I always enjoy reading the success stories when they arrive in my inbox, but this one from Karen had me enthralled. It is so well written, and this woman, I tell you, has her head screwed on straight.
She has some fantastic perspectives about food, psychology, sticking-to-itness and boundaries. I urge you to read all the way to the end because there is gold all the way through.
Then I encourage you to share it because this is how we should all be thinking about food, dealing with the food pushers around us, and making the change.
Karen has a blog Garden Girl.
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’m Karen Parrott. I grew up in central Indiana and now reside in Carlsbad, CA. I am a licensed laboratory scientist, CLS, MT (ASCP). I have a young teenage daughter who lives with me half of the week. I love to walk, photograph nature and the Southern California coast, and travel with my daughter. I’m my happiest when I’m poking around coastal tide pools with my cameras. We adopted two tortoiseshell cats that are a perfect fit with our family.
What was your health/dieting/workout experience *before* paleo?
I’ve yo-yo dieted from age 6 to 45. I’m currently 47 years old. I’ve always struggled with emotional/binge eating in the past. I had several successes in losing weight as a teen, and in my early 30’s and 40’s. I lost 60 pounds by counting points on a popular weight loss program before my daughter was born and was successful in keeping most of them off for a few years. I had limited success with counting calories. During a big life change, I soothed myself with food in the “I don’t’ care what I eat” phase. Because of emotional eating and moving from the lab to a desk job I regained the 60 pounds, plus 10 more. I tried many times to go back to the old ways of eating smaller amounts of anything I wanted, only to end up ‘mini-binging” on low calorie, high carb junk foods. Promising myself I would start over the next meal, day, week, etc.
What was the “clincher” that persuaded you to jump on the paleo bandwagon?
I committed to long term weight maintenance after a co-worker passed away suddenly in 2011. I had been in the contemplative stage of starting weight loss again and this one event combined with poor biomarkers in a blood draw cemented my goal to lose the weight and enter into permanent, life long weight maintenance. No matter what. I made weight loss a primary goal with long term weight maintenance as the final, ultimate goal. I set a date and revised it as I got closer to where I wanted to maintain. My health insurance changed and I now have a financial incentive each year to maintain my BMI/waist ratio to receive major discounts.
How did you approach going paleo – gradually or dive right in?
I found paleo after losing a major amount of weight on a low calorie, low fat commercial diet. So my transition from “diet food” to paleo was gradual. I had 45 years of low-fat, healthy wholegrain brainwashing to de-program. I was absolutely terrified of avocados and red meat and olive oil. I was also coming off yet another low calorie, low fat commercial program and I knew I needed to go slow for my mind and my gallbladder.
What improvements have you noticed in your health?
- Mind health: I’m able to maintain my weight and deal more effectively with my emotional/binge eating. I feel naturally sated. The urge to eat emotionally still pops up during times of stress or tiredness, but I consider myself to be in long term remission.
- My hs-CRP (inflammation marker) went from 6.8 mg/L to 0.4 mg/L (normal is <3 mg/L) and my blood pressure is normal.
- My lipid profile looks better, with lower triglyercides and higher HDL.
- My fasting blood sugar and hA1C values are both normal compared to values that were going up each year I was obese.
- I’m maintaining a 70+ pound weight loss for almost 2 years now.
- I also have zero joint pain in my knees and shoulders
- I have almost no migraine headaches.
- I rarely get sick and no more sinus infections.
- I have a lot less adult onset acne.
- I feel like I’m 27 instead of 47.
- I went through menopause, with very few symptoms, the first year of weight maintenance.
What do you think was different this time around with paleo than earlier times you lost large amounts of weight?
This time the paleo food template lead me to feeling full, satisfied and healthy. The other food plans left me feeling hungry most of the time, and the higher carbs set me up to binge eat since I did not feel full, and left me with a food seeking mindset.
How paleo are you? (80/20, 90/10, autoimmune, etc.)
95/5. Because of being post-autoimmune thyroid disease since 1997 and because of the emotional eating, I keep a 95/5 food template that is lower carb, around 50-90 grams of carbs (or higher if there is a day of hiking or high activity.) No grains, almost no processed sugar, non-dairy, no nuts, no added sweetener and sadly, no pork because of a pork sensitivity (translation: no bacon!). I hope to do a 30 day AIP or modified AIP in early 2014 to rule out sensitivities to red tomatoes and egg yolks.
How did you find the transition?
The transition was slow and I white-knuckled it a lot. I did not know a single person who ate paleo in early 2012. That being said, I had fun learning, reading, attending an Everyday Paleo workshop with Sarah Fragoso and Jason Seib in early 2012. I kept building on my food template and testing and experimenting, with awesome results. I was not re-gaining the weight and I started to feel full and the emotional eating urge fell away, month after month. The transition was so different (easier!) in comparison to the white-knuckling of trying to maintain by eating low-fat/low calorie during past attempts at weight maintenance.
Tell us about “A Day In The Life Of Karen” – a typical day especially from an eating and exercise standpoint before you went paleo:
Wake up very tired , after many snooze button presses on the alarm clock. I depended on coffee.
Eat a large bowl of Kashi Good Friends cereal with lots of berries and skim milk. Or I would toast 2 high fiber toaster waffles with lots of blueberries and Coolwhip lite. 1 hour commute to mainly a desk job.
I would be hungry a few hours later, so I might eat a Vitamuffin – low points due to the fiber! I’d eat a frozen Weight Watchers 6-7 point entrée and add fruit and then again, get hungry again a few hours later. I usually ended up eating a cookie in the break room or I would eat some Quaker granola bars.
When I picked up my daughter, we might stop for a couple of slices of pizza and diet cokes on the way to the orthodontist and then I would collapse at night, watching TV, popping microwave popcorn, and snoozing on the couch. I might toss a package or two of 100-calorie snack packs into my and my daughter’s lunches for the next day with some packaged lunch meat with MSG and whole grain bread and some fruit.
I was only walking 5,000 steps a day for exercise and occasionally went to the gym to lift weights, but mainly to try to out-walk or out-exercise the 100 calorie snacks.
I wake up 5 minutes before the alarm most days. I read a tiny bit and hop on the scale. I brew coffee. I fix eggs fried in coconut oil for the two of us and 2 veggie servings for me, with avocado slices and sea salt. Fruit and eggs for my daughter after safely securing her breakfast from our two cats, I leave for my 1 hour commute feeling full and great. I’ve packed a lunch of ground bison over sautéed broccoli slaw (batch cooked the weekend before) with marinara and another side of veggies. I’ll add some olive oil at work. I eat quickly and head out for 30-40 minutes of fast walking with my camera, on the hills and on a few trails, stopping to photograph cool plants or wildlife. I come back refreshed and ready to tackle the rest of the day. If I’m super hungry before returning home, I’ll do a quick olive oil shot before leaving work or look for some bell peppers and avocado left over in my lunch. Dinner might be some organic chicken thighs also re-heated from the weekend batch cooking with a salad, tomatoes, salsa, and guacamole. I’ll pair this with a small serving of in season fruit or berries and the 85% chocolate.
Exercise: If I’m not close to 10,000 steps, I’ll head back out with my daughter and the neighbors’ dog and we chat with neighbors on our way. I’ll do housework or oversee homework or meal prep, dishes, and I get naturally tired in a good way and head for bed around 9-9:30pm. Some evenings I head to the gym for weights or I do push-ups and planks at home.
What helped you when you were struggling?
Getting support from people in real life who are long time weight maintainers, online support for emotional/binge eating, asking a lot of questions and not letting setbacks derail me. Adjusting my food and exercise routine. Listening to music and de-stressing or taking a walk to clear my head. Drinking a hot cup of coffee. 90% of wanting to overeat for me comes from being too tired and just needing to sleep.
What, if any, exercise routines do you do?
10,000 steps a day walking, strength 1-2 x/week, sprinting 1x per week.
What do you think are three critical factors to being successful with paleo?
- Customizing your own food template for your own best health. Customizing keeps the paleo food template very, very sustainable over many months and years.
- Learning the science & biology behind paleo so you can make good decisions for your health and explain it to your doctor, friends, family in clear, concise way. Owning my plan and setting healthy boundaries around it was KEY.
- Be willing to prioritize finding, buying, and cooking a different way than most families in the US, knowing that the health benefits will outweigh the time/cost/quality of life for the whole family. Prioritizing now means feeling well and family finances spent on fun vacations later.
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?
- I bring my own food if I cannot control the casseroles and food dishes mixed with gluten. I’ll gladly skip the meal and have coffee to avoid the physical pain that comes with being exposed to wheat or the emotional pain of binge eating.
- I donated all my cookie, bread, and muffin baking utensils so I could make room for bottles of olive oil, coconut oil and spices.
- I offer to cook meals for my family so I can have them try some of my favorites and not get an unintentional exposure to wheat.
- I read a lot of blogs and listen to paleo podcasts to keep up my continuing education.
- I cleared the pantry of almost all junk food. Any off-paleo template food is off limits for me. I keep the food covered up and out in the garage.
What do you say to people who ask you about paleo?
I eat a low-inflammatory diet. It works well for my weight maintenance and helps me since I had thyroid disease. I feel so much better now and I don’t crave the sweets and breads. I feel great and young!
What has been the reaction to your paleo success from those around you?
Most people are supportive and want to know more and know how I navigate restaurants. Many comments focus on the size of my meals- big salads with proteins, veggies, “That’s a LOT of food and you don’t gain weight” Great conversation starter.
I’m more active, stronger, I feel better about speaking in front of groups, and interacting with people at work. I can compete better in a fast changing work environment and this translates into better yearly reviews. I smile more. I want to be in photos now. I plan vacations knowing my financial state is in better condition without doctor co-pays and medication. We traveled to Alaska this year and had a very fun and active time. Traveling is so much easier at a lower weight and I’m able to free my mind from food and take in the beauty in my surroundings.
What activities do you do now that you didn’t do before?
I’m more likely to choose active vacation activities- hiking, walking, kayaking. It’s much easier to do household tasks being 70 pounds lighter.
What books/blogs/support groups did you use to help you?
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?
Yes! At the start, some people took it personally that I wouldn’t eat their home baked goods. I set a firm boundary with them “Doctor says!” No one messes with the doctor and I’ve already told my doctor I throw her under the bus regularly.
Other people in real life start down the path of blaming me personally for my wheat sensitivity, quoting bad science, or saying that it’s “abnormal” not to have a cupcake. This is where setting good boundaries for myself comes in handy for my emotional health. I agree to disagree and move on, recognizing their own attempts of projections of their fear or needing to adjust their own diet. I don’t bring their emotional “junk” with me on my day-to-day. My own stuff is enough to carry.
My daughter had some comments early on, mainly around missing eating out often. Since eating out impacts our health and family finances I had a few family discussions and negotiations around it. We are fortunate to have a few grass-fed burger restaurants nearby and we eat out less often so eat outs are a true treat and more appreciated. I get a lot of positive feedback after a delicious protein style grass-fed burger.
I stopped reading or commenting on blogs where the topics are weight maintenance and eating moderate on the SAD diet after seeing snarky cross talk and tactics. Also, food photos of junk can trigger me for emotional eating, so I unsubscribe to Pinterest boards often or I’m super selective.
My extended family is very supportive of me and I take over my Mom’s kitchen when I travel to see her and whip up all of my favorites that I know that everyone will like. Sometimes they will supplement with cheddar cheese biscuits but it doesn’t faze me a bit. As long as I don’t get glutened, I’ll be okay.
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.)
- Batch cook, it’s cheaper and tastier.
- Teach your kid, significant other to help/cook/cleanup/buy and leverage by having them pick their favorite recipes.
- Bring your own food, if there is any doubt about what will be served. No restaurant has ever asked me to leave, I don’t get glutened, and I tip fabulously. A win all around.
Find the natural up cycle in your mindset and motivation and plan. Set a goal with a date! (big or small) and then work little projects and process changes around that. Try one thing and see if it affects your health. Keep trying different things. Even if you don’t feel great at the start, keep track of what works and what doesn’t work.
Drop the shame, blame, and guilt. Grab a friend or two in real life who you can check in on for progress to keep on track. See a counselor or life coach to unstick you from any unhealthy cycles. Focus solely on taking care of yourself and prioritizing yourself and your health. Others may decide to follow. Then, be willing to change up your routine and habits to best fit you as life changes, because it always does. If you’ve prioritized yourself and your health, it does all fall into place.
Life philosophy: If I’ve prioritized myself and my health AND I’m willing to do the work, then I’m approaching life from a place of strength. We are stronger together!
A big thank you to my daughter, my family weight loss health coach, and my weight maintainer friends in real life. I would not have adopted paleo without Sarah Fragoso and Jason Seib. Also to Alen Standish, Barbara Berkeley, MD. Thank you to my blogging buddies from around the world. I thank my original counselor who planted the “no grains/no sugars” seed so that I could stop eating emotionally. And to the memory of my co-worker who passed. Thank you all for your support, hard work, and for being part of the “the answer” at the right time and place in my life.
Also a huge thank you to the authors of paleo blogs- including Paleo/NonPaleo, podcasts, books and seminars. Hands down paleo has been THE best health tool. My family will be well for generations because of it.