When Eating Paleo Becomes an Eating Disorder.

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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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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.

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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!

Ashley Carroll Jun 24, 2016 7:37pm

You have great insight Michelle--thanks for sharing it. And keep on keeping on :)

Ashley Carroll Jun 24, 2016 7:35pm

Thanks for the kind words Alicia, they mean a lot.

Kathleen Jenison Jun 24, 2016 6:37pm

Great read!

Vir Xfit Jun 23, 2016 5:42pm

I've never thought that someone gone through the same disorder than me :( I gave up paleo lifestyle because it was really hard for me, being strict is terrible and cannot be carried through your whole life. You can lose family and friends just for a diet and most important: lose yourself. I'm 75/25 now, paleo but flexible 'cos everything may be dangerous if there's an obsession. Thanks for sharing. Have a good recovery <3

Michelle Allen Jun 23, 2016 4:48pm

I. love. this. there is just SUCH a complex and intimate relationship between food, mind, spirit, body. I briefly worked at a weight loss clinic and blamo... my compass of "this is healthy" got so wacked up. slowly recovering. slowly relearning what used to come so naturally. I hear that you get it, and I so appreciate the shared company. :) Thank you!

Alicia Cronkite Jun 23, 2016 2:11pm

I have been trying to teach myself to appreciate what my body can do rather than obsess about how it looks while I am doing it. Thank you for this article and your openness, your perspective is enlightening!

Ashley Carroll Jun 23, 2016 1:34pm

Thanks for the support Julian.

Ashley Carroll Jun 23, 2016 1:32pm

You're so welcome and thank for taking the time to comment.

Ashley Carroll Jun 23, 2016 1:31pm

Ha, extended therapy. I love that term and will say I can use some myself. Eating disorders sure mess with your head!

Julian Everett Jun 23, 2016 8:18am

A great message which I think is more prevalent than people realise. Spread the message.

Mary Husnik Colvin Jun 23, 2016 3:59am

All in moderation; a little of this and a little of that is what I say and no weight scale, bar bell or social media core group should disagree. Life is a day by day adventure...

Laura Gaynette Price Jun 22, 2016 7:15pm

Ashley Carroll, you have addressed the issues that so many of us have regarding ourselves & our food choices Thank you❗️

Camille Reichert Wright Jun 22, 2016 4:03pm

This was a really helpful article for me to read. I was treated for an eating disorder years ago. I recognized so many lies we tell ourselves and the highs of control and lows of being a total failure. I am at a better place in my life with food but I think I could still use some extended therapy. Thank you for your message and keep going strong.

Ashley Carroll Jun 22, 2016 3:02am

Thanks so so much!

Ashley Carroll Jun 22, 2016 3:01am

Seriously! It's not worth what it does to you. Thanks for commenting.

Khara-Jade Warren Jun 21, 2016 10:14pm

The problem with any diet or prescriptive lifestyle is that absolutist mindset. Life warrants a flourish, love that. Great message.

Órlaith O'h Jun 21, 2016 10:08pm

Love this. Inspiring message from someone who knows ... don't live a lie.. I'll remember that thank you

Nicole Hall Saenz Jun 21, 2016 6:55pm

I'm getting good results with my diet. I was tired of being fat. I had no self esteem. But I decided to change my body for the better. I started an effective diet and managed to lose fat from my belly and lose weight 27 pounds. I found the diet of this site here http://fastweightlossyy.blogspot.com/