Tanja’s paleo story

Hi, I’m Tanja and I’m passionate about eating real food & becoming stronger – while wrapped head to toe in glamorous vintage style. I also admit to a somewhat unhealthy obsession with shoes.

I’ve been paleo since November 2010, and my motivation for maintaining this website is to change the misconception that healthy food is boring and/or limiting.

 

Background

When I was 17, idealistic and the world was still delightfully black and white, I made a big decision: I became vegetarian. I knew it was the right thing to do, after all, I didn’t want innocent, defenceless animals to die for my benefit! I could just as well eat my sandwich without the ham, veggie patties instead of the beef in my burgers and choose vegetarian pizzas instead of the Hawaiian I used to order up until then. I knew better. I WAS better. I had the 20/20 vision of a moral high ground.

What I didn’t know was the high price I had to pay for my temporary guilt free conscience: my health. Fast forward 5 years, I become lactose intolerant. At around 10 year mark, I could no longer eat anything without adverse reactions – something as innocent as an apple sent me doubled over in painful cramps.

I had to face the reality and admit that it was time for Plan B, as Plan A certainly wasn’t working for me. Admittedly, a housemate’s brekky with the lot might have helped me take the first leap…. before I knew it, I was nibbling on a slice of bacon I stole off his place. Then and there, I began a slow journey back to an omnivore, conventional wisdom guiding my way.

A few years later I was 30 years old, size 8, running 3 times a week, and eating what I considered a healthy diet – no dairy, very little white carbs, always chose whole meal and we cooked our meals from scratch. In theory, I should have been at the prime of my life.

Yet for years, I had been constantly sick. I was suffering from bizarre symptoms that just didn’t add up – including, but not limited to:

  • Recurring horrific multi-day migraines
  • Almost constant unbelievably painful mouth ulcers
  • Pathetic immune system (catching *every* bug going around the office)
  • Severe adult age acne
  • Severe fatigue
  • Severe digestion issues (bloating, cramps, water retention, the lot!)
  • Terrible mood swings

I went to see good doctors, expensive specialists, alternative acupuncturists… anyone, everyone and their dog.

I got extensive blood works done, and everything was somewhat within range. I got tested for every disease under the sun, and everything came back negative. According to the doctors there was nothing wrong with me, yet they couldn’t deny that I obviously wasn’t well.

I got prescribed with very creative cocktails of medicines – at one point I was on antibiotics, antivirals AND steroids at the same time! – but nothing helped.

Then one day, a dear friend told me about paleo and explained why it might improve my condition. The next day he handed me a copy of The Paleo Diet. At this point I had nothing to lose, so I decided to give it a go. I read the book cover to cover the same day and started my first Paleo Challenge to improve my health. It was November 2010.

 

The results

Within the first 4-6 weeks, all of my symptoms disappeared.

No more headaches or painful ulcers. My stomach was no longer bloated and I wasn’t experiencing constant discomfort. My skin began clearing up and I was no longer sick all the time. My energy levels improved and remained good throughout the day. My mood swings started to calm down and I felt in control again.

Obviously, I haven’t looked back since.

 

What I didn’t expect?

Never before had food been so delicious and enjoyable.

I thought going paleo meant giving up all the good stuff – I can’t believe how wrong I was! When I discarded the empty fillers from my diet, all that was left was the good bits. The mouth-watering steak, juicy fillet of fish, tasty vegetables and ripe juicy fruit.

We realised very quickly that the transition wasn’t even very hard. Once you worked your head around some of the basic substitutions (arrowroot instead of corn flour in sauces, coconut milk instead of dairy, almond and coconut flour in baking, etc), the rest was easy.

And so very, very tasty!

 

Long term approach

I don’t believe in strict, short-term diets. I believe in long-term lifestyle changes – making something work for you. Convenience shouldn’t be underrated – it is the basis for lasting change and results. I believe in aspiring to do the right thing most of the time and compromising when necessary. Obsessing about food isn’t healthy one way or the other.

Personally, I apply paleo with an 90-10 rule. We cook everything from scratch in our house. We have cut out dairy, grains, legumes, processed sugar and processed food from our diets.

However, if I make mayo, I’ll add in a tablespoon of organic vinegar. When I go shopping I try to always select organic, grass-fed produce, but if the product is ridiculously overpriced, I’ll be choosing the second best option. I drink coffee daily and I do enjoy a glass of bubbles or two on a festive occasion. Once in a while, I enjoy one of my old favourites like a gluten-free pizza or a rice noodle soup – I’m definitely no paleo saint, but I’ve found a level of compromise that makes it work for me.

 

CrossFit

In July 2011 I started CrossFit training and continued for the rest of the year absolutely loving it.

In 2012 we moved out of Sydney and no longer had a CrossFit gym conveniently available, but we are currently (late 2012) in the process of building our own garage gym to get back into it.

 

Gluten free diet and fertility

UPDATE: March 2013

30 weeks pregnant

30 weeks pregnant with a strong and healthy paleo boy, March 2013

After going paleo, I still indulged in my favourite meals from now and then. These would include noodle soups, pub burgers and the occasional pasta meal. Despite feeling a whole lot better in all ways, some of my symptoms (namely headaches, mouth ulcers and acne) would reappear periodically despite being paleo for 1.5 years.

In March 2012 I decided to go entirely and absolutely gluten free 100% of the time. 

In the past 9 months the recurrence of my symptoms has decreased significantly and the few times I have had any issues can be pretty much linked to something that on hindsight probably contained gluten.

One additional thing that I had never really connected to my diet was my apparent infertility. Without going into details, this had not been medically confirmed, but I had very good reason to believe that I would not be able to conceive without medical help. One more thing that I had accepted as ‘that’s just the way I am’.

In August 2012 – 5 months after I went gluten free – we were treated to the most wonderful surprise of a positive pregnancy test!

Not only are we over the moon about expecting our firstborn, I am absolutely loving being pregnant! My pregnancy has been an utterly wonderful experience with no unpleasant side-effects whatsoever: I haven’t had any morning sickness at all, no digestion problems or constipation that I hear other women complain about, no bloating, no weird cravings, no moodswings, no nothing – just high as a kite on happy hormones 24-7.

On top of it all, despite being in the higher risk group due to my age (35), I’m building a perfect textbook baby and everything about this pregnancy seems to be safe and low risk according to the checkups so far. Quoting my sonographer: I’m ‘building babies like a 20-year-old’.

 

 Paleo and motherhood

UPDATE: October 2013

Our thriving paleo baby boy: 4 days old & 4 months old

Our thriving paleo baby boy: 4 days old & 4 months old

At the end of May 2013, we welcomed our gorgeous paleo baby into this world. He was a big healthy boy at birth and has been thriving ever since!

Paleo seems to work wonders for breastfeeding as well, as our boy is growing at record speed (wearing size 3-6 months at the age of 4 weeks!) and according to the community health nurse I seem to be producing enough milk to feed several babies.

We are over the moon and loving parenthood!

 

Baby Led Weaning (BLW)

UPDATE: November 2013

Our little caveman in training being cute, eating roast veggies and digging into his favourite: a lamb cutlet.

Our darling little caveman in training is absolutely thriving. He has been exclusively breastfed, until at the age of 5 months he demanded his share of food at the dinner table.

He eats paleo like the rest of the family – we refused to start him on rice cereal or other processed food. The boy eats organic veggies, meat and fruit, while breastmilk is still his main source of nutrition.

None of the food is mushed or spoon fed – he is free to get acquainted with food through social play sharing the table with us. So far his absolute favourites are lamb cutlets, roast pumpkin and avocado.

More information in the Baby-Led Weaning book. Please note: that the book is not paleo, so you’ll have to amend the advice to suit your family’s approach to nutrition.