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  • Writer's pictureStephanie Paris

A Look at the Past Before a New Journey Begins

Updated: Aug 28, 2019

Where have I been, and how did I get here? I'm glad you asked.

Me on a hike with my dad in the Jefferson Wilderness, 1997.

I was 15 years old when I really started to understand that there is a direct connection with what we put into our bodies, the way we feel, and how well our bodies perform. I can’t believe it’s been 20 years since my conscious health and wellness journey began. You’d think I’d have it all figured out by now. But the last two decades has involved the exploration of so many different eating plans - sometimes short term diets, and sometimes attempts to make major, long term lifestyle changes. With each new experience I was able to walk away with something useful, and leave behind what didn’t work for me. I am still in the process of discovering exactly what allows me to thrive. However, when the paleo/primal way of eating and living revealed itself to me, it was the first time in my entire 20-year exploration that something felt truly right.

Everything I read about eating primally made sense to me. The primal (or paleo) lifestyle is based on the hypothesis that we best thrive when eating, exercising, sleeping, socializing, and living as close to the way our paleolithic ancestors did. Considering that the modern human genome evolved from millions of years of living a hunter-gatherer way of life, it makes sense that we would do best giving our bodies what they have learned to eat and process. It was only approximately 10,000 years ago (a relatively short amount of time evolutionarily speaking) that we abandoned that hunter-gatherer way of life when agriculture became accessible. Our bodies did not evolve to know how to process the large amounts of grains and legumes that are now so readily available. It’s no wonder that many of these grains cause an inflammatory response in our bodies, many of us not even knowing it’s happening until we experience the contrast of how amazing we feel when we eliminate these things from our diets. I am so grateful that my dietary journey has led me to the discovery of the primal diet, but I had to go through a lot to get myself to where I am right now. In order to introduce myself more intimately, I’d like to give you a brief history of my health (and weight) ups and downs throughout the last 20 years.

I wish I would have found the primal lifestyle sooner, and it would have been especially helpful when I was an athlete. At the time that I first became aware of how greatly our diets impact our well being, I was 15 and in a prestigious ballet training program. My trajectory was aimed at a professional career in classical ballet. The nature of ballet ensures that body image is never ignored, and often times becomes quite an obsession. But there’s a fine balance between being thin and having enough energy, stamina, and strength to meet the physical demands of dancing 6-8 hours a day. Some girls in my ballet class struggled with anorexia or bulimia in an effort to stay as thin as the art form demanded. But no matter how much pressure I felt to control my weight, it was always more important to me to be healthy. And therefore, even at 5’4” and a muscular 120 lbs, in the eyes of the dancing world, I could have stood to lose a few pounds.

Oregon Ballet Theatre, 1995

I won’t go into all the details of why I stopped dancing, but when I was 20, I moved from Portland, Oregon to San Diego, California, and my once extremely active life turned a lot more sedentary by comparison. I remember that first year of not dancing I gained about 10 pounds. As much as dancing gave me many gifts and life lessons that I still draw upon, it also left me scarred and with a poor self esteem when it came to weight and body image. Gaining that 10 pounds probably put me closer to a normal, healthy body weight, but it just made me feel fat. It was at this time in my life, and for years and years after, that began the feeling of the constant need to go on “diets” to lose weight. It was also at this time that I was experimenting with a vegetarian diet. Through research, I came to the conclusion that a vegetarian diet was not only healthy for my body, but also for the planet.

Gumjuwac trail, 1997

During my early twenties, I went to school a few different times, and at a few different colleges. I became a Licensed Massage Therapist, and also began a Fitness Technology program at a local college. My idea was to become a personal trainer and combine that practice with my massage therapy practice, and ideally work with dancers and athletes. During my schooling, I took numerous health, nutrition, exercise science, and other wellness related classes. Along with this education, I constantly was reading health and nutrition books outside of class, and felt that I had a really good understanding of how our bodies worked, what to feed them, and the best forms of exercise.

Jefferson Wilderness, 1997

With minimal effort, I maintained a healthy weight, though always wanting to be thinner. I was eating organic food as much as my budget would allow. I kept a vegetarian diet for about 5 years before introducing some meats back into my diet. At the age of 25, I became pregnant with my first son. I ended up gaining more weight with that pregnancy that I would have liked, and not all of it came off after having the baby. A year and a half later I became pregnant with my second son. After he was born, I was determined to lose the “baby fat.”

I don’t remember how (it may have been on an episode of Oprah) but I was introduced to the book Eat to Live, by Dr. Joel Fuhrman. Basically the idea was to eat the most nutrient-dense foods possible, including whole grains, legumes, vegetables and fruits, and high quality meats, especially fish. I followed his 6-week plan, and lost quite a bit of weight. It was at this time I started dancing again. There was a small dance studio a block from my house, and I took advantage of the adult ballet classes they offered. I can’t tell you how much I was loving being back in the dance studio. For the duration of the two-hour class, every problem in my world melted away. And believe me, I had many of them.

My relationship with my partner was coming unraveled more and more each year. There were certain “lifestyle choices” he made that I didn’t agree with, and which were interfering with the day to day responsibilities of being a father with an obligation to take care of his family. This made the desire for me to be healthy even more of a goal for me. When we moved across town, and away from the ballet studio, in an effort to stay active, I took up running. On a whim, I decided to train for a half marathon. I have never been a runner. In fact, I’ve always hated running. But I had a fascination with the notion that the human body was capable of adapting to almost any physical demand placed upon itself. And that if I just added on one or two miles a week, eventually I’d be able to run 13 of them in a row. And I did.

Helvatia Half Marathon, May 2009

About this time I discovered the raw food diet. I knew that eating the most nutrient dense foods you could find was a great way to help ensure you were giving your body what it needs. I also learned that raw fruits and vegetables contain all the enzymes needed for digestion within their own fibers, and that cooking food destroys these enzymes. Our body then has to be in charge of producing the enzymes necessary for digestion, which it is capable of doing, however if it has to use excess energy producing digestive enzymes, it has less energy to use healing and building strong cells.

I ate a 100% raw food diet for a few months, and even did a 28-day raw juice fast, inspired by The idea behind the raw juice fast was that it was supposed to cleanse and detoxify the system, while at the same time pushing the “reset button” on health, eliminating cravings for bad food, and creating cravings for good food. As you can imagine, I lost a lot of weight on the fast. And I actually felt phenomenal throughout the whole thing. However, it didn’t reset my cravings like I thought it would. In fact, it triggered something inside me from my past that ended up making things worse for me.

Post Juice Fast, 2009

Even though during my dancing years I never went to the extremes of bulimia or anorexia, I still deprived myself of food a lot of the times that I actually wanted to eat. I had three brothers, but mostly I hung out with my younger brother, because we are only one year apart. I watched him eat whatever he wanted, when he wanted. As a young child, somehow I got it into my mind that I was not as “good” as he was because I was not “allowed’ to eat the tasty, sugary, and fatty foods that he was allowed to eat. I didn’t discover this until just a few years ago, but I began to associate food with self worth. I was not worthy, not good enough, to have those foods.

All throughout the juice fast, I felt physically well, but emotionally I was struggling. The deprivation of food triggered deep cravings for the foods of my childhood that I was never allowed to eat. After I ended the juice fast, within just a couple weeks I was making very poor food choices. And I found myself giving into cravings for the same foods that I could never eat because I wasn’t worthy of them. I allowed myself to eat these things in an attempt to show myself that I was worthy, I was “good enough.” I was using food to boost my feeling of self worth, at a time in my life when I felt I had no one else. I ended up gaining back all the weight I lost while on my raw food journey, and then gained even more.

My relationship with my partner had hit rock bottom. He was no longer only being abusive with his own body and lifestyle choices, the abuse was now directed at me, in many different ways. I was scared to leave, but I knew I couldn’t stay. I was able to get out of the relationship, and have been working hard for the last couple years to recover from the effects of such an unhealthy relationship. One of the best things about being a single mother, is that I now had complete control over my home environment (as much as one can with two little boys in the house!). I began to get more serious about making positive lifestyle changes.

My oldest brother came to visit me, and it was during that visit that I first was introduced to eating primally. I was so inspired by our conversation that for days I searched the internet for information on the subject. That’s how I found, created by Mark Sisson, the author of The Primal Blueprint. His website had (almost) all the information I could ever need on the paleo diet, and I was immediately convinced that this was the way to go.

As soon as I started eating primally, I began to look and feel so much better than I had in a long time. Weight loss was effortless. It seemed like it was too good to be true. However, even with what seemed like all the answers to my health challenges and weight loss issues, I still have had a hard time sticking to it.

I still have a lot of emotional and mental blockages that get in the way of making proper food choices. I really don’t know why I make it so hard for myself. I know what to do. I should just do it, right? But it seems that every time I have committed to this lifestyle change, my old eating habits slowly creep back in. But I’m not giving up! I had a very good taste at what my life could be like if I truly committed to this lifestyle change, and I want to experience that again, and for the rest of my life!

I am here to share my journey with you, and to hear about yours as well. I have created this blog as a personal testimony of my experiences in the world of food, nutrition, exercise, and well being, with a focus on primal living. I will share recipes, exercise plans, reviews of products, book suggestions, resource links, and anecdotes of my accomplishments as well as inevitable breakdowns. I am not here to convince you that eating a paleo diet is best for you, or better than how you are currently eating. I will not very often provide the hard facts about primal and paleo diets and the science behind why this lifestyle makes sense for modern day humans. Although I always welcome comments and suggestions, I don’t want to be asked for scientific proof, or get into debates with people about who’s right when it comes to what is best to put into our bodies. I will provide links to the people that have done such research, and will provide helpful resources when possible. I am here to serve as your companion, your workday interlude, your online primal recipe resource, and hopefully at times your inspiration. This is my primal praxis. And I can’t wait to get this journey started!

This is me today.

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