ONE YEAR! I have been eating this crazy caveman diet for twelve whole months of my life. That’s nuts!
When I think about the person I am today compared to the person I was on April 16, 2014, I can’t help but feel proud. I was in such a confused, depressed, unhealthy, disempowered, directionless, stressed-out place. I had been struggling to find a job for almost four months and I was pushing myself way too hard, physically and mentally.
Of course, eating paleo didn’t magically cure all of that. But I do believe that without it, I wouldn’t feel nearly as content, secure and well balanced as I do today. The primal lifestyle was a door to an entirely new perspective on health and a complete reshaping of my relationship with my body.
I’ve talked about how going paleo has made be a better person, but here are a few of the lessons I’ve learned this year that will stay with me for the rest of my life:
// Paleo is not a religion.
When I first discovered the enthusiastic paleo community online, I was more than willing to jump in. It was comforting to know that there were other people out there – lots of them! – who had a passion for something that had made me feel like an outsider in most parts of life. It felt safe and exciting to join the club. And while I still am (and always will be) a passionate paleo believer, I’m now better able to separate it from my identity and see it for what it is: just one facet of my health formula.
// I can go with the flow.
For years, my desire to get control of my digestive symptoms created unhealthy food fears and internal battles about what was good for me and what wasn’t. Transitioning from vegetarianism, to eating low-FODMAP, to The 21 Day Sugar Detox, to my current version of relaxed paleo has taught me that a) my body is resilient, and b) diet perfection isn’t possible (or even preferable). I’m finally starting to trust my body, which is has made me much more flexible and forgiving – in lots of areas of life.
// Eating is about more than satisfying hunger.
The paleo diet asked me to tune into my body in a way I had forgotten how to do, and it’s taught me a LOT about how my experience of the world affects what I put into my mouth. I never really identified with the concept of “emotional eating” before this year, but I can now see that eating is definitely a source of stress relief for me. Not in the “I had a hard day at work so I ate a cookie” kind of way. It’s more that I’m finally recognizing that food is on the list of things my brain turns to (just below Instagram) when I’m procrastinating on a project or needing to tackle something uncomfortable. But fortunately, I’m becoming much better able to distinguish between eating for emotional reasons and physical ones. That’s not to say I’ve stopped eating emotionally, because I haven’t. (In fact, I think it would be unhealthy for me to try.) Having the wisdom to recognize the difference and respond to my body accordingly is the most important thing.
// Food is a tool, not a prescription.
When I started this journey, I hoped and believed that cutting out grains, dairy and soy would be the answer to my digestive problems. It has definitely helped, but it hasn’t been a cure-all. While that has, on one hand, been a disheartening realization, accepting it has been incredibly important and empowering for me. It’s opened the door for an exponentially greater understanding of my body by helping me let go of the unrealistic and unproductive beliefs I used to have about food. Food is just one tool in my toolkit. A big one. Like, probably a hammer. But just one.
At first it was really hard for me to balance my commitment to my diet with the realities of a social life. Of the two, it was definitely my social life that suffered. For a long time it was just easier and less stressful for me to make all my meals at home and not worry about the what ifs of eating out. But I’ve since learned that eating paleo won’t be an obstacle if I don’t turn it into one. It’s about presenting it to others in a laidback, non-defensive and non-apologetic way, and being optimistic and flexible when I’m out and about. I’ve learned that it’s okay to ask for what I want, and it’s okay to make suggestions to the group. I won’t be a burden if I don’t act like one.
// I have a more complex relationship with food than other people, and that’s okay.
I often envy my friends and family members who seem to be so carefree about food. My dad, for example, eats when he’s hungry, stops when he’s full, and rarely seems to have any unpleasant digestive or blood sugar symptoms. But not me. After growing up with a leaky gut and experimenting with my diet for years, food will always mean more to me than it does to other people. Once you jump into the nutrition rabbit hole, you can’t really climb out. And that’s okay! – as long as I am able to keep things in perspective, which the paleo lifestyle has taught me how to do.
See this post for more on that.
// I’m very fortunate.
I’m incredibly lucky to have had the time, money and mental space to make my health a priority during these 12 months – especially in a season of life when most women feel pressured to do the opposite. There are some days when I feel elitist and even selfish to be devoting so much energy to how I’m feeling and what I’m putting into my mouth. I mean, who am I to be agonizing over what kind of eggs to buy when people are starving in the world? But giving in to guilt would be 0% productive. What I will do is continue to acknowledge my privilege and demonstrate my gratitude by honoring my body and paying it forward.
What are your take-aways after a few months – or years! – on the paleo diet? I’d love to hear ‘em.