June 21, 2016

When Eating Paleo Becomes an Eating Disorder.

Scott Webb/Unsplash

One year ago, I celebrated my fourth anniversary of eating strictly Paleo.

I was not a fair weather cave-woman. I was hardcore.

I ate bread and cookies and cake and pizza and pasta…never. I occasionally let some sugar slip in and sometimes had a bit of dairy. When I did fall off the grain-less bandwagon, it was usually for a nacho after a couple margaritas. But mostly—almost always—it was Paleo, through and through.

I loved eating Paleo. I talked about it. I blogged about it. I got quite a bit holier-than-thou about it. My life changed with it. My energy—and bulletproof coffee—sustained me all day. My waist shrunk. My hard-earned Crossfit muscles begin to emerge. Eventually, my clothes all needed to be replaced and I bought new ones that emphasized my slim and athletic frame.

I was living the dream.

I was healthy. I was active. Clothes fit me well. People looked at me with admiration. I was thin. And I was doing it with two little kids and a full-time job.

I had it all.

But really?

Really, sometimes I didn’t have it all together. Really, sometimes I binged on chocolate and peanut butter and apples and ice cream and threw it up. Really, I was spiraling into an obsession with weight, numbers, size, shape, praise and an inflated sense of importance.

Really, I was lost—and really, it sometimes showed.

I’d had an eating disorder before. I knew what the red flags were and I knew what to look for. But that didn’t stop me when I heard the siren song of fat loss and fell hard for the promise of fitness. I lost myself.

One year ago, I began the journey of finding myself. It might not surprise you that I started with a few months of seriously strict it’s-not-a-diet-it’s-a-lifestyle dieting. I cycled carbohydrates and “intermittently” fasted for 16 hours every day. I spent about five hours a week in the gym. I enjoyed food socially, never. I shared food with my family next to never.

I got small. I looked buff. I took a lot of flexing selfies. And posted them.

As I watched my life start to spiral out of control, I clung harder to the control I had over my food. Even as I knew I was in way over my head. Even as I knew I couldn’t get out anymore alone. Even as I knew—in some ways even still—this was the best I’d ever looked, maybe the best I’d ever feel.

I knew I had to begin giving it up.

Finally, I called the Employee Assistance Program through my work. They hooked me up with a counselor, and after six sessions she recommended I pursue eating disorder treatment. I wanted to change. I wanted freedom. But I also wanted to stay the same. I also wanted everything I’d said, and every good outcome I’d experienced, to be true.

It wasn’t. I was living a lie. I was living a lie I held up as a possibility. I was living a lie that hurt me and my family. I was living a lie that likely influenced the mental health and well-being of other people.

I’ve had a lot to come to terms with in the past year. I’ve done so publicly and privately, in community and in my own head, heart and soul. I’ve done so painfully and lovingly and abruptly and gradually. I’ve looked triumphant and I’ve looked like total sh*t.

It’s been a year like no other year. It’s been a year of healing and hope-holding and hell. Eating disorder recovery is like nothing I’d wish on my worst enemy—and that’s coming from a reluctant veteran.

I’m not Paleo now. I’m not anything now.

I’m just a woman like so many other women out there. Trying to feed ourselves. Trying to love ourselves. Trying to trust ourselves. Trying to survive the damn in-betweens and trying to do it all with some sort of grace and maybe even occasional valor. Because life warrants a flourish once in awhile.

And what I’ve come to know in the last year is that I am worth more than how I look. I’m even worth more than how I perform. And—believe it or not—I’m worth more than how I feel about myself. My worth is unending and unwavering.

So is yours.

So flourish. Because what the hell is the point of this life if we don’t? If we settle—if we make ourselves small. If we cower and hide. If we let fear control us. If we whittle ourselves into the shape de jour instead of engaging with the essence of our very selves.

We can do better. We can be better. We are already better. Whenever we are ready to let ourselves be. Whenever we are ready to give it a try.


Author: Ashley Lewis Carroll 

Image: Scott Webb/Unsplash

Editors: Emily Bartran; Yoli Ramazzina

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Casee Anne Rice Nov 6, 2017 6:33am

Thank you for writing and sharing this!

Rhona Bowles Kamar Aug 14, 2016 10:14am

This can happen anytime we try to restrict whole groups of food to fit into a specific diet plan, one that someone else created. One that may or may not be right for us as individuals. This is not about Paleo specifically. it can happen to you if you are vegan, gluten free, raw, etc. It is called orthorexia, the neurosis that evolves around eating healthy. Removing labels is the most powerful party of recovery and learning to listen to our bodies, our intuition of what is right for us personally. We must remember that food is not evil, nor is it God. We each must experiment to find what foods feel better for us personally and stop labeling ourselves and judging others for their choices as well.

Lori Goodwin Jul 28, 2016 9:10pm

Brave article, I hope your story encourages or helps others to face their own issues with disordered eating.

Russ McCahan Jul 12, 2016 1:42am

Try the half diet , eat half of anything you like.

Ashton Mountfort Jun 25, 2016 5:36pm

Beautiful. Inspirational. Thank you.

Ashley Carroll Jun 24, 2016 7:38pm

Thanks so much Virginia and good luck to you!

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Ashley Lewis Carroll

Ashley Lewis Carroll is a mother, wife, and social worker. Ashley has been an avid blogger in the past at robustorbust.com and, most recently, at Medium. Ashley mostly shares her life through Instagram and continues to spend a lot of time in therapy.