how following a paleo lifestyle helped me overcome my eating disorder

originally written in celebration of my 1 year "Paleo-versary" (11/14) for Wear Your Label, a mental illness-awareness clothing brand for which I'm a campus rep. #stigmafree

chronic stress, sleep deprivation, over-exercising, binge-eating, extreme bloating, and constant stomach pain were the norms of my life last year. if you think that sounds absolutely terrible, it was. and it contributed to a deep unhappiness with my life.

I began seeing a nutritionist who said I was “not eating enough carbs” and encouraged me to “eat more food, especially grains,” which I honestly thought was kind of BS. like, OK, I had binged on four bagels Friday morning so you’re telling me I need to eat more?

GIF courtesy of giphy.com

GIF courtesy of giphy.com

maybe it was reasonable, maybe it wasn’t, but former me didn’t care. either way, it wasn’t effective, but I kept trying, while at the same time hiding the fact that I needed help from everyone, including my family.

my parents found out when the nutritionist bills got too high for me to cover on my own. and then I got the pleasure of explaining to Chinese parents what exactly an eating disorder is, when this type of thing didn’t exist in Chinese society.

instead of focusing on the underlying mental problem (which, to be fair, was my own problem to deal with), my dad focused on the physical aspects — the stomach discomfort, the bloating, the general I-feel-like-crap state I was living in. and he came back with a (to me) revolutionary concept — "why don’t you try eating Paleo?"

I didn’t even know what “Paleo” was, so he sent over some research. For starters, it involves cutting out a lot of foods I ate all the time (oats! quinoa! rice! peanut butter! soy milk! yogurt!), and I went through shock, annoyance, and then acceptance in a short amount of time.

what is paleo

because apparently followers of the Paleo lifestyle (I refuse to say “diet” — more on that later) found that their stomach discomfort disappeared, they regained mental clarity, lost weight, and had more energy than ever, so what could be so bad about eating this way?

it sounds a little like a fad diet with all of these claims, but at that point I was willing to give it a try. the part that I found most appealing was that the definition of “Paleo” differed person by person — strict Paleo eaters do not eat dairy or grains at all while others eat yogurt, kefir, some cheese, and white rice. this flexibility was something that my eating disordered-self appreciated — I had for so long categorized foods into “good” and “bad."

my family jumped on the Paleo train in support of my lifestyle change, and while they’re far more flexible with it than I am, I found solace in their support of my transition.

I started a food Instagram in tandem with this change to document my Paleo eats; a lot of people have found that social media helps them in recovering from their eating disorders.

approaching paleo instagram

but my purpose was to prove to the world (and to myself) that I could stick with this. as I discovered that yes, I could stick to this lifestyle, and yes, I thoroughly enjoyed living this lifestyle, I started this blog to share my recipes and to educate people on what Paleo actually is. 

through the combination of my blog and my Insta, I not only was (am) able to share that Paleo food is appetizing, looks beautiful, and is totally realistic for a college student to try, but I also found a community that I am beyond grateful for. 

my followers have become this community of health-minded people who support me, care about me, and understand me, even though I haven’t met a lot of them in person (though I am lucky enough to have met up with some of them). ultimately, they inspire me, and this support is something I couldn’t even begin to express my gratitude for.

going Paleo is not a miracle worker. it’s not an overnight change. it’s not like one day I woke up and everything was suddenly OK and I felt awesome.

it’s a gradual change, a lifestyle change. because living the Paleo lifestyle isn’t just about changing your diet; it’s also about getting enough sleep, focusing on stressing less, and making your daily life more active instead of intense bursts of exercise. because, according to the experts, yes, you can exercise too much.

fast forward a year later, and I’ve stuck to this lifestyle. it’s become as natural as breathing. I’ve found that I feel better when I eat veggies and healthy fats and protein; I don’t drool over the sight of a bagel or a massive plate of spaghetti.

approaching paleo salmon bowl

it’s a tie-in to intuitive eating — I began listening to my body, began questioning why I felt a certain way, began moving past the fear of binge-eating and over-restricting. and I even began taking more rest days as I let my body run its natural healing process (though mentally, that's still something I struggle with).

living a Paleo lifestyle has helped me understand that food is healing, not punishing. with a focus on eating real food, on the concept that food nourishes your body, provides you with energy to run, walk, swim, exercise, live, I stopped worrying about the incremental calories I consumed because I ate that extra carrot.

my body has begun healing – with my gut healing, I have far less digestive issues than I had before (eating disorders really ravage your body). and with gut health comes increased mental health — I’m happier, less stressed, and have built a healthier relationship with food.

eating in vietnam

I’m not saying it made my life perfect — I still struggle sometimes, and I definitely still stress out a lot. some days are harder than others, some weeks are harder than others. but in the end, I look back at a year ago and see how far I’ve come, and I’m proud.

September 2015 vs July 2016

September 2015 vs July 2016