Coconut Friends is a new, monthly series I’ve started to showcase people’s journeys and success using a variation of primal eating. Primal eating affects us all in different ways, and the reasons we start doing it varies as well. The term comes from my friend Amie’s boyfriend Jamie: whenever she would talk to him about me, he called me her ‘Coconut Friend,’ especially since Amie cooks so much with coconut oil. And, as we know, coconuts and all their goodness are the cornerstone for any primal eater.
It’s only fitting that Amie is my first Coconut Friend. She is a good friend of mine: we met through work, but we’ve bonded over some running, but mainly our passion for paleo and primal eating, and spreading the message of just eating real food (aka JERF!) to others. I think Amie is an elite runner, but she’s so humble she’ll never tell you that. Amie will also be a partner in my primal business. Here is her primal journey.
I’m an athlete therefore I’m healthy!
I didn’t get into the Paleo lifestyle to lose weight, far from it; I was just over 8 stone (112 lbs = 51 kg. Amie is 5′ 1″ tall), with an enviable body fat percentage of just 14.5%. I run for a well respected athletic club: Fife AC, representing my club at regional and national events in Scotland. I have been selected to run for the East of Scotland in the international championships on two occasions. I train six days a week and sometimes twice a day. I thought I was fit and healthy. My half marathon PB – 1:24:57 – told me so, right?
I was wrong. For two consecutive months I didn’t get a period. For the past year I had irregular periods which lasted at most a couple of days, but usually only a couple of hours. My body was trying to tell me that something was wrong but I wasn’t listening.
Comprehensive diagnosis: NOT FAT ENOUGH!
I put my absent, irregular and barely there periods down to stress. I survived on very little sleep, often no more than five hours a night during the working week. The demands of being a secondary school teacher combined with ‘trying’ to be a successful athlete was clearly having an effect.
I had to change my lifestyle. After nearly nine years teaching in mainstream education I took a leap of courage and went to work in an offsite school for children with emotional, social and behavioural issues – this is where I met Danielle. With less marking and less preparation to do in the evenings, life got a whole lot better. I was spending more time with my boyfriend and I was going to bed before midnight. With a fresh mind and a body that wasn’t drained and tired, my training and racing improved as did my overall mental health. I was happy, really happy.
It was the months of February and March this year that I had two missed periods, back to back. I couldn’t understand it; I thought my temperamental menstrual cycle was down to stress. I booked an appointment at my local doctors’ clinic and explained the situation. Blood tests were taken to assess the levels of hormones in my body. They came back with ‘no concern’. My doctor said my excessive training – I had increased the intensity of my training recently due to training for the 2014 Virgin London Marathon – might be affecting my periods. My body fat percentage was probably too low to be in the right state to ovulate. My doctor’s diagnosis seemed simple: “Ease up on the training and gain some weight!”
Like most runners I suffer from something called “Runners’ High”: a pleasurable and euphoric state caused by running. I’m a training and racing addict, and become irritable and restless if I must miss my daily training session. I also want to be a mother one day and going by my period issues, I knew eventually getting pregnant wouldn’t be an easy feat, especially now that I’ve entered my 30’s.
I was perplexed. Do I hang up my racing trainers now and start to let my body recover from the intense training, in hopes of getting my monthly visitor in due time? Or do I train and race until the time comes when my boyfriend and I are ready to have children? And then hope that ovulation kicks in quickly? I decided to do what many people do when making a difficult decision is upon them: put it to the back of your mind and do nothing, yet….
“FAT IS GOOD FOR YOU!” Danielle would declare at any given opportunity to talk about her “new way of eating.”
“SUGAR AND WHEAT AND BEANS ARE BAD!”
When I first learned about the Paleo approach to nutrition, I smiled and nodded my head, and listened but didn’t pay much attention. I scoffed at it. Another fad diet I thought. Ha! I was certain that all the protein and fat that Danielle was consuming was going to give her a heart attack!
So I went about my way to trawl the internet to find evidence to sabotage “this new way of eating” that she kept harping on about. You need bread and pasta to give you energy, every athlete knows that!
I read everything I could about the science behind the Paleo framework. I vacuumed up every piece of information from books to blogs. But the more I read the less I was able to dismiss the paleo lifestyle: prioritise whole, unprocessed, nutrient-rich, nourishing foods, and avoid grains, legumes, sugar and processed seed and vegetable oils. Even endurance athletes were talking about the benefits of Paleo.
Maybe I was onto something.
The craziest part was that I wasn’t focusing on getting my period back at all.
Out the door went nearly everything that I included in my training regime: pasta, bread, nutrition bars, cereal, milk, beans, low fat yogurts and jam sandwiches. I really loved the taste of that sweet sticky stuff. Feeling a little challenged, I was all-in. I had joined the Paleo community.
Within a month of eating Paleo I had noticed that my energy levels had shot up. I was able to conduct more intense training sessions and recover more quickly and properly. I didn’t feel like I was running on heavy legs all the time. On my longer runs – twenty plus miles – I felt I had more fuel for the last remaining miles of a long run.
Whilst my competitive brain focused on Paleo to get fitter and better at running, the rest of my body was also beginning to see changes too. My digestive problems disappeared almost instantly: I suffered a lot from heartburn and bouts of diarrhoea. The psoriasis on my elbows, hairline, ears and back began to disappear. My hair also felt much thicker. I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing.
Sub-three hours London Marathon 2014 looked convincing
April 11th 2014. This day I will remember because on this day I travelled down to London on the train to get ready for the London Marathon, which was in two days time. After a long journey, I eventually arrived at my destination. My friend kindly let me stay at her flat which was in close proximity to the start line of the marathon. Bursting for the toilet, I made a bee-line for her bathroom. I was about to reach for the toilet paper when I noticed a red mark. “No, it couldn’t be!” I thought “No way, surely” as I looked at the red marks on my pants (underwear). It was my PERIOD!
My eyes started to glaze over, but that soon changed when I remembered the reason I was in London! “Typical, just typical” I said with a wry smile. I rubbed my belly and thanked it a billion times over.
Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to complete the London Marathon in less than three hours; I finished just outside 3 hours and 3 minutes. I had an excuse though: I had my period!
I have never been so happy to have such a nuisance back in my life. May, June and July: my period made an appearance. Those few days I have with my period are special. It is an important time and it deserves respect. Never in a billion years could I have imagined I’d feel this way about having it, and each period has lasted more than just a couple of hours or a day. I am a functioning woman. I CAN HAVE A BABY ONE DAY!
Having my cake and eating it too!
In the last month and a half I have increased the intensity of my training, clocking around 60 miles a week in preparation for the Glasgow Half Marathon in October. Despite training hard, I still get the comforting sight of my period every month now.
I haven’t cut back on my training regime like the doctor suggested. I haven’t put on weight either like my doctor suggested. I currently weight 7 stone 8 pounds (106 lbs = 48 kg), the lightest I can ever recall. I have put on just over 4.5% of much needed body fat and my bone density has also improved. I truly believe that transitioning to the Paleo lifestyle is the reason why I am “having my cake and eating it too”.
My “Runners’ High” will be sticking around for the foreseeable future.
Food really is medicine!
Resources Amie uses:
- The Paleo Diet
- Marks Daily Apple
- Authority Nutrition
- Eat Drink Paleo
- I Quit Sugar by Sarah Wilson
- Nom Nom Paleo Food For Humans by Michelle Tam and Henry Fong
- Fuel Station: Palaeolithic Eating for the Endurance Athlete
- The Paleo Diet for Athletes by Loren Cordain
Have you got a primal journey you would like to share?
Comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and let’s talk!