My Primal Journey

I hadn’t intended on writing a post today, and then something special happened this morning: I achieved my goal weight. After having spent my five years in Scotland with my weight number beginning with a 7 – as in 73kg, 76kg, up to 80kg after my first half marathon – I’ve now maintained a lower weight for about two months now, getting into the 6’s – 69, 68, 67, 66 and now finally 65.9kg. You may think that this is a really random number, but convert kilograms into pounds and you get 145lbs, or in UK terms 10 stone 5 lbs. I haven’t been this weight since I graduated from high school, 16 years ago, (that long!!?!?). This was the weight I was aiming for four months ago when I started my primal journey. And now I’m sharing that journey with you.

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When I used to eat therefore run

First, my life as an athlete to help put things into context: I played softball at an elite level into my adult years, and earned two Canadian Championship silver medals as a result. I played high school volleyball and trained five nights a week. As a twentysomething adult, I did Olympic Weightlifting for a few years, gaining serious muscle mass (hello big traps, glutes and quads). All throughout, I ate and drank whatever I wanted and was able to maintain my weight. I also had a decade-long Pepsi habit to boot, and would indulge in a piece of cake here, some gummy candies there, a meal out, takeout, or second helpings often. Everything in moderation, right? (I now hate that phrase).

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This blog used to be called I Eat Therefore I Run and was based on the mentality that I think many recreational runners have: as long as I run, I can eat whatever I want. This worked for me before, so when I gained weight before moving to Scotland as a result of not being physically active, I attributed it to lack of exercise, not diet. I started running after Pat and I got engaged, to lose weight, and sure enough, I lost weight for the next year and our wedding.

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Still running, I upped the ante with my cooking and baking, and as a result, we often had lots of treats and good food in the house. They were rich but made with wholesome ingredients. We followed mainstream health’s notion of lots of fruit and veg (me more fruit than veg), wholegrains (bread, pasta, brown rice), the occasional vegetarian meal made with legumes, some protein, and low fat. I thought I was eating and drinking Pepsi in moderation, but clearly I wasn’t because I started to gain weight again.

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Is this the way adult life is supposed to be?

I even gained weight while training for my first half marathon last year! You’d think with the more intense exercise, running longer distances and burning more calories that I would lean out, but I didn’t. Instead, I got even heavier! I had sugar cravings (not just during training though – ALL THE TIME and for a long time), I would eat 5-6 times a day to keep my metabolism going (lies!), and despite being a food lover, I actually found all of this incredibly annoying and time-consuming. I tried to moderate the amount of treats and fat I ate. I would get the late afternoon blahs, tension headaches at the end of a work day, and the occasional migraine. I was hungry all. the. time. I had a sweet aftertaste in my mouth often from the amount of fruit and carbs I ate. I ran though, so I must be healthy, right?

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Post Aviemore Half Marathon. And 80kg.

I also felt guilty all the time: I’m not eating healthy enough. I should be working out more. I should be running more. I should ______________ more! And I wasn’t. I was tired of feeling like this emotionally.

I was someone who never got sick and didn’t have any health issues. People at work perceived me as healthy. I thought I was as well, but I just didn’t felt like something wasn’t right. Yes, looking back, I admit I was overindulgent too often. That was a contributing factor. But I’ve always had a gut feeling that eating according to mainstream ‘healthy eating’ was wrong and I had finally had enough. Rather than continue down this road of guilt, attempted deprivation, over-exercise and continuing to gain weight, I changed my approach. As Einstein says “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting to get different results.” I was driving myself crazy.

New Year, new possibilities

When we were in Berlin to celebrate the New Year and visit my good friend Alicia, she told me she was going to start eating according to the Paleo diet, as a way to combat thyroid issues. I thought she was crazy and that she’d be hungry all the time (no carbs, what?!?!). Ironically, Danielle the carb-consumer, was hungry all the time, (go figure!). Alicia’s nutrition intentions for 2014 got me thinking.

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Primal friends making funny faces

It’s one thing to follow the UK Eatwell Plate, the USDA Food Pyramid or Canada Food Guide and think you’re healthy; it’s another thing to know what actual healthy eating looks like, (another phrase I’ve come to hate). I even wrote it on this blog that a goal for 2014 was to learn more about food, and what it can do for us in order to make better, more informed choices. I thought my path would take me along the RunnersWorld cookbook route. Little did I know what would change my life.

As an avid reader of Cotter Crunch, Lindsay Cotter’s blog about nourishing herself, her triathlete husband, and her soul, I reached out to her to embark upon my journey to find out what ‘healthy’ truly meant and what it truly looked like. She told me to check out Maria Emmerich’s stuff. Which I did and that got my primal ball rolling.

*I would like to point out that I didn’t even know what gluten-free meant until I started doing my research.

Keto?

Initially, I was all about going the keto-adapted route! A super version of me, burning fat like crazy? Yes please! I devoured Maria’s book and made her recipes. I spent a lot of money on whey protein supplements, psyllium husk powder, coconut oil, xylitol, stevia glycerite, and lots of books. I cut out all carbs from wheat and other grains. Sugar was gone. Fat was in. Protein everyday. No more legumes, no more soy.

I made my changes starting with dinner because it seemed the easiest to me. I also started cutting back on the frequency of meals throughout the day. Rather than a morning snack, I would eat a few tablespoons of natural peanut butter to keep me going until lunch. My morning smoothie was the most difficult non-primal food to go because I liked how Pat made it for us in the morning and how it was quick. I knew that I shouldn’t be drinking it though, so I finally switched to a keto smoothie. I confessed to the change in my diet and previous carb-eating sins on the blog.

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I had completely rejected carbs and was 100% keto, just waiting for ketosis to start. I had lost a few pounds too. Any day, my heavy leg feeling whilst running would go away. Any day, I’d have even more energy. Any day now… Well, nothing changed. While Maria Emmerich is very good at giving information, she does it in a way that is still generalised enough to entice you to purchase her packages. Makes sense if she’s trying to run a business, but not financially feasible for me. I knew I was missing something but not sure what: I felt great throughout the day, it was just my running that was suffering. In particular, a really poor showing at the Balmoral 10km this past year. I also didn’t like the restriction of keto, and looking back, the supplements of ‘real food’ rather than just eating real food (#jerf). Maybe keto wasn’t such a good idea…

Enter primal eating

I was also training for the EMF half marathon and was approaching peak weeks of training. I knew I wouldn’t be able to last much longer, so I adapted my diet for the time being. I ate primarily keto but integrated paleo-friendly sweet potato, white potato, Basmati rice, and quinoa. I continued to eat full fat dairy and other fats, and little fruit. My meal frequency became three meals a day. I discovered Caveman Keto Fat Bombs. My legs felt better again, runs were stronger, I felt confident in my ability again. I had become a primal eater without even knowing it. I would go keto once the half was over.

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I felt more relaxed like this and the weight started coming off quickly: 5kg by May, 7kg by June and 8kg lost by the end of June. I was averaging a kilo every 3 weeks? Ironically enough, although alcohol consumption is frowned upon with a ketogenic diet, I was drinking more as a low-carb eater than I had as a high-carb eater.

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Before: April 2013. After: June 2014

I also started to feel better. My eczema, which had ravaged my right middle finger in late 2013, and for years, had disappeared.

I continued to read blogs and books to inform myself, and learnt more about the Paleo way of eating. I initially thought Paleo was the opposite of keto: too open-ended and prone to sweet treats, (which on Instagram, some people are). I also wasn’t a fan of honey and maple syrup as sweeteners after having learned about low-glycemic xylitol, (which I still use to this day). I also got far too excited and wanted to share everything in one post! I found Mark’s Daily Apple. I read Gary Taubes’ Why We Get Fat and What to do About it. I was hooked to anything and everything low-carb, hight-fat. I even wrote a list of YES foods and NO foods, (now my Primal Larder page).

I also continued to lose weight and feel better, in my body and my mind. I was learning about my body. And my cravings had disappeared.

Hiccups

My progress hasn’t been without setbacks though. Jumps in weight due to alcohol consumption or too much protein and not enough fat, and spending two weeks getting back to the same point again. Eczema flare-ups due to chemical reactions (I was painting and got the paint on my fingers). Constipation due to a dairy feast. Discovering my body isn’t good with strawberries: my weight sticks and my eczema flares-up. All can be viewed as setbacks, but all have helped me continue to learn about my body and become more intuitive. My body loves all things coconut 🙂

Training

I’ve incorporated trail and hill running into my training. I’ve entered a triathlon in September. I’m swimming, I’m cycling and doing Mark Sisson’s Primal Blueprint Fitness twice a week. I bought a road bike. I’ve only made these changes at the end of June; they’re not the driving reason behind my weight loss.

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I’m feeding my body all the right things and it’s responding. Recovery is short, paces are faster.

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Before: November 2013. After: July 2014. Wearing the same tshirt!

Now

Well, you know, I love primal eating! I became a Mark Sisson primal eater without even knowing it, and I have no intentions of going keto any time soon. I love the primal template and food, the freedom from restrictions. The possibilities are endless! Now I’m gluten-free, grain-free (apart from rice), and sugar-free; I’ve also been Pepsi-free since March. And free of guilt.

20140523_193110I’ve lost 10kg altogether. I’ve gone from 34-36% body fat to 28% (that was at the end of July). I’ve gained two pounds of lean muscle mass. My metabolic age in March was 49 years old; I now have the metabolism of a 30 year old (I’m 34). My BMI has also dropped from 25 and overweight, to 23 and normal.

I want to spread the primal word! I want to make a business out of it one day, through helping others start their primal journey, and through catering. I want to write a cookbook. I’ve got plenty of ideas, I just need time and money. And that will all come. I even sold my first batch of Gluten-free Strawberry tarts.

So many people have asked me to help them. My friends come to me with questions all the time. I actually need to write a series of posts on getting started because I’m always scrambling to find blog posts and links, and giving people the same sound advice. I need it all streamlined and simple. I’ve also started my Inform Yourself Friday posts as a way of spreading primal information and recipes. I’m going to be doing What I Ate Wednesday posts to show people exactly what I eat in a day. Finally, I’m starting a series to showcase other’s primal efforts. The first one should be up next week!

What I’ve learned

Too many things! The two most important at this moment in time:

  1. You can’t out-run, out-train, out-exercise a poor diet. Body composition is 80% diet and 20% physical activity.
  2. Weight loss is a marathon, not a sprint. You need to be patient, listen to your body and learn from it.

Have you been on your own primal journey?

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15 thoughts on “My Primal Journey

  1. Congrats on all the positive changes! I experienced something like this and was down to the singer I had ever been! Then I got sick and tired and many health problems arose…

    I added carbs back into my diet… and I ballooned up! I was healthy though, according to much better symptoms and bodily function, so I stuck with it. I’m finally slimming out a bit (I’m not sure how much as I’ve thrown out my scale) but most importantly I feel strong, healthy and capable.

    Here’s to better health!

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