April 30, 2012 was the first time I ever put food into my mouth and did not feel guilt.
Let’s be honest, ladies: Most of us think about every single piece of nutrition that goes into our mouth, whether we are actively trying to be our healthiest selves or not. In an effort to deal with our food guilt, we make excuses. “Everything in moderation”, “One piece won’t hurt”, “I’ll be ‘good’ tomorrow”, or – the very worst place to be – “I’m so far gone, it doesn't matter”
My food guilt began when I was five. I was a young, overweight curmudgeon, who – as it turns out – was a Type 1 diabetic. After I was diagnosed, I made a habit of saving up quarters to buy Sour Straws at my elementary school’s concession stand and stashed them under my bed until there was a big enough pile for a good high. After coming down, I always confessed what I’d done to my parents out of a legitimate fear that I would die. They never disciplined me, I suppose because the syringe of insulin was punishment enough.
Then came high school weight battles, Miss America system pageants, drama conservatory, and NYC acting auditions. The pressure to be beautiful was suffocating. Beautiful meant lean and smooth, hard underneath the softest skin. I gained 20 pounds when I graduated from college in 2010. Weight: 146. Height: 5’4’’. My clothes wouldn’t fit and I didn’t even see it coming. It was as if I’d woken up one day a different size.
I started dating a man who was a marathoner. He bought me running shoes that sat in my closet for months. I had never run a mile in my life, and I was terrified to try. He was so fit and so handsome and I was so self-conscious. So, I laced up my running shoes in an effort to spend some quality time with him and be the woman he wanted me to be…because he was everything I’d ever dreamed of in a man.
This is a truly horrible and devastating reason to get fit. Reasons like this are never true motivation and will never last long enough to get you to your fitness goals.
Three months later, when Mr. Marathoner was out of town doing a play, I completed my first 8-mile run. I realized that I had done that run for me, not for him. A toxic habit had somehow, at a point unrecognized, evolved into the healthiest of addictions. I achieved a high that I had been searching for since I was five years old and instead of coming down feeling guilt and self-loathing, I came down feeling an incredible sense of pride and strength for simply putting one foot in front of the other. This is true motivation that will last a lifetime.
Proud. Strong. These were feelings that I had felt most of my life, but not since graduating from college. No one talks about how hard your mid-twenties are. No one tells you – maybe because no one wants to admit the struggle – that you will feel lost and confused and that getting a job is hard, and hey – maybe when you start actually doing the thing that you wanted your entire life to do, it doesn’t make you happy.
I capitalized on those feelings. I took them and ran with them, literally. The happier and healthier I got, the more I wanted other people to unlock this simple truth: Bosses can take away your job, boyfriends can take away your love, family can take away your support, and friends can take away your fun, but no one can take away your miles. And your strength. And your pride.
So, I started personal training at Equinox and learned how to functionally lift weights. It was there that I first heard of the Paleo(lithic) Diet. Ladies, eyes open: This is a diet in which you can eat as much food as you want, whenever you want. The only requirement is that it must be a healthy food: Free of refined sugar, gluten, grain, and dairy. Why would you cut out all of those foods? Think of the human race as a football field (for those of you who are unfamiliar with football, a field has 100 yards). As a species, we have only been consuming refined sugar, gluten, grain, and dairy products for the last half of a yard. Because human genetics have barely changed since agriculture brought the “banned foods” into our diets, modern humans are still genetically adapted to eat like the hunter-gatherer cavemen of the Paleolithic period.
My Marathoner and I adopted the Paleo lifestyle together. A normal day of eating began looking like this:
Breakfast: Bacon, eggs, avocado, tomato
Snack: Fruit with almond butter
Lunch: Salad with loads of veggies, and lean meat (often pan-seared salmon) with a Lara Bar
Snack: Nuts (often an entire bag) and carrots or celery
Dinner: Lean, grass-fed meat with whatever vegetables we felt like that day, often pan-seared filets with oven roasted asparagus and sautéed mushrooms.
Snack: Homemade beef jerky or muffins made with coconut flour.
Let me share that prior to starting this diet, microwaving a lean cuisine was the extent of my cooking abilities. I was intimidated by choosing and preparing food, but guess what? Turns out, it’s so easy a caveman could do it. (Boom). It does take a little planning and preparation, but once I figured out what worked for me what I was going to eat stopped consuming my life. In about 3 weeks, I started seeing the physical results from weight lifting, yoga, running, and spinning that had always been so elusive. My new motto: You can’t out train a bad diet.
And so, easily and without depravation, my food guilt ended. I eat when I’m hungry, as much as I want, and have been freed of worrying about my nutrition decisions. It has been four months of food bliss. My diabetes has never been in better control, my skin has never been brighter, and I have never had more energy.
Three weeks ago, after spending just over two years together, Mr. Marathoner broke up with me. I have never been so devastated. Nothing had happened; he just realized that I was not the woman he was meant to spend his life with. That made it worse. I want to hate him, to think that I’m better off without him, and believe that he will never do better than me - but I don’t feel those things. Still, he is the love of my life.
For three days, I laid in bed vacillating between sobbing and hoping that he would change his mind. Finally, my saintly girlfriend who had spent sleepless nights stroking my hair and forcing me to eat laced my running shoes up my feet and pushed me into the gym.
I decided to run two miles. This is an easy run for me and usually would take about 15 minutes. 11 minutes in, I had completed my first excruciating mile. My muscles were screaming out in pain after three days of consuming more vodka than food. I acknowledged them, and forced myself to keep going. I knew I needed to prove to myself that I could run through the pain. I continued putting one foot in front of the other. Eventually, the pain went away. I felt free. And that is hope.
Without running, it may’ve taken me weeks (or maybe months) to realize that I am strong enough to endure pain. It is only when a person knows they have worth that a person wants to heal, and wanting to be better is half the battle. They say it takes half the time you were in a relationship to get over it; by that rule I need a little over a year to mend from Mr. Marathoner. But I don’t think that’s true - it’s taken me only three weeks to believe that the love of my life is not the man of my dreams. If life can change so drastically in three weeks, what will three months bring?
All I have to do is keep putting one foot in front of the other to find out.
Photography: Jasmine Osborne, Kit Williams