paleo and me

I’ve had a great big bump in blog views lately thanks to my review of Make It Paleo and the amazing authors sharing it on Facebook, and it’s really made me want to share more of my story…and a few photos.

Deep breath…here goes…

I’ve struggled with my weight and my relationship with food for as long as I can remember. I’ve battled between binge eating and obsessive dieting, sometimes falling into unhealthy workout and harmful purging habits. In high school, I discovered fat-free and Snackwell’s and ate pasta every day. In college and my early years as a wife and mother, I gained and lost the same 40 or 50 pounds on a fairly regular basis.

I thought I had finally found a place of health a few years ago after losing 70 pounds on Weight Watchers, but even that was a struggle. I constantly fought cravings and it was nearly impossible for me to maintain my weightloss.

Seven months after I stopped Weight Watchers, I came home from a women’s retreat and became ill. What started as a low fever and body aches quickly developed into frozen and swollen joints, and complete mental fuzziness and confusion within a week. By the end of that month, I had more or less every symptom you could list for fibromyalgia…even though my doctor continued to be certain that it was all in my head. I gained 40 pounds in less than 2 months, with another 30 piling on within the next three.

What followed was 18 months of confusion. I didn’t really respond to fibromyalgia medications and was having horrible side effects to the anti-depressants my doctor was convinced I needed…probably because I didn’t. I’ve lived with depression on an off since middle school – this wasn’t it. My gynecologist thought I had classic symptoms of insulin resistance, tested me for it, and told me to pull all refined flour and sugar from my diet. I ate very little flour and almost no sugar for a month, lost 10 pounds, felt a little better, and then went back to my normal diet when the blood tests said insulin resistance wasn’t my problem.

This went on and on until August 2010. Pain, confusion, stress, anxiety, more pain, more stress, and so much frustration because I felt like my body was betraying me. My normal diet has always been fairly clean, full of lots of fruits and vegetables and lean meats. With the added stress of a new school year and one child having a particularly difficult time adapting, I found myself moving far away from that normal diet to lots of fast food and junk food and feeling worse than ever before.

I noticed, though, for the first time how truly horrible I felt after each meal – especially when they were wheat heavy, like a dinner at Bucca di Beppo that left me feeling like I was in a coma…underwater…and incapable of putting together a coherent sentence - and started to wonder…

maybe gluten was the problem.

I’d felt so much better that month I stayed away from refined sugar and flour. I did a few internet searches and decided to go for it.  Within a few days, the mental fog started to clear. Before the first month ended, the joint pain was gone. At two months, it was beyond obvious that gluten had been my problem all along. Now that I’m over a year gluten-free, I have no fibromyalgia symptoms at all. I lost about 25 of those pesky pounds I gained in the first year, and another 25 over the last eight months. The mild depression that I’ve battled since middle school went away.

I started studying paleo three or four months ago, after a failed attempt at vegetarianism. I’d noticed during that time that I was relying more and more on grains and legumes, and some stomach issues I hadn’t dealt with for a while flared back up. I was fighting for energy levels – even while making certain to get lots of animal free protein. And I just didn’t feel good.

I’ve been reading about nutrition for quite a few years now – spending a little time dabbling in Weston Price stuff, learning about things like micronutrients – and knew that what my body wanted was a whole foods based diet that was also non-imflammatory. The more I studied, the more I became convinced that paleo was something I needed to commit to.

It didn’t take long to figure out that paleo was the answer I’ve been looking for all along. My weight, which had plateaued for the last six months regardless of what I ate or how much I exercised, started dropping again. The stomach issues are a thing of the past. Sugar cravings are gone.

Food is simply that – food. Fuel for my body. It’s not something I obsess about, it’s not something I feel guilt or anxiety over. It’s just food.

Even more than that, I feel good. When I look at that picture from December two years ago, all I can see is how unhealthy I was. Not just over-weight, but chronically ill. My skin looks gray, my face swollen, even my posture is bad.

Now, I feel amazing – I have energy to run through my day, I sleep like a rock for 8 hours straight, my skin glows. I’m finally enjoying the health and wellness I lost and have fought so hard to get back. I can be active with my kids and keep up with my two-year old nephew every day.

I still have further to go. I’d like to lose some more weight, but as Stacy shared last week on Paleo Parents my goal has evolved. I want to be at a comfortable weight – something I don’t have to fight day in and out to maintain. I’d like to go down about one or two more pant sizes, but realize that I have good German birthing hips and I’ll never be a size 7. With cooler weather and shorter days, I’m struggling to get exercise in regularly and I know that will help me firm up even further.

I’m worth it. I’m worth taking a few extra minutes to plan meals…to cook extra chicken for lunch the next day…to order crazy requests at restaurants…to reprioritize my budget when needed to feed my family food that nourishes them in the best possible ways.

Are you?

More of my paleo posts.

firecracker chicken: quick & easy paleo/primal meals

I’m about 10 weeks into this whole paleo thing and while I couldn’t be happier with the weight-loss and general health results I’m seeing, sometimes I want something other than a simple meat and veggie meal.

In fact that’s one of the biggest concerns I’ve noticed I hear about following a paleo diet.

Don’t you get tired of eating just meat and vegetables?

And while this is chicken and veggies, there’s a coconut milk sauce that makes it so different it doesn’t even strike me as a paleo meal when I eat it.

Variety is good, right?

And I feel rather silly…there’s not a whole lot of recipe to this recipe. It’s incredibly adaptable – any meat, any veggies, any seasonings. The one consistent stroke is using coconut milk to create your sauce and serving it on top of zucchini noodles. I’ve been known to add other random vegetables, but what I’m sharing today is the basics…or maybe a template. Feel free to add whatever you’d like.

Maybe it’s more of a technique?

Whatever it is, it’s good, it’s easy, it’s a great way to clear out the fridge and I can get it on the table in less than half an hour.

Total win.

Firecracker Chicken
serves 4

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
2 T. coconut oil (more if needed)
2-3 T. Cajun seasoning
2 cups chopped mushrooms (baby bellas are great here)
2 T. sun dried tomatoes (chopped small) or 2-3 roma tomatoes (diced)
1 can coconut milk (less if using fresh tomatoes)
1 t. red pepper flakes (optional)
parmesean cheese (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

  • Slice chicken thinly across the grain and toss to coat with cajun seasoning.
    You want the chicken well coated – the cajun seasoning is going to mix with the coconut milk to create the sauce.
  • In a large frying pan on medium-high heat, heat the oil and add the chicken. Stirring often, cook the chicken until it’s done and has browned slightly.
    Since the chicken is cut thin, this takes just a few minutes. You can even start with leftover chicken and save time.
  • Remove the chicken to a bowl and set aside.
  • Add mushrooms to frying pan, adding more oil first if needed.
  • Once mushrooms are cooked, add the tomatoes and optional red pepper flakes.
    If using fresh tomatoes, cook for a few more minutes.
  • Add back in the chicken and coconut milk.
    If you’re using fresh tomatoes, add a little less coconut milk.
  • Simmer 5-10 minutes,s tirring occasionally. The coconut milk will reduce a little and get thicker. Taste to check seasonings and adjust.

While the sauce is simmering, make zucchini noodles:

Zucchini Noodles
Serves 4

4 or 5 zucchini
1 T. olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

  • Using a vegetable peeler, peel the zucchini lengthwise to create long strips.
    They’re pretty – the creamy white skin edged with dark green. I tend to stop when I reach the seeds, turn my zucchini and peel again. I end up with a long rectangle of zucchini seeds that I toss in the compost pile.
  • Heat olive oil on medium in a frying pan or skillet.
  • Add zucchini, stirring often. Season with salt and pepper.
    I like to cook the zucchini until it’s just barely cooked. Too long and it gets mushy, too short and it’s crispy. For me, it’s done when I can fold it over without it breaking.

To serve, create a bed of zucchini noodles and top with several ladles of the chicken, veggies and sauce.

A few thoughts:

  • If you can handle dairy, a little fresh parmesean is really good on top…and it’s really nice to add a little to the sauce as well while it’s still cooking.
  • Next up on hubby’s list is to try this with curry powder for a more Indian style dish. I also think you could go a little more Mexican or Italian with the spices.
  • I’d add broccoli, but my family isn’t fond of broccoli cooked with other things.
    I have no idea why, but they’re pretty vocal about it.
    If it were just me, though, I’d add barely steamed broccoli when I add the coconut milk and let it finish in the sauce.
  • Beef and pork would be great instead of chicken, and if I can remember to pick some up I want to try it with shrimp.

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