a challenge to get her to change. I have tried to let her know paleo cooking can be very simple; she doesn’t have to do anything fancy for me—plain meat, vegetable, salad. It’s easy. I’ve tried to convince her to support Dad’s new way of eating, too. It’s a little harder for her to change, but she’s slowly coming along. She told me the other day about cooking spaghetti squash instead of spaghetti to have with their meatballs and sauce. I’d say that’s a step in the right direction!
So we have a FOUR GENERATION PALEO FAMILY! It happened by accident, and it started in the middle (with me) and spread outward, but it did happen, and it makes our family meals so much more relaxed. Not only that, we’re all sharing great new paleo recipes and ideas with each other, too!
What improvements have you noticed in your health? What have your family members noticed?
I’ve lost weight (30 pounds or so) and have seen a big change in my body composition. What’s amazing to me is how much smaller I am while not losing a lot more weight—I think it is because I am losing fat and putting on muscle.
As for my health, I used to get every cold that passed by, but in the past three years I don’t think I’ve had a cold. I have had a virus or two, and I do still have seasonal allergies (some people say those go away on paleo, but that didn’t happen to me). I still have migraines, but they aren’t as severe. I was able to go off Prilosec after being on it for more than five years.
One of the most significant things is the reduction in inflammation. My hips used to hurt so bad I couldn’t sleep. I would roll from one side to the other, never being able to sleep more than a few minutes on either side before waking up. I would try ice or heat, anti-inflammatories, stretching, and massage—nothing helped for long. But when I cut out grains, that made all the difference. For a long time I would indulge in rice or corn (because they don’t contain gluten, so they’re okay, right?) but then I would get inflammation again. Now I know better than to tempt fate; I stay away from grains and find that I am almost without any inflammatory pain at all.
How paleo are you? (80/20, 90/10, autoimmune, etc.)
I like to think that, after several years of what I call “playing around with paleo,” I’m now 100% paleo. I look at it like Mark Sisson does—I aim to be 100% paleo and then, when something happens, maybe on some days I’m more like 95% or even 80%. I don’t ever *plan* to be 80/20—that’s just asking to fail. I get up every day with the intention of being 100% paleo. And I never, ever eat wheat or any gluten grain. Ever. That would just be a disaster. I am not sure how to deal with dairy. It seems I handle raw milk okay, and we have farmer who supplies us with raw milk, so I eat a little bit of yogurt we make ourselves, I buy some raw milk cheese sometimes. That all works for me. But I don’t do well with other milk products, so I avoid them.
How did you find the transition?
The transition to paleo wasn’t too bad for me; I think my husband found it horrible. He wanted (and still wants) pizza and bread and cookies—lots of things I just don’t make or buy anymore. Sometimes he has them. It isn’t that I don’t miss those things, but I know how horrible I would feel if I ate them, so it makes it easier to just cut them out. I hate to say it, but it wasn’t that difficult once I made up my mind to do it.
How did you persuade your family to come along for the ride? What triggered their changes of heart?
My kids are grown and out of the house, so when I made the transition to paleo it was just my husband who had to deal with the changes. He wasn’t coming along for the ride at all. I didn’t make two meals or anything like that. If he wanted to eat something different than what I ate, he made it himself. But at first, I didn’t make a lot of meat-based meals, I would just make salad and vegetables and he could add whatever to that and I would add meat. Later, when he started eating meat, he would add bread to the meal, or have something else I wouldn’t afterwards, like a grain-based dessert or treat.
My daughters became interested along the way. My husband and I had been vegetarian and the girls never had, so seeing meat on the table when they came home was great as far as they were concerned. But they were curious about the rest of the paleo diet—why I was doing it, what the benefits were, and, of course, if I was losing weight. My weight loss wasn’t that great at first (it really took nearly 3 years for that to become noticeable in my case) but I felt so much better that they both took an interest in giving it a try.
Both of my daughters chose to do a Whole 30 at some point and the dramatic results they saw convinced them that paleo was the way to go. I’ve read that you never know how bad you feel until you start feeling better, and for my daughters this was so true. Both of them have told me that they didn’t realize how much better they could feel until they were a couple weeks into the paleo diet and had fewer digestive issues, more energy, and a generally better sense of well-being.
Tell us about “A Day in the Life Of” your family – a typical day especially from an eating and exercise standpoint before you went paleo:
Well, it’s been awhile, but, as I said, we were vegetarians. Breakfast was cooked grains or maybe yogurt with granola. I might have had eggs. And we often ate fake meat products made from soy. That just makes me cringe now. (I remember thinking at the time that if I wanted meat so badly that I was eating processed food that *looked* like meat, maybe I should just eat meat!) We ate a lot of legumes and pasta. Lots of bread. So when we switched to paleo, it was a big switch for us. Of course, we also ate a lot of vegetables and fruits already, too, so there was no change there.
I know I snacked a lot—I was always eating. And I never could get enough protein! I remember thinking then that I felt better when I had more protein, which was one of the reasons I would eat the fake, soy-based meat products. Since going paleo, three squares a day does me. It’s the fat and protein that keeps me sated.
As far as exercise, I was a very sporadic exerciser. I would take it up (to lose weight) and then quit. I was pretty timid as far as exercise went—maybe a walk here and there, and I hadn’t lifted weights in years.
Then please tell us about “A Day in the Life Of” your family after – a typical day especially from an eating and exercise standpoint after you went paleo:
Breakfast is eggs and meat for me—maybe bacon (we are so lucky to live where we do—plenty of local sources of pastured meats!), sometimes whatever meat we had the night before. I’ll also eat the leftover vegetables from dinner. Sometimes a bit of fruit—usually berries, melon, pomegranate seeds, citrus. Greg will still have oatmeal a few mornings a week, but I have convinced him to soak the grain in yogurt or whey the night before, so that’s something.
Lunches are usually leftovers, or we do a “cook up” on the weekends (soup goes in the freezer, and we make chicken thighs for the week). We used to grab carryout, but you can’t really eat paleo that way, and it’s gone by the wayside for the most part.
Dinner is often from the slow cooker in the winter, on the grill in the warmer months. We eat later because we have running group or another fitness activity several nights a week. Meat, salad, veggies. We add sweet or white potatoes for carbs when we have worked out hard. And butter! I roast a lot of our vegetables. That is just fantastic! So any given night we’ll have meat and roasted vegetables. That’s pretty standard.
Exercise is routine. We go to the YMCA nearly every morning before work—twice a week to lift weights, once a week to a rowing class, other days for yoga or other activities. We belong to a running group there that meets three times a week. That’s been a fantastic support for our running and a great way to meet people and create a social network of like-minded friends. We go hiking more now. We just bought an Indiana State Park’s pass for the year! We never would have done that in the past, but we go so frequently that it seemed like a smart idea. We are just much more active now.
What helped you when you were struggling? There are so many wonderful online resources (like your blog!). Back when I first started out, I spent a lot of time on the Mark’s Daily Apple site. I also was on the forums there, looking for support and community. And I found it. It was very helpful to ask questions, get answers, and just talk to people, even if I never saw them face-to-face.
The other thing that helped me was to keep a journal, not just of my progress, but of my struggles and questions. Now I go back and look at that and realize how far I’ve come. I see how much I know now, what changes I’ve made, and how I have progressed. It’s good because it helps me see this as a journey. It’s easy to forget how you have changed because it happens so gradually. It’s good to have documentation.
What, if any, exercise routines do you do? Do you do any now as a family?
I have a pretty standard exercise routine:
- Mondays: morning weight lifting, evening swimming
- Tuesdays: morning yoga class, evening running group (sprints or hill work)
- Wednesdays: morning rowing class
- Thursdays: morning yoga class, evening running group (tempo run)
- Friday: morning weight lifting
- Saturday: morning running group (long run)
- Sunday: rest day (though we may go for a hike, walk, or some activity at the Y)
Greg and I are in the running group together, lift weights together, and take the rowing class together. We like to hike and take walks as well. Sometimes we hit the pool to aqua jog if one of us is injured and can’t run (or for a break from running).
What do you think are three critical factors to being successful with paleo?
- Being committed to clean eating. It isn’t difficult to eat this way, but it is very easy to succumb to the media and social pressure to eat a Standard American Diet. You have to make a commitment to yourself and your family, stick by your eating plan, and recognize that you are going to be out of the mainstream.
- Planning ahead. We make menus for the week, do a weekly shopping trip to make sure we have ingredients for everything, and make time to cook. For days when we don’t have time to cook in the evening, we use the slow cooker or we cook ahead and freeze meals. We have lunches planned, snacks made up, and we keep food with us, because we just aren’t going to stop and buy something at a fast food place. That isn’t part of our lives anymore.
- Realizing it isn’t only about eating, it’s about how you approach everyday living. We also make a commitment to get outdoors, to hit the gym, to get enough sleep, to reduce stress, to spend time together as a couple. All of these things are an important part of a paleo lifestyle. It’s really easy to focus on the food (and I’m a firm believer that it starts there) but it is also important to examine other areas of your life and make the necessary changes to ensure you are living a well-balanced, fully healthy life.
What would you advise others in the same situation as you? How should they approach their own family members?
You can’t force change on anyone. If your spouse or partner isn’t interested in changing, then you can only set the example. What you can ask for is support. Don’t put up with sabotage. If you are the cook, you get to choose the meals. If someone doesn’t like it, they can cook something different for themselves. This isn’t a bad way to eat, only a different way to eat, so you aren’t hurting anyone if you won’t make them pancakes! If I had children at home, I would simply tell them this is the way it is. (Easier said than done—because I don’t have children at home anymore!)
Were there any practical things you did such to support yourself – like clear out your pantry, eat before you went to a party to avoid the buffet table? How did you handle being paleo in a non-paleo household. What did you say and do? When I first went paleo I couldn’t get rid of non-paleo foods because my husband was still eating them. Later, as he started to come on board, we got rid of things that were just not being eaten. Now the only non-paleo foods in the house are his oatmeal and the dark chocolate that we both indulge in on occasion. It wasn’t difficult to be around those foods—I just made up my mind not to eat them. I frequently eat before going to a party (or even out to dinner!) if I don’t know what food will be available. It just saves a lot of hassle. There have been times when the only food I can eat out of an entire buffet will be the salad. That’s not dinner! But things are getting better. In the three years since I started paleo, I have seen a big change. Several events I have attended are aware of paleo, and while it’s not a menu option (like vegetarian and vegan) if you put down “no grains or legumes” you can get a very nice plated dinner or box lunch.
What do you say to people who ask you about paleo?
If people ask me about it, I tell them my experience. I typically don’t share unless asked directly because I have found most people have their own ideas about things and just want to argue. But as paleo goes more mainstream, people are better informed and the arguing has lessened. For example, when I first went paleo, I woman I know (who is a nurse) insisted I had to eat whole grains for their nutrition, for fiber, etc. I tried to talk to her about it, explained why this wasn’t so, but she was adamant that I was wrong. It seems that just recently her husband was diagnosed as gluten intolerant and, apparently forgetting our earlier conversation, she asked me about my own diet. When I told her I don’t eat any grains, she seemed genuinely interested, asked how I felt, and wasn’t in the least concerned about my nutritional or fiber deficiencies.
What has been the reaction to your paleo success from those around you? My daughters both seem to be continually amazed at the transformation. They have been used to their larger mom for a long time, so each time they see me now, trimmer and healthier in general, they always make a comment about the changes they see. My friends, too, have noticed the change. And when they ask, I do tell them about paleo. I’m sure to mention diet, but I also talk about exercise and other aspects of the paleo lifestyle. And of course my husband is happy to have a companion who can do all kinds of active things with him—we work out together nearly every day, plus we take long walks and hike and do other outdoor activities that we couldn’t do when I was so out of shape.
How has your life changed now? (More activity, promotion at work, stronger relationship, etc.)
As I’ve said, I’m much more physically active now. I feel closer to my husband because we can do more together. And I feel more sure of myself in general. I’ve made changes in my work life. I moved to Bloomington, Indiana, right before I went paleo, and I was at loose ends career-wise. I had taught in higher education for 15 years prior, and I didn’t find a teaching position after we moved for my husband’s job, but I did teach here part-time, and I had another part-time job at the university. I’ve been a writer my entire life, but it always took a backseat to other work. I recently took the plunge and left part-time employment, going out on a limb to be a full-time freelance writer, something I’ve talked about doing for years but never had the courage to try. It’s worked out great! I have found plenty of work, started a blog (The Food Fitness Equation, www.foodxfitness.com), and found that I have time to be a more supportive wife, mother, grandmother, friend, and community member now as well.
What books/blogs/support groups did you use to help you?
I have a small paleo library: The Primal Blueprint (and the cookbooks) by Mark Sisson. Those got me started. The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf. The Paleo Diet by Loren Cordain. Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes. It Starts with Food by Melissa and Dallas Hartwig. As for cookbooks, my favorites are Well Fed and Well Fed 2 by Melissa Joulwan and Nom Nom Paleo by Michelle Tam. I love YOUR blog, as well as Mark’s Daily Apple (where I started this journey) and its forums (where I talked to so many people at the beginning). I also visit Chris Kresser, Nom Nom Paleo, The Clothes Make the Girl, Hunt/Gather/Love, Primal Toad…I kind of cruise around.
Have you experienced anything negative as a result of your changes? (Earlier success stories mentioned having to lose certain “friends,” others have said there are restaurants they now avoid because they can’t eat their former favorites.) How have you dealt with those negatives?
The reality of living a paleo lifestyle is you have to stand up for yourself, so sometimes people find you a bit of a stick in the mud. I won’t compromise my health just to make someone else happy. I’ve read some blogs where people suggest it is more loving to eat the cookie, but if I eat the cookie, I’m going to be really, really sick. I cannot eat wheat. If someone loves me, they are going to respect my health and not want to make me sick. I haven’t encountered too much of that lately, but at first, I found a few people who wanted me to eat at certain restaurants (where there was literally nothing I could eat on the menu) and they were angry when I had to decline (because they refused to choose another restaurant). And I do miss not being able to eat some foods—traditional family foods, holiday favorites. But it’s just food. That’s something I have had to come to terms with, and I think my relationship with food is a lot healthier now.
What three practical tips would you offer our readers based on your experience? (Refusing bread being brought to the table when dining out, packing all lunches yourself, asking other family members not to bring home cookies, that kind of thing.)
- If you know you struggle with something, don’t indulge in the first place. For example, after multiple attempts to use “moderate” amounts of sweetener in my tea, I finally realized that was impossible for me. In fact, I really cannot handle sweetener in liquid form. I gave up pop on September 16, 2012 (it was so significant that I remember the date!). And I don’t drink juice. I never have sugar in my tea. It took some time, but I learned to love tea without sugar. Only recently did I allow myself to have a chai latte—and when I did, I found it to be overwhelmingly sweet. My tastes have changed. But I will never go back to having liquid sugar again. It’s my kryptonite.
- Keep snacks with you. You never know what is going to happen. Larabars are good. They don’t melt or freeze, so you can keep them in the glove box of the car. I keep one in my bag. I usually have some nuts in there, too. If I’m going to be out for a long day, I’ll pack a little cooler with other snacks and a freezer pack. And always, always take a bottle of water with you.
- Cook with leftovers in mind. Plan to freeze things for future meals, or at the very least plan for lunch the next day. That way, instead of panicking when mealtime rolls around, even if you don’t have a plan, you have a meal ready.
What advice would you give people who are struggling with being the only person doing paleo in their family right now?
If you are doing paleo alone in your family, the least they can do is not sabotage your efforts. Better would be some support. Tell them why you are doing this—to be healthier, to feel better, to recover from illness or disease, to lose weight—whatever your reason. They love you, so they should be supportive. And then, reach out to an online community like the one at Mark’s Daily Apple, or to a real community, maybe at a Cross Fit gym or somewhere else in your town. I haven’t found one, but the way paleo is growing, they might be popping up.
I would love it if people would visit my blog, The Food/Fitness Equation because I love sharing my paleo journey. And I think the fact that my entire family has slowly come on board the paleo way of eating is so great! From my granddaughter Cora, who is just starting to eat solid food, to my parents, who are older and have eaten the same way for so many years, we’re all in this together now. It’s fun to share recipes with both my daughters and my mom, to see everyone trying new ways of making old family favorites, and to know we are doing the right thing for our health.
I can’t overemphasize being patient with yourself and your body. It took nearly three years before I started to notice significant weight loss. I really feel it took that long for my body to respond, to heal from years of a poor diet and becoming more and more gluten sensitive. As I got healthier, I could add in more exercise, my sleep improved, my stress decreased—all of this snowballed until, in the last six months or so, the effects have become quite dramatic. It’s a one-step-at-a-time process, and if you have abused your body for years, it might take awhile before it responds. But the wait is worth it for the results you get in the end.