I found Sara on Instagram and was blown away by her. After battling anorexia for 2 and a half years, she not only found the Paleo Diet, but she found hope for recovery. Sara is incredibly brave, and I am so happy she is sharing her powerful story with my readers today. Be sure to watch her video interview, where she shares all of the details of recovery and her life today.
At eighteen years old I was 5 foot 6, 89 pounds and diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. My life and future was decaying before me just as rapidly as my health. That was two and a half years ago.
From a young age I was very active playing hockey, soccer, volleyball, track, dance, you name it. I used to pride myself on my big strong legs and my bulking muscles because I was strong, physically and mentally. The summer before grade twelve I decided that I was going to start making smarter and healthier choices in the kitchen so that I could feel even better. But unfortunately as you will learn, as a “type A” personality, I have to do everything 100%. Throughout the summer I lost a little weight, nothing significant, but attributed it mostly to losing my “hockey bulk”. During the school year I stopped playing hockey and danced, racking up more than twenty hours a week in the dance studio. By mid-year I weighed 105 pounds and I thought I looked great, however since I was losing weight quickly, my parents thought it be beneficial to start working with a nutritionist to ensure that my caloric input matched my energy output. At the end of the school year I was sitting at 100 pounds and had many teachers, friends and family expressing their concern to me – my thoughts? They’re crazy, I’m totally fine – who cares if I don’t have as much energy, it’s just because I’m dancing so much.
The summer after graduation, my health took a turn for the worst. I became obsessed with my “health”. It was like a game: how could I make the lowest calorie meal possible while still feeling full. I used to leave my friends to go home and cook my meals because God forbid anyone else have control. As a result of this, nearing the end of summer I was wasting away at a tiny 89 pounds eating less than 700 calories a day.
I will never forget the day I call “The Ultimate Collapse”; a spontaneous plan to go out for dinner with my boyfriend and a friend of ours left me in a full blown panic attack, shaking uncontrollably seeing such fear in my boyfriend’s eyes. How was I supposed to control anything at the restaurant? After I settled down a little, I remember thinking to myself “Why am I like this? Why can’t I just do normal things like everyone else?” I knew I needed help.
At the end of summer, my mom took me to see an eating disorder specialist. The doctor told me that if I wasn’t eighteen years old I would have been removed from every aspect of my life and forced into an institution; my heart rate and blood pressure were so low that if I kept it up for another year, I had a pretty high chance of a fatal organ failure.
Want a peek inside my head during this time? At this point, threats to my life weren’t enough to motivate me to change my delusional view of healthy because I was the smallest – I was exactly what society wants me to be. Makes sense right? Didn’t think so. Minds of those with eating disorders are distorted and irrational, and the worst part is it’s not something you can just “snap out of”.
My doctor put me on a 2800-calorie diet, adding 200 calories with my weekly visits all the way until 3900 calories; I would cry while eating due to physical pain and self-disgust, I was forced to quit dance, my life was miserable. Though times were tough, I got through the year and by the following summer I was back up to 108 pounds, I had stopped seeing my doctors, and mentally was doing okay. I left home for school in the fall but things got bad again quickly; by Christmas I was back to 95 pounds and controlling my food, but the difference this time was that I could see the sick, ghostly girl that I was. My parents confronted me and were resistant to let me go back but I told them I could do it, that I could fix myself for good.
About a month later I started seeing my current “mentor” Richard Burr; this man saved me. He set me up with a training and nutrition program that we were both excited about as we knew it was time for serious change. His enthusiasm was genuine, sending me research articles about why he had me eating the way I was, proof that what I was doing was beneficial (I’m a huge science nerd, so seeing scientific proof was a huge motivator for me). About two weeks in, I was shown Robb Wolf’s Paleo Solutions podcast and as I listened, it all sounded very familiar… I was unaware at the time, but Rich had actually started me on a 90% compliant high fat, high protein, low carb “Paleo” diet. So I asked Richard about it and that’s exactly the direction he was headed in, so he sent me more articles and I took in everything that I could. Finally I decided to do this lifestyle full out, so I took out the gluten, grains and dairy and added more organics, grass-fed beef, omega-3 eggs, fish oil and dove in head first. I started crushing my workouts making great progress, gaining and toning muscle, I was so full of life and energy, and I was sleeping great. I was happy for the first time in two and a half years.
Up until this point my only interaction with Richard was via text message or Skype has he was still back in my hometown Winnipeg, Manitoba, so when school ended I went to his gym to do a session and the first thing he did was give me a big hug and said, “You ready to kill it?” This was the best day I had had in two and a half years. By providing me with the facts and proof about how and why the high fat, high protein, low carb Paleo diet works and how beneficial it is for performance, physical and mental health, Richard gave my life excitement, motivation and hope again. I truly believe I owe Richard and his Paleo-influence my life and my future, as two and a half years ago at 89 pounds, I didn’t have one.
Biggest three lessons I learned that might help you:
- Don’t be afraid to ASK FOR HELP, even if it makes you feel weak – often the most courageous people are those that ask for help
- Find what motivates YOU – it will be different for everyone (heck, mine was science!)
- Forget the mirror and scale and LEARN YOUR BODY – learn to feel when your body is well-nourished versus under-nourished and the impacts that it has on you
If you need more motivation in your daily life, follow Sara on Instagram. She posts her meals daily, and her progress in the gym.
paige ryan says
This article is great. I am a licensed mental health counselor and work with many girls with eating disorders and I follow and try to promote a paleo lifestyle for mental and physical health. I myself have benefited significantly with my own health issues with this lifestyle and have seen the difference it makes with my clients. I have my own blog primalpsychologist.com to help others be healthy and happy. Great job!
Monica Bravo says
Thanks for commenting Paige! I’ll make sure to check out your blog. It sounds like you are doing something really great!
Linda @ the Fitty says
Loved this interview. I am so happy that the paleo diet “cured” you, sort of/at least helped on your way to recovery! I am a cavewoman myself–although I follow a high fat, moderate protein and very very low carb protocol. Loved learning about you Sara!
This story really resonated with me. Several years ago when I was 23-24 years old my story was very similar. I also used food as a control mechanism. I dropped down to the same weight and was limiting my calories to 700 a day or under. I would also go home to make all of my meals so I could make every calorie count. I convinced myself that I didn’t have an issue because I was eating 6 meals a day (a meal could be just a bag of steamed spinach) and I wasn’t doing endless hours of cardio (I only weight lifted). I finally had a wake up call when I started to loose my hair and I questioned whether I was truly happy. Even though I was thin I was more unhappy then I’d ever been since I couldn’t allow myself to ever relax or have any fun, it was all about control. I am so happy I changed directions and now can say I truly live a healthy lifestyle. I’m so glad you were able to break out of your eating disorder!
Monica Bravo says
Alexandra, I’m so glad you could relate to this story and thanks for sharing your story too. I am so glad you are happy and have found a healthier lifestyle.