“I was a vegetarian for most of my life…” – A Life Changing Revelation.


This is an odd statement to use in this particular situation, but here goes: I was a vegetarian for most of my life, and it actually didn’t completely ruin me.

Yep…I started abstaining from meat when I was about four years old, oddly enough, for moral reasons. The rest of my family ate meat, but as a child and a teen I could not stand the thought of eating animals. It didn’t cause any apparent issues for me; I was always relatively lean and pretty athletic. My diet was based around soy protein, dairy, veggies, fruit, legumes, grains, and pretty much anything that did not bleed. I was a very talented martial artist and became a CrossFit athlete at the age of sixteen, but strength did NOT come naturally to me, and neither did endurance. My deadlift was stalled for about two and a half years at a whopping 155 lbs., and I could barely squat 140 lbs. after two years of CrossFit. My fastest 400m sprint was 1:31. I would often stay sore for days after workouts. I didn’t care or really notice that much…at the end of the day, I was thin and carefree about my health.

Then came the hell years. When I was seventeen years old I got involved with a major record label in LA (I was one of their artists in development), and got sucked into the world of eating disorders, and man did I fall fast. What started with anorexia and diet-pill popping made a quick transition to bingeing and purging which then took a turn directly into bulimia. These issues lasted me about a year. Despite my multiple attempts to regulate my eating habits and weight, I wound up gaining about twenty pounds over the course of a month or so after the anorexia died out completely. Stubborn weight, paranoia, heart palpitations, depression, insomnia, and exhaustion hit me all at once.  I stopped having a period. I had a constant buzzing feeling in my head, and all I could think about was food. I craved foods that were highest in calories- bread with jelly, cereal, ice cream, etc., and these were no normal cravings. I was hungry all the time, and I would eat until the point that I felt sick before I ever felt “full” or “satisfied.”

I tried everything, and I even talked to a few people (despite the embarrassment) about the experience. My coaches, doctors, family, and friends all seemed to be at a loss as far as what to do. I too was lost. Then one day, I contacted a homeopathic doctor from my hometown. She pinpointed the issue immediately: I had caused some major metabolic damage which sent my cortisol levels through the roof, and I also showed signs of extreme adrenal fatigue and issues with thyroid regulation. She told me that I would need to start eating some animal protein to get my body to function normally again.

From that moment on, I started researching cortisol and thyroid issues like a mad woman. When I was a vegetarian, I’ll be honest, I was not a fan of Robb’s work (surprise surprise); however, the more educated I became, the more Robb’s work and the paleo movement just made SENSE. I listened to podcast after podcast after podcast. I read articles from medical journals, blogs, and scientific texts. A few months later I attended Robb’s Paleo Solution Seminar, and I was sold. I realized that there are plenty of humane places to get meat nowadays, and I was done sacrificing my health for an obsolete moral objection.

It has been a year since I attended Robb’s seminar, and look how far I have come. I have decided to study biochemistry at a top-tier university; I hope to one day take Robb’s work further and hopefully be able to help young girls with similar experiences to mine. I am now a CrossFit/strength coach and a powerlifter. To this day, I still buy only free-range meat from humane sources, and I have managed to thrive on it. Thanks to my dietitian, Amy Kubal and my coach, Jacob Tsypkin, I am now capable of deadlifting over 200 lbs. at the age of 19, and I feel like Superwoman.

I wish everyone could be so lucky as to find the amazing support and knowledge that exists in this community. I am so blessed to have discovered this lifestyle at such a young age. Keep up the good work, my fellow Paleos.

Thank you!!

-Mariah Heller



  1. says

    This is a fantastic story! It’s so important to share experiences like this with the public even though it can be scary to do so at first. I think two vegetarians at my seminar this past weekend are both reconsidering their choices to date and one had even eaten some meat again at dinner that night after only eating fish for years. I’ve helped several vegetarians come back around to eating animal foods regularly with coaching as well, and they’be been astounded with how much more robust and full of energy they are. Our health needs to come first in order to make this movement powerful and to support those who do raise animals properly for us to eat. Great story, Mariah!

  2. Myra says

    Mariah, your honesty means so much to me. I deal with bulimia myself. As a nationally competitive bodybuilder I have proven to myself that I am capable of many things, I am strong, I have a powerful mind. When it comes to this eating disorder there are days I felt powerless.
    I have been seeing a psychologist for about a year now who (supposedly) specializes in eating disorders. When it comes to my success and recovery, I know for a FACT that a Paleo, low-carb approach, is the best for me. My mind is not constantly on food. I feel satisfied when I eat. I am not constantly hungry, gassy, or bloated. My psychologist, however, does not see eye to eye with me and says I am “too restrictive” and “so afraid of carbs”. Oh yeah, she also told me I could go on the pill to regulate my hormones so I don’t get cravings before my period. (on a side note, the worst my eating disorder ever became was when I was on the pill and I was depressed all the time). She is blind to real results and experiences and convinced that the Canada Food Guide is THE way to eat. Needless to say, I won’t be going back to her anymore. She creates a lot more head games for me than solutions. I’m thinking that perhaps a sports psychologist would be more the way to go if I am to continue seeing someone.
    For now, I can tell you that a Paleo lifestyle has saved my life and straightened out my head, my hormones, my overall health and energy, virtually annihilated my eating disorder. I am a new person, ever grateful to Robb Wolf, Mark Sisson, and my friend, Jenn, who introduced me to to Paleo. There is so much I have to be thankful for, including you, Mariah, for sharing your story.
    Stay strong and all the best to you!

  3. says

    Your moral objections were not obsolete. They are very real and will remain so. However, they are also unfeasible… as sad as it is true.

    Congrats on finding your own path. Keep your eyes open, though. Be critical. Don’t just change one dogma for another.

    • Mariah says

      Hey there! Thank you, and I agree. I think my wording made the statement seem a little harsh. Moral objections to factory farming are justified and very real; my statement was meant to reflect the false dichotomy of “humane vegetarian/vegan” VS. “evil meat eater.”

      Thanks! -MH

  4. says

    Hi, my name is Todd Ovall and i have been running a CrossFit box in which i teach encourage paleo concepts and the whole ancestral movement concept.
    I have a couple of tough cookies who refuse to do my required reading (including paleo solution) and have posed a ridiculous question about the Vitamin b12 as the need for grains Could you please elaborate/wax philosophic on this topic in particular because apparently their mom knows more about nutrition and the need to ingest grains to get sufficient Vitamin b12!?

    • says

      Uhhh…you cannot GET b12 without animal products. this is one of the REALLY tough hurdles that vegetarians have to deal with. Interestingly, feces contamination of vegetables & grains is one way that vegetarians CAN get B-12 in a “natural” non-supplemented form. We worked with a large Seventh Day Adventist family. All good folks but none of them were getting the results of our other clients. I suggested they try paleo for 30 days, we what happens. One section of them did, got phenomenal results…and are still eating paleo. 30 days, that’s all it takes.

      • Shane says

        @robb “Uhhh…you cannot GET b12 without animal products. this is one of the REALLY tough hurdles that vegetarians have to deal with. ”

        I would be careful about saying definitive statements that can be proven by a single example. Don matesz has a blog post on vitamin b12 where he gives examples of studies that show adequate amounts of b12 in barley, spinach and mushrooms. However, he is NOT saying we can reliably get enough of it from these sources. B12 doesn’t come from animals, it comes from bacteria. The reason why we can’t adequately get it from vegetables these days is because we live in a sanitized world where Bacteria is removed from our food supply.

        I don’t see how this is a “REALLY tough hurdle” for vegetarians. I take two b12 pills per week. It costs me about $9 to get 6 months worth. Vitamin b12 pills are not synthesized. B12 pills are made from bacteria, grown in a lab. So in my view, I am getting it from its original source, bacteria.

        Furthermore, the US government recommends that everyone over 50 (including meat eaters) should take b12 supplements, or eat b12 fortified food, since older people seem to have trouble absorbing it from their food.

        I would like to hear your views on this. I think it’s great you have a blog where people can talk and reflect about their food choices.

        • joanna says

          i agree with you, shane. i was a vegan for 5 years and my b-12 levels were awesome. even with my ulcerative colitis, i never had low levels of b-12. i always eat organic and was gluten-free as well- grain free for 2 years of it. i definitely think that whole b-12 thing with vegetarians is a myth.

  5. Mike P. says

    Amazing story Mariah!! Regardless of where everyone is on their own journey, you can’t help but be inspired by success stories!! I wish you the best of luck on all of your goals!!

    Robb – Keep posting success stories!! Mark Sisson does it every Friday and it is, by far, my favorite post to read each week. It continually amazes me the positive impacts this lifestyle has for everyone, no matter their age, weight, emotional issues, family issues…whatever.

  6. Jordano says

    Wow, This piece was really compelling to me as another young athlete who experienced the kind of complete burnout you described. I was beginning to think that I was an unfortunate medical exception! I have been an elite international level road cyclist for several years but lost most of my last season to chronic fatigue, underactive/disregulated thryoid and digestive issues. Although I was interested and partially engaged in eating paleo (I ate no gluten or legumes but a good chunk of other grains and dairy) I suffered badly from irritable bowel and malabsorbtion. This compounded with intense endurance training lead to huge energy deficits and a corresponding load of cortisol. Over the course of 3 months I went from peak condition to waking up in a cold sweat 4 times a night to stuff my face with food and not even being able to walk around the block with out feeling dizzy. I was depressed, anemic, had muscle wasting, psoriasis, severe tingling in on my left side and like Mariah I could eat until I was nauseous and never feel satiated.

    In June I saw a naturopathic doctor who immediately recommended a full paleo diet and adrenal/thyroid support. Within a week I felt flashes of normalcy and the ability to exert myself. Astoundingly, my 5 year struggle with digestive issues finally seemed to be won. Within a month I could train lightly again and despite a complete loss of my aerobic base I felt stronger than ever. In August I won the Ontario Provincial championships and place in the Top 10 in one of the biggest Pro/Am events in North America. I think I have Paleo to thank for starting this dramatic turnaround.

    I’m one of the few competitive cyclists I know to eat anything resembling a paleo diet but I believe that will change. I would have never raced again if I was a typical pasta eating vegan endurance athlete!

  7. says

    You are an amazing person Mariah. No matter how old I am, I can still learn alot more about myself through your experiences. Especially your tenacity to overcome obstacles at a young age. I love you my young sister and I applaud you.

  8. Michelle says

    Mariah – awesome story, good on you for clawing your way out of that hole!! Also love that you even have a new direction in life and are looking to help girls in similar situations through your own learning. Interestingly I spent the last 7 years preaching vegetarianism to anyone who would listen, I was eating low fat soy and heaps of grains (minus wheat which didn’t agree with me). My TSH levels kept slowly going up…my energy was so-so, i was moving from being a high paced competitive squash player into an endurance triathlete, managing to get by. Then i ran into fertility problems… I had a feeling that perhaps I was low in protein so started Paleo eating and LOVED eating meat again. Oh boy did it taste good. My energy levels improved. I then went and saw a NP and discussed the fertility and Paleo diet, she totally agreed with me and further went on to talk about the body 1. needing good fats to make cholesterol then hormones (which I had deprived myself of for 7 years)…and 2. how the body would preferentially make cortisol over progesterone (I think, sorry, could be estrogen)…anyways I had a thyroid test done (TSH, T3 and T4) and I was down a full point for TSH!! The only explanation was the diet as I was still doing the same – if not more at times when on hiking missions- exercise (oh, and I was getting personal best times whenever I did “put it all on the line”). I was so excited. Not only that but the same month i had a complete hormone profile done and my hormones (aka the fertility ones) are coming back in range too…I have a friend with lupus who I talked to about Paleo and she gradually switched and is off medication now and 15lbs lighter and feeling/looking so much healthier. Truly unbelievable; anyway I did digress waaaay off track but want to thank you – and all the others for their testimonials on here – you are all inspiring! and thank Robb Wolf for promoting Paleo and providing this platform.

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