These days it seems like everyone and their mother is labelling their diets as something: Paleo, gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian – the list goes on. As more people banish entire food groups in the pursuit of “health”, restriction is scarily becoming acceptable and unquestioned.
While some people have genuine reasons to transition to a gluten- or dairy-free diet, the majority are restricting as it seems like it’s the right thing to do. If you are trying to see positive physical and mental changes in your body, you should not feel pressured to cut out nutritious foods such as greek yoghurt, cheese, rice and potatoes just because it’s in fashion.
One of my friends asked for weight loss advice on Facebook yesterday and someone actually responded saying they should go vegan – but just until they lose weight, when they should then return to a meat-eating “bulking” diet! I’m sorry, but being vegan presents a whole host of its own problems for most people, and it certainly won’t act as a magic weight loss pill (it can often make fat loss harder as vegan protein sources tend to be carbohydrate-heavy, and therefore increase your caloric intake overall). I support those who are vegan or vegetarian for ethical reasons, but to switch to such a diet purely for aesthetic reasons is plain silly.
These restrictive diets have a growing following due to their high success rate. The main reason these types of diets work so well is because of the way the subjects were previously eating. If someone’s diet consists of limited protein, saturated fats and processed forms of carbohydrates, it is no surprise that they will see great results if they switch to Paleo, for example, which places an emphasis on lean sources of proteins and fresh fruits and vegetables.
I was Paleo for about 18 months, as I wanted to fix my hormones by cutting out dairy and grains – which are known to aggravate hormonal conditions such as PCOS. If you have been paying attention to my posts of late, you will see that I’m far from Paleo these days. For the past month, I have eaten oatmeal every morning, and I am also eating more rice, bread and milk.
For the first six months of my Paleo experiment I was pretty strict and may have only had something non-Paleo once a week. I saw great results as my skin cleared up completely and my menstrual cycle returned. During the next six month period, I started reintroducing dairy daily and grains two to three days per week. I definitely overdid it as my period once again vanished and my skin started breaking out again.
The final six months involved me going back to a stricter form of Paleo, where I did not have dairy but had grains a few times per week. While my cycle normalised once again, my skin just seemed to get worse and worse.
This next part is difficult for me to share, as I know I’ve preached the importance of fixing things naturally in the past, but I went back on the pill two months ago. I spent a long time mulling over this decision but I needed to do what would make me happy.
I was completely and utterly miserable because of the state of my skin. I had been off the pill for two years and two months, and my skin was getting progressively worse. Not only was my skin affecting my life to the point where I would decline social invitations if I was having a particularly bad breakout, but the cystic acne itself was incredibly painful. Developing acne when you are in your mid-20s is seriously not fun. I became incredibly self-conscious and convinced that everyone was judging me because of my skin.
I have no plans on having kids any time soon, if ever, so I’m not worried about the effect going back on the pill will have on my natural cycle. Besides, I have already regained my cycle twice so I’m sure I could do it again.
I am also using a prescription cream to dry out my skin. My breakouts have definitely decreased, and the main problem I’m dealing with now is acne scarring. I am still using natural methods of skin care, such as lemon juice to fade the scars, and cleansing my skin with honey and jojoba oil.
The pill I am on is specifically for acne, and my doctor said I can only be on it for a year as it is so harsh. He believes that after a year my skin will be ‘cured’. He also said diet has absolutely no relation to acne, but we agreed to disagree on that one!
For me, Paleo was too stressful and created anxiety over food that I had spent years trying to get rid of. Sure, I wasn’t obsessing over calories, but I started panicking about avoiding dairy and grains at all costs. Based on my experiments, I knew that I had to be very strict Paleo to see positive results. This meant that I experienced an almost constant fear surrounding eating: is what I’m about to eat 100% Paleo? Can I trust the restaurant to be strict Paleo? Will my friends judge me for being so difficult, and will I look like I’m just restricting for the sake of it? If I have one slice of birthday cake at my friend’s party, will I break out tomorrow? Can I enjoy a piece of chocolate or will it disrupt my cycle?
Looking back on it, these questions sound crazy but I guarantee I’m not alone in dealing with these fears. I’m sure that all the stressing about food was wreaking more havoc on my skin than if I had just eaten whatever I wanted.
Being Paleo meant avoiding foods that made me happy like burgers, pasta, rice, bread, yoghurt, cheese, chocolate, ice cream, coffee (I’m sorry, but I need milk in my coffee!), any form of sugar and even protein shakes. Anyone who follows me on Instagram will know how much I love eating these foods!
I even tried restricting my foods further from the already limited pool: red meat can negatively disrupt hormone productions, so that was out, along with dairy alternatives such as soy, peanuts because of the gut irritation, and even fruit because of the sugar content.
I have mentioned this before, but I also find it very difficult to meet my caloric targets (3000-4500 a day, depending on my training) while following the Paleo diet. If I hadn’t started competing in strong(wo)man, I’m sure I could have stuck with Paleo for much longer.
Being Paleo made me miserable. It felt like a horrible never-ending diet where I couldn’t ever eat what I really wanted. I cannot for the life of me figure out why anyone would make themselves Paleo voluntarily!
I may be a quitter, but I feel like I gave it my best shot for two years. In many ways, I wish I had never gone off the pill in the first place – I ate dairy, sugar and grains with abandon and had perfect skin! – but it also taught me a lot about my body and the role food can play as medicine. These days I consider myself an eat-everythingitarian!
Have you ever tried Paleo or another similar diet?
If you would like to read more, this is a particularly good article which addresses some of the flaws of the Paleo diet.