1. Better food has built a stronger base for my life
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Before going Paleo, I had been strictly counting calories for 9 months and was miserable. My morning 200 calorie bowl of oatmeal left me starving and distracted in my 10 am class, and it got worse and worse before lunch. I used up my stash of willpower early in the day to not eat all my snacks before lunch, but I still usually ended up caving anyway. I was tired, not totally in my own head, and irritable for most of the day, and everything was low calorie and low fat.
Actually eating food again (especially fat), resulted in an immediate change. I actually felt awake for the first time in my 8 am class, and I wasn’t walking around in a haze after lunch. I found myself more emotionally and mentally stable, and I became able to function in life outside of MyFitnessPal. Eggs, sweet potatoes, and avocados were my new best friends – a far cry from the fake egg whites, low-fat dressing, and 45-calorie slices of bread that were my staples beforehand.
2. My anxiety has been tamed
I grew up as a really anxious kid, playing the “what if…” game of worst case scenarios for just about everything. I finally found myself in therapy and on antidepressants my junior fall of college because I didn’t feel that I could handle it on my own anymore. It was a scary time for me, but I really needed the help.
A few months later, I started consistently eating nutritious food, and a few months after that I was able to stop taking the medication. I am in no way saying that paleo will cure depression or anxiety, but I do attribute some of the improvement to a more nutrient-dense diet that included lots of healthy fats. In my calorie counting days, I was eating lots of half-servings of pasta with very lean meats and as little fat as possible, so in addition to the lack of calories there also weren’t a lot of nutrients (or fat for the fat-soluble vitamins…).
These days, I don’t worry too much about what I eat, and I’m no longer scared of fat – in fact I make sure to get enough of to keep my brain running as well as it can.
3. I practice gratitude
For me, the food isn’t even the biggest or best change in my life. By immersing myself in the real food community, I found a lot of people talking about gratitude and mindfulness. It doesn’t seem that related to food at first, but it’s a part of holistic wellness and wellbeing.
I started practicing gratitude nightly, just taking a few minutes to write down what I was grateful for that day. Rather than turning off the light with my mind racing, I found myself more peaceful and happy when drifting off to sleep. Regardless of what happened during the day, I ended it thinking about the good moments. It helped me practice more mindfulness during the day as well because I wanted to actively remember the moments of gratitude to write down that night.
I believe that we choose how to react to and deal with stressors, and focusing on gratitude makes it a lot easier to calm down and react in a rational way rather than wallowing in worry.
4. I am happier (and less judgmental)
Judging others sometimes feels ingrained in our brains, but my newfound practice of mindfulness has played a big role in learning to accept myself and others. I do my best to become aware when I’m making judgments, and then I tell myself that everyone has reasons for how they live their life and that I will never know the whole story. It’s a work in progress, but the mindfulness to become aware is the first and most important step.
And it’s not just others – I also am so much nicer to myself internally than I used to be. I acknowledge my painful feelings and accept that it’s ok. I allow my emotions to feel validated, and then I work through them rather than letting them control me through self-judgments.
Overall, I am a much happier person than I was a year ago. Given my anxiety-filled past, I never imagined myself in this sort of mental space – I can let go of the little things, accept what I can’t change, and I can enjoy the good instead of focusing on the bad. I still have my bad days like everyone else, but the scale has tipped much further in favor of the good ones.
I’m not going to say that the food aspect of going paleo has caused all of these wonderful things in my life, but being a part of this community has opened my eyes to so many different concepts and realizations that I never would have found on my own.
There’s never an end-point of success or happiness that you can sustain forever – there will always be ups and downs, good days and bad days, so you have to know how to deal with the bad as well as the good. With all the mindfulness and resources I have collected so far, I feel confident that I can handle whatever comes my way when life inevitably gets hard again. And that feels good.