While I was off work recovering from surgery, I spent a great deal of time watching movies.  One movie that I watched during this time caused me to radically re-evaluate conventional nutritional wisdom and the way I was eating.

I watched “Fat Head” after seeing a discussion about the movie online.  I thought it would be interesting to see a response to “Supersize Me”, a documentary that I thought was sensationalistic and over-simplified.  “Fat Head” was witty, engaging and thought-provoking.  After watching, I immediately texted my husband that he needed to watch this too.

Thanks to the resources put together by Tom Naughton on the website for “Fat Head” I was able to find a plethora of articles, studies and reports about saturated fat, cholesterol, fructose, etc.  These were all topics that I had been curious about and meaning to learn more about.

All of this information, combined with a read through of The Paleo Diet by Dr. Loren Cordain and various first-hand experiences I had already seen finally convinced me that it was time to give a Paleo-style diet a shot.

In short, the Paleo style of eating eliminates all grains (wheat, oats, rice, etc.), legumes, sugars, dairy and starchy vegetables from your diet.  There are actually varied approaches around the Paleo/Primal community with respect to including limited types and quantities of sugars, dairy and starchy vegetables, but the elimination of grains and legumes seems to be consistent.

I was already limiting the grains that I was eating.  I discovered a number of months ago that my eczema was made significantly worse when I was eating lots of wheat products.  At the worst point of my eating, I was eating massive quantities of those foods and thus had continuous bad eczema flare ups. Before going Paleo, I was eating only sprouted whole grain bread (which has a lower gluten content than bread made with flour) and limiting the consumption of pasta to maybe once or twice per week.  I wasn’t limiting rice and rice products, as those seemed to have no ill effects on my skin.

I didn’t want to delay starting this new way of eating, but I also don’t want to waste a bunch of the food that I had just stocked my fridge with.  So my version of Paleo thus far has included Greek yogurt and some cheese.  I figured that I would finish up the supplies of what I had in the fridge and then not restock down the line.  I have also not given up coffee.  Coffee, even though it is brewed from a legume, seems to be accepted as a part of many Paleo diets, provided it’s consumed in moderation and is having no other detrimental health effects.

The immediate difference that I noticed in the first few days of eating Paleo was my appetite.  For as long as I can remember, I have been a hungry, hungry hippo in the mid-afternoon.  I could seriously eat everything in sight and still feel like I needed more.  This feeling was gone in the first few days of Paleo.  Since I wasn’t loading up on carbs during breakfast, but rather eating satisfying protein and fat, my body wasn’t crashing from the carb and sugar induced insulin spike.  At the same time, I observed that I need to ensure that I consume a quantity of fat early in the day as well as limit carbs and sugar, otherwise that same afternoon hunger reared its ugly head.

Connected to the lack of afternoon hunger was a maintained energy level throughout the day.  I’m sure we’ve all experienced that 3 o’clock wall, where your energy dips and you need some sort of boost to carry you through the rest of your day.  Rather than having a peak of energy in the morning and a crash in the afternoon, my energy level has been more or less consistent throughout my entire day.

I also know that my body has changed pretty rapidly over the past couple of weeks.  Between August 20 and September 1, my measurements changed pretty dramatically for that period of time.  I lost 1″ from each of the following measurements: hips, waist, chest, thigh and bicep.

I’ve had some mental hang-ups along the way that I’m still working through.  One of the biggest criticisms of the Paleo-style diet is that it’s “just another fad diet”.  This style of eating absolutely fits into my philosophy and approach of making a “lifestyle change” that I can live with for the rest of my life.  This is not Atkins or South Beach or The Zone.  This is a way of eating focused on health and overall well-being, not weight loss…though weight loss can certainly be a benefit of the diet applied appropriately.

Thus far I haven’t missed anything that I can’t eat at all.  It helps that I had already worked through the major carb addition I had over a year ago.  Actually, earlier this week I was missing the texture of crispy/crunchy like you would get from a potato chip (not that I ate many potato chips recently….)  Luckily, pork rinds are 100% Paleo, super crispy and actually quite delicious.  Crisis averted! 😉

Last night we were even at a concert in the park and I was surrounded by all kinds of tempting foods: popcorn, fresh potato chips, elephant ears, mini-doughnuts, chocolate, fresh lemonade, hot dogs, etc.  Only this time they weren’t even tempting, not even when the guy beside me was practically waving his elephant ear in my face.  I was totally satisfied by my packed snack of dried apple rings with no added sugar and mixed nuts and didn’t even consider a trip to the concession stands.

Overall, I just feel amazing eating this way.  It’s tough to describe all the small details, but my entire body feels good, my head feels clear and alert, and I feel strong and energetic.  After just 2 weeks, my husband and I were both feeling so good we decided to fully buy in.  We did a major cleaning of our pantry and cupboards to get all of the non-Paleo foods out.  We had lots of unopened packages and containers, so those won’t go to waste because they can be donated to the food bank.

I’m excited about food and cooking again!  I’m challenging myself with new vegetables and dishes, finding alternatives to old stand-by recipes or products, and discovering that there are a whole lot of delicious foods I’ve been ignoring.  Like pork rinds!  I’ve been reading books and blogs, and listening to podcasts in an attempt to take in as much information as I can.

The increased energy and motivation I have has been amazing.  We’re getting so many projects done around the house.  I just can’t bring myself to sit around on the couch all day and not move.  I need to be up, walking, doing, accomplishing things.  I love this new feeling.

Will I continue to eat this way?  Absolutely, perhaps with some tweaks in the future as I find what works best for me.  Will I always eat this way?  Only time can tell.  For now, I’m feeling great about this decision.

Lots of links!

Robb Wolf

Everyday Paleo

Paleo Diet Infographic

Paleo Plan recipes

Hunt Gather Love

Paleo Hacks


I originally blogged about my approach to weight loss and eating here.  I considered updating that post, but instead chose to create a new post with my expanded furnace analogy and some links and information to get you started if you want to try eating more to weigh less.

Here’s the metabolism as a furnace analogy… understand, picture a big ol’ wood fired furnace. The kind that your great-grandparents would have been familiar with.

To work most efficiently, this furnace needs to be fueled properly. If you don’t put enough fuel in the furnace, the fire will die out completely. You’re going to be constantly working to re-start the fire and you’re not going to get any heat out of the furnace. If you put too much fuel on the fire in one shot, you’re going to smother the fire completely. But if you spread out when and how much fuel you put into the furnace, you’re going to have a nice fire burning all day long which will allow the furnace to work most efficiently. You’re not going to have to work as hard to keep the furnace working.

The same goes for your body’s metabolism. It needs fuel (FOOD) to work most efficiently. When you don’t eat enough or you eat too much all at once (i.e. one big meal per day), your metabolic systems are not going to be working to help burn fat and lose weight. Fuel your fire correctly and your metabolic systems are going to be switched on to helping you lose weight.

Don’t forget that the TYPE OF FUEL you use is just as important as the amount of fuel. If you throw green and wet wood on a fire, you’re not going to get that fire burning well. But if you use dry and seasoned wood, your fire will burn clean and hot. If you fuel your body with crap, your fire isn’t going to burn well. But if you use clean, natural, whole foods as fuel, your fire will be burning beautifully!

The other important ingredient that shouldn’t be ignored is activity.  I’m going to keep expanding the analogy to include exercise.

Fires need fuel AND air to burn properly. Those wood stoves and furnaces have all kinds of dampers to help control the air supply to the fire. If you cut off the air supply to a fire, it will die out. If you leave all the dampers wide open and have your fire drawing lots of air then you’re going to burn through more fuel. The fire will burn hotter and faster and you’re going to need to add more fuel regularly. The more air a fire draws, the more fuel it will go through.

The air in this analogy is your exercise/activity. If you’re totally sedentary, you’re cutting off the air supply to your fire. If you’re highly active but don’t put more fuel into your body, your fire is going to run out of fuel and die out. You need to find that sweet spot with the fuel and air supply to keep your fire burning and burning well.

This has really helped me understand how my body works and WHY I want to eat the way I do and keep myself active (even if I’m not working out hard). You WANT to get your metabolic systems working in your favor because it makes it easier to lose fat and achieve your goals. And hey, who doesn’t want an easier way to lose weight??

To put this into use, here’s what I do.  On my least active days I eat around 1600 calories.  On my most active days (the majority of the week), I eat closer to 1800-1900.  I aim for a daily caloric deficit of 500-1000 calories.  I keep the days of 1000 calorie deficits to a minimum, perhaps twice a week.  [To calculate caloric deficit: (maintenance caloric intake for current weight – calories consumed in a day) + calories burned through exercise. MyNetDiary does this calculation for me.]

I’m eating a diet that is comprised of nutritious, natural, healthy foods.  I eat plenty of food in my day and eat around 6 times per day, making some people question if I’m really “on a diet” or not.  And I’m still losing weight.  Since January 1 of this year, I have averaged a loss of 2 lbs per week, a healthy and sustainable rate that I am more than pleased with.

Using this approach to weight loss I have made one big lifestyle change.  Now I can continue eating and living happily like this for the rest of my life.  There is no “off plan” food or cheating.  There are no “phases” or “cycles”.  There is just food, exercise, and knowledge.


Fat2Fit Radio

Master Your Metabolism by Jillian Michaels

BMR Calculator

MyNetDiary – my favorite food tracker

I started changing my life on August 22, 2010.  I weighed in at 269 lbs.  I have no good before pics, but here I am in February 2010 by the Golden Gate Bridge.  I know I put on weight between February and August because my size 22s fit well in February but were tight and too small in August.

By November I had lost around 35 lbs….and those 22s were fitting again.

As an aside, my husband has lost around 50 lbs since that November pic was taken.

I took a peek at the scale this morning and saw 169.4 lbs, so while I haven’t officially hit that 100 lbs lost milestone it WILL happen this week.  So here I am….11 months into this journey….

I’m wearing a size 12 and larges now. 😀  I can’t wait to get back to exercising to keep toning and building muscle.

New goal is to get my weight into the “healthy” BMI category which means losing another 25 lbs.  I’ve never been even close to this thin before, so I have no idea what I’ll look and feel like at an even lower weight!

Recovery from my cyst removal surgery is still going well.  I’m mobile, feeling stronger and feeling less pain each day.

One of the biggest challenges so far has been fighting off some bad habits that want to come creeping back.  It’s been months since I’ve sat around the house all day reading or watching TV and doing little else.  That’s just not what my lifestyle is anymore.  But I’ve been forced back on to the couch for a few weeks while my body recovers.

The old me would have been THRILLED at the opportunity to stay home and sit on the couch for days on end.  Days off and home alone used to mean binge eating days.  I would wake up and go to the store to supply a binge for the day.  I’d pick up breakfast from McDonald’s, a big bag of chips, something like Pizza Pops for lunch and something sweet like a giant Dairy Milk bar (or two).  I’d head home and spend the day cooped up on the couch eating my way through all those things.

Now I spend my days off planning healthy menus, running, walking, biking, visiting the gym, visiting farmers’ markets and just generally living an active life.  With most of those activities on the shelf for a few weeks, I’m back to sitting on the couch.  And that’s where the old desires start creeping back.

Each day I’ve been fighting the urge to constantly eat through my boredom.  I no longer enjoy passing my day in the most sedentary fashion.  I want to get up and get out and move.

BUT I haven’t constantly eaten through my boredom.  I’ve held strong and distracted myself by reading another chapter in my book or playing a game on my iPad – anything but putting food in my mouth.  I know that I don’t need that food, I can recognize my true hunger signs and I know that I can find joy and happiness in things other than food.  These have been valuable lessons for me to learn over the past months of changing my lifestyle and they’re paying off big time right now!

Now…if I could only go for a run…

I went with my husband to the grocery store tonight.  While browsing through the produce, I stopped beside a huge bin of cantaloupe melons and picked up one of the smaller ones.  My mind was immediately blown and I stood there in shock for a few seconds.

The cyst that was removed from me just over a week ago was described as being the size of a small cantaloupe.  That’s freaking huge!  I can’t believe that something so large existed inside me (without belonging there) for so long without me knowing.

I’m now extra excited for the swelling in my stomach to go down.  I’m sure it will feel quite a bit different than it did before.

Recovery from the sudden cyst/ovary removal surgery is going well.  It was exactly 1 week ago this morning that I was getting the ultrasound done that would detect the “mass” that was causing so much trouble.  Like my husband said this morning, that day and a half in the ER felt like a week, but there’s no way that it feels like it was a week ago already.

I’m more and more active every day as it gets easier to get out of bed and move around.  I can go up and down stairs fairly easily now, though I am still limiting how much I do that.

I can tell from how the Steri-Strips are holding my skin that the swelling has decreased.  Pain is also decreasing and it’s easier for me to go without the strong painkillers throughout the day.

I’m thankful that recovery is going smoothly so far.  I’m so lucky to have a husband who is taking great care of me and health insurance that allows me to take ample time off with a full paycheck to properly rest and recover.

Wednesday of last week was a great day – for the most part.  The weather was nice and summery, I restocked the fridge with all kinds of fresh and healthy foods, and I completed my 5th day of the 30 Day Shred.  It was in the last few minutes of the 30 Day Shred that something started to go wrong.

During the last set of crunches I felt a pain in my stomach.  I think it was right as Jillian says “You’re probably feeling a pit in your stomach”.  It was nothing out of the ordinary.  I chalked it up to maybe overdoing it in warmer weather than I’m used to, not having enough water, or working out after supper (which I usually don’t do).  I went to shower after completing the workout and still felt “off”.  There was a crampy pain in my abdomen that wasn’t going away, but it was better when I sat and rested.  After I showered and got dressed, I sat down with a big bottle of water and soon enough the pain had passed.

I refilled my water, helped myself to a nice bowl of fresh watermelon and got on with my evening.  Except the pain came back.  It came back stronger and more intense than it had the first time.  And this time nothing I could do would lessen it.  As the pain kept getting worse, I struggled with what to do.  I finally called the provincial “health link” line and spoke to a nurse.  She asked all kinds of detailed questions about my symptoms and condition.  At the end of the call she recommended going to emergency because the pain was continuing to worsen during the call and showed no signs of letting up.

We arrived at the giant university hospital around 10:00pm.  The pain was continuing to get worse and was now the worst pain that I had ever experienced.  It was too long until we were out of the waiting room of the ER and I was lying down in a bed getting shots of morphine.  I honestly don’t remember many details from the overnight period.  I know there were all kinds of exams, blood was drawn, pain was ever-present, I could call for more morphine whenever I wanted, and at some point they told me I’d have to wait until morning for an ultrasound.

By morning I think the steady supply of morphine had really kicked or my body was just accustomed to the pain.  Things seemed not quite as bad as I went for the ultrasound.  I even got a decent nap while waiting in the quiet, dark ultrasound room for the radiologist to come by and check the scans.

A couple of hours after the ultrasound, I was waiting back in the ER and the ER doctor came by to explain to me that he thought I should be seen by a gynecologist because there was a large mass growing on my right ovary and tube.  He stressed this was non-cancerous.  Unfortunately for me, the giant university hospital in my city doesn’t really do any gynecology.  The ER doctor had already been in touch with a gynecologist at another hospital in the city where they have a reputation of being “pelvis specialists”.  I was sent away from the giant university hospital with the results of my ultrasound in hand to transfer myself over to the community hospital.

They were expecting me at the community hospital, so as soon as I checked in at the ER, a gynecological resident came down to examine me and ultrasound results I had brought over.  It became apparent in that first discussion with the resident that surgery was my only option.  This large cyst growing on my ovary had twisted things around and was unlikely to just correct itself.

It was a relief to know that a relatively routine surgical procedure would just eliminate this thing which had caused such agony for the past few hours.  I listened carefully to the explanation of all the risks of this surgery, but in my mind there was no doubt that I was going to consent as soon as possible to get this over with.

Just over 24 hours from when the pain started, I was on a bed on my way up to the operating room.  The doctor came by and explained that his first priority was to remove the cyst cleanly and that may mean the loss of my ovary.  That didn’t even phase me – I had complete trust in this doctor and the resident I had met earlier.  I remember feeling excitement at the prospect of waking up without this pain and as the anesthesia kicked in on the operating table, I felt calm and peaceful.

Waking up a few hours later outside the OR was surreal.  It felt like only a second had passed from when I was falling asleep on the operating table.  And there was no pain.  My entire body was numb and at ease.  The nurse smiled and said she was glad to see me awake and explained that everything went smoothly.  She also told me that the cyst was bigger than any of the doctors expected and that the OR team was quite amazed at what they saw when they opened me up.

A cyst the size of a small cantaloupe melon or a baby’s head was removed from my abdomen.  The cyst was attached to my right ovary and tube, which also had to be removed with the cyst.  The resident described the cyst as being a purple colour, meaning that the blood flow had been cut off for some time (likely the worst of the pain on Wednesday night/Thursday morning was as the cyst and ovary were having their blood supply cut off).  The cyst was sent to pathology and I’ll get those results at my follow up visit, but it was likely a run of the mill dermoid cyst, complete with hair and teeth.  Unfortunately, in the quick work to get me into the OR, the hospital never obtained my consent to photograph my cyst, so all I have is the vivid description provided by the resident.

After getting to the recovery ward in the wee hours of Friday morning, I spent all day Friday and Saturday in the hospital and was discharged on Sunday morning.  I have a rather large incision running across my lower abdomen that will necessitate a longer recovery time than if they had been able to do the surgery laparoscopically.  Obviously the size of my cyst ruled out that possibility.

Recovery is going as well as can be expected.  The pain is quite manageable and I have been able to get up and move around since Friday.  Here at home I’m noticing that my appetite is coming back, mostly because I can choose to eat anything I want not just awful hospital food.  My husband is taking great care of me and is able to work from home for a week or two to ensure that I’m not home alone for the first couple of weeks of recovery.

The hardest part of recovery is probably going to be limiting myself and what I do for six whole weeks.  As I explained to my husband this morning, I’m someone who is used to getting what I want when I want it.  And that may have to change as I listen to my body and give myself time to heal properly from this surgery.  It’s going to be hard work, but I’m not going to push myself and I’m going to ask for help.

Throughout this experience, I couldn’t help but be thankful for the fact that I am relatively healthy and strong.  I have no doubt that my relatively smooth recovery so far is in part due to the fact that I am healthy.  I also imagine that this entire process would have been quite a bit more complicated had I weighed 90+ more pounds than I do today.  It’s also ironic that this cyst only started to cause problems when I took away its little nest of abdominal fat.  Who knows how much bigger it could have grown had I never changed my body and my lifestyle…

I was also in complete shock that something this large and problematic could have been inside me for so long without causing any major problems.  Then my husband and I started thinking back and remembering instances where I had some unexplained pain or issue that came up and passed relatively quickly.  Many of those could have been due to this cyst, but I ignored those signs because the pain or discomfort passed and I was able to put it out of my mind.  This whole experience is teaching me to be more mindful of the signs and signals sent by my body.

The next few posts will focus on elements of my recovery rather than weight loss progress.  I have no idea what I weigh right now and have no idea when I’ll even be able to go outside for a short walk, let alone run or do anything else.  I’m taking each day as it comes and I’m thankful that each day is getting easier than the last.

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