Since I started writing this blog, I’ve been stopped in the street quite a few times. Mainly for directions. But also for advice. I see you raising a sceptical eyebrow. Rest assured, it’s clearly not for parenting advice.
Most of my new friends and neighbours are intrigued by one of the facts that I listed in my ‘about me’ section. The one about losing 3 stones in 3 months. It’s totally true. For those of you who never had the pleasure of meeting ‘fat Julie’ as my friend Helen now refers to her, here she is:
She looks like she ate ‘new Julie’. So how did I do it? It’s a long story – one originally shared on my health website Vanilla Revolution (RIP!) – so if you’re a long-time reader or a long-suffering friend, feel free to skip this one. But if you’re curious, this is the story of how I turned my life upside down.
Fifty shades of beige
All of my food was yellow. And I thought it was hilarious. “Oooh, I know what would make these chips better!” I’d say to my friends during our lunch hour. “Some gooey, melted cheese! Oh, and pass me the mayonnaise.”
I cringe when I think of the 32 years of damage I did to myself. I’ve been a vegetarian since I was five years old so you’d think I’d be more conscious about healthy eating. You’d be wrong. All of those people consuming dodgy horse meat from Tesco probably knew more about nutrition than I did.
When I was 18, I worked as a singer and dancer at a holiday park and my daily dinner usually consisted of a tube of Pringles and 10 Jaffa Cakes after finishing work at 11pm. Of course, I was constantly active so I was relatively thin and to me, thin meant healthy.
Ice Ice Baby
It took the accusing stare of a 6 month old to reverse the destructive path I was on. As I sat munching on my second bag of Iced Gems of the day (I was now a size 18 which I blamed on the baby weight), baby Elysia tried to grab one. I was horrified – you can’t feed a baby sugar coated biscuits! They’re terrible for you! But hold on a minute…if they’re that bad, why was I eating them ALL THE TIME? I was at a crossroads.
I turned to my best friend, Keith, for some advice. He and his wife, Angela, had been following a Paleo diet for almost a year. As a result, they were both in the best shape of their lives. Keith’s lifelong asthma and Angela’s painful IBS had just disappeared. At first, I had mocked them. I had images of them chewing on dinosaur bones for breakfast. “How long is this fad going to last?” I’d joke, while shoving in another cookie and taking another slurp of full fat Coke. But the more I saw of their new lifestyle, the more I started to wonder whether they might be having the last laugh.
Keith’s advice was to start by giving up wheat and sugar. Easy! Except, er, wheat and sugar were in basically everything I ever ate. Here’s a typical menu from my old life:
Breakfast – Crumpets with low fat spread
Snack – Packet of crisps (or 2)
Lunch – Cheese sandwich
Snack – Packet of Iced Gems
Dinner – Frozen pizza and oven chips
Dessert – Vanilla Ice Cream
What do these foods have in common? Apart from the bucket load of unnatural chemicals and processing? They’re all variations of yellow. Now I’m no food scientist, but I’m pretty sure that’s not a good sign. I had a lot of work to do…
I knew that I couldn’t follow the Paleo diet in the same way that others did. I could never contemplate eating meat or fish which is pretty much the main rule. But after weeks of research, I decided that a lot of it made sense to me and I was going to adopt some of its core principles –
- Fresh, unprocessed, home cooked food wherever possible
- A lot more fruit and vegetables (I wasn’t exactly starting from a high base point here. I only got ‘five a day’ if I counted individual baked beans)
- No wheat or refined sugar
- Limited grains (a proper Paleo diet is no grains at all but after an initial no grain period, I reintroduced white rice and gluten-free oats)
- Limited dairy
- Replacing low fat spread with full fat butter
- Cooking with coconut oil and baking with coconut flour
- Increasing consumption of eggs
During this time, I also read ‘Freedom from the Diet Trap: Slim for Life’ by Jason Vale which was completely inspirational. It gave me so much motivation and introduced me to the world of juicing and green smoothies which are now a big part of my diet. I also got my husband to read it as he struggled to adjust to our new lifestyle and although he found it a bit annoying at first, by the time he’d got to the end, he was on board (even if he does sneak out for the odd bag of Wotsits every now and then. He thinks I don’t know…)
A whole new world
I can’t emphasise enough how big a change this was for us. My culinary skills were almost non-existent. I thought emptying a jar of tomato sauce over some pasta was practically award-winning cooking. It’s been a steep learning curve. Some of my ‘creations’ have ended up in the bin along the way but I now have a decent repertoire of healthy meals. Not a spaghetti hoop in sight.
Here’s a typical day’s menu now:
Breakfast: Green smoothie
Lunch: Sweet potato, leek and watercress soup, buckwheat crackers with butter, fruit
Snacks: Homemade cake/banana/raw food bar
Dinner: Homemade veggie chilli
I’m not a purist to the Paleo diet by any means. How could I be, when the idea of bone broth makes me gag? I don’t munch on lettuce leaves and I often try to replicate items from my old diet which is frowned upon in some Paleo circles. I’m also not claiming to have the perfect nutritional model. If I go out for a celebratory dinner, I’ll often choose to have an ‘unhealthy’ meal but the difference is I don’t see that as a trigger to go back to my old ways. It’s an exception rather than the rule. The human body is strong enough to deal with a small amount of bad stuff every now and then. I don’t feel guilty either – by applying the 80/20 principle I can be free to eat a clean diet at home but adapt to social situations.
Free from diets forever
And here’s the thing. I’m rarely hungry, I eat more food than I did before and I feel great. I lost three stone in three months while eating things like butter, double cream (I didn’t give up dairy initially) and home made chocolate cake. I didn’t start my new lifestyle to lose weight, I did it to get healthy. But buying a pair of size 10 jeans for the first time was a pretty nice bonus. Even better than that – I’ll never have to worry about my weight again. I don’t have to follow a points system, or different coloured ‘days’ or count calories. I’m not on a ‘diet’ and I don’t feel deprived. If anything, I feel the opposite – lucky to be free of the rubbish I was polluting myself with everyday.
So there you have it, the ridiculously long story of how I went from Dorito-loving chubster to spinach-guzzling health warrior. If it helps even one person, it’s been worth it.