Coconut Friends is a 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.
This month’s Coconut Friend is my real-life good friend Alicia. Maybe you’ll remember that her and her boyfriend André (now fiancé) visited Pat and I this past April? Alicia and I met while we were both at the University of Alberta, through my roommate at the time. We’ve skied all over the Rockies together, bonded over being teachers and Sex in the City among other things, and traveled to Europe together in 2008. Alicia is one of my closest friends, lives in my favourite city in the world, and was the one who first put the paleo bug in my ear. She also taught me how to make her delicious banana pancakes!
Spring of 2013 was a time not only for seasonal changes, but for life changes as well. I had signed a contract to teach in a bilingual school and move from Edmonton, the city I had lived in my whole life, to one of the most exciting capitals in the world: Berlin, Germany.
Leading up to my life change, I had been dealing with a lot of fatigue and intestinal and stomach issues, and would often complain of having a food baby after I ate a meal. I thought that I ate healthy: oatmeal with fruit for breakfast, soup, salads, leftovers for lunch. Dinners would vary as I would often eat the same thing for a few days straight, and was cooking for one. I would eat salads as well with some sort of meat (sometimes, not because of being a vegetarian but because it seemed like a lot of work). Quinoa replaced rice as a side and I would also add veggies to it and eat it as a cold salad. Meat, cheese, olives and bread were also a nice weekend treat with wine. I didn’t eat too much junk food but when I did, pretzels were my choice because they were lower in fat than chips and it made me feel good about my salty snack. Despite eating veggies, and eating ‘healthy’, I still had weird stomach problems.
I started seeing a naturopath and did some food intolerance tests which showed that I was intolerant to many foods. An intolerance is slightly different than an allergy as the food may not react with your body until hours or even a day later. The worst was cinnamon! Definitely a shocker. Next were grapes, nectarines, barley, oranges, vanilla, casein (a protein found in dairy), baker’s yeast, lamb, turkey, peanuts, wheat, white potato, strawberries, green peas and the list goes on! The task of changing my entire diet seemed daunting, scary and like a lot of work that I didn’t want to do at the time. I couldn’t believe that so many healthy foods were on the list. I could not imagine having to change my entire way of eating and feeling overwhelmed, decided to table the thought of changing my eating habits until after the big move.
On top of this, I was also taking medication for my thyroid problem. The naturopath was very concerned that I had elevated TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone) levels in my blood that showed Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, which is an autoimmune disorder where the body attacks the cells in the thyroid. From my research, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis is the most common form of hypothyroidism, and in the North American Doctor world, isn’t a big deal, but in the naturopath world, it is. I started a bunch of supplements and vitamins (unfortunately I can’t remember specifically what the names are) to help balance out my hormones and finally, since I was diagnosed with a thyroid problem, I did not have to up my medication.
In July 2013, my boyfriend helped me move to Berlin. He was able to stay for a week and together, he helped me get me settled into a temporary apartment and to get familiar with my new surroundings. Orientation for my new school started about a week later, and I was able to finally meet some of my new colleagues. I made friends quickly and felt even more settled into my new life. With lots of young colleagues, came lots of evenings out at beer gardens and lots of eating out. To counteract the poor eating choices, I bought a bike and rode it daily to and from work. I was feeling really good, except for the food babies I was still having after meals. A new friend helped me find a doctor that spoke English and made an appointment for me as I was starting to get low on my thyroid medication. In the mean time, all the supplements I had brought from Canada were all gone and sure enough, my TSH levels were up and I had to get my thyroid dosage raised.
If anyone is friends with a teacher, they know how exhausted we always are. I was teaching a new grade and was finding the workload a lot. I was feeling tired but chalked it up to my thyroid. I was still riding my bike daily and now was rock climbing twice a week. After many trips to the supermarket with Google Translate, I was now comfortable enough with the food here and was going to the grocery store more often and cooking at home. One day over wine, I was sharing my intestinal woes with a friend when she told me about Paleo. She ate this weird caveman way and so did all her family back home in Canada. She shared her family’s story and gave me a book called The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf. She told me that if I really wanted to try it, that I need to give it 30 days with the strict eating that is suggested in the book. She offered to do it with me when I was ready as she had slipped with some of her eating habits.
I would have to agree that The Paleo Solution had lot of medical terminology that was a bit too much for my brain, but I found lots of material very interesting. There was much research showing the links of eating grains, dairy, beans, legumes and sugar to autoimmune disorders, thyroid issues and intestinal problems. All of which I had! I took another look at my intolerance list, and found that baker’s yeast was on my list and so was casein. After reading the book, I was sold. I was going to try this paleo thing starting in January, as a way of kicking off 2014.
I gave myself Christmas and New Years to enjoy all the baked goods, Gluhwein (German mulled wine) and delicious treats of the holiday season. By the time January 6 came around, I was ready to start my new way of eating. I weighed 65kg (143 lbs = 10 stone 3), and had love handles around my midsection. Like suggested in the book, I kept track of my body changes with pictures. A week into eating paleo, I had already lost 1kg (2.2 lbs) and I didn’t have a food baby all week! I didn’t change my exercising and kept up with my daily biking and rock climbing. By the second and third week, I was seeing more results in my photos and noticed that my midsection was looking thinner and so were my thighs. I was now down a total of 4 kg (8.8 lbs) and was so pleased with how I felt. I had lots of energy, no mid day sleepiness and was sleeping really well. The last week was the hardest. My boyfriend had flown over to visit and we went to the Alps to go skiing. He was being a huge supporter of my new eating, and tried his best to also eat the same as me. All meals were made in our rented apartment except for one dinner. It was his birthday so we went to a traditional alpine restaurant and I cheated. I had a delicious meal with yummy cheese. I didn’t feel so good after that. My food baby was back and I then realized that there was no need to feel like this anymore. I was going to continue with my new way of eating and add it to all the other life changes that had happened to me.
It is now September and I have been eating primal, paleo, whatever you want call it for 9 months. I am down to 58kg (127 lbs = 9 stone 11) and have been maintaining that weight since June. I haven’t had to increase my thyroid dosage either since January. I have adapted what I know of Paleo eating to how my body feels. I eat cheese, drink alcohol and bake with honey and maple syrup for sweeteners. I have started reading a new book called Your Personal Paleo Code by Chris Kresser, which talks about finding the foods that are right for you. Besides feeling amazing, I have fallen in love with cooking and experimenting with new recipes.
In the spring, I started running and now run 3 times a week. I did a 10km Nike run in May, a 5×5 relay race in June and a 7.5km run in July. I kept up my running on top of my climbing and biking, and I feel amazing. I have signed up for a 10km run through the Zoo this fall, and will also be running in the Berlin Half Marathon at the end of March 2015.
Most of my close friends know how much I love cooking, baking and eating paleo. There is a small group of us who spend Sunday afternoons cooking and preparing food for the week. It is so wonderful to have an amazing support group and friends who share the same desire to live a healthy, grain-free, high-fat life. I have not changed just my diet, but my lifestyle and I have no intentions to go back.
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!