Paleo Girl: The Evolution of a Yo-Yo Dieter

It’s Friday, everyone! And that means another Primal Blueprint Real Life Story from a Mark’s Daily Apple reader. If you have your own success story and would like to share it with me and the Mark’s Daily Apple community please contact me here. I’ll continue to publish these each Friday as long as they keep coming in. Thank you for reading!

My story isn’t entirely unique or the most profound physical transformation you’ll ever see; and it’s not strictly a tale of finding the right diet, shedding some pounds, and living happily ever after. In addition to finding my version of wellness, this journey was one of self-discovery, finding purpose, and embracing self-love.

When I was in high school, I started my tumultuous affair with yo-yo dieting. I didn’t know the first thing about nutrition and certainly had never considered what my health or fitness goals were—but there I was starving myself, popping diet pills, and hitting the gym. If I really sit and think about it now, I realize I was only going through those motions because I had naively given my high school boyfriend too much control over my life. He was the original yo-yo dieter.

After graduating from high school and surrounding myself with an entirely new social circle, I really got into the party scene. Junk food, alcohol, cigarettes, and staying up until sunrise was my weekend routine—and I was having the time of my life! I felt a real sense of freedom and independence, and for the first time I felt like I could be Leslie. But of course with all the partying, this Leslie character was getting fat.

That’s when I dipped back into my past and started playing the diet game again…except this time, I did so by my rules. For the next decade I followed a 1,200-calorie plan: three meals a day at 300 calories each, and two snacks at 150 calories a pop. I survived solely off of Lean Cuisines, Lean Pockets, Morning Star, Egg Beaters, 100 Calorie Packs, Slim-Fast, Subway, and anything with a low-fat or fat-free label slapped on the front. I could maintain these eating habits for a few weeks on average, then hunger, exhaustion, boredom, lack of instant results, or a social event would send me off the deep end.

When I was 25 years old, I found myself overweight, unfulfilled, disconnected, and restless. Something needed to change—and it did. My boyfriend (now husband) and I packed all of our belongings into a U-Haul and drove our lives out of Ohio and to Los Angeles, California, in search of a new beginning.

I could write a novel about the first few years I spent in LA, but I’ll spare you the details for now and get to the good stuff.

In 2011, I was introduced to Mark’s Daily Apple and The Primal Blueprint. I had never read anything so logical about health and wellness in my life and was eager to share this newly discovered lifestyle with my best friend Liz. Over the previous two years, Liz and I were crash diet buddies…sharing recipes for low fat dishes, being accountability buddies (accountabilibuddies?) when it came to workouts, and we even shared a stint in the hell that is vegetarianism. When I shared the basics of what it meant to be Primal with Liz, she was just as amped as I was, and we started the journey together the following week.

During our first few days as modern-day cave girls, Liz serendipitously came across a job for Primal Nutrition. She applied, had an interview, and found out that week she got the job! Fast-forward to now, and Liz is the Community Outreach Manager at Primal Nutrition and is married to Farhad, her perfect match who just so happened to work at the office too. You might think I’m enhancing this story to make it sound like something out of a movie, but I assure you I’m not. When you’re on the right path in life, I think everything just has a way of coming together.

Speaking of coming together, I’ll get back to my story! Liz invited me to help setup for PrimalCon Oxnard in April of 2013. This was the first time I met Mark Sisson. I shared a bit about myself: that I had been Primal for a couple years, that I was currently an Art Director for a clothing company, and how one day I wanted to write a book or find a way to help young people avoid the misinformation I was faced with about health when I was younger. He thought my message was great, offered me some advice, and then I went back to assembling goodie bags for the event.

Returning from PrimalCon (or “reentry” as some call it) was tough. When you’re immersed with so many likeminded people looking to better themselves and those around them, coming back to the real world can be a total bummer. It was then that I knew I had to make Primal living and helping others my mission.

I decided to write a Primal children’s book and pitch it to Mark. He loved the story and initial illustrations, and asked me to meet with him at the Primal Nutrition offices in Malibu. During the meeting, the conversation shifted. I mentioned that there was an entire demographic between the kid’s book and The Primal Blueprint that we could reach—teenagers. Mark loved this idea, and that night I went home and worked on a pitch for a Primal teen book. This pitch is what later became my first book, Paleo Girl.

I received my book deal the first week of June 2013 and quit my job so that I could solely focus on Paleo Girl. I knew writing a book would be a life changing experience, but I never expected it to be quite like this. In the year it took me to write and design Paleo Girl, I was forced to look at my life and the choices that I had made. You can’t exactly put a lifestyle guide together for teen girls without coming face-to-face with your teenage self.

Leslie Before Primal

The evolution a a yo-yo dieter. From left to right, Senior year 2001 Homecoming Court (check out that hair!), 115 lbs; December 2002 and a total brace face, 130 lbs; June 2005 (horizontal stripes were not my friend), 142 lbs; May 2006 after months of calorie-restricted dieting (can you see how tired I am?) 125 lbs.

Leslie Before/After

January 2007 smiling on the outside, 145 lbs; August 2008 and my highest weight when I first moved to Los Angeles, 155 lbs; May 2011 after figuring out what my body actually needs, a happy and healthy 125 lbs. 

From age 15 to age 30 (I’m 31 years old now), I had been horrible to myself. I had put my body down, I had compared myself to others, and I had felt unworthy. I would declare my hatred for my hips while cramming a 100 Calorie Pack cupcake down my throat. I would curse myself for my lack of muscle while training for a marathon. If someone were to call me fat, tell me I was never going to be happy, or attempt to ruin my life, it would have been a no brainer to kick them out of my life—so why was I putting up with this kind of chatter from myself?

Once I realized I had been doing this, I literally hugged myself. I’m not kidding. I had a real moment with my mind, my soul, and this incredible body I was placed in. My intentions and values had previously been in all the wrong places, and these misguided feelings were turning me into a lesser version of who I truly am. I’ve discovered the joy of being unique, and how each and every one of us has a special message and purpose. With this understanding, everything I knew about diet, exercise, sleep, sun, and play became effortless for the first time. This is what life is all about.

Happy Paleo Girl

Me at my current weight in 2014–and no more yo-yo dieting! I don’t weigh myself all that often now, because that number really means nothing to me. I’m healthier than I’ve ever been and that’s what matters the most. (Photo credit – Left: Jered Scott, Right: Calm Pictures and Ali Walker) 

I’m not saying I’m perfect, that I’ve got it all figured out, or that I never slip back into old habits or thought processes—but when I do, I’m quickly able to recognize it and snap out of it.

I feel like my story isn’t unique, and that a lot of you—guys and gals of all ages and backgrounds—can relate to my life. I’m passionate about paying it forward, and hope that I can do so through Paleo Girl, my blog, and personal coaching (which will be available soon). If my message speaks to you, I would love to connect! In addition to my website, you can find me on: Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.


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78 thoughts on “Paleo Girl: The Evolution of a Yo-Yo Dieter”

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  1. Leslie, you are a beautiful woman with a beautiful message. Thank you for sharing it with the world!

    Congratulations on finding your passion and, more importantly, pursuing it!

  2. Wait a minute….your story sounds amazing to me 🙂 You are an inspiration to a lot of women out there who go through the same trials with dieting that you have 🙂 Do not underestimate that! I too dieted a lot and have also found since switching to a more Primal (not perfect) lifestyle that I am SO in tune with my body that it is not hard to say no to things I would’ve stuffed my face with before! I have a 9-year old step-daughter whom I am trying my best to influence in a positive way so she does not experience the same things I did! Your book will be a great addition to teaching her! Thank you 😀

    1. It’s truly amazing how well our body speaks to us when we don’t silent it with unhealthy food and negative self-chatter! Your step-daughter is lucky to have such a positive influence in her life…thanks for the kind words and for supporting my message and Paleo Girl!

    2. Bravo. I realized I’d come far when a friend stayed with me last weekend. She struggles with eating disorder and body issues, and eats a “healthy” vegetarian/vegan diet. I’ve been primal/paleo (not perfect) for 4 years, and have maintained my weight (5’8, 130 lbs, a strong size 2-4) pretty effortlessly with weight training, and I don’t have cravings – well, I have steak cravings.

      Anyway, I watched her lose control one night and scarf an ENTIRE pint of ice cream. Sure, she’s “skinnier” than me, but doing what she does looks miserable and unhealthy. I’m proud that I haven’t binged like that in years and have a healthy, positive relationship with food. It’s easy to say no to things when you fuel your body with sustaining, nourishing, healthy FOOD and plenty of good fats, instead of always stressing and starving it.

      Sadly, she does not want to hear about anything primal/paleo, so I watch helplessly. I really hope that when I have children, Paleo Girl is still in print so I can share a healthy, joyful attitude to food with them!!

  3. Lovely story, Leslie. The book is going to be helpful to everyone, not just girls, especially early in life when youth allows our bodies a long length of rope with which to hang ourselves.

    I used to whole, large pizzas by myself, heaping bowls of Cap’n Crunch with non-fat milk, of course! Four cans of Dr. Pepper a day. I rode my bike everywhere, but I was still overweight. I couldn’t understand why I was overweight. I mean, I exercised all the time.

    The thing is I wasn’t in the mindset to look for the right answer. That’s the problem, I think. Of course, in my early 20’s the internet wasn’t as ubiquitous as it is now. Maybe I would have been more keen on searching for a solution had I been as tuned into the web as I am now?

    Again, thanks for your story.

    1. Thanks for the feedback, C L Deards! Mindset is so important and it’s almost always overlooked. It sounds like you have an inspiring story too…keep spreading the good word!

  4. Leslie, you look incredible! Thanks for the inspiration to push forward on the road to health. The drastic change our eating habits can make is amazing.

  5. Wow, just wow (as my daughter says).
    You did it and you can tell the world about it…way to go!!

  6. Damn. Had no idea you’re 31. You look like you’re 22 at worst. Keep up the excellent work.

    1. Hey, ‘worst’, how we language ourselves is hugely important.

      We are all getting older, it’s not better, or worse to be any particular age, what’s important is what we are doing with our time.

      1. You totally missed the point on that. For what little it may be worth, I’m 31 also.

        1. I think you’ve missed my point.

          The way your comment read to me at least, was, ‘you don’t look more than 22 at worst’. Implication looking older is less good, and actually looking your age is less good than looking younger than your age!

      2. That’s exactly what I meant. I ain’t hatin’ on people who look their age. Just giving props to Leslie for getting over on Father Time.

        1. It was simply the use of the word ‘worst’ – the language we use is much more important on a sub-conscious level than many people realize.

          It wasn’t the fact she does or doesn’t look her age! Yours was posted as a positive comment, I just noted the use of the word ‘worst’ and the message it subliminally sends to other readers.


      1. Thanks for pointing this out, Kelda…as I myself use my words incorrectly at times or am taken wrong too. Sean definitely meant no ill will from his statement–and I totally got that. But your reminder can be a good thing for us to consider, as we can sometimes hurt people’s feelings unintentionally. In the same breath, it’s probably important to consider this message when pointing it out to others. 😉

        Thanks for playing nice, you two! 🙂

      2. Leslie. Great story and you look hot!!!

        I like this phrase. “lifestyle change and positive mindset…the true fountain of youth” You’ve got to put this in your book.

  7. This is great motivation for me- I am 29 (will be 30 in November) and fear the 30 🙂 To see that somebody so close to my own age achieved what they have gives me more confidence that I can do it- especially since I have a similar history (minus the partying). Of course, I have a lot further to go- but why should that stop me? Thanks so much!

    1. I’m so happy my story resonated with you, Stephanie! Your 30s can seem intimidating, but I promise you’ll feel just the same in November! And to be honest, every year I age, the happier and more fulfilled my life becomes. The next time you feel discouraged our down on yourself, remember that you only get one chance at this life, and the body you’re in is the only one you are given. Take care of it and honor it for all that it is! Everything else will fall inline after that. 🙂

    2. I just crossed the 50 mark (started PB 2 yrs ago), feeling and looking better than ever…so don’t fear 30! Be glad you have a good path!

  8. Congrats Leslie!!! You look better now than any of those photos in the past. It’s amazing how our bodies heal when we follow the laws of nature. I’m worried about when primal living becomes conventional wisdom… I may be determined to run in the opposite direction. It’s just the way that I am programed.

  9. Great story and thanks for sharing. For most of my life I didn’t even realize there were food options out there that weren’t processed, and for most of my life I subsisted off of fast food, tv dinners, lean cuisines, kashi cereal and all that other nonsense. It’s amazing and empowering to cook and eat ACTUAL, delicious food.

    Congratulations on all your accomplishments!

    1. Isn’t it crazy how many of us lived off of processed foods for so long? I’m grateful every day that I made it out alive! Thanks for the kind words, Michele! 🙂

  10. Leslie, I want to thank you for writing this amazing post. I like to say that I follow the Paleo lifestyle, although I have had trouble staying fully committed. I absolutely love the way I feel while following it, but I keep straying. I realized after reading this post that the reason I am unable to fully commit is because I am trying to use the primal diet to lose weight and to maintain a certain “lean-ness.” In a sense, I am yo-yo dieting with the Paleo diet! Instead, I need to focus on the primary health benefits such as increased energy and better nights of sleep and not so much on the secondary benefits such as weight loss and lower body fat. Reading about your commitment to a healthy lifestyle and letting go of your scale has inspired me to do the same. I will no longer focus on the foods that are prohibited. Instead, I will celebrate those whole and nutritious foods that I love and the benefits that come from consuming them! Thank you, thank you, thank you! I am excited for this renewed commitment within myself, and I owe it all to you!

    1. Aww SB, I’m literally in tears! Individuals like you are the reason I pushed my anxiety and fear of being so raw and honest aside and decided to share my story. I thought if I could reach just one person it would all be worth it! Thank you for letting me know I’ve done my job. <3

  11. Wow you look stunning, well done on all your achievements! That’s inspired me, just when I’d lost my way a little. Thank you.

  12. Hi Leslie,

    Your journey sounds pretty amazing and your message is great. One thing you might consider changing are the self-depricating comments under your before pictures. Things like,”total brace face” and “horizontal stripes were not my friend” make all of us self-conscious of the things in our lives we’re doing today (or that we did five years ago) that may not be perfect. Girls ought not have to put on pants and ask, “do these make my butt look fat?” or feel that they are less attractive during their “brace face” years. Some girls aren’t going to be happy unless they look like the model you in the last picture all.the.time. It’s great you have it all worked out. Being kinder to your body today is lovely, but be sure to share that love with the you that you felt was less than optimal for where you wanted to be. It’s all a work-in-progress!

    1. That’s a really great point, Jennifer. Like I said in the post, I’m not perfect and I don’t have it all figured out. Sometimes we say things and don’t realize the weight they can carry–something as simple as being lighthearted about pictures of myself from 10 years ago could potentially make someone else feel like they aren’t good enough. That clearly was never my intention. Thanks for sharing your point of view!

  13. Leslie– Going primal as a lifestyle is the only way! The reason so many people fail is they try this as a diet and not for the long run–glad you “got it”! And you do look amazing.

    I finally stopped the 80/20 approach and am now totally primal. The weird thing is that by day three of what is now weeks– I lost ALL cravings for sweets, carbs and junk food.

  14. I just bought your book for my 11-year-old daughter. She is instinctively a good eater but I feel she may get more out of your book than just eating well. Thank you for sharing your journey and experience to tomorrow’s teens

    1. Thanks, Jack! That’s great that your daughter is already on a good path with nutrition. Boy, I wish I would have been a better eater when I was younger! I hope she loves Paleo Girl. 🙂

  15. Wow Leslie, you look like a model! Congrats on all your success! It took me nearly 30 years to find the right path nutritionally, so I would have benefited greatly from a book like yours when I was younger.

    1. Well, thank you Hao! I think we ALL wish a book like this was around when we were younger. 😉 Hooray for there being one for this generation!

  16. The word that came to mind when seeing your “after” photos was “lovely”. Not a word that is used much, but it truly applies to you. Thanks also for the work you’ve done for teenage girls. I hope you will remind them all to “keep the reins in your own hands”, so that they don’t follow peers and advertising.

    1. Thank you, Maidel! I use the word lovely all the time! 🙂 I love your quote too: “Keep the reins in your own hands.” That certainly would have helped me in high school when I bounced from one crash diet to another with my then boyfriend.

  17. Wow, you look great! Your body composition actually looks quite different (at least in the photos) between the 125lbs from low-cal dieting and the Primal 125lbs. Would you say that’s true?

    1. You’re absolutely right, MT. The low fat/low cal 125lb version was what some people refer to as “skinny fat,” and the paleo 125lb version was a little more solid. I’m probably more around 130lb now, and still working to build muscle! Thanks for the kind words! 🙂

  18. You are doing a valuable work. I am in my early 60’s but I remember well the highschool years as being hellacious. I went from being a kid who liked playing outside in the dirt to someone who all of a sudden was very aware that skinny, and maybe even being full of angst (it was the late 60’s early70’s after all ) was where it was at. It is quite a phenomenon how this happens seemingly overnight in teen girls. I survived (but have some scars) those years and went on to have children. They are grown now but now Grandchildren are blessing our lives. I would like to get your book for my own education and ton pass on to them.

    1. It’s funny how that transition occurs, isn’t it? Your children and grandchildren are lucky to have such a kind and wise female role model to look up to. I love your eagerness to never stop learning and paying it forward.Thanks for the love, Julie!

  19. This is great! Congratulations on your health & success! I’m getting your book for my tween daughter. Looking forward to reading it with her.

    1. Thanks for the support, Amy! I love that you’ve chosen to read it together. Your daughter is lucky to have the support and to be able to discuss it with you. She’ll learn even more that way! 🙂

  20. The comments and feedback from you all have been more than amazing. I’m feeling the love and am hoping you’re all feeling it too! Since the theme of vanity has popped up a few times throughout the comments, you all have encouraged me to write a new blogpost regarding the minimal photo editing in Paleo Girl. If you’re interested, you can check it out here:

    Thanks again for all the kind feed back and words of encouragement. I’m doing this for all of you and those that are looking for more in this life! 🙂

  21. Beautiful story! Isn’t it absolutely insane that ANYONE try to sustain a happy, healthy life on 1200 calories a day?

  22. Such a great story Leslie! Very motivating, and so awesome the example you are setting for impressionable youth. You are contributing to the betterment of humanity and that is always applaudable!

    1. Thanks, Tron! I went through a lot of emotional ups and downs that have taken years to overcome and learn from. If I can help prevent someone from making the same mistakes, or support them through their own situation, I’ll feel like my time spent here was worth while. 🙂

  23. Great success story, Leslie. You are wise beyond your years. Congratulations on being able to follow your passion.

  24. Ehrrrrrr … will you marry my son?
    He is ok, just needs some guidance!
    Just kidding, congratulations, very inspiring, I am forwarding this link to everybody

  25. You’re very inspirational! I’m turning 20 years old and after going through one year of college I gained nearly 60 lbs (yikes). I fully committed to low carb/paleo shortly after dropping out and its been 8-ish months and I’m only 10 lbs away from my weight going into college, but I feel way better and look way better than I ever did in highschool. Not only do I look better, but I have a better mindset and outlook on life. Keep doing what you’re doing, it’s wonderful! ^_^

  26. Excellent story Leslie. I love the correlation you made between loving your body for what it is, and giving it the good clean nutrition it needs. If your book can help just one teenager figure that out before they start on a lifetime of yo yo dieting, then your work has been worthwhile. I only discovered this truth in my early 50’s and I am keen to teach others my age that it is never too late to learn to love yourself and honor your body with healthy food that actually tastes BETTER than the highly processed so called “healthy diet food”.

    I have a question though, is your husband paleo too?

    Nice work, you look fabulous.

  27. Thank you Leslie for sharing your story and I had the priveledge of talking to you in tulum about your book which I will share with my niece, who is struggling with an eating disorder, and some of my young female patients who I know will benefit from your experiences and insights. Cheers Anthony L

  28. Nice reading this. I am 40 next week and really enjoying getting older and going primal -about a year ago ( I wish I knew at your age what I know now but elated so many people (and so much younger) are taking an interest as there are plenty of people who don’t and never will and that is sad). Anyway I have done very much what you have and am now a few kg (I am a Kiwi) more than what I perceived my ideal weigh but am looking healthy, athletic (have energy to run) and better than ever. It is such a shift to actually enjoy the healthy body you have not the numbers on the scale dictating your mind set of the body you are in. I am just on the cusp (I think) of getting that and really embracing the perfect me (not the numbers on
    the scales).

  29. It’s so critical to understand how powerful and destructive self-shaming can be. Especially for teenagers. Paleo Girl, you rock!

  30. What a great success story! I think young girl do need to learn how to properly fuel their bodies without being restrictive! It’s awesome that your passion led you to writing Paleo Girl!

  31. Great account of your diet life. I suppose you were searching for the right diet. And then the Paleo thing comes up. The Paleo diet for me not really is just about the kind of food you eat, but where it comes from and how it’s processed. I suppose that’s the real problem with our food.

  32. One of the most inspiring stories I’ve read on here; almost teary.
    I’ve been trying to find info on here about what to do if a person may be too far gone–I will be 60 in a couple of months and I’m a mess. Too many carbs for too many years; I’ve weighed over 200 lbs for 17 yrs now and need to lose 80-90 lbs. Long-standing nasty high blood pressure and now diabetes w/ neuropathy that came ups FAST. Feet ruined already from “overuse” in my health care career, made doubly bad by the neuropathy. Very much walking is out, just too painful.
    So, where do I start? I’ve tried the food plan but have actual rather than theoretical issues w/ the high fat intake–skin breaks out and lower GI tract gets VERY unhappy. The Carb Continuum has been extremely helpful (80 gm/ day after the fiber is subracted has been known to work) but I can’t figure out what else to eat. I use butter and olive oil fairly freely; can’t tolerate fatty meat.
    I would much rather spend what money I have on good food rather than drugs; even w/ cheap scrips my costs are out of control.

    1. Have you tried Coconut oil as a fat source (I buy my online) and avocados.

      I also use Braggs Organic Apple Cider vinegar before each meal – if I only have 2 meals (1 TBS then will get the daily serving of this). Helps the liver with processing the fat.

  33. Leslie, Your story has just hit me like a 10 tonne truck, and actually made me cry! I recognise so much of what you are saying in myself. I am so pleased that you have found your dream and life mission…I am 43 and still searching and without it, life is always a bit empty x

  34. Great story! I just gave my 15 year old daughter your book. It was exactly what I’ve been wanting. She gets lots of dumb advice from her friends and magazines. I’m glad to give her a book that aligns with my beliefs. She’s already asking me questions. I can’t wait to read it and discuss it with her. I have two younger daughters to pass it on to. Thanks!

  35. I am sincerely inspired, and hopeful for my teen daughter. I can relate to so much food and body and weight obsession growing up – for a variety of reasons.

    Thank yo, Leslie. You look healthy, fit, and beautiful. I am recommitting to this Paleo lifestyle. I won’t give up. : -)

  36. I agree 1,000% with your message of self acceptance and I believe you are going to make a huge difference in young girls’ lives. Keep up the great work – the world needs it!