I have to admit that I’ve never ended a relationship with a “Dear John” letter and I’m pretty sure I haven’t pulled out the “it’s not you, it’s me..” line when trying to sell a reason to break-up…at least not since I was about 14 years old.
But, when your relationship isn’t working out the way you planned, or when you grow apart, what do you do?
Do you pull the pin, pack your bag and sneak out of the house in the middle of the night, leaving only a note in explanation? Do you have a big fight and make a big grand exit while slamming the door behind you? Or do you drag your reluctant spouse to marriage counselling, work out what has gone wrong and attempt to fix the damage?
(In case you are worried, this isn’t a break-up letter to my Paleo Diet, but it is an acknowledgement that it’s been a very rocky relationship this past year.)
What do you do when you are getting worse despite eating a squeaky clean Paleo Diet?
I chose the ‘relationship counselling’ route in an effort to try and work out why the wheels had fallen off my Paleo wagon and where I’d gone wrong.
My situation definitely has all of the ingredients for a juicy drama or a tragic comedy.
There has been a betrayal of trust, a giant masquerade of confusion, titanic power struggles, dastardly deception, unmet expectations and massive over reactions with battle lines drawn and armies amassed. (More on this in future posts).
However, Paleo isn’t the problem in this particular relationship.
The Paleo principles are sound. An ancestrally-based, real food diet is the most nutrient dense diet you could possibly put together.
And eating this way, I initially had big improvements in:
- My body composition, losing around 15kgs and putting on muscle mass
- Mood, I became generally happier and much less irritable
- Energy levels, which were at an all time high and I felt capable of achieving anything that I set my mind to
- Strength, I was getting stronger and faster in the Crossfit box
- Bloating, which only returned when I had inadvertently or intentionally eaten something I shouldn’t have
- Brain fog and alertness
- Skin clarity, with less acne and eczema on my face and smoothing of the skin on my upper arms and back of my calves
So, my first year of Paleo was awesome. I looked good, felt good and everything was right in my world.
Then, despite the fact I continued eating to a Paleo template, my bloom of wellness started to wilt and I went on what seems like the slowest moving health roller coaster ever!
“I’m eating the most perfect diet in the world, why am I no longer enjoying perfect health?”
This is a question I found myself asking over and over.
My health has very definitely been more of a bell-shaped curve than a linear progression to stardom over the last couple of years!
I have learnt that hard way that Paleo isn’t a magic bullet.
You have to make allowances for the human factor. We are all flawed after all.
You could be putting all the good food in, but it’s what your body (and your mind) does with it that matters.
And that is before you take into account all of the other lifestyle factors that play into ‘perfect health’.
My food didn’t change, but I did. My stress levels, my body and my thoughts all did.
So, my second year of Paleo was not so awesome:
- I definitely did not feel as good as I did before. My moods have been up, down and all over the place.
- I get tired and irritable much more easily and I seem to have a low tolerance for frustration.
- My stress levels have been through the roof and my ability to ‘cope’ is through the floor. I often find it difficult to be effective when completing even the simplest of tasks from start to finish.
- My bloating, acne and eczema have all returned and bought with them brain fog, fatigue, breathlessness, heart palpitations, anxiety, grumpiness, general irritation, clumsiness and muscle aches after eating certain foods.
- But I don’t just get brain fog or fades, I have total brain farts sometimes!
- I have cycled through diarrhoea and constipation. Sometimes not going to the toilet for an entire week!
- I have developed a sensitivity to foods that contain high levels of salicylates and amines.
- I have progressively cut out a lot of Paleo legal, nutrient dense and perfectly healthy foods, because my body can’t tolerate them. To the point where I joked that by the end of it I would wind up a breatharian (the only problem was, I was only half joking!)
- I have tripped and fallen into disordered eating. Cycling through craving, binge eating and rejecting the foods I’m sensitive to. Resentment and resignation to eating from a restricted list of foods that I found distasteful. Unnecessarily restricting my foods further and making no attempt to create nice meals with the foods I could eat.
Sometimes deliberately eating meals cold when I could have heated them up. There have been times when I have slipped up or consciously eaten something to test my sensitivity to it, then I’ve sabotaged myself by eating a heap of other foods I may have been sensitive to, which confounded the results and added to the confusion (not a good way to run an n=1 self-experiment). And I have even hated food full stop.
- I lost a further 8 kilos of both fat and muscle and looked like a starvation victim.
- I stopped training at the Crossfit box because I was just too exhausted, both physically and mentally, to cope with training.
- My muscles get fatigued from just walking up short hills or trying to hold a squat position.
- My menstrual cycle stopped altogether and has not yet returned.
- I have been pinging around a heap of different practitioners, C.H.E.K, ACNEM GP’s (GP’s who are members of the Australian College of Nutritional and Environmental Medicine), naturopaths, chiropractors, kinesiologists, meditation teachers and energy healers. Some of which have been helpful, others not so and most of which my husband refers to as “fish clappers” (in reference to an old ad on TV for claiming complimentary, preventative extra’s on your health insurance)
- I have spent thousands of dollars and had my blood, saliva, urine, breath and poo tested in a multitude of different ways looking for a seemingly never ending list of maladaptions, deficiencies and gene mutations (which totally sucks because I am more than a little needle-phobic and always have to ask to lie down when they take blood from me!)
- I have consumed a larger variety of pills and supplements than food groups.
- Had complete and total meltdowns when I realised that going away for work meant I would have absolutely no control over what I was eating for the week. And no control over how that would affect my symptoms.
- Looked at lists of symptoms for various different disorders and been able to identify with around 2/3 to 3/4 of the list and say “yep, that’s me” (Luckily, I have had some good practitioners that have given me some perspective and assured me that in fact I am not in early menopause!)
- And, probably not surpisingly, I have become increasingly neurotic and self-absorbed with severe control issues and perfectionism.
In this past year I have been told that:
- My body is not producing enough stomach acid or pancreatic enzymes to digest and absorb food properly. I was not breaking down fats, carbohydrates or proteins during digestion.
- I have a functional protein and amino acid deficiency despite eating more meat than I ever have in my life, essentially that my cells were starving.
- Which also explains why I was very low in the ‘happy’ neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine which the body creates out of these amino acids.
- My body is not producing energy properly on a mitochondrial level and that I have big-time mitochondrial functional impairment
- My body is in a fair amount of oxidative stress and I have an anti-oxidant insufficiency.
- My liver detox pathways are overwhelmed. Particularly my methylation pathways in phase II detoxification.
- I have IBS and possibly fructose malabsorption (the breath tests were frustratingly inconclusive)
- I have a gut bug called Blastocystis Hominis (a protozoan) in my gut.
- I have a leaky gut.
- I have a whole heap of nutritional deficiencies including: most of the B vitamins, vitamin D, zinc, selenium, copper, carnitine, CoQ10, GLA (gamma linolenic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid, go figure!)
- My adrenals are a bit shot and my DHEA is pretty low.
- I am suffering from pregnenolone steal.
- My morning temperature is below the range for normal thyroid functioning (and possibly normal menstrual cycle.)
- My body is not readily converting my thyroid hormones into the active T3 that makes all the metabolic magic happen.
- And, that my body is producing thyroid auto-antibodies off the measurable scale
(ie my body has begun attacking my own thyroid, not good!).
- I need to resolve any inner conflicts before my body can heal.
- It might be useful for me to see a psychologist or psychiatrist.
- Holidays from work seem to really agree with me.
- And, that most if not all of this can be put down to stress.
How is that for a list of woes? Tragic comedy indeed!
The good thing is that I am now in the right headspace where I can look at all of that and have a laugh!
I can let it go and move on with the process of healing.
(Thank god because the alternative is hysterical tears and tantrums!)
So, where did it all go wrong? Well, although it starts with food, it certainly doesn’t end with food.
Even though my food was causing me to have physical, mental and emotion symptoms…the root of my problems wasn’t what I was eating.
It was (and will always be) stress that was taking such a heavy toll on my body and my mind.
As Chris Kresser has often said in his podcasts and on his blog, you can be doing everything right from a nutritional standpoint and still be coming up short from a health and longevity perspective if you are not also getting enough sleep, managing your stress and having some fun.
Definitely eating whole foods that are as close to their natural state as possible will get you a very long way, but also getting enough good quality sleep, getting in some kind of movement and managing stress are all also super important.
“Paleo, it’s not you, it’s me…”
So, the problem really was me. Within me.
You know those times when you feel that there are in fact 3 people in your relationship? You, your partner and your projected neurosis?
It’s like when you walk into the house after being away on conference for a week and you see the dirty dishes sitting in the sink and the washing basket overflowing with dirty clothes and that immediately triggers the mental tirade. You have a big, pitched battle in your head imagining all of the things you are going to say to your husband when he gets home and of course to help yourself out, you imagine his responses as well.
So the dialogue builds and swells and gets totally blown out of proportion.
By the time the poor man gets home he is likely to find himself accused of singlehandedly causing world hunger, the global financial crisis and smuggling weapons of mass destruction into the house.
In this scenario Paleo is my unwitting partner and all of the conflicts in my personal health drama have actually been playing out inside me.
The stage has been my body and my mind.
(I will talk a lot about the “mind-body connection” in future blog posts)
Where to now?
This blog post has been over a year in the making, simply because it has been the hardest blog post I have ever had to write. (Don’t worry, I haven’t actually been writing it for a year, so it’s not ten billion netpages long, you’re almost there now!)
Mentally, emotionally, psychologically I have been torn to shreds and am now just starting to put the pieces back together. I have wallowed in self-pity, confusion and overwhelm at various stages on this roller coaster ride and have felt totally unable to explain to myself what is going on with me, let alone explain it to anyone else.
I have lost perspective, I have gained perspective. I have gained some of my weight back
I’ve had the best of advice and support from my good friends, Ivy from Paleo in Melbourne and Jo who heads up the Melbourne Paleo Meet-up Group; both assuring me that once I started writing it all out, I would be able to untangle the plot lines and begin the process of healing.
Even still, I was paralysed by vulnerability, perfectionism and a fear that what I was writing might be wrong.
That the conclusions I was drawing might be incorrect.
But, I am ready now to change the script and move the stage from inside myself, out into the blogosphere.
As you can probably guess, there is a lot more of this story to tell.
I have turned the corner now and I now have the energy and the willingness to open myself up and tell it.
I have stopped with the “poor me” routine and have stopped wandering round and round in circles. I now have a focus and I’m moving forward again. (Yay for me!)
So, over the next few months I will be telling my story.
And, whether they be right or wrong, sharing my failures, feedbacks and learnings.
As a bit of a primer, here are some things that are working for me right now:
- Meditation. Seriously! I have been going to a mediation course for a couple of hours each week and also meditating for 7, 12 or 15 minutes every morning (depending on time). And, it has made a huge difference to my outlook on life and my perception of my ‘stressors’.
- Mindfulness. Especially when I’m eating. I now slow down, breathe and pay attention to my food, I notice it’s taste, texture and temperature and think about how this food will heal me.
- Journaling. Again, seriously! I have started my own “Crystal Blueprint Bible” where I am journaling what foods are ok for me, and which are not ok, what I am hacking, what I am intending on hacking, what’s working, what’s not, my progress with various symptoms, my meditation insights and insights from kinesiology and self-enquiry.
- Focusing on only one thing at a time. I was caught up in a very scattergun approach where I was just throwing all manner of s#&@t at the wall to see what stuck. I was confused and all over the place, but also trying to control the healing process because I didn’t trust that my body was up to the job of self-healing.
I’m sure my poor body was also very confused!
Right now my focus is on practices that will reduce stress in order to heal my gut.
Recently, my chiropractor and naturopath did an intervention on me to cut my 30-different-supplements-a-day habit down to 5 supplements only. Just those that are needed to heal a leaky gut.
As you can imagine there is a lot of trust involved, and that has been a big part of my journey.
- Talking it out. As I mentioned, I am lucky to have the love and support of some close Paleo friends, Jo & Ivy who have been a fantastic sounding board. As well as my husband and family, all of whom have been concerned about me over the last year and have been free with their advice and strategies to help me calm down and cope.
I have found that putting your fears, issues and problems into words or writing them down in a journal really does help you to work out what’s going on!
- Reading the work of Marc David at the Institute for the Psychology of Eating. I highly recommend checking that out!
Pheww…this was a bit of a mammoth post to break the radio silence.
If you’re still with me, congratulations!
I’m going to kick it over to you now.
If you too have found that the Paleo glow has worn off with time and you’re not continuing to get the results you want to, I hope that some of this resonates with you.
Instead of breaking up with Paleo, I fully encourage you take a deeper look at what is going on and I invite you to follow along on my journey back to wellness.
To good health and wellness,