Written by: Sarah Tobias
It has been a year since I started the Paleo diet. I’m amazed by all the wonderful changes that have taken place. The first two weeks were the hardest. I went through some withdrawal symptoms. My regular headaches got pretty extreme, and felt like I was coming down with the flu. I had made a commitment to give it 30 days and I stuck with it, saying that I could give it all up if I didn’t start to feel better.
I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia about 5 years ago after trying to figure out what was wrong with me for about five years. I remember the first pain so clearly. My thighs would feel like they were burning. Squatting was no longer possible for more than a few seconds. That can make for some awkward moments when you are doing photography of plants on the ground, or picking things up off the floor. When I took the dogs for a ½ mile or less walk, I would be exhausted. I remember making a promise to my Border Collie puppy that I would never give up taking her out. She got bigger, but the walks didn’t get longer.
I gained weight; 60 pounds at the worst of it. I was just turning 40 and I felt like I was 70. Being a librarian, I did research, and then I tried everything. I had my fillings replaced to get the lead out of my body, and I tried so many types of supplements that did nothing but make companies richer. I was addicted to Advil to help me get through a day, and relieve the pain to a point where I was just getting by. I was exhausted all the time, and my body hurt to be touched. My husband would put his hand on my hip, and I would cry out in pain.
I switched to a gluten free diet and I lost 20 pounds. I created a bread recipe with more ingredients than should be in any recipe, but it tasted better than the gluten free stuff on the market. I slacked off my diet and regained 10 pounds. I was stuck in the old loop. I hurt and I didn’t know what to do. I was seeing a chiropractor and she recommended that I look into the Paleo Diet. I downloaded the Paleo Solution and started reading. “Give it 30 days and if it doesn’t work then go back to eating the way you were eating.” I can do it, I thought. Thirty days. I read the whole book, I came up with a personal plan, I let myself off the hook with exercise after reading the chapter on exercise.
After a four day vacation where I swam and tried to eat Paleo in a resort town, I knew I had to really focus and just go for it. My husband pushed me to take before pictures. They remain hidden on my computer. He measured me, and for the first time in a very long time, I was admitting to myself where I really was with my health. It was tough to see what my husband looked at every day. He loved me more than I was able to love myself. Pain had certainly lead to depression and food was my soother.
On February 26, 2012, I started this new way of eating for real. Within weeks, my mother was in the hospital, and we were traveling three hour round trip drives to be with her. I was preparing for a major construction project at my library, and my days were focused on all new and difficult tasks. I don’t know if all of these things helped me stick to these diet and exercise changes, but everything was totally different, so why not the way I treated my body. I rode my bicycle to work when the weather allowed, this gave me a chance to release some of the stress of the day.
By October, construction was complete, my mother’s health was stable and I had lost 39 pounds. The weather began to change and my body and mind needed a break. I have not given up on Paleo. I am committed, but I know that I need to make some more changes to re-energize the weight loss so I can get to my best possible weight. I know spring will arrive in the Midwest and the desire to hibernate will come to an end.
Where I am today: I have lost 39 pounds. Headaches that were almost a constant are rare to non-existent. A chronic cough that seems to have been caused by the food I ate, and exacerbated by exposure to allergens and chemicals, is mostly gone. The pain that racked my body is under control. I walk up the stairs at work (two flights, which always left me breathing hard and feeling like my lungs were on fire) as if it’s a walk down a hallway. When I started swimming, I had to be very careful as the chemicals would make me cough for two or three days. That no longer affects me. When I started swimming, I was able to make about 15 – 20 laps in about an hour, and would be exhausted. I just made a mile (36 laps) in 47 minutes, and continue to swim for the hour. I can then go home and go on with my day.
Hiking is easy and fun. The photo of me on the rock at Haleakala is on our way back up the trail. My husband said he thought I was trying to kill him and I suggested we take a break. I was so excited. I was hardly breathing hard and felt like I could have run the rest of the way up the trail. I wanted a picture of the new me on that trail. At the top, my husband jokingly said he dropped the car keys back down where we had stopped to turn back, I said I could go get them. We both knew that I could have. Two years ago on that same trail, I struggled. I struggled going down because of the pain in my thighs and I struggled to breathe coming back up. Now, my family calls me skinny. I feel good about myself. I feel strong and capable and I feel like the person that I was always meant to be. I am so thankful for all of these changes.
When people ask me how I can give up bread and dairy (legumes rarely come up), I say everyday it is a choice. I think back to the pain, the chronic cough, the headaches, and I ask myself if I want to eat a piece of bread or if I want to feel good and be pain free. Feeling good and being pain free is the choice I make. My taste buds have really changed over this year. On the rare occasions that I have some food that I used to just love and thought I couldn’t live without, all I can taste is the flour or high dose of sugar and I don’t want anymore.
Thank you, Robb, for writing your book, and your blog. My life is changed for the better. If I had one more wish come true, it would be that someone would hear or read my story and be inspired to change their life too. Since my husband hasn’t totally taken the plunge, I don’t hold out much hope of that happening. But if you had asked me 1 ½ years ago if I would give up bread, I would have said, “I can’t live without it.” Look at me, I am really living, and I don’t need bread or rice or oatmeal to make that happen.