happy at the buffet
flower girl with candy
I developed a pretty intense sugar addiction at a really early age.
As a toddling flower girl in my uncle's wedding, I was bribed down the aisle by my aunt, who held a candy bar behind her back to get me to follow (see above).
My mom was in and out of Weight Watchers for most of my childhood, so we ate a lot of "healthier" foods when she had the time to cook, and we lived on kids-eat-free menus, frozen nuggets, tater tots, and Kraft macaroni and cheese when she didn't. Still, "watching what I ate" was a concept I was quite familiar with.
Like most health-conscious people in the 90s, I grew up vilifying fat and pigging out on all things 99% fat-free, no matter their caloric (or chemical) makeup. I became obsessed with cooking and baking so that I could control the fat in whatever I ate and "indulge" in all sorts of low-fat, "healthy" baked goods and treats. But this manner of eating often left me unsatiated, endlessly craving sugar and starch.
After culinary school I worked as a cheese buyer for Whole Foods Market, a food-lover's paradise, where I developed a deep appreciation for real, unprocessed food and nutrient density. My husband and I devoured books and documentaries on eating for health and tried to adopt a mostly plant-based diet for a while--read: we ate a ton of beans. But beans and grains weren't fueling us optimally. I still craved sugar and starch ALL. THE. TIME.
I had always struggled with compulsive binge eating--oscillating between complete excess and major restriction--and this high-carb way of eating wasn't helping. Along with the mental struggle, I had recurring digestive issues and chronic bloating. I was, however, making progress. Focusing on "all-natural" foods was a great start. I began eating a tremendous amount of produce and fresh seafood and avoiding grains to some extent because of their calorie density. SIDE NOTE: Have you ever looked at the nutrition info on pretty much any whole grain? Not all that much fiber. Anyway. . . it was during this time I got pregnant with my first, sweet, little monster.
Aside from rather horrendous morning sickness, it was a wonderful pregnancy, a decent delivery, and a crazy postpartum, as we moved across the country a week or so after the birth. We went from sunny South Florida to the cold and corn-filled Midwest. Our time in South Bend, Indiana was spectacular on so many levels, but not so much in the diet department. I mostly lived on fried cheese curds and beer. Before my body really began to recover from that first pregnancy, I got pregnant again.
We moved cross-country again while I was about 13 weeks along. During the move, on my 30th birthday, we miscarried. My body and my mind felt sick after the loss. I knew I hadn't been taking the best care of myself, and I felt dirty about it. It wasn't that I blamed myself for the miscarriage, but I didn't want to get pregnant again until my mind and body were in a better balance. I started dramatically limiting sweets and carbs and started to feel great, but my husband, who usually asked me to slow my production of baked goods, started begging for dessert. At this point I had been casually food-blogging for a few years. I started posting some desserts inspired by Hail Merry Miracle Tarts, and people kept pinning them to paleo boards on Pinterest.
Pecan Pie Tartlet
Gluten free, dairy free.
Apple pie tartlet a la mode
Dairy free, gluten free
amazing pumpkin tartlet
Dairy Free, Gluten Free
I had no idea whether they were legitimately paleo, so I did a little digging. My only exposure to paleo before this was from a friend in South Bend whose husband adopted the diet to get in shape for a boxing tournament. I thought it was beyond crazy that he couldn't eat beans or peanut butter, and I pretty much laughed the whole thing off. After a little research, however, I discovered that a lot of paleo followers avoid legumes, grains, alcohol, refined sugars, and dairy about 85% of the time and loosen the reigns the remaining 15%.
We had basically been in that camp without really meaning to be.
Turns out, we were accidentally paleo.
Shortly after this discovery, we got pregnant again. For the most part, I continued these paleo-esque eating habits throughout the pregnancy. I exercised significantly through the third trimester, swimming regularly with my daughter, attending Stroller Strides, and going for long walks with my husband. The pregnancy and delivery of Monster 2 were the best of the 5, by far.
When I got pregnant again, my husband's company was offering free health coaching. At the insistence of my health coach, I started increasing my consumption of whole grains. I ate tons of brown rice, quinoa, and whole-wheat bread. I did not feel healthier. I found it so much more difficult to workout this time around. Then I developed placenta previa and couldn't workout at all. During the third trimester I developed intense restless leg syndrome that would keep me up all night. I gained more weight with this pregnancy than the others, and it was SO much harder to take off. For months after Monster 3 was born, people would ask me when I was due, and I let that crush my confidence. My nerves were frazzled, I wasn't a very nice mommy, and I felt gross in my own skin. About nine months postpartum, we decided to do our first Whole30--a 30-day dietary reset you might call extreme paleo.
I downloaded It Starts with Food to my Kindle and read it as quickly as I could. I needed a health makeover. I needed rigid rules to work within, but I needed to know why the rules were there. For me, it was not just about seeing pounds come off on the scale or having my clothes fit a little better--though, I mean, yes please. But it was mostly about being healthy, feeling better, thinking more clearly, and finding balance mentally and physically.
After reading the book and seeing the list of things the Whole30 could potentially improve, we decided it would be best to make this a whole-family affair.
Doing a Whole30 with kids is a challenge, but so, so worth it. My then-two-year-old's eczema cleared up and never came back. My picky kids started craving vegetables. My daughter's focus improved dramatically. My husband lost 20 lbs. I lost 9 lbs and gained freedom from my sugar cravings and a renewed sense of excitement in the kitchen. Everyone's emotional well-being was better because we were sleeping better, fueling our bodies better, and our hormones were in check. For more on doing a Whole30 with kids, click here.
About six months after our first Whole30, we got pregnant with Monster 4. I ate like a beast during this pregnancy but went right back to paleo after the birth. I felt amazing, but my enormous, 10-lb-5-oz-at-birth baby wasn't thriving. I had always produced milk like a champ, but this time there wasn't enough. I was so discouraged; I worried that my paleo pursuits had destroyed my milk supply. Everything I read said to drink blue Gatorade and eat barley and oats, so I ate them for every meal. I had almost lost all the baby weight before this, but I started gaining it back pretty rapidly. My sugar cravings were out of control again. My moods were erratic, and I could tell my hormones were out of control. Eventually I gave it over to God and started supplementing the baby with formula. Once he started bulking back up, I kicked the grains to the curb. My milk supply increased much more when I stopped stressing than it did when I cozied up with oatmeal. To read more about my paleo breastfeeding experience, click here.
After a few more Whole30s--some attempted, some completed--we bounced around from super-strict paleo to free-for-all until we finally found our balance. New pregnancies, holidays, and life events of all kinds throw a wrench in things from time to time, but we have grace for the journey. For more on how we do paleo, see here.
I'm the Monster Momma.
I'm a Christ-follower, wife, mother to five sweet paleo monsters, writer, and
paleo food fiend.
Join me and my family on our paleo journey!