Paleo Before and After Story: Jennifer

Why are bad habits so hard to break, and good habits so difficult to start? So often it seems as though the things we want to do most, are the things we don’t end up doing. While the things we want to stop doing, are the things we keep doing. We want to eat healthier, go to sleep earlier, walk further, and smiler broader; yet there may be a lag before we put these actions in place. Have you ever stopped to think about this?

This Thursday is New Years’ Day, and this year, set yourself to keep every last one of your resolutions. I spoke to Jennifer a month ago, but I’ve been waiting until now to share her story with you. When Jennifer, a mom of three, decided to make her health her first priority, there was no lag. There was no planning, no, “I’ll work on that tomorrow.” She saw what she wanted – better overall health – and she went for it. Overnight. And what’s more, she never compromised. Never once did she make an exception, or tell herself that, “Just one little slip up won’t hurt.”

I truly think that social situations are the #1 setback for people trying to make an improvement on their health. No one wants to turn down the office birthday cake, or be “that guy” who brings their own food. Jennifer could not have cared less. “It’s not about them. It’s about me,” she told me. This mom has a backbone, and a strong one at that. She’s never cheated, she doesn’t compromise, and you can be sure she’s not sorry about it. For every person who has ever thought they don’t have the free-time, funds, or lifestyle to put their health first; keep reading to see how this supermom made it work.

2015 is your year. Make it count. Join us in our next Paleo Challenge, here. –Kara

Jennifer in her before jeans

Let’s start at the beginning. How did you find Paleo?

I read about Paleo in a magazine; it wasn’t even a new magazine. I was at my mother-in-law’s house and I picked it up. I had never heard the word Paleo before, but loved everything about it. So in a way, it found me.

That’s it? You read one article on it and just, what? Started the next day?

Yep! I went home that very night, researched what I could and could not eat, downloaded a Paleo app to my phone, a Paleo cookbook (Make Ahead Paleo) to my Kindle, and weighed/measured myself. I have three kids and a husband, so I went into this knowing I would constantly be around non-Paleo foods. I went over the guidelines with my husband, who had watched me lose myself recently, and he said, “If you think you can do this, I completely support you.”

That first grocery trip took almost a full day in the store. I had a crazy-long list, and I read every single label. I kept the receipt on the fridge to remind myself on how much money I had spent for this.

When you say you were losing yourself, what do you mean by that?

Well, I’m 27, and I didn’t even recognize myself…

You’re 27!?!

Haha yes! Isn’t that crazy? I was married when I was 18, and had my son when I was 19. If you would have told me when I was 17 that I would be married the next year, I would have thought it was a total joke. I just met my husband and completely fell in love. I have traditional parents – I don’t know WHAT they were thinking – but they were supportive. We’ve built a great life together.

Jennifer family pic

What made Paleo so easy for you?

I just did everything right for me. I’ve been on diets before – but they were DIETS. I would count calories, weigh myself every day, and completely derail if I missed one day of exercise. I could never do that for the rest of my life! This time, I weighed myself once a week and that was it. I kept telling myself, “Ok, you got through Day 1… Alright, now you’re through Day 2.” The first week, I told myself, “Eat as much as you want, as long as it’s Paleo.” I still lost nine pounds that first week. The second week, I lost five. I spent those first two weeks cooking every night.

You’re currently in school, and have three kids. Do you have a budget you stick to?

Definitely. We live off of one income, and everyone asks how we afford it. I upped our food budget by $100 per paycheck when I switched to Paleo, and that’s it. It’s the little things that make it work. If we order pizza, it’s only one pizza for the whole family – because I don’t eat any. We hardly buy any snacks because I don’t eat those either.

I buy in bulk when I can or when things are on sale. I live in Michigan, and shop at three different grocery stores to stay within budget. The first store is a chain, Meijer, where I buy “family food” for my husband and kids. They also have the cheapest organic produce and coconut oil. The second store has the best meat, where I can find Applegate lunch meat, organic chicken, and grass-fed ground beef. My final stop is a local food co-op, where I buy specialty items such as grassfed-butter, coconut aminos, ghee, and almond milk without a million additives. I even found Epic bars there yesterday – I was ecstatic! When the weather is nice, I also shop local farmers markets for vegetables and meat from local farmers. I keep telling my husband he needs to pick up hunting. I mean come on, that’s wild organic game!

I kept waiting to feel that pressure, that feeling of, “This is getting too hard, I can’t afford this.” That feeling never came. Whenever you find it difficult to budget for Paleo, write down four “Paleo ingredients,” you want on a list. The next time you go to the store, only allow yourself to buy one of those four items. Soon, you will have everything you want. Sometimes I will look at a recipe and say, “I can’t make that this week, I’ll have to buy those ingredients next time.”

You still buy separate groceries for your family? Have you thought of converting them to Paleo as well?

I don’t want to force Paleo on them, I want them to discover what works best for them. I used to be such an enabler when it came to sweets. We would make brownies and cookies together and they would call me the cookie monster. At first, I think they were upset about Paleo because they had these memories of me making chocolate sundaes with them. Now, they’re the ones who hold me accountable and say, “Mom you can’t!” when I want something.

They’re still kids, so they’ll still have ice cream and pizza night, and they had candy on Halloween. They don’t get away with as much as they used to. In the morning, we have eggs and I make sure their bellies are full of protein. I pack their snacks and lunches with fruits and vegetables, nuts, dried fruit, and Greek yogurt. They’re pretty open with eating. I’m just trying to give them a good foundation to make healthy decisions in the future.

As a mom, what are some of your favorite meals to cook?

One of my absolute favorites is Coconut Chicken. I’ll “bread” them with almond flour and shredded coconut so it’s crunchy like chicken strips. Breakfast is my favorite meal, but I’ll make sweet potato hash while my family enjoys regular hashbrowns. If my family is having Chinese take-out, I’ll make my own “Chinese food” with cabbage. During grilling season, we will have burgers, hot dogs, or sloppy joes; but mine are organic hot dogs served on Paleo buns. I’ve also made homemade ice cream with almond milk and bananas. That was a huge hit in my family.

Paleo tacos  Paleo ice cream Paleo breakfast hash Paleo empanadas Paleo egg muffins Paleo bbq pork sandwiches

So many people try putting Paleo in a box, saying you can’t have anything resembling grains or dairy. I eat everything my family eats, it’s just MY version of it. My husband grew up in a meat and potatoes family, and after 9 years of marriage it’s still a struggle to get him to eat a salad. I’m sure as time goes on they’ll eat more meals like mine, but when they do it will be their choice.

Do you ever run into any naysayers – maybe from other moms in the community?

Within my immediate family and inlaws, I have an amazing support system. When I talk to other people, it’s more difficult. Just turning down a piece of gum opens a can of worms. People always ask me, “Well, you have cheat days right?” or “How long do you think you can keep this up?” Now, I just whip out pictures of how I used to look, and no one can say anything negative.

Jennifer before and after paleo

At Thanksgiving this year, I’m going to be that person who brings their own food. I actually went to a wedding once that served fried chicken, and I packed dinner. It was kind of embarrassing. People kept saying, “Oh my god, you brought your own salad??” But frankly it’s not about them, it’s about me. I was a mom at age 19, it’s been about everyone else my entire life. This time, it’s about me.

Jennifer with her son now

Have you ever cheated?

I had one glass of red wine on my 9-year anniversary and threw up. Another time, on Mother’s Day, I had baked chicken wings. I threw those up too.

I don’t cheat because I don’t want to feel like crap. My body used to be accustomed to eating crappy things, but now that I’ve gone through the detox process I don’t even want to cheat. If I’m craving something, I’ll find a Paleo version. I’ve made my own bbq sauce, pumpkin muffins, and even Paleo granola. Mondays are crazy in my house; it’s just one of those days when I never sit down. So every Monday night I reward myself with a chocolate mug cake. I have been a yo-yo dieter my whole life and know my own habits, so I cut the treats off at my Monday night mug cakes.

What was your life like before Paleo? What triggered this complete 180?

I have always loved food, and still do. In high school, I was an emotional eater and chubby. My senior year I met my husband and started trying harder. I was a little thinner, and felt really good about myself.

Jennifer before photo

After I had my first son, I was able to lose the weight really fast because I was 19. As soon as I was back in my jeans, I went back to my old ways. After my daughter was born, I was in a really big funk. We had moved an hour away from our family and friends, and I felt alone. I would stay inside, reading and eating, and found comfort in food. After my second son, the weight never came off. I became very comfortable being a big girl. I felt treasured by a husband who made me feel beautiful, and loved by my family. I didn’t feel that need to be thinner that I had felt in high school. If I needed a bigger pants size, I just bought them. When those were too small, I went up to the next size. My knees started hurting. My back started hurting. I was having major issues, and was embarrassed because I was only 27 years old.

It wasn’t until I walked into my first occupational therapy class that it hit me. All I could think was, “This is a profession where you are supposed to promote health, and you are obese.” Suddenly I felt accountable. But I didn’t want to just make a change for the weight loss, I wanted it to be a lifestyle change. When I read about Paleo, everything clicked.

Jennifer after photo

What advice do you have for someone just starting Paleo?

I have three big pieces of advice:

  1. Keep track of everything. Know your weight and measurements before you start, so you can look back when you are feeling discouraged. Keep a journal of what you’re craving, what you were feeling, and how you overcame that craving.
  2. Know yourself. Know your habits. If you think you can do a cheat day and stick with it, that’s one thing. But if you’re given an inch, and take a mile, then be aware of that.
  3. Finally, just get through it. Get through the cravings, get through the detox. It becomes a force of habit.

Believe that this is one of the best things you can do for your body, and your entire mentality will change. You will look at food as something to nourish your body. This is hard, but not impossible. I love this lifestyle more than I love food. I sleep better, nothing hurts anymore, and I feel in control. When I’m hungry, it’s for a reason; and I can think through that reason and decide what I need. I feel in control of my eating habits, and I’ve never felt that way in my entire life. 


Jennifer and her family

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    1. December 31, 2014

      This is such an inspiring story! I’m so impressed by Jennifer’s dedication to her health and she looks amazing!

    2. thegreatalbertlau
      January 14, 2015

      wow you look amazing!! Keep up the hard work! I love these kinda stories!!! Rock on!!!

    3. Goingprimitive
      January 21, 2015

      You look incredible!! You need to be SO proud of yourself!!!

    4. spckhan35
      August 7, 2015

      What an awesome story, and awesome results!!! Rock on Primal sister!

    5. AliceJones
      September 20, 2015

      Congrats. Its an inspiring story for every body. Good…..

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