A year ago, I thought I was the picture of health. I ran an awful lot, almost every day. The same distance, never different, never varied – always the same route and the same length. I would add in some well-known, high intensity interval training too, for good measure, as it was all about the cardio for me.
But I never felt stronger, leaner or crucially, any fitter. Nothing ever changed.
Coupled with the exercise, I felt I was making good eating choices and taking in a varied diet. I would choose wholemeal versions of everything, low fat or not fat wherever possible and I would buy and consume excessive amounts of fat free ‘natural’ yoghurt and cottage cheese. The odd slab of cake or a few hob nobs at bed time, after all, I had ‘earnt’ them with all that running.
To go along with my overload of exercise, for which I had no energy and never felt any change for the better, I also had constant stomach cramps; I was always over emotional, over tired, anxious and down. But I was healthy right? I was doing all the right things, exercising and eating correctly, so surely I was healthy.
It was by chance that I saw a friend of a friend had spoken about the benefits of, at first, ‘eating clean’ and later ‘Paleo’. I was intrigued, I knew if she in particular was committing and making the changes then it must be something worthwhile and worth investigating.
I read as much as I could about Paleo online and bought ‘It Starts With Food’. I was fascinated by the impact that certain foods could have on our bodies, but more so, foods that I had assumed were good choices. My porridge oats were inflaming my tum, or worse, giving me a ‘leaky’ gut. Maybe the ‘healthy’ foods I had been eating for so long, were actually to blame for the difficulties I had? Perhaps my diet wasn’t truly working for me and I wasn’t helping myself to achieve my own personal fitness goals? I was constantly fatigued and not able to push to do all that I wanted, were the two linked in some way?
But what ‘would’ I eat? If I ate Paleo, how could I cope without basics such as…well, you know…Toast? Or cheese? Oh, how I loved cheese, it was my own personal quick fix protein boost after training sessions. I would think nothing of eating chunk after chunk of bright yellow globules of cheese. But that was ok, because it’s protein; and I need protein ‘cos I train a lot, right?
Wrong Zoe. Wrong. You don’t need your protein in the form of hard cheddar cheese to feed your muscles after training. You don’t need wholemeal anything and you certainly don’t need ‘healthy’ ‘low fat/no fat’ vegetable spreads.
After reading and inwardly digesting an awful lot of Paleo know how, it was becoming clearer to me that if I wanted to truly do well with my training and make my body work hard and at it’s very best, then I ought to fuel it in the best way too. So I begun to slowly follow the principals of Paleo. Sugar. That was the first element I wanted to cut out. I’d already swapped my regular golden granulated for agave nectar in my tea, thinking it was the wiser choice, when of course, it was still sugar and still overly processed. So that went too.
For me, sugar wasn’t the hardest part of my Paleo transition. Sure, I got the killer headaches and the lethargy and the cranky. But that all seemed to pass quickly. What I missed mostest in those first few weeks were the grains. I craved anything with grains in – bread, crackers, biscuits, cakes. More so the actual texture – the stodgy, comforting bites. I also, really, really missed the cheese. Massive amounts. I missed my protein ‘shots’!
But, I wanted to do this, to really see the results for myself, to see if I could feel better in my body, fuel my body more efficiently and get the most out of it. I train and I train hard. I know a lot of folks will say that but I really feel that I do. I run Obstacle Course Races, at distances (currently) between 5 to 20 miles, and focussing on the much longer endurance runs too. I run, cycle and walk everywhere, I weight train, I trail run, I circuit train, I swim. I am physically active every day and train at least 6 days out of 7 (oh alright, more like 7 days out of 7). So whatever I was going to be eating needed to keep up with the demands I was placing on my body.
I won’t lie and say it was easy, as for a few weeks it wasn’t. I had to actively think hard the entire time, prep, plan and prepare. I need to take food with me everywhere; I find that as I am eating good, nutrient dense food, I have become hungrier for it. I crave the good stuff now, the succulent meats, the rainbow of veggies and salads. The eggs! I barely ate an egg before, maybe once a month and yet now it’s at least a couple of times a day, every day. I love them! So prepare I must! I want to have good food choices always on hand so I think nothing now of filling up the Tupperware with home cooked goodness. For me, eating Paleo is a no brainer, it’s actually easier to follow than most people assume. We’re eating as nature intended, we’re just unfortunately ‘programmed’ in some ways to think that we need certain foods combined with others. News flash – we don’t!
I have become adventurous in the kitchen and where I would make lazy choices before, I’m now more than happy to go the extra mile to prepare something wholesome. My skin is clearer, I sleep better, I feel lighter and I’m undoubtedly stronger. I actually wake feeling good and refreshed and my energy levels have stabilised. I no longer feel down, not the true, dark downs I had before. I don’t suffer from any stomach pains at all now and if I do, I know it’s when I’ve had a cheat. And there’s something to be said for cheat meals. Where some say they help keep you on track overall, I can’t help but disagree. For the odd occasions I have succumbed to crumpets (my nemesis who I always cheat with, for some reason!), cake, cheese or Chinese (all c’s, I have no idea why) I’ve found that the after effects made me realise I’d rather not succumb at all! Headaches, crippling headaches, stomach aches, lethargy and; what I like to call, trouble ‘downstairs’ when visiting the throne room. I would much rather eat better to feel better. Cheating has proved that it’s just not worth it.
Alongside all the awesome, my training has also improved a thousand fold. I can deadlift over double my own body weight and back squat similar. Hill sprints are now a particular favourite of mine. I have the energy, ability and strength to push myself more, to vary intensity, distance and terrain. I am no longer ‘all about the cardio’, but swap this up with weight training, strength, agility and cardio circuits. I am achieving podium places at the races I enter; I am continually smashing my own previous bests, pushing my own strength, my goals and my mental ability to achieve.
Next stop for me would be to gain a qualifying place in the World Obstacle Race Championships this October in Ohio. I’m aiming high, I’m thinking big, I’ve gained my self confidence and my strength back and I’m going to use them the very best way that I can. Winning.