"I saw few die of hunger; of eating, a hundred thousand." -Ben Franklin

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Reflections on the Last Four Semesters/My Paleo Journey

Classes ended this week, which means I'm now halfway done with college. As I reflect over the last two years, I realized that I've made a lot of life changes that have left me happier and healthier than I've ever been before.

Paleo and my health/nutrition passion changed my life. I'm physically much healthier than I was fifteen months ago, but my whole outlook on life has changed as well-- I'm much more positive, I worry less, and I enjoy things a lot more now in general. I feel like a completely different person.

I started college 50 pounds and 5 sizes bigger than I am now. Like any new college student, I went crazy on carb-loaded, sugary foods-- cereal and pizza were eaten at any time of the day, Wawa milkshakes and Insomnia Cookies were the best 2am snacks, and Ritz crackers and Nutella were my favorite food groups. I rarely, if ever, got enough sleep-- I was constantly exhausted, stressed out, and suffering from colds and mood swings. I was sedentary, putting on the Freshman Fifteen, and not really caring about what I ate in the least bit. I can always just go low carb one day and I'll be fine. No problem, I told myself. I've done it a million times before. So the semester ended and I went from eating a ton at school to eating a ton over the holidays.

By January, my jeans barely fit and I felt sluggish all the time. I was getting a bit more sleep than the previous semester, but I was still almost always exhausted, sick, and moody. I remember my last night on the SAD: January 31, 2010. I'd eaten a bowl of Fruity Pebbles for dinner (I'm shuddering at that thought right now), but was still ravenously hungry... so I went to Wawa and ate a hoagie as well. What the hell was wrong with me? Disgusting! That's when I made up my mind: tomorrow would be the first day of the rest of my life. Of course, I'd told myself this a million times before, always with the same result: I'd eat low-carb for a month or so, lose some weight, then go right back to the SAD and be even heavier than before. But, as I've mentioned in some of my previous posts, February 1, 2010, actually was "the first day of the rest of my life."

I always talk about how awesome Paleo is (because it is!) and how fantastic I feel, but it hasn't always been so easy: that first semester of healthy eating was really, really freaking difficult. Eating low carb (which somewhere along the line turned into the Caveman Diet) in an SAD world was extremely isolating. "No, I don't want to order pizza. No, I can't go out for fro-yo. No, I don't want to make pasta and popcorn. Yes, all I'm eating for dinner is salad and a piece of chicken. No, I'm not crazy-- I swear."
I developed major food and social anxiety-- it was easier for me to not go out at all than to have to deal with food-related situations (which, at college, is almost all of them). This was before I discovered the Paleo/Primal community, so I felt really isolated, anxious, and alone-- and that carried through the summer, where I had to deal with my friends from home telling me to "just eat a sandwich" or that "a little ice cream won't kill you." God, that was difficult. I didn't want to go out, I didn't want to see anyone... and I didn't want to talk about it because I was so afraid of being lectured again or having people think I was even crazier than they did already. So I spent my first six months eating like a cavewoman feeling totally out of my mind and living as a hermit as much as possible. I was still coping with my big lifestyle change and I was still trying to grow into my new body-- I still saw myself 50 pounds ago and would wake up every morning amazed at the size of my new jeans.

End of the Fall, 2009 semester vs. End of Spring, 2010 semester

About a week before the fall semester started, it was like a switch flipped in my mind-- the anxiety went away and I no longer saw that former fat girl in the mirror. I realized recently that it was because I was no longer speaking to some of the people who caused a lot of my anxiety and brought a ton of petty drama and negative energy into my life (mostly because Penn starts later than most schools, so no one was around much that late in the summer)-- I could just focus on me without hearing the constant lectures and unnecessary BS. I cut my hair short for the first time in years; I went shopping for some new clothes in bright colors (after years of only wearing black because I wanted to look thinner). I wanted to put my SAD life and my former negativity behind me for good-- almost seven months after February 1, I knew this wasn't just a temporary thing. I was ready to start my third semester healthy, happy, and feeling a hell of a lot better. Would social events still be an issue? Would people still think I'm insane? Absolutely. But after spending months adjusting to this lifestyle, I knew I was really healthy... so to hell with people's opinions! People thought Socrates and Columbus were insane too-- it's only a matter of time before CW, SAD-followers come around to Paleo and realize that we're right.

My passion for nutrition, which had slowly started over the summer, became full-blown in the fall. Not only was I feeling great and being more social, but I was becoming more informed about nutrition-- I spent my free time reading up on health/nutrition online, subscribing to newsletters, and spending my Fall Break reading Michael Pollan. I was getting a lot of sleep, staying active by taking the stairs up to my 13th-floor dorm room multiple times a day, and keeping the anxiety-causing people away. I just felt like a better person. It's amazing how much things change when negative energy is removed! (I met up with a friend over Christmas break that I hadn't seen in a long time, and she said something along the lines of "You're not as negative and cynical anymore! You seem so happy!") So I spent the semester kicking ass grade-wise, feeling happier and healthier than ever before, and falling more and more in love with health, wellness, and nutrition. (I even went Primal vegetarian for awhile after reading a ton of "vegetarianism is so healthy!" books/articles... except it just made me feel sick. Bleh.)

I also rediscovered a lot of my former passions and developed new ones. A question on PaleoHacks yesterday made me think about this, because once I really transitioned to the Paleo/healthy lifestyle, my "spare-time was totally reinvented." I've been playing a ton of piano and writing a lot of poetry these last two semesters-- I hadn't done much of either my first year of college. I developed a love of cooking, and I am so excited to cook a lot at home this summer. I also enjoy the outdoors more-- for example, I spent all of today outside in the sun, playing kickball and frisbee with my friends (something I'm pretty sure I never would've done last year). I now love taking walks, going for runs, reading in the sun, being outside. I truly believe that Paleo is the "spice of life" and is just another reason to adopt this lifestyle.

January, 2011. Semester 4 of college and still eating as far away from the SAD as possible! For almost a year, I hadn't counted carbs or calories and I was eating so much without ever putting on weight. This lifestyle was awesome! But I was still Primal vegetarian (as in... take the Primal rules and just substitute meat for tofu) and suffering from IBS-like symptoms. My dad sent me Cordain's The Paleo Diet via Nook and, well, the rest is history. I discovered the Paleo/Primal/Caveman community and realized that there are other people out there who are just as passionate about this lifestyle as I am. A ton of networking, books, and blogs later, I've never been happier. This has been such a phenomenal, Paleo/health-filled semester, and I couldn't have asked for anything better.

So why am I talking about this now, over a year after my Healthy Living journey began? Because I want to thank all of my readers and the Paleo/Primal community for making this semester my best one so far. I also want everyone-- especially those new to or thinking about making the change to Paleo/Primal-- to know you are not alone. There are people out there-- on the internet, in your own community, staring at you from bookshelves, going on TV and radio shows-- that are just as health-conscious as you are. Nothing has made me happier than finding the Paleo community this semester, and I wish I had become a part of it when I first embarked on my Paleo journey.
Can the transition to Paleo be difficult? Will your friends, family, and peers think you've gone crazy? Of course. Making a major life change is never easy! But this is a life change that is for the better. Once you get through the transition period, I guarantee that you will look and feel-- both physically and mentally-- better, and this will be a permanent thing. Don't give up, and don't feel like you're going through this alone, because you're not. Sign up for blog updates, join a Paleo meet-up group in your area, try to get someone to transition with you, read Everyday Paleo, check out PaleoHacks, subscribe to the new Paleo Magazine, hold a Paleo potluck meal with your friends and family, get rid of anyone or anything that causes negative energy or weighs you down more than the SAD. Don't listen to Conventional Wisdom and don't let your SAD friends bully you back into eating whole grains and processed crap. Stay strong, and don't give up-- you can do this! Thousands of people all over the world have transitioned to Paleo and changed their lives for the better, so reach out and don't go through this alone! The Paleo community is always looking for new enthusiasts, so come join us!

Quote of the Day:
"Happiness lies, first of all, in health." -George William Curtis

Kind of sums it up:

(This post is participating in the Primal Den Blog Carnival.)


  1. i'm a 2010 graduate of penn and just discovered paleo. I wish we could've met up while i was still at school - definitely way easier to do Paleo in college as compared to when you're working =(

    well, except for freshman year that is..

    keep it up! although you don't really need any external encouragement anymore

  2. I had to look up what Fruity Pebbles are, miss out on these things not being an American. They do however appear to have a caveman on the front :)

  3. Love your blog! Just added it to follow. Nice to know others in the area are paleo & seeing awesome results. Keep up the awesome work!

  4. Hi Leigh,
    Nice blog you have here. Congrats on your positive life journey and making the jump to Paleo. Your before and after pics speak for themselves!

  5. I know this post is kind of old, but I'm new to your blog and was reading some archives.

    First of all, my hat is off to you for even undertaking and maintaining a paleo lifestyle while at college. You look fantastic! I "went primal" last July and haven't looked back since.

    Keep these great entries coming!

  6. Love reading your blog. I'm not from the USA, so had no clue what you meant by SAD, until I looked it up (Standard American Diet). It might be helpful when you first mention it to put in brackets what you're referring to for us in the rest of the world (the Internet is now global).

    Keep up the good work.

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