It’s Tuesday and that means a Health Story from a Ditch The Wheat reader. A reader shares their story in hopes that it will inspire you! Today Rosemary is sharing how she lost 40 pounds and beat her sugar cravings. If you have a health story and would like to share it with the Ditch The Wheat community please contact me at ditchthewheat @ gmail.com. Thank you for reading!
I was never overweight as a child, but I always had some digestive issues. I often had stomachaches and needed to use the bathroom urgently. I remember going to my parents’ bedroom at night as a child, crying that my tummy hurt. As a teenager I went to the doctor and they diagnosed me with IBS.
After finishing high school, my diet began to catch up with me and I started putting on weight. I never put much thought into what I was eating or eating ‘healthy’; I just ate whatever I liked and whatever was convenient. I ate a lot of cereal, toast, pasta — and I was a sucker for sweets.
I moved to New Zealand when I was 20 years old. As a university student, I continued to eat whatever was cheap and convenient and continued to gain weight. During a physical examination, the doctor told me that at 5’4 (162 cm) and 150 lb (68 kg), I was ‘slightly overweight.’ I was completely surprised. I knew I had gained a few pounds while I was there, but I never considered myself overweight.
It wasn’t until a trip back home to the USA when it really hit me. I saw old pictures from high school and saw how small I had been. I couldn’t be in denial any longer after seeing those photos, because I was definitely not that small anymore.
I decided right then and there that I wanted to lose some weight. So, I did it the only way I knew how: cutting calories. I signed up to a calorie-tracking website and religiously kept track of everything I ate. I limited myself to 1200 calories a day. I ate only things that wouldn’t chew through my calorie limit. I ate a lot of breads and nonfat products, and I did running and cardio exercise classes. Doing this, I managed to lose about 20 pounds in just a few months. But, I was miserable. I was constantly hungry. I had awful mood swings and would become horribly crabby when I hadn’t eaten in a while. On top of all this, my digestive issues seemed to get even worse. I often needed to go to the bathroom urgently, which was hugely inconvenient. I had a permanently bloated stomach, occasional panic attacks, and skin problems like rosacea and acne.
One day, on one of the forums on the calorie-tracking website, I read about a girl who ate in a way called ‘paleo’. I was naturally curious so I dug a little deeper. I stumbled upon the site Mark’s Daily Apple and it was like a light bulb switched on inside my head. Everything I read made perfect sense to me. I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t heard of something like this earlier. I never made the connection that what I could eat me sick — or make me better.
I had no idea how I was going to do it, but I decided to make the switch to paleo. I went back to New Zealand and began to apply my newfound knowledge. Like magic, my head cleared up, I felt way better, I had more energy, and I felt happier in general. I continued to lose some more weight and was feeling great.
However, for months and months, I would yo-yo up and down between 120 and 130 pounds. I was so frustrated that I couldn’t seem to lose the rest of the weight that I wanted to lose. My problem was sugar. I was still in denial again — but this time of the fact that I was addicted to sugar! I thought that because I was eating ‘healthy’ sugars like dark chocolate, fruit, and honey that it was fine. But I was still showing signs of my blood sugar being out of whack: I would eat and get hungry just a few hours later, I was always dying for something sweet around 3 PM and after dinner, and I was fatigued, shaky and moody if I hadn’t eaten in a while.
I ended up leaving New Zealand and moving to Ukraine for a year so I could do some travel around Europe. I had a second epiphany while I was on vacation. A sugar hangover from the day before had left me feeling miserable and frankly, quite depressed. I thought to myself, What’s the point of spending all this money on travel if I am just going to be in a self-induced sugar hangover haze the whole time? I came across the ebook I Quit Sugar (book here) and read it in one day. It took me no convincing at all that this was the program for me. I realized that I was addicted to sugar, and it was controlling my life. I knew that I needed to deal with this before I would get beyond my weight loss plateau.
I had a couple bad days of ‘carb flu’ from the sugar withdrawals, but sure enough, my head cleared up once again, my clothes started to fit better, I had more energy, and I was feeling amazing. I continued my travels at my lowest weight. I hadn’t experienced confidence like that in years, or maybe ever.
When I came back to Ukraine, I decided to eat some fruit again, and I decided I would limit myself to one piece a day, ‘in moderation.’ Before I knew it, I was eating fruit constantly throughout the day and I gained back all of the weight I had lost in Europe and my stomach was bloated again. This confirmed two things: one, that it was the sugar that was causing my weight loss plateau, and two, that willpower enough is not enough to overcome the addiction to sugar. I know that some people can eat fruit, ‘paleo treats’ or dark chocolate just fine, but for me, it brings the Sugar Monster back to life and I only want more. I know now that sugar is a drug and it is addictive! I have ‘relapsed’ many times, but I feel much better knowing that now I know how to fix it. A 21 Day Sugar Detox (book here) puts me right on track and makes me feel like a million bucks again.
Throughout the past few months, I’ve been reading books and listening to tons of podcasts and have made some more tweaks to my diet and lifestyle. My mindset has changed from being just about weight loss to seeking out real, nutrient dense food. I take fermented cod liver oil now (you can find it here), try to get bone broth and liver in my diet as much as possible, and I eat so much butter it’s ridiculous. I’ve switched out my beauty products for extra virgin coconut oil, baking soda and apple cider vinegar. I’ve also begun to incorporate some other aspects of the ancestral health lifestyle, like making time for play, getting enough sleep, reducing stress through meditation, and getting sunshine.
I don’t always do all of these things well. I have had sugar ‘relapses’ and there are times where some of these aspects of health really go on the back burner. But I know that when I am careful to do these things and when my health is my priority, I feel like I’m on top of the world.
Overall, here are the changes I’ve noticed since I’ve made the switch to real food:
- Better sleep
- More stable emotions
- More stable appetite
- Easier periods
- Better skin (my rosacea and acne have cleared up, and only come back when I cheat)
- Reduced bloating
- Weight loss: I’ve lost a total of 38 pounds (17 kg).
- Change in taste (specifically, being able to taste natural sweetness in things like carrots, beets and broccoli)
For anyone who is thinking about starting a paleo diet, I know it can be hugely intimidating at first, especially with wondering what you’re going to eat. My best advice is to take baby steps and to educate yourself. Make changes at a pace that feels comfortable for you. It has taken me about two years to get to where I am now. It was a series of small changes that added up to BIG change in my life.
Today, I love to have coffee with coconut oil and butter in the morning with a couple fried eggs. I don’t always eat ‘breakfast food’; I just eat real food. Sometimes I will have chicken and vegetables for my first meal of the day. I love simple things like soups and meat patties for lunches and dinners. I do some raw dairy, as my body seems to tolerate it. If I do have sugar, it’s a little bit of dark chocolate, but I still have to be careful with that. It’s a slippery slope for me!
I am happy to have lost the weight and that I am feeling better, but what really gets me excited is when my story helps inspire someone else. If there is one thing I want people to take away from my story, it’s that finding health through real food is possible.
Here are some of the resources that were hugely helpful to me through my journey:
I wish all of you the very best, no matter where you are on your journey to health!
You can follow Rosemary’s adventures over at her blog, A Teaspoon of Rosemary.