If I’m Gonna Tell It, Then I Gotta Tell It All

Hi! I know, I know – you’ve missed me. There’s been quite a bit going on behind the scenes here at choosingtoeat. Living, loving, laughing – all of that. But I think I owe you another update, and a bit of an explanation. I’ve got some confessions to make.

Pull up a chair, folks – it’s about to get real here.

As most of you would recall, I’m smack bang in the middle of writing a series of posts about nutritional ketosis (you can flick back through my recent posts for more details if need be). Essentially, nutritional ketosis is a metabolic state induced by a diet very low in carbohydrate, and very high in fat – your body stops relying on sugar as a primary fuel source, and your body burns fatty acids and ketones for energy instead. It’s a pretty restrictive diet, by any standard. I accidentally kinda experienced this during my sugar-elimination program (which I started after the chocolate explosion that was Easter Sunday). And, as you may also recall, my experience wasn’t all that great – which is precisely why I wanted to do the blog series on the topic, to investigate and learn more, and maybe help others avoid the same mistakes.

The series has been HAWT!! I mean it. It’s been shared on Reddit, on Pinterest, on Twitter, on Facebook. Even Jimmy Moore got in on the action – he read it, shared it, congratulated me. I got a tonne of new followers. My Mum called and told me I did a good job. It generated more traffic than anything else I’ve posted here. That is, of course, phenomenal and fantastic and I can’t overstate my gratitude.

However, I began to suspect something wasn’t quite right.

See, all of these lovely, lovely people who were reading and sharing their stories with me and giving me such wonderful feedback – they seemed to be under the impression that this was something I wanted. That ketosis was something I was actively seeking out, trying to accomplish, achieving great things with. I did try to clarify a couple of times – that it was merely something I was interested in, and something I wanted to learn more about – but I’m not sure that message really came across. I mean, if I was going to all the trouble of explaining it and describing it in such great detail, I must believe in it, right? I must advocate it in some fashion.

Really, that’s not the case at all. And this is where I’m worried that choosingtoeat is getting a bit off-track.

When I started this blog, I was determined that I wasn’t going to advocate any particular diet or methodology. I am not a “guru”. I do not write books, I haven’t studied nutrition, I have no magic bullet. I wanted this to be a safe space where I could explore aspects of nutrition that interested me, and share what I learned with all of you. There was to be no judgement here. If you ate vegan, if you followed Atkins, if you only ate blue foods on days beginning with W – whatever it is you’re into, you’re welcome here, and I’m open to it all.

Then – and you all came with me on this journey – Paleo happened. I heard about it, I learned about it, I “ummed” and “ahhed” about it for a ridiculous period of time. Gradually, I dipped my toes in that pool, and I started sharing more and more of my experiences on here. I talked about why grains were evil, why carbohydrate intake should be low, whether or not we should avoid dairy… then, I went even further down the rabbit hole, and described – in painstaking daily detail – my Whole45. And you – lovely, dear, wonderful, I-couldn’t-ask-for-better readers – came with me then, too. Most of you are on-board with this Paleo schtick, some of you think it’s whackadoodle, but you all supported me nonetheless. And I am endlessly appreciative.

But (and this came to a head when I started developing my Paleo orthorexia post) I started to worry that I had drunk just a little too much of the Kool-Aid. I had lost sight of the original philosophies of this blog. I had started demonising foods; I didn’t want to admit it, of course, but wheat was “evil”, legumes were “dangerous”, dairy and nuts were “slippery little devils”. I used this language when I thought about food, wrote about food, spoke to others about food.

This stretches beyond me as a blogger. I started to think about myself as a person. As an individual who eats food.

Looking back at who and where I was when I started this blog, I see that I was a person who had lost a lot of weight in a conventionally “healthy” way (i.e., restricted diet and exercise), but I was also a person who had developed a very unhealthy relationship with her body, and with food. I measured every morsel of food that went in to my mouth. I counted calories the way other people count dollars. I was euphoric when I restricted my intake below my self-determined “maximum”, I was devastated and filled with self-loathing when I exceeded it. I would go on “benders”, and then spend months “making up for them”.

When I transitioned to Paleo, I thought I had healed myself. I stopped counting calories. I stopped weighing and measuring. As long as I was eating the “right” foods, that didn’t matter! I was free!

But, my list of “right” foods became shorter and shorter. Quinoa was off the list. Then potatoes. Then I started thinking maybe sweet potatoes should go, too – after all, they’re only for “athletes”. Nuts went on the “occasional” list, then the “never” list. I cut back on my fruit. And so on, and so forth…

These thoughts swirled around in the back of my mind for a long time, but they really crystallised for me during my sugar-free program. When I found myself barely able to stumble home, after a run I would have absolutely powered through a few months ago (in fact, I could have doubled it, easily). When I realised I was back to weighing myself everyday, and wondering whether a tomato had too many carbohydrates. When I was tracking my macronutrient ratios in exactly the same way I had once counted calories, and basing my opinion on myself on what that little pie chart looked like. Something wasn’t right.

I like to think that, where previous generations may have received “signs from God”, Gen Y now gets “signs from the Internet”. I fortuitously stumbled across a magnificent blog by a truly inspiring lady: http://gokaleo.com/
I won’t reproduce her entire blog here, but I strongly, strongly encourage you to check out her stuff, especially if what I’m saying here is ringing true for you.

Essentially, what I realised was this: I was eating a nutritionally healthy diet, in the most unhealthy way possible. I found a way of eating that I enjoyed, and somehow made it unenjoyable. I take everything to extremes – I always have, and it’s the most pronounced in what I choose to eat. I was either Whole30-compliant, or post-break-up-Bridget Jones – “moderation” was not something I was capable of.

More than anything, I was manufacturing my own misery, paralysing myself with analysis, and ultimately doing all aspects of my health – physical and mental – a great disservice.

I don’t want to pretend like my life completely sucks, or that I was wallowing in the depths of depression, but I don’t think I ever revealed on this blog how truly unhealthy my relationship with food is. I saw it as an arbiter of myself worth, a weapon, a comfort, a symbol, a friend, an enemy – it was never simply a source of fuel. I have spent years now oscillating between restriction and overindulgence. I’ve tried to achieve “balance”, and even convinced myself that I had done so a few times (maybe I even convinced a few of you). I’m only now recognising the damage I’ve actually done to my body and my mental health. And it’s something I can’t ignore, or set aside.

So, here it is. The bare bones truth of “where I’m at”. I think that Paleo is the most nutritionally healthy paradigm for me, but – right now – I’m not sure it’s the most healthy for me psychologically. I have a lot of work to do. And it starts with a concept called ETF – “Eating The Food”. (See Amber’s blog that I linked to above for more details. There’s also a Facebook group you can join, if you search for it – I’m a member.)

I wouldn’t want to speak for everyone that espouses an ETF philosophy, but to me it means this: freeing oneself of dietary restriction and dogma, eating intuitively and rejecting externally-imposed “rules”. It means eating enough to fuel activity (you’d be surprised how many of us under eat), to repair the body, to build the body, to support health (in all of its forms). It means eating in a way that feels right to you, and – if you want to take this step – encouraging others to eat in a way that feels right to them.

This means – get ready for it – I’ve been cheating on Paleo. Yes, I confess, I’m nutritionally adulterous. Over the course of the last week or so – which happened to include my birthday – I had sugar, I had legumes (peanut butter!), I had commercially-prepared food, I had alcohol, I had… gluten! No shit.

My birthday breakfast - eggs benedict, on TOAST!

My birthday breakfast.

A birthday mojito

A birthday mojito (the sun was still in the sky, even)

 

A birthday milkshake

A sugar-laden chocolate milkshake (and note the super-special birthday princess badge!)

Crusty Bread and Organic Butter

Some crusty bread and organic butter, alongside our dinner.

 

Birthday Cake

A gluten-filled carrot cake… with birthday sparklers!

And I learned so much, from all of this.

I learned that the world won’t explode if I eat exactly what I feel like, no matter how sugary or how calorically-dense it is.

I learned that my stomach won’t revolt at a whiff of peanut butter. Indeed, it won’t revolt at all, even after half a jar.

I learned that, somewhere along the way, I found my limits with alcohol and figured out how to respect them. My days of tying-one-on are long gone, but I can enjoy a drink or two and make it home standing upright.

I learned that I can eat a banana before a workout, and it seems to actually help!

I learned that I can eat half a packet of chocolate-coated almonds – I don’t feel the compulsive need to demolish them all. But, even if I do feel that compulsive need, and I do demolish them all, that’s okay. My parents and my partner and my friends will love me anyway.

I learned that, no matter how gung-ho I get about Eating The Food, old habits and insecurities and fears and demons will come back to haunt me.

I learned that, no matter how gung-ho I get about Eating The Food, I cannot Eat The Gluten. That shit nearly killed me. Crusty bread is good, but so not worth it.

I have been ecstatic, and terrified, and nervous, and determined, and miserable, and crazed, and full. I have been energetic, dancing around the house like a maniac, working out as much as I can. I’ve been waking up ridiculously early for no apparent reason – my body just doesn’t seem to need the sleep. After the Gluten Incident, I felt bloated and sore and achy and sick and disgusting. I’m sure I’ve put on a couple of kilos, in a super-short space of time, but I have no hard evidence because I refuse to weigh myself. I refuse. I am not counting calories, carbs, fat, protein, or any other component of food. I am enjoying myself. I bought a chocolate bar because I felt like it, and had half a dozen squares with lunch, even though it contained soy lechitin. It sounds ridiculous written here, but that is a big deal in my brain.

So, I guess you could say my mindset has changed quite a lot, in quite a short space of time. And I’ve got a lot of shit to work through. I don’t think I was “wrong” about Paleo – I just need to start applying it differently in my life. I need to eat a freakin’ sweet potato.

I couldn’t keep writing this blog as normal, pretending that none of this was happening. It’s happening. And I’m determined to bring some of those positive changes to the choosingtoeat table.

To be honest, I think I’ll shelve the ketosis series for now – maybe I’ll finish it one day, but right now my mind is on other things. I’m very sorry if you subscribed to this blog, under the impression that I would be sharing a miraculous keto journey with you. I do hope you stick around anyway. If not, I understand :) But ketosis is not right for me, not right now.

Actually, how’s this – I’ll finish with a clear description of my current eating philosophy. Just so we’re all on the same page.

My name is Sheree, and I am reforming my relationship with food. I eat when I am hungry, and I don’t track how much. I eat mostly foods that fit into a Paleo nutritional paradigm, because these are the foods I enjoy and they fuel my body the best. However, I refuse to demonise foods outside of this paradigm, and I will eat those foods when the urge strikes. Gluten is off the table for me, but that’s cool. I eat sugar, I eat dairy, I eat nuts, I eat fruit, I eat lots of vegetables, I eat chocolate, I eat meat, and I am not afraid to try new things. I do not eat this way in the hopes of attaining a certain body size, weight or composition, and I do not weigh myself. I work out in ways that I enjoy, as often as I feel my body can handle, and I fuel this activity as best I can with food. I eat as ethically as I can, where I can afford to, and this is very important to me – I will avoid products that contain palm oil, for instance, on a purely ethical basis. I am determined to develop a healthy relationship with food, no matter how many magazines or advertisers want the opposite, no matter how many setbacks crop up, no matter how many diet gurus tell me I’m wrong and destined to die fat and alone. I’m cool with whatever you want to eat, vegetable or animal or mineral – my own choices are no judgement upon yours. On my blog, I hope only to describe what I know, what I learn, what I think about, and what I explore; I will not tell you how to eat, how to move, or how to live. And that’s where I’m at.

34 thoughts on “If I’m Gonna Tell It, Then I Gotta Tell It All

  1. Omg Sheree, I’m so excited for you! I knew you would get there eventually. I spent years on the rollercoater (though not as extreme) before I finally got to the point of realising I was just making myself miserable and taking my focus away from more important things. I’m now on a path of mindful eating and purposeful goal driven exercising. I’m happy, it suits me, my family and my lifestyle. Much love on your new path.

    • Aw, thanks Rachel!! I guess it’s one of those things that no one can TELL you, you’ve kinda got to work it out for yourself. I definitely feel like I’m on the right track, though – not that what I was eating was “wrong” beforehand, but the mindset I had about it was totally effed up. This past week has been a big shift for me, and it feels really good. And I am SO FREAKING GRATEFUL for your support right now – I was pretty convinced I was going to cop an earful about how I’d “gone soft” or something as soon as I posted this :) You rock!!

  2. LOVE this! I found this blog thru GoKaleo. This line especially spoke to me: “I learned that, no matter how gung-ho I get about Eating The Food, old habits and insecurities and fears and demons will come back to haunt me.” I so needed to hear someone else say that! Thank you for your fearless honesty.

    • That’s awesome, thank you so much :) It’s definitely true for me – early days in my ETF journey, and I suspect it’ll be a long, long time before I beat those demons dead. We can do it, though! :D

  3. Hi Sheree! I just stumbled on this blog post through reddit. You are an absolutely amazing writer! I cannot wait to start going through your past posts. You better believe I’ll be adding your blog to my favorites!

    I have been eating mostly paleo for almost a year now and I wanted to ask you more about the sleep issue you touched on. I have always been one to enjoy a lot of sleep, usually at least 8-9 hours a night. I typically go to bed around 10-10:30pm. For the past few months I’ve been waking up around 3am and just laying there for a few hours before falling back asleep, usually right before I have to get up anyways. I never even thought about the correlation between the two but now you’ve got me thinking…

    Congratulations on your newfound clarity and obvious happiness! I wish you and your food the best of luck in your budding relationship :)

    -Cortney

    • Courtney, about 1 year into my no sugar, then no grain, then low carb/paleo journey I developed serious anxiety and insomnia (after 12 weeks I’m still trying to recover and I’m not the only one). If you are eating very low carb/low calorie then that can definitely cause sleep issues (I wish I had known that).

      These girls tell a tale of how cutting most forms of glucose from your diet is detrimental to health. Check it out. The insomnia only gets worse if you don’t change. I would bolt awake with a racing heart at 3 am. So full of anxiety I could barely fall asleep or stay asleep.

      “It is only through lowering the stress hormones, optimizing metabolism and reteaching the liver to store sugar that restful sleep may be restored.”

      http://www.ididntquitsugar.com/our-stories.html

      • I have heard of the “I Didn’t Quit Sugar” book, but hadn’t really looked into it much (again, drinking the Kool-Aid, I kind of wrote it off) – will definitely look into it now!

        Thanks Trina! :)

      • Hi Trina – Thanks, I will take a look at this. I don’t know if this is the same situation for me. I don’t restrict my carb intake as much as some other may on paleo (lots of sweet potatoes for this runner!) and I have not cut out fruits from my diet. I’ve dealt with anxiety and insomnia in the past, back when I was in college, and I can tell that this is different than that. No racing heart or racing thoughts that are keeping me awake. I will take a look though and see if I can find any correlations. Thanks for the info!

        • Hi Cortney, just to clarify I didn’t start our bolting awake with a racing heart. I started out having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. Because I ignored that and several other symptoms I kept plugging along until I had a full blown anxiety attack in my car and then the bolting awake started. It was a progression. Yours may not be the same situation but I can’t help but warn others of what’s possible when you don’t listen to your body. No “guru” of paleo or low carb is going to be there to help you heal once it all goes terribly wrong :) Listen to your body and do a little research on the sleep.

    • Wow Cortney, that is SO sweet, thank you! :) I’m overwhelmed and flattered right now!

      To be honest, I’m not 100% sure what’s going on with sleep at the moment, but I’m experiencing something very similar to what you describe. I love to sleep, and managed to get it really well dialled in with Paleo (dark room, consistent hours, no sound/distraction, low temp, etc.). Then, when I started the sugar-free program, everything went a bit haywire – I never 100% figured out why, but I’m guessing it was the hormonal changes that took place in my body. I was having nightmares, and waking up in the night to use the bathroom (lack of carbs = fluid flushed out of my body pretty rapidly). Now, eating more, more often and more variety, I’m falling asleep really well but waking up around 3am, just as you are. I want to look into this further in a future post, BUT I suspect (and The Dude I Live With agrees) that my body simply doesn’t need as much sleep, because it’s getting the fuel it needs. I’m experimenting with later and later bed-times, which seems to be helping.

      Have you made any changes within your Paleo paradigm, or even in your work-outs or any other aspect of your life? That might provide a key – it’s amazing how central sleep is to our lives, and how complex its relationships are with everything else we do… and yet, we often short-change ourselves and pay so little attention! :) Since you’re interested, I’m going to put this on my list of topics to investigate for future posts, with a BIG asterisk next to it :D I’ll get down to it and see what I can figure out…

      Thank you again for your kind words! VERY much appreciated! Looking forward to having you around :)

      • Thanks for the info, Sheree. Part of me thinks that my body may not need as much sleep anymore as well, since I’m not tired or fatigued during the days after these “sleepless” nights and I haven’t noticed any drop in my energy levels during my workouts. I don’t limit my carbs as much as some others on paleo may. I run a lot so I find that keeping things like sweet potatoes and fruits in my diet works best for me.

        I’m looking forward to reading what you find out!

      • I urge you to be careful with the sleep. Sleep became elusive for me to until it degraded to the “bolting awake” with a racing heart and TONS of anxiety. When I say tons, my mom and husband had to take turns being here for 5 weeks as I could not function enough to care for my two boys. The I Didn’t Quit Sugar book explains about having to pee and why you wake up between 1 and 4. “Urination and sweating each involve water excretion. This is a hallmark sign of low blood
        sugar – the body ‘dumps’ excess water in order to increase glucose concentrations.” “When there is no stored sugar in the liver and metabolism is low, elevated stress hormones (particularly adrenaline) will instead provoke a variety of nighttime symptoms …”

        When everything had gotten so bad I reached out to Paul Jaminet who told me almost everyone does better with some carbs in their diet. I added back “safe starch” and some fruit and have been making very slow progress back.

        Lately I’ve been paying attention to Amber at Go Kaleo and Matt Stone. I’ve upped calories greatly in the last few days and already notice greater improvement in sleep.

        I don’t for one second believe it’s normal to wake up at 3 because we’ve “had enough” sleep. I also think that whatever physiological changes occured to create these problems will not remedy themselves over night. Paul tells me healing takes time and so did Cassie & Kate (I Didn’t Quit Sugar). ” In people coming off VLC diets, there is usually some degree of impaired sugar metabolism (brought on by high stress and excessive fatty acids in the bloodstream). It’s important to ‘reteach’ the cells to take up and properly metabolize glucose so as to reduce stress and start repairing the metabolism.” They said this can take months to years.

        • I’m definitely noticing that changes in my sleep seem to coincide with changes in carbohydrate intake – when I took it down really low, sleep went haywire, then when I jacked it back up again, it went haywire in a different direction. I think my workouts – which have been changing – might be a compounding factor here, as well as the change in season… I’ll definitely be looking into it more, and thank you SO MUCH for your insight Trina, it’s given me a really good foundation to work from :) Much appreciated!!

          • You are welcome. I just really want others to know that this ill health does happen regardless what the low carb gurus will tell you. I don’t wish for anyone to go through this. The best advice is to listen to your body – it knows :)

      • I know this is an old post but I am on a ketogenic plan and have been told magnesium supplements are good for sleeping issues. It may help? Good luck!

  4. Hey, I just wanted to say that I relate and understand where you’re coming from. I went hardcore Paleo too, and have learned much from it.. but after 4-5 months, I slowly waned away from it. I found it too restrictive and sometimes depressing. I too want to have a good relationship with food. I still limit carbs and sugar greatly, but I won’t make it the end of the world if I “slip up.” I refuse to feel guilty!

    Also, if you increase your workouts, you can also increase your calories and thereby be less hardcore about the Paleo diet. That’s helped me, also :)

    • Hey Natalie – good to hear you’re making such good progress!! I’m right there with you on “refusing to feel guilty”, spot on! :)

      Workouts have definitely increased the past couple of weeks, for a couple of reasons (new gym membership in my new area, getting into strength training, trying new classes, etc.) – and having the fuel to make it through them is freakin’ awesome! No more bonks for this lady :)

      Keep in touch Natalie, let me know how you get on with reforming from hardcore-Paleo! We’re in it together :)

  5. Funny thing is is that the end result is what paleo should be in the first place. I’ve always had a firm belief that paleo is not something you can “cheat” at. The whole point of it is that you are trying to improve lifestyle and that means enjoying the occasional indulgence guilt free… Granted stuff like gluten you often get worse than guilt when you consume but you get the picture. Either way I’m proud of you for figuring things out. It sounds like this was an eating disorder that you are working through and are currently on the way out of. I am a first time reader of your blog and this is the first article- I will be bookmarking and visiting often.

    I’ve also gotta comment on how absolutely beautiful you are- I hope you know that you are beautiful.

    • Awwww! Wow, thank you Peter! I swear, I’m blushing right now :)

      You’re absolutely right – in my mind, I kind of bastardised Paleo. Ultimately, it should be exactly what the rhetoric says: a template for healthful eating, nothing more, nothing less. I definitely took it to an obsessive, dogmatic, fastidious extreme, so that’s something I need to step back from. I’m really glad you’ve enjoyed hearing about it, I’ll be sure to keep ‘em coming for you :) Thanks again!!

      • I look forward to your future posts! Fall in love with food again and keep that gorgeous smile of yours shining :)

  6. Sheree, you have no idea how much this post resonates with me. After a year of low carb paleo I’ve been left full of anxiety and insomnia. Working very hard to recover health. Best wishes on your journey :)

    • I’m so glad, Trina!!! It’s SO awesome to hear that others are walking the same path!! Best of wishes to you too, of course – be sure to keep in touch and let me know how you’re getting on :)

  7. We seem to have come to similar conclusions at similar times. I was intentionally ketogenic until I started to experience kidney pain and read about some poor bugger that ended up on dialysis. The best advice I’ve ever had regarding food was the subtitle of a book I bought: Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.

    Cheers!

    • Aaaah, Michael Pollan – excellent advice! :) I’m glad you’ve pulled yourself out of a bad place Mark – ketosis can be great, as I said in the post, but it isn’t right for me right now, just like it wasn’t right for you, and I think it’s incredibly unhealthy to try and force something like that for the wrong reasons.
      You rock! :)

  8. I can undestand you feelings: I’ve been having one eating disorder after another for more than a year. it may seem not to long, but on the one hand the physical quality of my life has improved. but my psychological state is close to insanity :D
    As you do, I’m seeking for a balance between mind and body.
    I wish you good luck, I hope finally you’ll get the happy medium and will never return to restrictions again!

    • Wow, I’m so sorry to hear you’ve had such a rough time of it Elena!! I really hope you manage to fight these demons off – I’ve got my fingers crossed for the both of us! :) Much love.

  9. I love that you are so honest and real in this blog. It must have been incredibly difficult to admit that you felt you might have an unhealthy relationship with food. You mentioned that you found yourself becoming either very strict with your diet or very overindulgent, and I think that simply by acknowledging this you have begun to find your balance. I know that for me personally I have felt the same, I can’t have ‘just one chocolate’, I have to eat the whole bag. Balance is something that I believe comes with time and practice, but I do love your new philosophy on eating when and what you want. It sounds like you are at a turning point in your life and I’m incredibly excited to follow your journey during this time.

    • Wow, thank you so much!! It’s true, I’m trying to acknowledge my difficulties and work through them – definitely two steps forward, one step back. Glad to have you along for the ride :) Much love!

  10. I just wanted to say how much I absolutely love this post. I came across it while searching for others who have wound up in an orthorexic mindset after paleo… I just found ETF two weeks ago and my life has completely changed. I spent the past 2 years of paleo (and previous 10+ years of binge/restrict dieting) over-analyzing, scrutinizing and panicking over my food choices, to the point of berating myself for trying to enjoy a quinoa salad (which I used to love!). I found GoKaleo like you, and realize how absolutely EFFED UP that mindset is. And while I love paleo for the way it’s brought real, whole, nutritious foods into my life, I cannot keep living with the panic attacks and constantly feeling like a failure when I “go off plan.” I’m a health coach, and this has been a really tough realization for me that paleo isn’t a “cure all.” I definitely feel like a bit of a fraud as I try to work through this, but I’m hoping that my own journey will end up helping others somehow! Thank you for sharing your story and your honesty. This is really beautiful, and I congratulate you working towards making peace with food. <3 Shine on! – Emily

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