Like most women, I’ve spent a huge proportion of my adult life obsessing over my weight. I have been at war with the same 10-15 lbs (which sit on my thighs and arse) for at least ten years. I guess that’s the sad reality of being a woman these days.
I’ve read a tonne of diet books. I used to buy them, devour them, then conclude that they were flawed in some way (which they generally were), and put them in my secret cupboard with the other tomes of disappointment. Eventually my frenzied reading led me to paleo and, for the first time in my life, I changed my focus to health instead of weight. Sound the bells of triumph! But we’ll get to that in a bit. First I want to tell you about a few moments in my dieting history.
In university I drank beer, ate toast for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, and pasta (the only thing I could “cook”) for dinner. In the evenings I would binge on wham bars and chocolate. I didn’t do vegetables, except for stir-in tomato pasta sauce. At the time I was fairly active at the gym, plus I was in my early 20s, so my body forgave me and I was able to keep my (above normal) weight reasonably stable. I wasn’t massive, but I was definitely carrying more than I should on my small frame, plus my cravings for chocolate donuts were legendary. The first thing I did when I finished college was give up beer and without changing anything else I dropped half a stone.
My first “proper” diet was The Dukan Diet. The book was getting attention in the media and I decided to give it a go. I committed 100% to it and got down to the lowest I’ve ever weighed as an adult. Even less than when I got married. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s basically low carb AND low fat (read pure torture), and you’re allowed as much aspartame (sweet, sweet cancerous chemicals) as you like. The food was relentlessly monotonous and the protein-only days made me damn near suicidal. It was impossible to eat out or leave the house for any amount of time unless I brought a packet of ham with me. Somehow, I managed to stick to it for about a month, but it came to a head when I was away with some friends and someone offered me a sausage. That was it. That was literally all it took. A sausage. Cue binge eating for weeks to regain the weight I’d so painstakingly lost. Oh, and then I got pregnant.
After my daughter was born I decided to join Unislim online to lose the excess baby weight. I’d enjoyed eating for two and I was carrying at least 30 lbs more than I should have. I was a new mother and wanted to take the “sensible” route, so I followed this typical low fat, calorie-controlled diet. The food was fine but the portions were small. I thought about eating constantly, and the “treats” (like having one Jaffa cake – WHO EATS ONE JAFFA CAKE?!) drove me berserk and, in the end, whilst I got the weight off by eating substantially less, it didn’t really teach me anything or improve my relationship with food.
Over the years I’ve had a few goes at Atkins, with varying degrees of success. At the beginning I made the mistake of not counting carbs accurately and overeating dairy. I also fell into the trap of buying their own-brand chocolate bars which always stalled me. No wonder – have you looked at the
chemicals ingredients in those things? Anyway, I found that I was able to get my weight down quickly by following the “induction” allowance for carbs (two small green salads a day – the rest was meat and high fat dairy). So if I needed to fit into a dress I would follow this incredibly low-carb regime (usually scrimping on the vegetables) and I would drop about 10lbs in two weeks. But when you do something so extreme there’s always a fall back and when you suddenly consume more carbs you just bloat.
I did try to stick to the low-carb principles in general, but I really missed fruit. I also became obsessed with the net carb values in everything. When you’re agonising over whether you’re “allowed” to add an extra clove of garlic (1 gram net carbs) to your stir fry, something’s not right. Plus, whenever I didn’t have an impending event to diet for, I’d eat low carb all day and then splurge on biscuits and chocolate in the evening. I was stuck in a vicious cycle of being on or off the diet and would frequently overeat on a Sunday because I was going to get strict on a Monday. It was a crap way to live. But then along came paleo.
One evening, about a year ago, I was looking at my account on Amazon and scrolling through its recommendations for me. They were all diet books, go figure. I came across Mark Sisson’s The Primal Blueprint, and read through hundreds of positive reviews. I was cynical as always, but nonetheless I couldn’t resist it. When it arrived a few days later I read it in one sitting. It made so much sense. It changed everything. I started following Mark’s Daily Apple and giving out to my parents for eating low fat butter. I managed to deal with my dirty Splenda habit and found a love of cooking I never thought I’d possess. I stopped seeing fruit as evil and mushrooms as excessive. I now have a staple set of paleo meals that taste better than anything I used to cook, and my husband recently said that my portobello mushroom burger “buns” are better than bread. Insert stunned silence here.
I genuinely believe that I’ve found a way to eat for the rest of my life. Yes, there are wobbles and spectacular fall-outs (a week in Berlin drinking beer and eating kebabs, ahem), but I find myself coming back to it every time I fall off the wagon. Which means I’m not on a wagon at all. This is just the way I eat. It’s my new normal.