Paleo & Me... a lifelong change for the better!

On July 31st it will be one year since my first ever Personal Training session with my trainer, Stuart Redfern, atGrimsby's Pure Gym. Sometimes it amazes me how long it's been, other times it feels like this all started only yesterday. Taking on a Personal Trainer was a big decision, and a big deal. You're making a commitment, not just to yourself, to take your exercise & nutrition seriously and to be dedicated to making the necessary changes to your life to become a fitter, healthier, person. But not once in the last 9 or 10 months have I regretted that decision.

I've blogged before about having Endometriosis, in addition to that I have an underactive thyroid - as a result of treatment for a massively overactive thyroid. Up until about 6 or 7 years ago I could eat absolutely anything and never put a pound on. Once my thyroid condition was diagnosed and I started treatment everything changed. I piled on the weight, eventually gaining 3 stone and going from a size 10 to a large size 14. I didn't really understand why I was getting fat, didn't even recognise that I was getting that much bigger - in part thanks to vanity sizing. After a 2 or 3 year battle with thyroid suppressing medication and beta blockers my GP finally decided that something more drastic would have to be done and I was referred for radio-iodine therapy. This was supposed to kill off the greedy thyroid cells and leave me with a healthy thyroid. Sadly the blood tests soon indicated that more of my thyroid had been effected than anticipated - perhaps it was all greedy? - and my thyroid had now become the reverse, massively underactive. Taking thyroxine on a daily basis helped my moods and energy levels but nothing touched the weight.

Me on August Bank Holiday 2009, at Clifton Suspension Bridge. This is the photo that changed my life
I went on a long weekend break over the August bank holiday in 2009 and was shocked when I literally burst the button off my linen trousers, and when I uploaded a photo of me standing on the Clifton Suspension Bridge to Facebook it was just a matter of days before I took it down and hid it away, suddenly seeing a fat woman who I didn't recognise as me. From that moment on I was on a quest to lose weight & get back to a small size 14, I didn't believe I could ever be any slimmer than that. What followed was nearly 3 years of logging my food consumption, being obsessed with counting calories and avoiding fats. My Fat Secret became my best friend and by tracking the food I ate I limited myself to 1500 calories a day. For the next year my weight went up and came back down to where I started. After that I lost about 10lbs but the weight kept crawling back up. I was bored, fed up, and feeling hungry most of the time. I found it hard to stick to my diet and was frustrated with the lack of progress. I was trying so hard to eat a high fibre diet as I'd always suffered with constipation, which seems to go hand in hand with Endometriosis.

By the time Pure Gym announced they were opening in Grimsby I was already looking for a gym to join. I was walking 4 days a week, but the weight I'd lost was once again starting to go back on, and I was still limited to 1500 calories a day. I didn't know what was wrong, but I knew that I was resigned to being fat and unhappy. It was just 'one of those things', I even found myself saying 'I can't help it, it's my thyroid'. Looking back that was a sure sign that I had accepted the situation and would never get myself out of the rut I was in without some proper help.

So I joined the gym, hoping that by going to some classes & doing some workouts I'd get myself back down to around 11 stone. 11 stone wasn't great, I'd been 9 1/2 stone most of my adult life, but it was better than 12 1/2 stone I'd been at my heaviest. I was also hoping to just be comfy in my clothes again, rather than fighting the feeling that I was going to have to start buying a size 16.

By the time the gym had opened I'd already had a good long chat with Stuart through Facebook and explained my health issues and what I wanted to achieve. His positivity convinced me that I was doing the right thing, and made me feel that I could lose some weight and feel happier about myself. If someone had told me then what I would achieve within the following 3-4 months I would've thought they were crazy and it was some marketing gimmick. So at the end of July it was time for my first Personal Training session, a free half hour consultation where we talked about my eating habits, and Stuart showed me some exercises to get me started and give me a feel for what training with him would be like. I enjoyed it. It was challenging, different from what I would have done if I'd just gone to the gym by myself as there was no cardio and everything we do is based on resistance and weight training, and most importantly he listened to my concerns about food and changing my diet and explained his nutritional recommendations in a way I could understand.

Like most of the population of the UK I was focused on the belief that we need to eat lots of starchy carbohydrates like poatatoes and cereals to survive. And like most of the UK population, even though I was dieting, I was eating lots and lots of pasta in the belief it was good for me and would make me feel full and so stop me snacking. I was eating muesli or toasted soya & linseed bread for breakfast every day in the belief that these foods, being low GI (yes, I'd done the GI diet) would help me feel full all morning and keep me going til lunch. The fact that I was starving hungry and craving more food by 10 or 11 just made me think I was greedy, and I tried really hard to ignore the cravings. Lunch would be a pasta salad or more soya and linseed bread in a sandwich, usually with a cereal bar and some 'healthy' snack like rice cakes or baked crisps. But I was starving mid afternoon again and would eat a huge evening meal - with jacket potato or pasta usually - and be hungry half the night. I'd even gone Flexitarian, eating a mainly vegetarian diet, in order to try and cut the calories back and increase my fibre intake. I'd switched to soya milk for the fibre. While I enjoyed the meals, there was something missing, and I got used to soya milk but I desperately missed my whole milk.

It turns out that the way I was eating was carb-loading. I was filling my body with fuel that it didn't need, and the way the body works is to store that particular type of fuel. And how does it store it? By turning it to sugar and storing it as fat - or adipose tissue. Yes, as a Whovian that made me laugh, the Adipose were genuinely named after human fat cells! So, as Stuart explained, eating carbs is like putting fuel in your car. What you don't use doesn't vanish, it gets stored for later use. If you still don't use it and add more you just increase the fuel store - in this case increasing the body's fatty tissue. So it was no wonder I was getting fatter despite eating less calories - my metabolism had been slowed by the thyroid condition and I was just adding fuel I didn't need. The solution was to adopt a low-carb diet, and that meant following a Paleo style diet. So I had to eat more protein - the thought of which scared me until Stuart told me that meant I could eat tuna and go back to eating cheese and other dairy - and cut out grains (wheat, oats, barley, rice etc) and starchy carbs like potatoes. Although I was convinced on the theory, I wasn't sure I could do it but agreed to try, and being me I threw myself into it fully.

By October I was down to just under 10 stone, and by the start of November I was back to 9 1/2 stone and leaner than I'd ever been. But by then I'd also learnt that weight and BMI don't give a true picture of your body's state. For that you need to have your body fat measured properly - and by that I mean by someone who knows what they are doing and uses calipers to measure different fatty sites on the body. When I started training my BMI and body fat were both that of an overweight person. I was shocked to learn that I was 28% body fat. Nearly a third of my body was just fat. By mid-December I had halved my body fat, although now that I had become lean and muscular my BMI was still borderline overweight, proof that BMI is basically cobblers! Once I started training I also learnt not to constantly weigh myself. Weighing in once a month is enough, particularly when you're building muscle as your weight will start to go up again despite being lean.

My Weight & Toning Timeline

Photo taken on 4th June 2013, which clearly shows that a low-carb diet is best for me
Since Christmas I've been on and off with how well I've followed the low-carb diet, consequently I went back up to 18% body fat by April. But I've learnt so much from personal training, and not just about exercise and nutrition. I've learnt how my body feels, how it reacts to different foods, I know when I'm eating too many carbs as I can feel and see the fat stores increasing. I've learnt through elimination and reintroduction that I'm wheat intolerant and that was effecting my Endometriosis symptoms and giving me the bloated belly podge that I've always had - even as a child. Over the last 6 weeks I've been much more strict with my diet and have been aiming at eating no more than 60g of carbs a day - trying to stick to anywhere between 40g and 60g - of which around 20g is fibre. I have days where I slip, it might be a fruit juice that takes me over or I might need an energy boost and opt for a bowl of porridge as a snack, or it might be the weekend and I may share a pizza or have some sweets, or I might be going for a meal out with friends and family and have to eat what's available on the menu - let's face it most restaurants stick to a high carb balance in their meals because that's what most people eat. But what I have found is that if I stick to 40g-60g of carbs I quickly lose the fat again and feel so much better in myself. I'm back to lean and slim and am a comfortable size 8.

We're constantly told by the NHS that our daily food should be made up of 60% carbs, 25% fats and a mere 15% protein. For me that is simply the route to obesity, ill health and unhappiness. Through trial and error I've discovered the low-carb, Paleo style, way of eating that suits me and the ratios that work for me are quite a surprise. My optimum diet consists of 50% protein, 15% carbs and 35% fats. Despite the 'high fat content' of my diet, my cholesterol is fine - overall is about 5.1 but my ratio is 1.3 as I consume so many good fats in nuts, seeds and fatty fruit & veg like avocados. It turns out that I'm one of the unusual people who's bodies just don't respond well to carbs, and instead do better on protein and fats. And that explains a lot about the foods I like, and have always liked. I've always loved the creamiest, fattiest, milk - I miss the old Gold top with it's wedge of cream at the top of the bottle that I used to get told off for spooning greedily onto my cereal rather than shaking it into the milk. I adore cheeses and always have. I love meats - particularly red meats. I'm not fond of fish but I adore tuna. A bowl of cereal leaves me feeling hungry two hours later, yet 2 eggs scrambled with a couple of mushrooms and a rasher of bacon fills me for 5 or 6 hours. I could live off of nuts and seeds. And the way my body responds to carbs probably explains why I don't do well with alcohol - I get drunk very quickly and it has a very extreme effect of exaggerating my mood, more so than anyone else I know. It's just how my body works - and it turns out that's because I'm a 'fast oxidizer' and have 'protein' metabolic type. So I need protein, not carbs, to be at my best. Since reducing the carbs, and increasing my protein consumption, and following a full body workout regime, not only am I the slimmest, leanest & most toned I've been in my life, but I'm generally healthier. I rarely get migraines now, I don't get abdominal cramps anymore, I don't suffer with constipation - in fact I'm finally regular for the first time in my life.

A typical low-carb, high-protein meal
For me a low-carb, gluten-free, high-protein diet is not a diet - and I hate the 'd' word now. Low-carb is a way of life. It's how my body responds best. It's me. I'm a bone-fide carnivore! And my personal best nutritional plan probably explains why, in the end, ditching the grains & starchy carbs was so easy to do. Generally I don't miss them. I don't miss potatoes. I don't miss them because my body doesn't need them. No wonder I find it hard to understand why someone with gluten intolerance doesn't just simply stop eating the types of foods that contain gluten and instead substitutes these foods with gluten-free varieties. To me, the simplest way to go gluten free is just ditch bread, pasta, cakes, biscuits etc. To me that makes perfect sense. But I'm not like most people, I don't need the carbs, I don't miss them and I finally have a great relationship with food - it's my friend again, not my enemy.

So now I understand my body so much more, and I understand why Paleo works for me but might not work for others. I also understand now why friends say "I really admire what you've achieved but I couldn't eat like you do, I couldn't do without bread and potatoes". So instead of inwardly getting mad with friends for being supportive yet coming out with criticisms of how I eat, I now accept what they're saying and understand that they think that way because they don't understand that some people simply have different nutritional needs.

Quite simply my motto now is: eat clean, lift weights. And that's how I live my life!

(This was originally posted on my Livejournal, but I've decided to run a blog devoted to my Paleo journey, so have reposted here as an introduction to this blog)