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. In fact, I have a contest going right now. So if you have a story to share, no matter how big or how small, you’ll be in the running to win a big prize. Read more here.
Ever since I could remember, I’ve been plagued with bloating, constipation and brain fog. I’d grown accustomed to it and accepted it as something my mother passed down to me. When I was four, my family and I emigrated from Poland to the U.S. I vividly remember eating healthy dinners that my mom cooked, but also loads of sugary cereal, Pop-Tarts, Snickers, sandwiches, cakes, Coke, Sprite, etc. I was chubby as a kid, and would remain so for many years.
When I was eleven we moved back to Poland. Six years later I visited Sweden and saw that many people there were proper vegetarians. In my home country this was virtually impossible – at most you could be a pescetarian, but even then you were regarded as a freak. I decided to become one – a pescetarian, that is, to satisfy my parents – partly a rebellious act but mostly because I did not like the texture of meat.
Gone was the meat from my diet, but what to eat instead? Vegetables were a no-brainer, I was always a big fan, but because I refused to learn to cook, I started seeking out vegetarian foods at supermarkets. The vegetarian market was slowly expanding, so why wouldn’t I try out the latest tofu, soya and rice burgers/sausages/etc? They were all heavily processed and tasted bland, if not disgusting.
My mother bought me several vegetarian cookbooks but they were too difficult to follow for someone who didn’t know the basics. To this day I do not like cookbooks which don’t have pictures to go with the recipes. I quickly got discouraged and existed mostly on what I called the Brad Pitt diet – coffee, sandwiches and beer (the latter two were what allegedly fueled him when he was just starting out in the business). I had always been on the slightly puffy side, but at university I was borderline overweight – at 168cm/5ft6 I weighed 69 kg/152 lbs.
As for exercise, I tried a few classes and clubs when I was a kid but no sport ever stuck. In high school most of the girls in my class were clumsy and unathletic, which made me seem very sporty, although I wasn’t really (which is something my gym teacher pointed out).
Towards the end of of high school I signed up for kung fu class, which I would practice for a year and a half. I enjoyed it a lot but pain in my knees forced me to quit. At physical therapy I was told I would have bad knees for the rest of my life.
I stopped exercising and tried to focus on my schoolwork. I wasn’t very good at academics, consistently at the bottom of my class all throughout high school. I could not focus on subjects I did not enjoy and failed one of my exams at the end of high school. Years later I realized it could have been because I was always told as a kid that I am ‘smart’ and ‘talented,’ which made me subconsciously think I did not have to put in the work to achieve academic success. If it didn’t come easily to me, I would almost definitely fail. Now I think that in addition to this, brain fog and inability to concentrate also played a factor.
At one point, it was probably in the first couple of years at university, I went to a masseur complaining of backache. I thought it was due to years of slouching, brought on by early onset puberty and the embarrassment of growing breasts that started when I was 11. My back muscles were so tense the masseur could hardly touch them without me yelping in pain. He said I had the body tension of a 45-year-old and I should start exercising. I took the advice to heart and signed up to an aerobics class. Yes, it was chronic cardio, but I loved pounding it out for an hour on the step to loud music. I realized exercise could be fun and did not need complete commitment (as kung fu did).
After five years of studying international relations, I was physically at a low. I enjoyed the studies (and thus had an easier time academically), but constant drinking, smoking and eating vegetarian crap was taking a toll. I would get to work hungover, after work go to my evening classes, then stay up drinking with my buddies, get home late, eat more crap, sometimes drink more, have bad quality sleep and struggle in the morning. I cheated myself into thinking that I was ‘healthy’ because I didn’t eat meat, I didn’t smoke that much, some of my (male) friends drank way more than I did and, hey, I ate salad for lunch everyday!
The worst thing was not the weight creeping up on me, but the PMS symptoms. I had been on the pill since I was probably thirteen to control the symptoms, flow and timing (I wouldn’t want to get my period while on vacation, now would I?), but PMS had become unbearable. For two weeks before my period I had excruciating underbelly pain that could only be alleviated with super warmth – either hot drinks or hot compresses to the stomach. At home I used a heat pad, which wasn’t hot enough, but at work I would use.. an electric kettle that had just boiled water. I had burn marks on my stomach from pressing the kettle through my clothes into it, but it had the best effect. I drank so much hot tea and coffee that towards the end of the working day I just drank plain hot water, sometimes with a squeeze of lemon. Painkillers would work for maybe 30 minutes, so I didn’t bother to use them.
Another symptom was constant eating. I could not satisfy my hunger before my period. After a hiatus I started going to a nearby aerobics class not for the benefit of exercising, losing weight or getting in shape, but just to pry myself away from the refrigerator.
I started to educate myself on healthy eating, but I still thought vegetarianism and potentially veganism were the only healthy way. Several years down the line, when I had moved to London, started a new job and met my partner, my weight ballooned to over 90 kg/198 lbs when I was pregnant with twins. The weight gain was normal and healthy but my sluggishness, breathlessness and size towards the end of pregnancy made me think, how can obese people live like this? I made a vow to really take care of myself.
A few months after the birth of my twins I bought some exercise DVDs. My pregnancy weight started to fall off. I finally started to learn to cook because I knew that a healthy diet was important, especially for my babies. This photo was taken 8 months after my twins were born.
In January 2014, a friend convinced me to start training for a 10k fun run. I had never liked running but decided to give it a shot. I ran, or rather jogged, the race in May, but at what cost. I had been plagued by leg and glute injuries, I felt fatigued a lot of the time. I ate too much and too often. I wanted to do 24-hour fasts once a week but could not sustain them. I was irritable, craved sugar, salt and alcohol in the evenings and generally felt annoyed with myself.
So after the race, I had a couple days rest, then resumed running, cycling and strength training – until exactly a week later, on a overcast, drizzly Sunday, my body just refused to do what I was telling it to do. I walked the route I wanted to run. My thigh and glute injury was acting up. My ankles, left shoulder, left side of my neck, all hurt. I had side stitches. I realized that I’d felt this tired after my very first run about 5 months ago.
For the next couple of days I gave my aching joints and injuries a break. Even my arms hurt – biceps, forearms, and wrists – which I attributed to a first-time kettlebell workout from a few days ago (assuming delayed soreness).
I did some research and came to the conclusion I need to take a closer look at what, how and when I ate and drank. I have Hashimoto’s and realized that I might be more susceptible to gluten sensitivity and rheumatoid arthritis. I bought a cookbook, ‘It’s All Good’ by Gwyneth Paltrow and Julia Turshen. Think what you want about Gwyneth, but her book opened my eyes to elimination diets, gluten-free eating that could be delicious, and the importance of taking care of my body through food.
At some point I came across a website – I honestly don’t remember if it was Mark’s Daily Apple or not – which shunned not only grains, but even whole grains! That’s insane, I remember thinking, grains are the base of the food pyramid! Meat as part of a healthy diet? Impossible. I spent hours researching these topics and even came across stories of people who ate only meat, and sometimes specific types of meat, and claimed to be super healthy and fit. I had many conversations with my brother-in-law, who is an osteopath and an advocate of SCD and WAPF, and whose stint with veganism a while back landed him in the hospital.
I knew now for sure that I had to change my diet. I was suffering with injuries, stiffness, aches, brain fog, constipation, gassiness, bad PMS, low libido, hypoglycemia, bloat, coldness of extremities. I was eating every two hours. My weight loss had plateaued. But one of the worse things was what I started calling gluten-rage. I would get so angry with my kids over the silliest reasons, and I hated myself for it.
In September 2014, I started eating meat again after 15 years. By October, I had stopped eating grains. However, I became obsessed with food. I would cheat and hate myself for it. I would swear I would not eat sugar/peanut butter/drink alcohol, and I would constantly think about what I was missing out on, and usually after a few days, maybe a week, I would binge on whatever I had been denying myself.
I got tested for coeliac disease [negative] and food sensitivities [so many!]. I drove myself crazy eliminating everything I was ‘sensitive’ to. I had to stop thinking of food as a reward or punishment and focus on healing my gut.
Aerosmith sang ‘Life’s a journey, not a destination’ and this is always something I keep in mind. I practice listening to my body, to what it needs. I follow Paleo/Primal principles, but do not obsess about my eating habits anymore. I don’t care what the scale says or what I’m supposedly sensitive to – how I feel is what matters. I have eliminated many ailments and that makes me so happy. I still have a few issues which I suspect are related to Hashimoto’s, that’s why I am currently reading ‘The Paleo Thyroid Solution’ by Elle Russ. The Paleo lifestyle has taught me that life can be so much better, and to never give up on improving yourself.
My partner and kids are not Paleo, but I like to think my principles and cooking have a good influence on them. My six-year-old kids are very good eaters, have superb immune systems, have always slept so well and are good-natured and well-behaved (mostly) compared to so many other kids I know. I believe the food we eat have a massive influence on our wellbeing.